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Are Google’s Local Efforts in Trouble?



Google is often given the edge in taking control of the whole local discovery thing. Considering recent developments that may not be the case at all.

The short term conventional wisdom regarding the new iPhone 4S is going some way to changing that. Its impact on the mobile world is that the voice recognition “engine” for the smartphone, Siri, is going to be a local search “killer app”. Google is responding in a way that seems to point to their need to make sure that their version of “local” is better.

Google has announced that they are now using another way to update Google Place pages. As put by Jon Mitchell of ReadWriteWeb

Google just launched a more streamlined process for updating small business listings on Google Places, but it asks forgiveness instead of permission. Instead of requiring owners to manually update the listing, Google Places will now automatically update with user-submitted info or updates to another source on the Web that Google identifies. When a listing is updated, the system will notify the business owner of the change by email.

What we don’t know for certain is where these updates are coming from (Attention experts: feel free to tell us more in the comments) and one wonders if there is room for any local information foul play which has become an local SEO pastime of sorts.

So where does Yelp fit? Well, one of the sources for Siri’s data is Yelp. Here is some more insight from local search expert Mike Blumenthal

Interestingly the current Siri app pulls data from a wide range of data sources to answer your questions. That is true with business listing data as well. Depending on the local search it might show results from Yelp, Yahoo, CityGrid, Localeze or BooRah. I presume that it uses even more sources than I have so far discovered and it appears to be agnostic as to where it gets its data. Siri also seems to mix and match sources when necessary.

Blumenthal also checked in regarding the changes in how Google Places is updated.

Yesterday Google Places announced on the LatLong Blog that they would automatically update claimed listings more quickly with information from trusted third parties [and end users] if Google thought the information was more accurate than information that was in the Places Dashboard.

The program’s goal is to improve index quality. If implemented carefully it can work. It is not clear how abuse proof program is and how much trust Google will put in end user edits. Obviously many of those, if not properly vetted, could create a whole new spate malicious activity.

If you would like to read even more of Mike’s thoughts on Siri check out his Siri love letter.

In the end it appears as if Google is working to wean itself off of certain local data sources with Yelp being one that they would like to create some distance between for obvious reasons. With this strategy, however, there are risks for sure.

I don’t have any evidence of this but one can pretty quickly surmise that Yelp is one of the companies that carries a pretty large target on it around the Googleplex. Right now though Google’s voice recognition doesn’t seem to be as smooth as Siri but the average Android user is used to clunky. iPhone users use the iPhone for a variety of reasons and one of those is that it is usually a smoother interface on all fronts. Android is usually playing catch up but that’s to be expected. The idea of Siri making Yelp a bigger player in the local space must be maddening to Googlers like Marissa Mayer.

The trouble with this local battle is that Google has been expected to be the local business leader but it never seems to make a push to get far ahead of the field. It has all the components to do it. It has Places, it has Android but one thing it never seems to truly have is a plan. At least not one that that is easy to see and moving them forward all the time. Now they are starting to look like they are reactive in their local approach rather than proactive which often indicates that they are not in a position to lead the local push.

In the end, this move by Apple to use Siri could spell serious trouble for Google in a space that is critical for the future of the search giant. Whether it happens today or in the next few years, mobile will be a very large component of any online effort. The spread of smartphone ownership is making that more of a reality than just a prediction.

If Google fumbles the local search market that could be a turnover that could be a game changer for sure. Do I think it is going to happen that way? I’m not saying yet because it is still early. What I will say though is that it looks like Google may be more on their heels than I imagined when it comes to the mobile space. Just that possibility is enough to put everyone on alert that the local game has never been more up for grabs than it is now.

Your thoughts?

  • http://michaeldorausch.com Michael Dorausch

    Glad you are bringing this up. I’ll be covering this topic during the local search panel at PubCon next month, and now more than ever, businesses are going to need a reputation management monitoring system in place to keep up with Place page activity.

    I’ve been tracking sources of where Google is pulling data and it’s varying from metro to metro, at least for now.

    • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

      Thanks, Michael. I bet that panel is going to be an interesting one.

      It is one of the spots in the Internet space where it seems like the more we know, the more we don’t know.

  • http://marketing-blog.catalystemarketing.com/ Linda Buquet

    Thanks for reporting Frank.

    I blogged this yesterday and just made a big update this AM based on new info. Plus am starting to get lots of reports of bad data. Plus see all the comments at Blumenthals blog.

    I predict this is going to be a nightmare!

    Linda

  • Simon Temple

    Here’s hoping for Siri and a company Yelp et al may be able to trust won’t abuse their data relationship. Verticalizing the local space after users have built enough trust in the product to deliver results was and is evil (Particularly when G do such a half ass job at servicing users).

  • http://www.homecliq.com Zak

    I think the big danger isn’t about Google to be honest. Seriously, from the perspective of the small business owner who cares how they get results, as long as they get results.

    But I suspect as elements to a business’s visibility change, lots of small businesses will never be aware of changes taking place. Those who have paid attention, literally paid, and had someone address their needs, probably did so with a one time fee being spent. Time passes, the business has visibility, then everything changes…

    Sure Google might have a competition problem, or not, so not the issue if you are doing SEO for a small business. The only reason Google really matters right now is that they handle the so much of search, otherwise SEO would focus on something else.

  • http://www.marybowling.com Mary Bowling

    Frank, Google used to put some value in the information that business owners gave it by publishing it on Place pages in the form of additional details, photos, descriptions, etc. Much of that was stripped away from Place pages in the past 4-5 months and only some of it has reappeared.

    I find it curious that Google is now admitting that it trusts the information other sources provide about a business more than it trusts the information that it has long encouraged the owners of claimed listings to provide.

    While no one really knows how this will shake out, it certainly would be nice if Google went beyond saying that owners will be notified via email when it essentially overrides the info the business owner has given it. Will there be an efficient and timely process for the owner to correct/dispute the changes? If not, Google is just adding to the local data quagmire it already has.

    If I were a spammer, I’d be licking my chops over this one!