Google Maps – Even more that is going on here

Matt McGee in a recent post, Google Maps push further into regular SERPs clearly laid out some significant changes that Google had made in the Local OneBox. I would like to add to his list.

From Matt’s post:
In its post, Google is trumpeting the fact that this new display now shows rating/reviews to make comparisons easier. That’s nice, but there’s a lot more going on here. Consider:
1. Gone forever is the text-only local Onebox display.
2. It looks like the number of ratings and reviews has gone up dramatically.
3. Google is very aggressive about using this display for anything closely resembling a local search.
4. Finally, very specific searches still bring up a single listing, not three.

Some additional thoughts:
1. The Local OneBox results now include a direct link to the business website. Thus a business will get site visits not just phone calls from a onebox listing and for the first time there will be an ability to measure results.
2. Google, in pushing organic results so far down the page and highlighting local results, is rewarding a bricks and mortar presence at the expense of a well optimized web site. There are plusses and minuses here but on net, I would choose reality as the preferable predictor of results.
3. Google has added somewhere between 10 and 12 entry points to their Maps product compared to 2 entry points in the previous incarnation of the Local OneBox. Given that there is little else to choose from “above the fold” the user either will visit the website or go into Maps.
4. There appears to be an increased use of the Authoritative OneBox. Previously it was shown when there was no competition locally but now is shown more frequently.
5. Google has changed the ranking algorithm for the results in the Local OneBox (more on this tomorrow).

Just as important are the things that haven’t been added or changed:
1. The coupons have not yet been rescued from obscurity and placed on the front page
2. Click to Call did not claim a place in the OneBox
3.While the highlighting of reviews may be more agressive, Google is still not updating reviews very frequently. This seems problematic.
4. 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.

When does the future happen

According to Comscore, roughly 11 million, of the current 200 million cell phone users, use their mobile phone to do local search. Of those 11 million, I believe that many are like me: “soft” users i.e. users that only use the service occasionally due to the limits of the hardware & software interfaces and the quality of the data. I am curious about how soon this local search aspect of the mobile market will become mainstream. A possible benchmark would be when it reaches 50% penetration i.e. 100 million users in the U.S.

There are many barriers to this level of adoption: limits of current phone technology, cost of the service and lack of perceived benefits by cell phone users.

We are now seeing the future of local search in overcoming the limits imposed by the current hardware & software. Google has staked out its mobile interface with Google Mobile Maps, Yahoo has its Yahoo2Go mobile application suite and Apple has created the perception of what a usable mobile device looks like. These three players may not be the winners in the cell market of 2006/2011 as it is dramatically different than the internet market of 1996/2001. However, these three will in many ways define what local search looks & acts like. These tools seem to answer the constraints on mass market adoption of mobile local search; the interface & hardware issues that have been barriers to widespread adoption.

When will we get there? And will it result in the increase in local searches that creates a truly vibrant mobile local advertising market?

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Google Upgrades the Local OneBox Results

restBuff450.jpgGoogle is now presenting an enhanced local onebox that includes a map and more details from their Google Maps database. The effect of the change is to totally dominate the main search results with details about the top three local businesses. There are a number of additional options to access more information & directions from their Maps as well.

Certainly the higher visibility will increase general market awareness about their Maps product. The increased links into their local database will likely lead to an increased use of their Maps product for directions, reviews etc. (If you are like me and have already forgotten what the “old” onebox looked liked you can see it here.)

However, the increased attention will also point a bright spotlight on some of the failings of their local product and increase the small business cacophony of complaints. They are a vociferous lot indeed.

The image above clearly demonstrates one of the flaws…the inability to deliver up restaurants instead of hotels when the searcher is looking for restaurants. In a quick survey of 10 major cities, this problem occurred in 3 of them. Google’s inability to keep reviews updated and maps correct will only be more evident.

I am a fan of Google Maps but their vapid response to complaints and their slowness in delivering a mature product will wear thin quickly with this new emphasis on local results.

The Good and the Bad of Google Maps

On 1/20/07, I wrote on the Google Blog:

Jen (Google Map Guide)

We work with a local restaurant that when viewed in Google Maps has but
one review from CitySearch dated September 2005.

There have been a number of subsequent customer reviews posted on this
restaurant at CitySearch, Yahoo and Yelp since May, 2006 and later but the
review information at Google has not been updated.

As a small business owner, they understand your use of reviews to
provide reader guidance. However, they are concerned that Google has
not conscientiously updated their information.

Please advise.

Mike

On 1/30/07 Google responded:

Hey Mike,

I completely understand your local restaurant’s concern about the most recent reviews not appearing with their business. At this time, I can’t tell you exactly when we’ll be getting those new reviews into Google Maps, but I can assure you that we are working to provide the most up-to-date data that we can. The best I can do at this time is ask your client to be patient, and let them know that more recent reviews should be appearing shortly.

Thanks,
Jen Continue reading

Google now Serving Ads on your cell phone

Bill Slawski has recently reported on a Google patent to deliver ads on your cell phone. After reading the patent, I happened to be playing with Google SMS yesterday and received my very own (obviously reduced) ad that read:

(Ad)Hotels.com
Great Hotel Rates!
Hotels.com
800-449-4167

Here is what Adwords has to say (my italics and bold for emphasis):

In some cases, the local business ads may also appear with relevant searches on Google Maps for mobile. Ads appearing with mobile search results may contain only two lines of text, so local business ads may show in a shortened form on mobile searches. Currently, advertisers aren’t charged for impressions or clicks accrued by local business ads on mobile searches.

