The category exists at Google Maps; Sort of….

Reuben Yau (of reubenyau.com) points out an interesting annomoly that occurs from time to time with categories in Google Maps where a business can achieve onebox or authoritative onebox listing in a category that doesn’t exist in the Google Local Business Center. He wrote: The other thing I noticed is that the category for that site is Gazebo Builder which is taken from Acxiom’s database, but that category is not present within GLBC. FYI Acxiom is the database behind yellowpages etc.

Here is what Google has to say in the Google Maps for Business Owners Forum: Because our listings come from different sources, not all categories
available on Maps are in the Local Business Center – you may want to use to
category suggestion page to submit Services – Resume. That’ll help us
improve our category options in the future.

One wonders why Google would want to limit the categories and what process they use to decide whether to accept a category. It would be interesting to have a list of those categories that Google uses but that they don’t make available through the Google Local Business Center.

The prodigal son of a search engine comes home

How is Google integrating Google Maps data and what does the future hold?

Over the past 14 months, Google has been integrating ever more local data into its main search results page. This use of Maps data on the main results page indicates how important Google thinks that local is.

The first major change of many this calendar year was the renaming of Google Local to Google Maps (April 20, 2006). Here is a list of integration since the last quarter of 2005:

Google Feature ~Date of Introduction
Plus Box December 9, 2006
OneBox Business Listing Map July, 2006
Onebox Authoritative Listing Map July, 2006
Google Local renamed to Google Maps April, 2006
Top 3 local listings Onebox November, 2005
Integration of Google Local & Google Maps October 6, 2005

Obviously Google Maps gets many fewer visits than the Google search page (in fact only 1/100 of the visits, about 25 million searches a month). For now local data is also being pushed out to cell phones (via directory assistance, SMS, Mobile Maps) but that too is not having a very significant impact.

Most users only find information that Google presents on its main search page. It seems too that most users when they do find a phone number on a search engine still end up picking up the phone to call (see Greg Sterling’s analysis).

Given this usage, local data only has impact today when Google presents it on the front page. It is, however, not easily tracked at this point. If a business is called from a front page local Onebox listing, there is nothing comparable to web analytics to automatically register the behavior.

There has been a steady and rapid integration of local data into the main Google page. More will be coming along. Perhaps it will be presented within the existing user interface or perhaps in some new presentation model.

I would like to hear your thoughts on which of these introductions to date has most increased the use and value of Local Data when found through the main search results? Was it the Plus Box (Loren Baker seems to think so) or do you think it was some other feature?

What would you like to see integrated in the main Google search results page in the first few months of 2007?

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Google to Add map data correction capability?

From: “Maps Guide Jen“  (Google-Maps-For-Business-Owners@googlegroups.com)
… it sounds like your addresses aren’t being recognized within our map data, all of which comes from NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas. We don’t currently have a way for you to submit your map data to Google Maps, although we’re working on it.

“Maps Guide Jen” the Google staffer at the Google-Maps-For-Business-Owners Group, provided the above answer when a business reporting that Google Maps was locating their business incorrectly. There is nothing more frustrating than when the underlying data to which a business owner has no access is wrong. It looks like Google will soon offer a solution that allows the business owner to correct that map data more easily themselves.

Google Maps data updated

The restaurant listings (and probably all listings) when through a major data update this past Thursday (12/21) which reordered results within the restaurant listings in Google Maps.

In mid November (11/15/06) I updated a restaurant listing at Yelp to standardize the business name and added a review. This was a test to see how long it took to show up in the reviews section on a restaurant in a small market. At the time the restaurant was listed at 22 in Maps. With this recent update, the Yelp review did not make it into the review section but did show up as a “web page” reference. No other changes were made and reviews that were made at Citysearch in May had still not been integrated.

Interestingly the restaurant moved from position 22 to position 2 in Maps but has not yet made it on to the front page “Onebox”.

In looking at the Buffalo listings that I wrote about earlier there was a fair bit of change as well. Here are the comparisons… Continue reading

Improving Local Standings via Relevancy (my hat is off to Bill Slawski)

I see that Understanding Google Maps has been nominated by the Search Engine Journal in the category of Best Local Search Blog. It is an honor that I really appreciate.

However, more importantly, it demonstrates Bill Slawski‘s idea of gaining prominence through providing relevancy in your local search marketing. While I am writing this blog to others in the Search Engine field there is every reason to use this nomination as an opportunity to achieve some local news coverage and “street cred” with my local clients. So while I won’t shamelessly ask for your vote in the Search Engine Journal Election, I will shamelessly flog the information to my local news media and my client base.

The next step will be to parlay my writings and findings into a bang up seminar to evangelize more local businesses on these ideas.

