Google Local Announces New Local Product and Promises Better Communications

The newly appointed head of Google Local Product Manager Brian Fitzpatrick today announced the rollout of a completely revamped local product to replace the Places dashboard. As written about in the Wall Street Journal in June, 2012 the product is called “The Business Builder”. With the rollout of the Business Builder Google Local is announcing a totally rebuilt local product that offers the best of local and social as well as easy to use self provisioning of sophisticated Couponing, Adwords, Offers and other paid options.

National multi-store brands as well as single storefront businesses will be able to take advantage of this new functionality with the free local and social products as well as the easy to deploy paid products for their locations. Local analytics have been totally revamped as well. With the rollout of the new couponing product Google will be able to offer search to sale tracking analytics in an easy to use reporting format that can grow in sophistication with the business user and use cases.

Fitzpatrick, a dynamic multi skilled developer in the world of Maps, noted “It was a great relief to finally get the merged and updated product out the door. The reason for its long delay was our commitment to make the product bug free the first time and not have to push weekly updates and bug fixes. We think we have met that milestone. The days of lost reviews, lost listings and unfounded closings are behind us.”

“More importantly we will be holding public monthly briefings going forward laying out upcoming developments in our local products. This will allow for businesses, big and small, that depend on our Business Builder products to better plan their SEO and SEM activities in Local.”

Brian Fitzpatrick is a the newly merged head of the Local & Maps division within the web search team. His duties, roughly akin to those of Marissa Mayer who left for Yahoo last July, had previously been filled by a troika of individuals.

 

Google+ Local Bug: Service Area Business with Address Hidden Showing Address

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 9.18.16 AMIn Google+ Service Area Businesses (SAB in Googlespeak) that are in a residential area or do not accept walk in traffic are required to hide their address in the Places Dashboard. Normally this results in the address being hidden in Maps and Plus and a round pin showing

However since mid March there have been repeated reports of SAB addresses selected to be hidden that have their addresses showing up the Maps and Plus results. This was first reported by Linda Buquet but I continue to get inquiries about it and see new postings in the forum. This is a known bug and Google is aware of it.

The danger of course is that a listing might be deleted due to non-compliance with the rules. Google has indicated that ‘MODERATORs’ won’t be deleting listings now due to the bug. That being said there are powerful volunteer MapMaker editors (RER in Googlespeak) that seem unaware of the bug as indicated  by this recent comment:

 If the address appears to be a SAB from the satellite/street view image or the website and the address is not hidden in Places, I have no problem marking the listing for removal. Rarely will I waste my time or cellular minutes to call a business to confirm.

It’s (85-90% of the time) quite apparent if you have a business reception area or office and see customers at your location. Google Maps (and by extension Places) are for people to visit locations and a business that is primarily a SAB is of little use to someone on a mobile device looking for a business or service.

MapMaker editors, while often well meaning and hard working, often function autonomously and one wonders given their zeal and black and white view of the mapping world whether they are becoming the DMOZ editors of the new millennium. I am all for stomping out spam and making map data more accurate and marvel at the endless hour that RERs put in policing maps. But when the greyness of the real world is removed from judgement and there is a lack of over site bad outcomes will result.

Google’s Local Primary Data Suppliers Around the World

Google’s Local Search sits at the center of an ecosystem of local web sites and data providers and they use this ecosystem to assemble their business listing data. This is true in the US and the basic structure and process is replicated on a local in every other country in the world using different local resources. In each country Google identifies a one (or two maybe) primary data supplier(s) upon which to base their local business list. This primary data supplier provides a starting “ground truth” which is then added to and enhanced by data from MapMaker, the Places Dashboard, leading local sites and the web in general to create the results that we see in search.

Sometimes, like in Canada, this primary data provider is noted directly in the Maps listing but often the information is not readily available. In many countries of the world, it is not easy to ferret out who is the trusted source of business listing data to Google.

