Will free long distance service accelerate adoption?

I and others (see Bill Slawski’s posts) have lamented the step child stature of Google Maps and Google’s apparent unwillingness to push it out to the consumer. It has always seemed to be such a valuable service that was hidden away and hard to find. Greg Sterling talked of the difficulties with the Coupon feature. I have noted how hard it is for a business to find their way into the Local Business Center. The Google Maps new Click to Call feature may be the feature that signals the tipping point in its adoption.

My wife makes frequent business calls to Canada and they are expensive even though we are only 80 miles from the border. So I checked to see if the Click to Call feature would help us out. It doesn’t. Google doesn’t provide the feature on Canadian listings. However, it dawned on me that they are essentially providing free long distance calling for business to business calls in the continental U.S. This feature could save me almost $20/month on my Verizon Freedom Calling Package.

Here is Matt McGee’s read on adoption. He thinks that the average user will be slow to pick this up. I would contend that there is now a compelling business argument, at least smaller businesses will adopt this technology. I would agree that it will not initially find broad “consumer” adoption but that if they can get businesses looking at Google Maps they will drive adoption in a number of ways:

-It will bring participation from a core audience that will drive Google Local success long term: the small business owner.

-It will familiarize them with the interface and perhaps encourage them to engage with Coupons and the Listing Center

-It will spread the word about Google Maps within these businesses and their employees.

-When coupled with the new Mobile Map functionality (See Walt Mossburg WSJ 11/15/06) it increases the likelihood of adoption from synergy.

Now there is a strategy to accelerate adoption!

P.S Here are some good comments about the possible downfalls and strengths of the technology and here are some interesting comments by Donna Bogatin on the possible motivations of Google

Google Maps Click to Call now live

google Click to CallOn November 2, I noted a beta of the Google Maps Click to Call feature. The feature is now live and out of beta on Google Maps listings. To see the feature you must be in the list view. It works flawlessly, asking your phone number, dialing the listing and then ringing through.

According to a poster on this site Google’s Click to Call service is provided by VoIP, Inc.. That has not been verified. Their website can be viewed here. It was reported in January of this year in a number of on-line journals that Google was using their services for the beta.

Now we all wait for Google to move this feature onto their main organic results page so that it is truly useful and not just a very cool technology that most people can’t find. Typical users rarely make it into the Google Map listing area and they miss out on coupons as well.

Although if it is active on Mobile Maps that would make it accessible and useful. If someone verifies this feature on your cell phone let me know how it works.

Which business classes benefit most from Local Search

Which business sectors would be best served by optimizing their local listings? Clearly not all business types are searched on equally and some are not searched at all.

To develop the data to analyze I went to the Overture Keyword Selector tool and typed just the city name with no state modifier for 4 relatively small rural cities (populations from 2000 to 50,000):
-Jamestown, NY
-Olean, NY
-Wellsville NY
-Coudersport Pa

I then removed any result for any city that was obviously not the one I was looking for (ie wrong state), removed all Not for Profit searches (hospitals, schools, govt. etc.) and removed searches for specific businesses. The list I was left with included the ambiguous “city + business type” or the non-ambiguous “city + st. + business type” search frequency results.

The outcomes offered some surprises…. Continue reading Which business classes benefit most from Local Search

In Confusion there is Opportunity

We are in the embryonic days of local search and it is confusing. Confusing to the small business person as Anita Campbell pointed out in her blog and confounding to experts as Bill Slawski pointed out in his piece on the idosyncracies of Google Map’s Local Search data. There are many who wonder if Google’s passive marketing is enough to drive the use of this “transformational” technology.

But in all of this confusion there is opportunity for the SEO specialist or small business marketing consultant or developer. In these early days, the firm specific knowledge that you build, understanding these technologies and helping clients leverage the local opportunity will provide you with a service that you will be able to profit from for the foreseeable future. The investment that you make in understanding the nuances of Local Search now will pay off many times over the next decade as you help your clients gain an advantage in their market.

Google and Yahoo are focused on the multi billion dollar local ad spend and their Local Search products are the thrust of that focus. Google is taking its mission to monetize “all the world’s information” to your neighborhood.

Monthly, perhaps even weekly we are seeing new hardware and software technologies that are pushing local data into the hands of consumers. If you just track Google’s developments (Google Local, SMS messaging, Google Earth, 520-FIND, Mobile Maps, Mobile G-mail) you see refinements in both sophistication and rapidly expanding hardware platforms for distribution of Local Data and an increase in the rate of release.
Our job now, as I see it, is to help small businesses take advantage of these technologies to reach their customers and to cut through the confusion. What do you think?

Google Maps and Library Listings -a replicated Bill Slawski experiment

I wanted to replicate Bill Slawski’s test of how well Goole Local handled libraries and see if our rural libraries faired any better in having the correct URL associated with their local listing. I was also curious if other information could be teased out of the results.

I searched on four rural libraries with & without State Location qualifiers:

Olean NY library & Olean Library

Salamanca NY Library & Salamanca Library

Cuba NY Library & Cuba Library

Wellsville NY Library & Wellsville Library

The results were, like Bill’s, all over the board from spot-on accurate listing of the website in the local listing to results that were incorrect to the point of indicating the website of a library on the other site of the state.

Here are some of my conclusions:

Continue reading Google Maps and Library Listings -a replicated Bill Slawski experiment

Best Practices for Local Success

Local Search optimization should be an integral part of every web site marketing plan. The goal is to encourage customers to visit or contact your business and Local Search plays an ever increasing role in this. The ultimate goal in Local Search optimization is a showing your business on the Google Main Search results page (ideally as the “onebox”) on a phrase that generates traffic.

