Ask shape announcement may shape the future of Maps

Ask map upgrade

The Ask.com announcement, The New Shape of Local Search has been widely reported.

However, not many commentators have noted how cool and useful this feature really is. OK so you can draw on the map, big deal I said to myself.

Then I started drawing. When I noticed the email and permalink I thought, how long is the image stored? Can my doodles be shared?

It appears that the drawing data is captured in the link (and not stored anywhere) and when the link is shared the map doodles go right along with it to redraw the custom map for the next viewer.

Here is a sample map with my input: http://city.ask.com/city?msid=f29535c07bc94e24c4c10fd0b697730c&msuserid=eeef09e483dbd0f315991e723912e733

The fact that there is a permalink to this image and that it can be emailed means that each users custom map can exist forever for whatever purpose…a temporary rendezvous, a map for a website…and possibly many more.

Hitwise confirms: Dramatic rise in Google Maps traffic due to Onebox update

Last week I reported on a Hitwise report that Traffic to Google Maps increased by 26% from Jan. to Feb. due to an increase from upstream Google traffic and I surmised that it was likely due to the OneBox change.

Today, LeeAnn Prescott from Hitwise confirmed that the traffic increase was likely due to the change and that the week lag in data that I had noted was an artifact of the data collection and Google rollout procedures. LeeAnn noted: If the Local One Box change happened in the middle of the week, there may be a lag. It also may have been rolled out in different markets separately.

Hitwise report on Google Map market share

I had noted previously that the Local OneBox change had provided between 10 and 12 new entry points into Maps from the prime territory above the fold on the main search results.

To give a sense of how large this increase is one needs to realize that just this increase is roughly equal to all of Microsoft’s Local traffic and greater than the combined traffic from Insiderpages, Judy’s Book, Ask & Yelp.

Given Google’s dominant share in search, even small changes on their main search results page creates incredible traffic for any of their secondary products. It demonstrates clearly how difficult it will be to unseat the leader in the local battle on-line.

Little old lady gets called for tech support…

I love reading the the Google Maps for Business Group postings. This one appeared under the heading, Phone Number Troubles. I’ll say.

Recently we have run into a small problem with a women that lives in
Sherman Oaks California (Which happens to live near one of our
locations) Every time someone Google searches to find our clinic
location (example: “our business” Sherman oaks) They get a map and
two phone numbers. One is our number which will directly connect the
searcher to our clinic. The other will get a very nice old woman’s house
that happens to live by our business. This is very frustrating for her
as you can imagine. We explained that our business does not control
what information is displayed. It’s very hard for her to comprehend

Perhaps she needs to start suplementing her income with Windows support. :)

Recent Posts about Local worth reading

Greg Sterling does the best strategic analysis that adds to understanding the big picture of Local Search. Two of his recent posts about Local Search that I found of particular interest:

•Yelp Becoming a CRM platform

•Local Numbers: Setting the Record Straighter

Bill Slawski of SeobytheSea also offers incredible insights on Local but from the technical viewpoint. His writings elucidate the technologies behind the scenes. His recently posted Google Local Search Glossary is a real gem.

Traffic to Google Maps increased by 26% from Jan. to Feb.

LeeAnn Prescott at Hitwise reports: Traffic to Google Maps increased by 26% from January to February 2007. It appears that this increase was due to an increase in upstream traffic from Google, which occurred on February 7, according to this daily clickstream chart shown here. Did anyone notice a change in how Google drives traffic to Google Maps around this time?

This jump in traffic to Google Maps shown on the chart occurred one week after it was reported that Google upgraded the Local Onebox results on the main search results page.

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WSJ: Local Search Sites Draw Users’ Input

Today’s Wall Street Journal had an article titled: Local Search Sites Draw Users’ Input in which they:
• extolled the value of Yelp’s reader reviews
• reported on the trend of user generated content in local sites like Local.Yahoo.com, Yelp, InsiderPages.com
• Offered up the Kelsey esitmate of $6.2 billion in local search advertising by 2010
• Note the changing plans (difficulties) of Judy’s Book and Citysearch and their need to shore up traffic.
• AhmedF points out on Greg Sterling’s site that the article has the YellowPages.com generating almost 7000 reviews a day (200,000 in February) since allowing reviews.

