Why the New Google Maps Isn’t a Big Deal for Local Search

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You, new Google Maps, aren’t about to set the local-search world afire.

That’s right, I’m talking to you – with your deep pockets and slick looks.

New Google Maps

Any time the Google Goliath so much as scratches his nose, people notice.  Many among us have strong reactions (“Whooaa, did you just see that?”) – both positive and negative.  So in that sense, new Google Maps, you’re already important.

You’ve gotten attention, new Google Maps.  Some smart people have written insightful posts about you.

(A Tour of the New Google Maps [15 Screenshots])

(New Layout for Local Searches in Google)

(Is Google Local Changing the Metaphor For Local Ranking?)

(The New Google Maps: Shifting Search Terms)

But I don’t think you’re going to change the way people search for local businesses.  Nor do I think you’re going to change how business owners go about getting more visible to local customers.

I see a lot of far-off potential in you, but not much that’s splash-worthy now.

Why?

My dear new Google Maps, I hate to break it to you, but you face some hefty challenges:

  • You will struggle to get the average user excited.  The reason that will be tough is that, although you’ve made it clear how you’re different from your forefathers, you haven’t really explained how you’re better than the old Maps.  True, you’re better-looking.  But beyond that, the main thing you’re hanging your hat on is that you allow people to search for businesses by two new criteria: businesses recommended by “Top Reviewers” and by people in “Your circles.”  Which brings us to some of the next hurdles you’ll face.

  • Most people don’t socialize much with your big brother, Google+, nor do their friends.  Yes, Google+ is slowly gaining traction, but it’s got a long way to go before the average person (1) uses Google Plus and (2) has more people in her circles than her 5 geekiest friends.  Unless and until your big bro Google+ gets more popular at school, the “personalized” results for most users will be thin at best, and nonexistent more often than not.  Most people who search by “Your circles” will come up dry enough times that they stop bothering and revert back to the search habits that they feel work best for them.

  • Many users won’t be signed into their Google accounts even if they have one.  See, there’s been this little issue called PRISM here in the US, and Google hasn’t had a spotless track record of respecting people’s privacy.  So a good chunk of the population won’t even have the option of searching by circles, because they won’t be signed-in.  To those people your claim to fame won’t matter one bit.
  • There aren’t a lot of “Top Reviewers,” and Google isn’t doing an effective job of encouraging people to write reviews (rather than simply to read others’).  Google’s certainly trying, even going so far as to violate its own rules by offering swag to people who dash off a review.  But that’s just adding a drop to a one-eighth-full bucket.  Google could learn a lot from how Yelp gets people to write reviews profusely and with passion – as though somebody took away their OCD meds.  Google hasn’t made “Top Reviews” feel like revered village elders, the way Yelp has done for its “Elite Squad.”  Unless and until that changes, there won’t be many Top Reviewers, so the “search by Top reviewers” feature won’t be useful for as many local searches as it could be.
  • You’re making people click more, not less.  Yes, yes, I know that’s a First World problem if there ever was one.  But you’re the one who’s trying to make people’s lives more convenient, and I’m here to tell you you’re not quite there yet.  What do I mean by “too many clicks”?  I mean that if people just want to see a handful of non-personalized, perhaps un-reviewed local results at a glance, you’re making them click the “Go to list of top results” link before they can see the tried-and-true list of results they know and love.

 

  • You can only hope to work as well as your daddy, Google Maps, Sr., did.  In the four years I’ve been working in “local,” I’ve concluded that people generally like the search results Google shows (and if you don’t believe me, just ask Bing).  I’ve also concluded that most users dislike Google’s local results only to the extent that there are spammy or irrelevant results in there – in other words, businesses that really shouldn’t rank well.  Google Maps, Jr., you won’t be any better than your dad unless you can do a better job of cleaning out the junk.
  • You’re not going to change local SEO, significantly or at all.  Some of us have harped on the importance of reviews all along, and are quite good at helping our clients earn them.  The new emphasis on reviews is good news for us and for our clients.  What about the need for business owners to get “+1s” from customers and get customers into in their circles?  Well, not every business can do that until every business can have an “upgraded” Google+ Local page – wouldn’t you agree?  Success in a local-search campaign may look different – possibly no more “A-G” rankings, for one thing – but the steps to success will remain basically the same.

What do I think your future holds, young Maps?

You’ll be somewhat popular.  In some ways, you already are.

But your older brother, Google+, has to become really popular before you can hope to.  You’re not going to be the thing that prompts more people to sign up for Google+ – but that’s precisely the thing that needs to happen if you’re to live up to your potential.

You can’t get cocky and do things like pimp out the local search results with ads or try to make people enjoy a “user experience” that they just don’t like.