Google does however publish a Legal Notice for Google Maps/Google Earth and their APIs that includes some of this detail. In this document Google identifies their primary sources of underlying map data and business listing data as required by their contracts.

While not comprehensive the list does have some interesting tidbits. Two notices that stood out were the one for the US and the one for France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Israel.

 

5 Business Listings Data.

5.1 Google Local Business Listings in France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Israel

When you search for local listings in France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Israel, your search results may include content (including business listings and related information) which has been supplied by Kapitol S.A. (trading as Infobel) (the “Infobel Content”). The intellectual property rights in the Infobel Content are owned by Kapitol S.A. or its licensors. The Infobel Content may only be used in accordance with these Terms of Service and the applicable terms and conditions of Kapitol S.A. If you know that your business listing is supplied by Kapitol S.A., and you have any questions about it you should contact them directly.

5.2 Google Local Business Listings in the United States

When you search for local listings, Google displays business listings which may be supplied by Acxiom Corporation and/or infoUSA Inc. (“Axciom” and/or “infoUSA”). This information is proprietary to those corporations and is protected under U.S. copyright law and international treaty provisions. This information is licensed for your personal or professional use and may not be resold or provided to others. Except as permitted through the Products, you may not distribute, sell, rent, sublicense, or lease such information, in whole or in part to any third party; and you will not make such information available in whole or in part to any other user in any networked or time-sharing environment, or transfer the information in whole or in part to any computer other than the PC used to access this information.

France and the related European countries were of interest because this information, despite the public web page, was not widely known.The note in reference to the US stood out because it has been widely thought that their primary suppliers were InfoUSA and Localeze. From the above it is clear that it is InfoUSA and Acxiom. Localeze might still have a data relationship with Google, we don’t really know but it points out why, in the US, it is necessary to be sure that your data is accurate at all three of the primary data suppliers.

In addition to those countries mentioned above Google also notes their business listings sources are Brazil, Turkey, Kenya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bulgaria. If you have identified Google’s primary list suppliers in your country and it is not on this list, I would love to hear from you.

Video Snippets Vs. Author Images – Which Have Higher Click Through Rates?

Matt reached out to me last week with interesting data on the relative value of video snippets vs author photos in search results. This work compliments the research done on lawyer author photos and how consumers find a specialty lawyer last year. The research has implications for local as we have have seen pinned results in the wild that include them. Obviously the relative merits there have not yet been tested.

About the authors: This survey and corresponding write-up were
executed by SEO strategists Matt Green (@MChuckGreen) and John Van Bockern (@JohnEVanBockern) from Ethical SEO Consulting.

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The Reeves Law Group has invested heavily in video creation for their website, and have seen a measurable rise in conversation rates as a result. Although the videos have a positive effect on users once they are on the site, the stakeholders at the firm were skeptical that the presence of video snippets in search results would in fact have a similarly positive impact on click though rates (so, actually getting the user onto the site). Accordingly, they commissioned our team to answer this question:

What is the true impact of video snippets on click through rates in searches for specialty lawyers?

Answering this question would allow the firm to make an informed decision on whether or not to implement structured mark-up on their site (which causes the video snippets to be displayed along-side their listings in search results) rather than simply assuming the snippets would have a positive effect, possibly to the determent of CTR’s. Our assumption was that they would increase click through rates, in a similar way that authorship images have.

To that end, we conducted a survey with the intention of discerning the sway that video snippets hold over users searching for local specialty lawyers. The results from the test that we conducted through Usability Hub, which provided an effective survey interface, rendered a glimpse into the impact of these snippets in the highly competitive specialty lawyer market.

The Survey

We wanted to maintain the look and feel of a Google search result page as much as possible in the test, and then let the familiar process of searching guide the survey taker to make their own choice. This way, the design enabled us to keep as close as possible to the look of a search results page in order to most accurately represent click through rates. There were three separate images presented to a total of 300 respondents.

Any media snippet used was placed in the third search result, and only in the third search result, in order to discern the impact of a media rich snippet as compared to a standard, non-media search result.