The text versions of your local business ads may also appear on Google SMS queries. Due to the limited amount of space in the SMS format, your ad text may not be included in its entirety. However, your business name and contact information will be included.

OneBox patent summary from Bill Slawski

I have written a number of times about the OneBox:

-Eyetracking Heatmap: How Searchers View the Google One Box

-The Google “Onebox” on general search phrases

The OneBox, in its many forms is very important as the primary interface that Google provides to local search and thus deserves attention. Bil Slawski has just published a summary of Google’s OneBox patent at Search Engine Journal as well as listed other OneBox references. As Bill points out the OneBox is Google’s method of allowing vertical search to works its way into the main search engine results page.

Comscore reasearch on cell phone use by age group

Comscore has released the second part of their research about cell phone usage by age group. In the first part of their research they examined general cell phone usage patterns as well as types of cell phone internet access.

Their current conclusions:

Consumers in the 18-to-24 Age Segment: View Cell Phones as Multi-Functional Accessories; Crave Advanced Features and Personalization Options

Wireless Users in the 25-to-34 Age Segment: Most Likely to Access the Internet via Their Cell Phones

Their research does not detail specific internet usage by age group. In their previous research 44% of the users access the internet for email purposes while somewhat more than 24% used it for local search. It would be helpful to see top reasons for access by age group to see which age groups are more focused on local search vs other uses as well as the type and intensity of local search. It isn’t clear from the research summary but I would assume that the reason that the 25-34 age bracket is more likely to access the internet via cell is for job related e-mail.

Read on for more of their findings…

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Google responds to geolocation issues

There is a more than a little irony in Google’s “official response” to the complaints about problems with the underlying geo-location data (italics are mine for emphasis):

== 9 of 10 ==
Date: Fri, Jan 19 2007 2:29 pm
From: “Maps Guide Jen”

I just wanted to let you know that your voices and concerns are being heard.
Currently because we source all of our map data from NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas,
we may not be able to make manual corrections to your business locations. We
don’t currently have a way for you to submit your specific map corrections
to Google Maps.

Some business owners have reported that adding a note to the “Description”
section of their business listing has helped their customers to find them.

You can edit your listing by following the instructions at

http://maps.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=15391&topic=1481

Cheers,
Jen

==

Bill Slawski talks about a recent Google patent to improve location information accuracy. Clearly Google is working on this difficult problem. Obviously, they have yet to solve it.

What were China’s 450 million mobile users ‘Searching’ for in 2006?

A summary of interesting tidbits provided by a press release from mInfo of China:

-WAP is currently actively used by only 30-40 million of the 450 million mobile users in the country, whereas SMS has over 90% adoption

-Searches were spread fairly evenly amongst the basic subject areas of Local Search (41%), Informational Search (31%) and Rich Content Search (28%).

-Local search involves finding directory information for locations such as bars, hotels and ATMs

-The five leading search categories in 2006 were: 1. Dining/Recreation 2. Jokes/Riddles 3. Ring tones/Pictures 4. News/Stock 5. Weather forecast

-The query model for mobile search is also quite different from web search. Mobile searchers tend to use longer query strings (5-6 words/query) vs. web searchers who average about two words per query. Mobile searchers tend to input phrases with qualifiers to improve specificity in an effort to increase relevance and get more precise answers.

-The average web search session usually involves 5 or more iterations of keywords with countless clicks on the resulting links. Contrarily, the average mInfo search session requires just 1-2 queries for users to find their desired answers.

-Search diversity is much higher on mobile vs. the Web. According to traffic data from a leading Chinese Internet search engine, the top 1000 keywords account for over 70% of all search traffic. However, for mobile search, the top 1000 queries account for only about 20% of the searches

-The 19-24 year old group seemed most interested in ring tones and pictures while the 25-29 year old group was more heavily weighted towards local search. The 30-34 year old group tended to spend more time on travel and news related searches.

Comscore’s numbers on mobile search

There is a fair bit of optimism that mobile (see Get Ready for a Surge in Mobile Search) is going to dominate local search in the very short term. The numbers are mouth watering to venture capital: 200 million cell phones in the US alone and research that 30% will use local search on their current or next cell phone. I am sure that it will happen…. someday

Research on actual current users tells a different story. Here is the data from Comscore’s recent research:

Wireless Users’ Internet Accessibility (via Phone) October 25, 2006 ­ November 1, 2006
sample size = 1,708

Source: comScore Networks Wireless Report Percent of Users
Don’t have Internet option/unsure 37%
Have Internet option/don’t subscribe 34%
Currently subscribe to the Internet 17%
Previously subscribed to Internet option 12%

Top Reasons for Accessing the Internetfrom a Wireless Phone

(Among those who subscribe to Wireless Internet Option)

Feature Percent of Users
E-mail 44%
Ring Tone Downloads 35%
Weather 34%
News 29%
Sports 25%
Local Search (i.e. YP) 24%
Game Downloads 21%
Travel Information 19%
Wallpaper Downloads 16%
Directory Assistance 15%
Financial Information 10%
Pay Bills 10%
Shopping 6%

Let’s do the math: 200 Million cell users of whom 17% have & use internet access and of those only 24% (lets be generous and assume some more unique users from the other categories and say 33%) do some sort of local search. Total audience:11 Million. Nothing to sniff but not yet a huge market

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Developing Knowledge about Local Search