Google “Plusbox” now available to all browsers

Google Plusbox

On December 9th Matt Cutts announced a new standard interface feature on the main Google results page for locally oriented searches: the Plusbox. (Just a note, this is not my jargon. I suppose though that since Google invents it they can name it.)

At the time it was only available for IE users but is now available to Macintosh Firefox and Safari users (and I assume Opera users as well).

What does a link campaign look like for Local?

In my previous post about the sources and weightings of local information it was clear that reviews and web references played a key role in your Google Maps ranking and hopefully a business’s appearance in the top 3 One Box.

However if you execute the link command (link:www.anchorbar.com ) for the number 1 ranked restaurant, The Anchor Bar, in the search “Restaurant Buffalo NY” you will see “Results 1 – 10 of about 40 linking to anchorbar.com”. When you drill into the Google Map local detail for “web pages” for the Anchor Bar you see that Google finds 335 “web page” references. Clearly Google looks at “links” differently in local than in organic.

In fact one of the first things you notice is that your “links” don’t require a link at all just an actual street address and a business name that matches what Google thinks it should be. At this point in time Google obviously notes these references more liberally in Maps than on the organic side.

What types of sites and references should you be looking for?

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New Google tools will impact Maps

Philipp Lenssen at Google Blogoscoped (thanks to Barry Schwartz) points out two new Google features that will have some impact on the future of Google Maps.

The first is Google My Reviews whereby a logged in Google user can find all of his or her reviews made on Google properties. Given the role that reviews currently play in Google Maps this will (at some point) will obviously affect local ranking.

The other is that Google Maps now supports Multiple Destinations. This has been something that Yahoo has offered for a while but any map push out will increase the direct use of Google Maps and will at some point move Google Maps into a true destination with more than 1% visitation.

“The most relevant results” sort of…

One of the interesting results that I covered in previous posts ( here and here ) was the occasional and glaring difference (using the same data set) of the results in the Google Onebox Local Listing and the Maps top results.

In a recent NY Times article (reg. req’d) and often in the past a Google spokesman has said “We will continue to innovate our search technology to provide users with the fastest and most relevant search experience on the Web.” Which is the most authoritative? Which is the most relevant?

It is hard to have two “most relevant” results to the same query (Restaurant Buffalo, NY) from the same search engine. It certainly leaves one wondering why Google can’t really decide.

Google Organic Onebox Local Results Google Maps Results
1)Anchor Bar - A.Hyatt Hotels & Resorts: Hyatt Regency Buffalo
2)Kuni’s Sushi Bar B.Adam’s Mark Hotels & Resorts
3)Hyatt Hotels & Resorts: Hyatt Regency Buffalo C.Buffalo Marriott Niagara
D.Anchor Bar
I. Kuni’s Sushi Bar

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Sources for Google Map’s Restaurant Local Listing data

AllMapDetailsA-P1-10LineIn Part 1 of this series I reviewed which directories Google is using in creating their Local Listing for Restaurants. In Part 2 I looked at their sources for reviews and ratings and its impact on ranking. In this third installment I will review the aggregate results of all data Google uses in providing information for the Local Listing in the restaurant industry and some of the implications for optimization.

Google Map’s ranking algorithm is complicated. This summary reviews Map’s sources and from that one can glean some ideas about what influences ranking. Clearly though the underlying rules rely on different weighting and factors that have yet to be determined (although we can make some good guesses).

In fact it is clear that Google Maps and the Google Organic Local Onebox results weight the same local listings differently. My simplified analysis does not (and can not) establish definitively what these relative weights are. It can however point us to the data sources that Google is using and perhaps allow us to develop models for improving rankings.

Here is a summary all the details that Google Maps captured for the search Restaurant Buffalo, NY on each listing that I analyzed:

Restaurant Ranking Details (# of Directories) Referring Web Pages Number of Reviews Stars Rating Business Type
A 8 176 57 4 Hotel
B 8 385 76 3 Hotel
C 8 451 15 4 Hotel
D 5 156 37 5 Restaurant
E 7 260 18 4 Hotel
F 7 383 5 0 Hotel
G 4 73 29 3.5 Restaurant
H 7 81 26 3.5 Restaurant
I 5 57 25 5 Restaurant
J 6 78 4 0 Restaurant
K 2 12 2 0 Restaurant
L 3 48 0 0 Restaurant
M 1 55 3 0 Restaurant
N 7 190 8 0 Restaurant
O 3 28 10 0 Restaurant
P 7 89 6 0 Restaurant

There is a lot of information in this chart so here are some different ways to look at the info…. Continue reading

Developing Knowledge about Local Search