First, a survey taker was given a brief introduction to the test:

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How Consumers Find a B & B

We recently completed a basic Local U seminar for bed and breakfast owners attending the MidAtlantic Innkeepers Conference in Baltimore. To augment the seminar I decided to create a large scale consumer survey using Google Survey as to how consumers find a B & B and what online resources that they use to do so. The survey mirrored the specialty lawyer survey that I conducted on behalf of Moses and Rooth last December.

During the last week of February, 2013, we surveyed a representative sample of ~1300 American adult internet users that were 18 and older to better understand their behaviors when making a decision about choosing a B & B. The methodology created survey results with a margin of error of less than +/- 2.8%.

We asked three questions that moved from the broader question of where visitors started their search, offline or online, and examined their behaviors as they moved through the decision process. The specific questions were:

If you were looking to book a Bed & Breakfast where would you start your search?

If you were to search for a Bed and Breakfast on the Internet what would be most important to you?

If you searched for a Bed & Breakfast on Google, what would you do first?

Where do consumers start their search for a Bed and Breakfast

It seems self evident that the bulk of activity when looking for a bed and breakfast starts (and likely ends) at the search engines. The decline of print is articulated in these results as is the low usage of Facebook and other social networks. Like in the lawyer study, Facebook usage for this task was more than 10 x less than the use of search. More interesting to me is the apparent importance of “pimping out” your Google listing as searchers are much more likely to look the visuals and map at Google and at not just the reviews. One possible tactic suggested by the survey would the use interior StreetView to gain a visual edge in conversion optimization of the Google business listing.

You can find the complete study at LocalU’s blog and download a PDF of the study there as well.

These results offer an interesting contrast to the lawyer survey. To a certain extent these two industries are at the opposite ends of the local search spectrum. In one (the lawyer search), consumers need to develop knowledge about truly local resources while in the other (the B & B search) consumers need to develop knowledge about a distant local resource.

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Siri: When did you start working?

Siri

Last night I was driving to Baltimore for an upcoming LocalU seminar. I heard the ding of a received text while listening to a podcast and I was curious. I asked Siri to read it to me. She did. She asked if I wanted to reply, I said yes. She sent my response flawlessly.

A while later I was heading down the highway and glanced at my email and wanted to send off a quick response to one ( I know, I know…it’s dangerous. Do not try this yourselves). I dictated, she understood me and inserted my response correctly into the email.

At 9:30, just outside of Williamsport and dog tired, I pulled over to the side of the highway and asked her to recommend a few nearby hotels as I couldn’t see any signs off  of the exit. She asked me which of the several choices I wanted and if I wanted to call one or get driving directions. I indicated that I wanted driving directions and  she guided me to the next exit and through a maze of service roads to a decent night’s sleep.

Hmm… it wasn’t until this morning that I realized with a start that she was 4 for 4. Was it an aberration and the Siri brain farts will start again today? I think she was showing off.

Slowly, ever so slowly, it seems that Siri is getting smarter. When did that happen?

Who is Winning the Apple vs. Google iPhone Driving Directions Battle? Too Close to Call

Yesterday I published the first question of my driving direction survey showing an extremely fragmented market. It is a category led by Google but one that is fragmented and, after a long period of calm, is once again becoming heated.

Apple, with the release of their own mapping product in September, has quickly garnered market share and has created a playbook that others like Samsung could very well follow. After Apple’s disastrous rollout where their mapping product was widely criticized (ah the problems of a market leader), life has settled in. I wanted to see, 6 months in, how Apple Maps was fairing in the competition for iPhone users and how many users were actively using products other than Apple’s.

Using Google survey I created a filter question to ascertain their preferred device/software for driving directions. Five hundred users that indicated iPhone as the answer were asked this follow up question:

  • What mapping or driving directions app do you use most often on your iPhone?

The answer? Its a statistical dead heat with Google Maps for the iPhone showing a lead that is well within the margin of error of the survey.

survey-3mom2oj2iss4c-question-2

What does this mean for Apple and Google?

