Google Local OneBox for Cities: Can’t get there from here

Here are two screen shots of on the Onebox returned for “city + st” search on Google today. Note the differences in map size and the inclusion of the “get directions” field and button in one of the results. I have explored a number of hypothesis as to why & when the difference occurs (existence of adwords, proximity to searcher, population) but none of them consistently offer an explanation. Ideas?
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Local Links of Interest:Google’s Universal Search

Many of the changes that we have been seeing in google Maps over the past few days have been part of Google’s new Universal search upgrade. These upgrades magnify the importance of Google Maps as they allow for “The best answer is still the best answer” local results to be inserted in all of Google’s organic search results. This will lead to a dramatic increase of exposure of local data. Greg Sterling estimates that as many as 40% of ALL searches have local intent and as Google figures out which ones are (even without the city, st modifier), we will be seeing Google Maps data much more frequently.

Google’s One-Stop Search to Yield Text and Images – NY times (reg. req’d) An overview of the changes announced at Searchology

Google Maps ‘Text View’ Part of Universal Search – Greg Sterling gives an inkling of the many changes to come in Maps in this and future upgrades.

News & Local Blending in Google 2.0: Google Universal Search- Danny Sullivan has an indepth article on all aspects of the new technology at SEL.

Google’s Universal Search Patent Application – Bill Slaski covers the relevant patent applications at SEO by the Sea.

Very Cool Google Experimental Map view  from the new Google Experimental Search area (via Greg Sterling at Screenwerk)

Google Maps now with updated display

Google Maps has recently upgraded the information that is now displayed with the business. The display now includes images, reviews and owner provided description if available. Note in the after results image, that when an owner entered description was not available, reviews were substituted. This highlights why an owner should control their listing.

Here are two images, a before and after:

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Expanded use of the Local OneBox

StateWideOnebox.jpgEarl the Pearl has reported at SEO Refugee of the expanded presence of the Local OneBox on broader geographic phrases and broader business categories. He notes:

Onebox maps are now returned on searches by state names, ie Used cars Florida, Nursing School Pennsylvania. Previously its appearance was more locally focused for queries like used cars Miamia and nursing schools Philadelphia. The onebox also shows for industry secondary terms. Previously it didn’t.

All of which injects the google onebox, the google maps inserts and the google maps algo serps more prominently throughout a far greater variety of localized searches in serps.

These results are appearing both interspersed in the results(as noted by Barry S at the SeRoundtable.com), at the top of the organic search results AND and can achieve featured OneBox status.

It is hard to underestimate the effect that these type of results will on these very broad (geographically) search terms will have on traffic (state + business category). It puts an all new emphasis on the OneBox and its importance for visibility. Continue reading

Local Search not the be all and end all

Today I received a communication from a reader reporting that he was surprised that his organic “long tale search using local phrases” (i.e. service + locationpage optimization) were still producing solid results for hist website. He said “Actually surprised me.  I figured the one box would have a more dampening effect……and it may have…but this traffic is still strong.

My response: I have never felt that a Local specific Campaign could have more than a very limited overall impact on any business that has regional appeal as you can optimize for so few terms and locations (a design flaw in the algos?)….you use local to get high rankings for your bricks & mortar location and you use longtail for all of the regional variations and markets that you serve…that has been the best bet and continues to be.

Goog-411 Creative Uses

I have been a fan of Goog-411 since its pre-beta days as 520-Find. I found it to be the fastest, most focused voice activated directory assistance. It seemed a natural extension of local search in an incredibly interesting direction. Not without its problems, but very useful as a business tool when driving down the highway, with the promise of opening up Google Maps data to millions of additional users.

My imagination though as to its uses was limited. Creative souls posting at the Goog411 Google Group have found a number of ways to use it to avoid long distance charges (although your mileage may vary):

*Free International call completion to landlines via free Skype to #800

*Free calls from pay phones

*Free calling from Canada to the US Businesses

Obviously, these tactics simply shift the cost to Google. One wonders what Google’s costs are for the call completion component of the service (which is its most valuable competitive advantage) and what value they receive for it. It is also of interest that the Google employee (your Goog-411 operator) seems to support these uses.

New Google Blog-Google LatLong

Google’s newest blog, Google LatLong covers the all of Google’s geographic products and should be of interest to anyone interested in local search.
Here is what they have to say:

Welcome to the Google “geo” blog. As web mapping (dare I say “the geoweb”?) matures, we’re finding that we have a lot more to communicate about new developments in Earth, Maps, Local, and our APIs. The tools are becoming more powerful, more accessible, and more interrelated — not only to each other, but also to the web at large and to things like search. Things are changing so fast we thought a blog focused on this topic would be the best way to communicate with you, both about our products and about the overall development of geo on the web.

So… what is the “geoweb”? Some people will scratch their heads and call it buzzword proliferation. Others, including Mike Liebhold, who has a long history of thinking and writing about this area, have a very well defined notion of what they believe it is (or should be). I don’t think that there is agreement on what the geoweb is, but I think there is a lot of enthusiasm and energy across many fronts to make it happen. I expect the “it” will evolve substantially over the next few months and years as we (the geo ecosystem on the web) collectively figure out how “earth browsers,” embedded maps, local search, geo-tagged photos, blogs, the traditional GIS world, wikis, and other user-generated geo content all interrelate. Those of us who work on geo products and services at Google believe we have an opportunity to make the web more useful — and ultimately, to improve people’s lives through better information and understanding.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search