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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

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:

(note: these relate to the technologies detailed in the Google Local Patent Post from yesterday)
1)Google uses multiple primary data sources (not just one like the
phone book) to identify businesses coming and going (which they pay $
for) and they will settle on the most accurate of them
2)They have partnered with significant number of on the ground
businesses like SuperPages, Mobil Guide, Better Business Bureau that have significant
vested interest ($) in selling and maintaining Google listings
3)Websites while often inaccurate, provide reasonably accurate
aggregate data that is current and certainly more current than the
phone book. Google’s crawling technology is pretty good and they
are motivated to improve it ($).
4)All national chains will be strongly motivated ($) to keep their
XML feeds accurate and up-to-date
5)Ultimately the only remaining segment (small business owners who
are not a franchise, don’t use BBS, Superpages or some other partner)
can get into the record or pay someone to do so (the $ factor again)
and get it squared away.

I realized that the question wasn’t “Is it accurate?” but rather

Is it accurate enough (and available enough) to replace the current
way of doing it by a significant % of the public?

or framed another way:

Will self-interest ($) offset the tendency
toward entropy in large scale databases?

I am convinced that Google through a combination of good technology and that ever appealling enticement, money, has succeeded in overcoming the problem intrinsic in maintaining large scale structured databases.

Certainly, as Bill points out in his blog, Google has made a number of missteps in promoting local search or rather lame steps in promoting some really interesting local technologies. But the race is long and Google has the time and capital to succeed.

Several examples of the very successful push (not necessarily the adoption) of information of local data into the mainstream are:

-The integration of local data with Google Organic search results (which I now use exclusively to contact local businesses when I am on my computer)

-The presentation of the “onebox” for the authoritative local result

-The 520-FIND voice activated directory service which I now use instead of my phone contact list to dial my clients when on the road.

-The successful integration of Google Maps and Google Local

-The steady push of Google Adwords into the local space

Google’s lack of energetic promotion of Local Initiatives pointed out by Bill, could be explained by incompetence or it could be explained by the desire to wait for an elegant AND simple way to move the data into the interface.

The Local Search Race has just begun and those of who are immersed in the technology, want to see its results widely used yesterday. However, like all new technology it takes time to fully percolate into the main stream. I wouldn’t bet against Google. My sense* is that we will be in the “Year of Local Search Breakout” for another 1 or 2 years and then the use of Googles Local in one form or another will be  everywhere.

*There is a saying out west that only fools and easterners predict the weather. The same probably is true of people who predict adoption rates. FYI I am from the east. The jury is still out on the my other attributes.