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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Some Thoughts on the YP industry & Google in Europe

I am just returning from the SIINDA conference in Budapest. SIINDA is the newly formed association born out of the combined efforts of the EASDP, the European Association of Search and Database Publishers (YPs), and EIDQ, the Association for the Directory Information. Most of the attendees at the conference were Yellow page companies that were in various states of conversion from print to digital. Many were fairly far along and appeared to be succeding with the transition. It was an incredible personal AND work learning experience.

One of the speakers was Karen McGrane, who if you haven’t followed you should. She has really thought through the idea of systems to allow content to be re-purposed and right purposed. A critical question for any pre-digital organization that is sitting on a ton of great content as well as new media companies.

Budapest and Hungary are amazing places. Budapest has incredible architecture and cultural assets. Their public transportation made moving around the city a breeze. As far as local tools there, Yelp was a non starter in terms of usefulness and Google’s leading position in all aspects of local were obvious – tourist information, mapping, navigation, listings and reviews. Apple Maps, due to their weak set of POIs, was a non starter as well. I tried it on my first day to take my wife to a nearby restaurant/poi for her birthday dinner and realized that it just wasn’t going to cut it.

Interestingly Apple had three people in attendance (but not speaking) at the conference including one from Cupertino that joined Apple from Locationary. When I asked several of the Apple employees if their attendance was an indication of coming activity on the local front I was obviously answered with non answers. Equally interesting though was when I broached the topic with several of the participants (mostly data providers) and they also felt compelled to note that they were unable to respond. Hopefully Apple is picking up some decent local POI data sets that will make their product more useful in Europe.

Thus I mostly used Google, particularly Maps, as we navigated Budapest and the hinterlands, It proved rich and accurate. Most amazing was Google’s powerful integration of public transportation routes and scheduling into Maps. Almost as useful were Google’s walking instructions. When coupled with an AirBnB flat 5 minutes from a metro station, we were able to easily move about the city exclusively using public transportation. Google Now always had interesting recommendations for us but only after we had already visited the area. Anticipatory search still has a ways to go.

As I learned at the SIINDA conference, Europe is quite amazing in that the market for directories is so incredibly fragmented. In some ways this fragmentation seems to have given some of the IYPs more time to convert to digital. Most of these IYPs perceive themselves as sales rather than technology driven and seem to feel that attempting to expand beyond their national and linguistic borders would present insurmountable barriers. They noted that the differences in data structures would make data collection/collation onerous and more importantly the difference in language would make it exponentially more difficult to run a sales organization. To say nothing of regulatory differences nation to nation. Equally amazing to me is that this means that most thus limit themselves to their own national markets which are often quite small. I wonder if in the end though these national barriers are enough to provide a long term security to their updated business models. I think not.

Google was obviously a big topic at a conference of Yellow Page companies in Europe with a whole morning spent on both the state of the EU monopoly abuse case and what sort of relationship these companies should have with Google. The attitude of most of the speakers (a travel, map and shoppling comparison site respectively) was that Google wasn’t playing fair and had abused their dominant market position. They also felt that the current proposed settement was worse than no settlement as it enshrined Google’s ability to dominate the area above the fold at the expense of their results.

The arguments essentially followed the same line as Yelp and TA in the Senate hearings: Google is forcing their own results to the top of the search results, we want Google to show our results rather than Google’s non organic results, we want a gentler kinder Google that sends us the traffic that we have lost to their verticals and doesn’t scrape too much of our content. While the arguments starts from a solid premise, it ends up winding down a some tortuous trails of logic to get to the desired outcome

Alastair Thornton from Thompson was the lone speaker to point out the somewhat hypocritical stance of buisness entities that were previously state endorsed monoplies complaining about Google’s monopoly status that they all craved. He noted that Google was pursuing their interests and any rational business organization needed to assess if those interests were consistent with their own. If not then they needed to develop alternative products and processes that made them successful rather than relying on the EU to provide remediation. The only other logically consistent position mentioned was approaching Google as a public utility. But no one wanted to go there. Folks seemed to want state intervention but just the right amount.

It was a great learning experience for me both professionally and culturally. Hopefully I can revisit both Hungary and a SIINDA conference. There is still a lot to learn on both fronts.