Here is a list of best practices that I have ferreted out so far (what would you add?):

1. Go to the Google Local Business Center (and the Yahoo equivalent) and control your record with correct information, remove all incorrect records and keep it updated. This will override, take precedence over and be more trusted than the default data from a commercial data provider. While there do the following:

–a)include the relevant business categories
–b)Enhance the title of the Business to include the key phrase(s)
–c)Craft the categories and the description to reinforce the key phrase(s)

2. Buy into as many “trusted” sources that Google uses that make business sense i.e. BBB, Mobil Guide, SuperPages. A comprehensive list of these needs to be developed and they will vary somewhat by industry.

3. Monitor your entries and reviews in the relevant web based guides like CitySearch (a list of the ones that Google uses needs to be assembled). Make sure that they are factually correct and if possible be sure that the reviews are positive as that will affect your rankings.

4. Make sure that your business web site has your basic business information readily available. I do not think that you need to be too concerned with its specific format as Google’s parsing and normalization algorithms seem pretty good but as Bill Slawski points out you should attempt to use key:value pairs (i.e. phone: 716-372-4008 not just 716-372-4008).

5. Make sure to have as many references on other web sites to your business as possible and be sure that they include accurate business data: business name, address, phone etc.

–a)This needs to compliment your overall linking strategy.
–b)If you can a get a link AND a description including address & phone you should
–c)If you can only get a listing of address and no link, take it.

6.It appears from limited experiments that running a Google Adwords campaign associated with your listing in the local space adds authority and ranking to your listing and it might also help to have a coupon (proof of this idea is pending).

That being said you need to be the one ultimately responsible to be sure that the information is accurate and does truly reflect the nature of your business. Google has put the technology in place in Google Local Business Center for that to happen and they have done it in a way that gives businesses small and large an equal opportunity.

Will Google Maps (Local) data become more accurate & useful over time?

Bill Slawski of SEO by The Sea and I have been having a discussion about whether the technologies and strategies that he outlined in his Google Local Patent Summary were enough to allow Google Maps to be accurate.

Bill sent me a long list of reasons why Google Local could not be accurate. Up until that moment, in my wide eyed fashion, I had just assumed that Google would prevail and their solution would lead the way forward for a service like Google Maps to finally replace the Yellow Pages (not one moment to soon from most small business owner’s perspective).

But Bill’s email really started me wondering whether I was just an optimist that was rooting for Google to succeed or whether the technology really would become the standard for accessing local information.

Some of the reasons that I thought that Google Local Data would get better that I gave to Bill:

Continue reading Will Google Maps (Local) data become more accurate & useful over time?

A summary of Bill Slawski’s Google Local Search Patent summary

In early September, Bill Slawski wrote a great review/summary/analysis of Google’s Local Search Patent Application. I reread it over the weekend* and felt the surge of epiphany flow over me as I recognized the theoretical underpinnings of Google Local search results.

As Bill noted, Google Local is a “structure generation engine” that collects information from a wide range of structured and unstructured data sources, “normalizes” this information and presents that which is trusted to the user in its local directory, the Google organic search results and “responses to others requests for information” (see 520-find and Google SMS).

This Google local engine retrieves structured and unstructured data information about your business from various online and off-line sources & assigns trust factors to this data:

Trusted Structured Data via feeds, comes (via, XML, readable media, web sites) from:
-Commercial Data Providers like InfoUSA, D & B, Better Business Bureau, Mobil Guides
-the phone book companies
-a data feed from a large business with many outlets like Dominoes Pizza
-Google’s own Local Business Center(which was not mentioned in this patent because I am sure that it has its own patent to deal with stuff like its cool automated phone verification system)

Somewhat Less Trusted Structured, Semi-Structured and Unstructured Data comes (via assorted crawlers) from:
-On-Line Directories with known structured data (ie Superpages)
-On-line Directories with unknown structures and unstructured data (ie Restaurant guides & reviews like CitySearch)

Less Trusted Unstructured data from the Web (via crawlers) from:
-Your business web site
-Other sites that mention your business with geographic information

The Google local “structure generation engine” then standardizes all the fields, parses all of the information received via the above methods and then standardizes the information in those fields (with various tests), and presents it in its structured form via Google Maps, Google Organic and other “responses to …requests for information”.

To me the implications to the business owner or search optimization professional are clear:

Continue reading A summary of Bill Slawski’s Google Local Search Patent summary

Windows Live Does Virtual Dallas

Google Earth Meets Windows Live “Virtual Earth” Search Engine Roundtable –
Extremely impressive release by Microsoft with Virtual Earth. It is basically a Google Earth product with “dramatic 3-D mapping” in …

Windows Live Local Gets “Virtual Earth” 3-D Cities Search Engine Watch (Greg Sterling)-
Tomorrow Microsoft will bring dramatic 3-D mapping to the browser window. Windows Live is set to launch photorealistic 3-D imagery for the “urban core” of 15 U.S. cities: San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Detroit, Phoenix….

Microsoft tries 3D maps, fails ZDNet –
A very cool (but for me, almost unusable) version of Virtual Earth was released today by Microsoft called “Virtual Earth 3D”. Instead…

I, being a Mac guy on a PowerPC, have not been able to see this work…

Developing Knowledge about Local Search