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.

Google’s Click to Call coming soon to an ad near you?

In late April (I am still catching up on my reading), Bill Slawsky covered a recent patent application by Google: Exploring Click and Pay to Call (CPTC) Google Phone Ads. It was as interesting for what Google has already implemented as well as what they might implement. Clearly (as you can see from the image below), large parts of the technology have already been deployed in their Google Maps Click to Call feature

Like many of Google’s technologies, this one sits in a sort of limbo; cool, potentially high impact but unpromoted and hidden from most users. This is a technology to could drive significant small business use of Google Adwords particularly in the local sphere as the result would be something tangible that every small business owner understands: a telephone call. Perhaps the patent filing portends a wider roll for the technology.

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Comparison of patent filing with Google Maps image

Interface upgrade on Local OneBox

Upgraded OneBoxGoogle has recently upgraded the Local OneBox with additional pins that create a stronger visual point of entry to Maps.

In late January, Google’s upgrade of the Local Onebox led to a dramatic increase of traffic to to Google Maps. At the time I noted that:
They are still only showing three results. Why three? Why not 4 or 5 or even 6. The choice to stick with 3 denies many the opportunity for a listing.

This recent upgrade (I have no idea when it occurred as I have been busy catching up on business and my son’s basball upon our return from an extended vacation) doesn’t really solve this problem of the arbitrary placement of the top 3 listings but does create a strong impression that there are more listing worthy of note and should induce even more traffic to Google Maps. It is a subtle but welcome upgrade

Google pulling back from the Local OneBox?

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The Real Estate Local OneBox is Missing in Action!

Real estate is one of the largest areas in local search. Specifically the search, ‘city, st+ real estate’ consistently shows as having one of the highest frequencies for the ‘service/product + locations’ type searches.

Until very recently this type of search (‘real estate + city, st‘) on Google, returned a Local OneBox of real estate offices. It no longer does. The Local OneBox had reliably appeared on this search from last October until late last week.

Whether this is a permanent change or not, it raises some interesting questions about the logic of Google’s change. There are several possibilities why it has been removed:
1)This a test, testing 1,2,3….
2)There was not enough perceived relevance provided by the OneBox to stay in place
3)Revenue from real estate ppc ads dropped significantly and/or complaints from these advertisers went up.
or
4)Google has other plans for this incredibly valuable real estate

Do I think it is number 1, 2, 3 or 4?…..

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Mapping Market Share

Chris Coad at the Complete.com Blog has an interesting summary of Map Provider Market share.

His conclusions:

  • Though traffic is down more than 20% from it’s peak in June, MapQuest remains the king of online map services with over twice the traffic of it’s nearest competitor.
  • Google Map’s functionality has allowed it to nearly double in size since January 2006. Google’s service is quickly gaining ground on Yahoo’s similar offering, and also shirking seasonal trends.
  • Live Search* has been gaining significant traction: coming out of beta in September, it has since grown to twice the size of well established RandMcNally.

He also has very interesting data on the different ways that the services are used.

Now appearing at Search Engine Lands:Locals Only

I have recently started writing a monthly article for  the  Locals Only section at Search Engine Land. My first article addresses Google’s  role in the area of voice activated  directory assistance.

Directory assistance with voice recognition and category listings has the ability to permeate the mobile user market place in the near term and could impact local search as much as Google’s Local Onebox. This technology requires no change in user behavior or user hardware and it really works without the advent of more advanced products.
Greg Sterling has reported extensively in this area and has a recent report on an upgrade to Jingles  1-800-Free-411.

Rate of Change in Google Maps: glacial

The rate of change in Google Maps has been a topic of discussion. I noted issues with reviews not being updated in almost a year for certain businesses.

Matt McGee has a very good piece reviewing his experience. His conclusion: the slow rate of change of these prime listings is great news for the businesses that are fortunate enough to score one of those A, B, or C spots. And until the data gets processed more quickly, good luck to those businesses on the outside looking in.

Google Map’s medical center phone data: Code Red!

Fargo Hosptial Phone numbersLast month there were reports of errors in Google Maps listing for Duke Medical Center phone numbers. Not only were the numbers often times wrong but Google Maps was listing as many as 5 phone numbers for a single facility, few of which went to the central switchboard. To Google’s credit the Duke Medical Center situation was resolved rapidly on an individual basis.

When an additional report surfaced in Google Maps for Business Owners from NYU Medical Center, I decided to investigate the depth of the issue and see if was isolated to large teaching centers or was more widespread throughout the medical listings.

The report from NYU reported not just multiple and wrong phone numbers but wrong map locations as well. Google’s new feature in the Local Business Center, allowing the movement of Map markers, will facilitate some corrections about location but not the problems with phone numbers. Most medical centers have difficulty complying with Google’s protocol for record correction as they have multiple mail stops making delivery of the PIN card unlikely and multiple phone lines making a call for verification almost impossible.

My assessment?
The medical center phone data is in critical condition and in need of intensive care. .

Only 2 of the 13 markets did not have listings showing 4 or 5 phone numbers. 18% of all listings showed 3 or more phone numbers despite low verification rates through the Local Business Center. And if you live in Fargo, ND it appears by Google’s account that there are more medical phone numbers than there are doctors.

When I found 5 phone numbers listed for a hospital, I spot checked by calling some of the numbers to see where they went and if the answerer had received erroneous calls. In very limited tests, the numbers went to a department rather than the main desk facility listed and noted receiving a fairly large number of wrong number calls. I think it is safe to assume that any facility with 4 or 5 (and likely 3) numbers listed probably has numbers not for the main facility or that are in error.

The fact that none of the medical facilities with 3, 4 or 5 phone numbers listed had yet to claim the record in the Local Business Center shows: 1)that there is a possibility that they will get cleaned up and 2)that it is a ways off. Another (perhaps more real world) test of the quality of this data would be to see if the single number that Google picks for these records in the Local OneBox is the correct one.

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Developing Knowledge about Local Search