What is of interest to me in the article comes from the Wall Street Journal’s track record of trend spotting just before a trend reaches critical mass across the U.S. Whenever I am looking to impress my kids or nephews I will read about an artist, toy or movie in the WSJ and usually discover that my kids have yet to fully appreciate the trend (which usually does take on widespread appeal) and hope that they remember my cool call in 12 months. They never do.

The WSJ has hit on 3 in this article: Local search taking off, user generated content and the difficulties facing even some of the bigger players in the market, all of which will be gaining mainstream mindshare over the next year.

Local Search Engine Marketing White Paper

Mary Bowling at Blizzard Internet Marketing, Inc. has recently published a white paper: Local Search Engine Marketing – Profitable Tactics for the Lodging Industry.

From their presse release:

You need a strategy for Local Search and, in this whitepaper, you’ll get detailed instruction on how to:

Optimize your website for Local Search using both on-page and off-page tactics.

Insure your presence across the many Local Search and Social Web platforms.

Choose the right directories to drive highly targeted traffic to your website.

Increase the return on investment of your pay per click advertising using local-specific strategies.

Standardize the information about you across the web in order to bolster your credibility with people and search engines.

The report provides a comprehensive overview of the local search industry with examples and tactics. It makes for a good read and while it is specifically written for the lodging industry, it includes a great deal of generally valuable information.

You may request a copy by visiting their website.

How accurate is Google Maps data?

There has been a recent upsurge in complaints about the accuracy of data that Google uses in Maps. There were recent (false) reports of hijacking, of very old & outdated listings not being removed and of complete bungling of a medical facility’s listings. The increase in complaints is due in large part to the increased exposure of the data in the Local OneBox and the resulting increase of awareness on the part of business owners.

Bill Slawski and I have written about the issue of data accuracy as has Greg Sterling. It was (is) my contention that the data will improve in accuracy over time due to the self interest of the many parties involved. As I noted several months ago, the last step in that process would be getting small businesses directly involved in correcting their own record. That is starting to happen with the increased visibility of the Local OneBox.

There are other accuracy issues that are not addressed by my original post. For example: the problems with Google’s heavy reliance on an aglorithmic approach to information, the quality of the data that Google uses to create, verify and ultimately delete records, and the lack of easy end user corrections of obviously erroneous data.

That all being said, I wanted to test a data set against on the ground information to see if it was “accurate enough”. To do so I chose the data generated by the query: “Restaurants Olean, NY“. Why? Three reasons: 1)I know most of them by sight, 2)I had a local Chamber of Commerce list of current restaurants and 3)it presented a small enough set that I could manage the information.

Here is what I found:

*Google identified 71 restaurants with the query, the Chamber list identified 50.

*6 of Google’s 71 were in fact closed. Some as many as 3 (maybe 4) years

*4 of Google’s 71 were either duplicates or not really restaurants

*11 of Google’s were pubs and bars and in Olean. In this area, they don’t really serve food unless you consider Bud one of the basic food types.

*Google missed including 3 coffee shops that the Chamber had as restaurants and to its credit found 3 restaurants that the Chamber did not include.

*Google generally ranked the restaurants reasonably by their local popularity on the Maps listing (with the exception of my favorite that they put at number 10…guess its time to stuff the reviews:)).

*The ranking and choices for the Local OneBox were very good. The number 1 and number 2 choices are two of the area’s most popular and busiest restaurants. The choice for number 3, Pizza Hut is arguable but a reasonable choice.

*In the top 10 Map listings there was only one closed restaurant
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List of Google Maps categories

Update 02/11/10: These Google LBC categories have now been placed in a searchable database too located on the Google LBC Categories page of my website.

Update 12/20/09: I have a new list of current categories at Google Local Business Center Categories – The Complete List

Update 10/13/2009: If you have found this old post then you are a motivated searcher. I am now developing a searchable database of Google’s current categories. If you think that easy access to Google’s category information would be helpful to you, contact me at mike@blumenthals.com and let me know that you are interested in testing the beta.

The categories that Google uses in Maps have always been confusing. They have their own very limited list and then they integrate categories from their other providers in a non-transparent way that causes confusion.

In a first step to making this more tranparent, Reuben Yau has created the first full summary of Google’s own Local Business Center categories.

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Developing Knowledge about Local Search