If regular people grow frustrated by their searching experience with you, you’ll be in trouble – and your Google family name probably won’t get you out of it.  Apple Maps will mature and improve significantly, even if it takes a couple years or more.  The Cupertino contingent will be breathing down your neck sooner or later.

Also, one reason Bing is so much smaller than Google is that a lot of people (including me) simply like Google’s results better.  But if that changes, so might our searching habits.

Google will hedge its bets on you.  At least for the time being, in your current state, you won’t be the only way for users to find local businesses on Google.

Please don’t take my strong opinions personally, new Google Maps.  I actually kind of like you.  But I’m just one user of many, and it’s too early to say how much you’ll need to change before you can make anyone’s life a little easier.

If I’m wrong about any of what I said, you can rub it in my face later.

But, like a fresh college grad, you simply aren’t going to “change the world” – at least not for a while.

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Comments

  1. Nice post! I’m eager to see how this new maps layout works but I have to agree with you it won’t be a game changer due to lack of Google + users and lack of top reviewers.

    • Thanks for your compliments, Todd. My sentiments exactly: I think Google is going to have to develop the new Maps more before it can matter.

  2. Hey Phil, thanks! Perfect easy reading for a beautiful Saturday morning, as always your intuitive point of view is dead on. Could not agree more with your take on Google +, thanks again.

  3. Phil –

    Thanks for the post. When it comes to SEO and other internet marketing and content related topics, I need and enjoy writings where a little sanity is restored when it come to over-hyped endorsements of shiny new programs and projects.

    So keep up the rants.

    Carlos

    • Any time, Carlos. I agree that this falls in the “shiny new object” bucket, at least as it is now: It’s just way too early to tell whether this is a bellwether or another one of Google’s bombs.

  4. I like the style Phil haha. Do you think including the “recommended by your circles” option is an effort on Googles part to influence people to use google+? I’m talking for people who’ve never really heard of plus. When they see that option they might think “Ohh what is this circle business, let me give it a try maybe it will improve my search results” – let me know your thoughts.
    – Ed

    • Great question / point, Ed. I think it’s a halfhearted attempt to get more people to use Google+. The trouble is that it’s not going to work for granny, because (1) Google does not have a link next to the “Your circles” filter that takes people to where they can create a Google+ page, and because (2) the “Your circles” filter doesn’t even show up unless you’re signed into your Google account.

      To my amazement, Google doesn’t drop a trail of breadcrumbs from the new Maps back to Google+, so I don’t see the former as a way to boost adoption of the latter. Which means Google has to find some other ways to get more people active on Google+ and actively writing reviews, and which means it’s going to be a while before the new Maps offers a user-experience that’s even slightly better than the old one.

  5. avatar Linda Davis says:

    What an excellent update on the big old world of Google and what’s going on out there! Thanks!

  6. Hi Phil,

    With time zones and all, it was a Sunday morning read for me- after the emails, and before the newspaper.

    Thanks for (as usual) bringing common sense to a subject in an over-hyped field, with too many people trying to hog the megaphone, but with little to contribute. OMG, that sounds like the media in general, doesn’t it?

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for the feedback. Sunday morning around here is even lazier than Saturday :)

      I think most people who’ve covered the new Google Maps have done a great job, but often give it a little too much credit. There’s only so much to say about it.

  7. Great piece, as usual Phil. Your assessment is spot on. Google has a long way to go to tie some of the pieces together and get more engagement on G+, more top reviewers, etc. That’s really their engagement problem though, not mine.
    From a local business POV I think this will have a big impact once it’s rolled out because mobile users are big Google maps users-they search with local intent at double the rate of Desktop users-40%+.
    The real biggie for me is that Google is taking rank out of the equation. More evidence is found at Greg Gifford’s post on Saturday where he shows the new carousel format for local search results.
    As for the extra clicks- Google may have determined that clicking is better than scrolling.

    • Thanks, Chris. Some excellent points you bring up. Just to throw in my two cents.

      I agree that if the new Maps interface outgrows the “Maps” tab and becomes the de facto way to search locally, then yeah, that will be a significant change. But I also think that’s a huge “if.”

      As you say, the non-labeled rankings would be also be a significant change. But I think the real upshot of that is that people’s focus goes from “Ooh, I want to be #1” to “If I’m not in the carousel and I don’t get any reviews, I’m a goner.” I think the rankings issue would simply become more binary: either you’re in the top handful, or you’re not. And that’s actually kind of how it is today.

Trackbacks

  1. […] much credit, and that it's not a game-changer. I just posted a rant on it, if you're interested: Why the New Google Maps Isn Just a little something to chew on during your weekend […]

  2. […] stars.  Also, the carousel seems to be a missed opportunity to push Google Plus on users (a la “new” Maps) – which is another reason I think Google will change the carousel […]

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