Are Google’s Local Efforts in Trouble?
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.