Archive for the ‘Google Maps’ Category

Google Instant Previews Ironically Leaves Out Google Maps, Flash & YouTube

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Google’s Instant Preview feature, which allows one to click on a little magnifying-glass icon in search results in order to see how webpages appear, doesn’t support Google Maps, YouTube, nor Flash interfaces.

For instance, here’s the Map page from Elvis Presley’s Graceland website:

Graceland's Map Page

Yet, in Google Instant Preview, the main graphic element of the map is missing entirely:

Graceland's Map Page in Instant Preview

Google rolled out Instant Previews with some fanfare a few months ago. According to their statements at the time, people making use of the previews were “more satisfied” with search results they ultimately clicked-upon, thus providing an excuse for its addition on the search results page (this is no minor thing — Google’s search engine result page or “SERP” is prime real estate, and they’re very conservative about anything introduced upon it).

The Instant Previews are a sort of generated screengrab image of webpages. Their systems likely leverage HTML interpretation software to compose how a webpage will look, perhaps based upon the Document Object Model, sized to the maximum width of the image size, along with some pagebreaks they’ve built in to abbreviate lengths of pages and highlight text from certain sections of it.

This isn’t actually anything new — search engines, directories, and internet yellow pages have incorporated preview images of webpages in their results for quite a number of years at this point going back to perhaps around the year 2000, but it was earlier done at a slightly smaller size. One of the best-known services to produce these preview thumbnail images is Girafa. Even more relevant to Google, perhaps, the underlying technology likely dates back to work by Jakob Nielsen and others at Sun Microsystems in 1999 (see Method, apparatus and program product for updating visual bookmarks). As you may recall, Nielsen is the usability expert whose philosophies were apparently very influential in the earlier days of Google when he was on their Technical Advisory Board. This may explain why Google has trotted out a fairly common feature that’s been around for at least a decade, and presented it as though it’s some completely new innovation.

Google engineers were quoted mentioning how Instant Previews was also intended to help speed up the internet, and Google’s been making strides in pushing their philosophy that the internet should speed up. (Recall that they formally introduced Page Speed as a ranking factor last year.) This unfortunately reminds me of how AOL used to cache webpages across the internet and compress everyone’s images so that their users would have faster browsing speeds — and, AOL also inflicted bad user experiences onto webmasters’ creations, since their image compression algorithm had a bug which caused certain types of JPEGs to have chunks of image screwed-up!

The main innovations involved with the Instant Previews seem to be the slightly larger size than what was often used in the past, the “call-outs” of text snippets which highlight portions of text matching the user’s search, and the jagged pagebreaks to visually abbreviate the length of pages.

So, considering that this is really something of a rehashed idea from nearly ten years ago, it’s surprising that Google appears to’ve rolled it out prematurely. Read on for some observations and solutions… (more…)

City Centroids Replaced By Outlines In Google Places

Monday, January 17th, 2011

I’ve often mentioned how Google Maps/Places has used distance from city centroids as a major ranking factor. Indeed, Google still mentions how distance is a local ranking factor (most recently they stated this in a LatLong blog post on how local search ranking works).

However, there is some compelling evidence to show that they’ve become more sophisticated than they were earlier after Google Maps was born. I believe they’re increasingly using city and ZIP code region outlines when determining the local relevancy for businesses.

First of all, Google’s introduction of Service Areas this past year demonstrates very obviously that they’re incorporating city and ZIP region outlines with local business data. In addition to being able to specify the more traditional radius from a centroid, the tools within Google Places allow you to specify specific cities and ZIP codes as service areas, and their map indicates a rough polygon outline of selected regions. David Mihm first pointed this out to me last year, and you can see it for this example of a business which offers service to the Fort Worth area:

Google Places Service Area Polygon Outline

You can also get a business’s service area to show up outside of the Google Places administrative interfaces, in the Map interface itself, by clicking on “Show service area”: (more…)

Google Maps Shocks Fat Man Into Diet

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Ok, this may be a first – Google Maps has now inspired a man in the U.K. to diet and get fit after he saw an image of himself in Google Street View:

Fat Man Captured In Google Maps

Bob Mewse saw himself in Google Maps’ interface, and said he was “stunned” at his side view saying, “I was massive. My belly was sticking out and I looked huge.”

He was inspired to lose the weight, so he started dieting and exercising, eventually losing roughly 98 pounds (7 stone)!

Street View and the Street View photo car have been magnets for criticism and privacy complaints. In this case, it seems that it has been the catalyst for someone to adopt a self-improvement regimen.

Sea Change: Google’s New Place Search Introduces New Disruption

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

So, today Google began launching their new “Place Search” feature, as reported by Greg Sterling. For those of us keeping a finger on the pulse of local search marketing, the change was not a huge surprise, since we’ve been watching the testing for quite a while and could predict in advance that it might impact some online directories and small-to-medium businesses negatively.

Place Search is Google’s name for the new interface and layout of local search listings within their regular keyword search results page. If you haven’t seen this yet, here’s a screengrab for “florists, los angeles, ca”:

Google Place Search - new local search layout

As you can see, the change involves the map moving into the right sidebar. The top local business listings which accompany the map are no longer to the right of the map, but are now integrated into the search results page and occupy roughly the same amount of room as the other listings. Those business listings which coordinate with the map have a lettered pink pushpin icon and some have thumbnail icons which come from their Place Page information. The big impact of the change is that these listings are now (more…)

Google Tags: No Website For You!

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Google’s phasing out site link option from Tag Ads – just nine months after introducing the Tag ads for Maps and local search, Google has apparently decided to do away with the option to link your Tag directly to your website. One of my contacts sent this screengrab to me showing within Google Places they are now being asked to switch to a different ad type:

Google Tags Phases Out Website Option

If you currently have a Tag Ad linked to your site, I’d guess that you have until the end of whatever time you’ve contracted before you’ll be forced to switch to a different option.

The folks who sent this to me supposed that this was being done in sync with the recent announcement of a new ad type, Google Boost. However, that doesn’t entirely explain why the rapid switcharoo.

Here’s my guess – I think there were two main reasons the website option is being phased out. (more…)

“Downtown” Searches In Google Maps

Monday, August 30th, 2010

For a couple of years now, Google Maps has decreased the influence of proximity upon rankings. However, what if your search query includes the keyword, “downtown”?

Downtowns and rankings in Google Maps

If the query includes “downtown”, such as in the phrase ”downtown coffee shops seattle”, or “downtown hotels, nashville, tn”, then proximity appears to be given a whole lot more importance. (more…)

Google Places Updates Policy For Reviews

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Google announced last week that they updated their guidelines and policies for writing reviews on organizations found in Google Maps / Places.

Consumer Reviews & Ratings Stars

Google’s reviews update may not be all that significant beyond needing to add mention of their newly-introduced protocol allowing business owners to respond to reviews. They probably took the opportunity to clarify the text while they were at it.

However, there are reasons to suspect that there could have been additional motives behind Google’s alteration of the guidelines. (more…)