The survey doesn’t really address whether the users still using Apple Maps are happy or just victioms of inertia. My anecdotal reports would indicate the former, that many are very happy with the product but I don’t have hard data to back that up. Apple, in releasing a product before it was fully ready, opened themselves up to plenty of criticism. More importantly they have yet to learn how to play defense well in an all too combative market that will take any opportunity to go after the market leader.

Apple has a solid market share and more importantly critical real estate. They have a product that is easy to use and very attractive. They seem to be willing to do what it takes to make Apple Maps a long term contender.

Google, a hyper competitive player, will (or should I say has) move into their release often, upgrade features till the other side gets tired strategy. Yesterday, after only two months on the market, they released a fairly significant upgrade to their iPhone Google Maps product.

As Googler Joel Headley noted on Google + yesterday in response to my survey:

It’s great to see a number of players that have great apps. I know it will help focus Google to develop new and exciting things in mapping not thought of by other folks. 

Google, not used to second place in the mapping space, seems willing to invest resources in regular and frequent upgrades to their iPhone app (even while Their Places Product is burning).

Mapquest, an early entrant into the iPhone driving directions market with an excellent product, lost a tremendous opportunity to gain visibility both before the Apple Maps release and in its aftermath. I am not sure how they missed their chance. They too could have been a contender and one has to wonder exactly what they were thinking during the fiasco. The many bit players, like the telco products, will never achieve lift off velocity. Waze, seems to have moved on with Apple’s entry.

It does seem to be a two horse race. Like I said yesterday “driving directions, long a stable and somewhat boring market, is once again in play”. The advent of mobile platforms has injected vitality and change into a market that needed just that.

Note: See yesterday’s post for methodology and issues related to the survey results that might impact the results.

 

Driving Directions Survey- A Fragmented But Important Market

 

Introduction:

When we think of driving directions, we often think that Google’s omnipresent role in the world of Maps indicates that they dominate the market for directions. When Google surpassed Mapquest and Yahoo in desktop mapping in 2009, it seemed that it was game over. But the current reality of driving directions seems to offer up a quite different picture for market share than search and for maps penetration in general. With the disruption of mobile hardware it appears that Google’s lead in this fragmented market can be attacked. While Google is in the lead, with a market share of over 30% (*see note below as to why the survey undercounts Google’s share), their position in the US market is not overwhelming and not unassailable. This has implications for both those looking to break into the mapping world as well as for the SMB that is hoping to be found by their customers.

I have recently completed this survey that attempted to answer two questions:

  • What product or service do you normally use to get driving directions?
  • What mapping or driving directions app do you use most often on your iPhone?

The survey was conducted during the the Feb 22 – March 3 period and used Google Survey. A sample of 5532, weighted to reflect the adult US Internet population were asked the first question. The first question was used to screen for iPhone users, 500 of whom were then asked the follow up question.

Driving directions are an interesting use case; they occur at both ends of the purchase funnel and again independently of any purchase intentions. Consumers might look for driving directions after doing a search for a local business or before traveling. But they are also likely to request driving directions first and enter buying mode later. While driving direction use isn’t likely to be daily or even weekly, the product is a stepping stone to more regular and habitual use of all of a vendors mapping products and more importantly provides the vendors with a critical source of current road data.

Survey Results:

Final-What-product-services-driving

You can see from this survey that usage of driving directions is very fragmented over different hardware and software services. Because I desired to isolate iPhone users and ask them an additional question about their maps usage (more on that in the coming days), Google’s share in the survey from iPhone users is not reflected in the above. It would appear that would add about 6% more users.

The story gets more even more interesting when you look you look at that data by age cohorts. There is a clear preference by those under 45 for Google and Apple mapping products while in the older cohorts there is a significant preference for Mapquest. This implies that usage is strongly habitual and once started it is difficult for a mapping product to change users behaviors.

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Developing Knowledge about Local Search