Monday, December 13, 2010

Local search: It’s all about the best answers for users

This Sunday the Wall Street Journal published a story about local search that makes a number of assertions about how local search works at Google, so we thought it would be helpful to share our view on these issues.

When people come to Google looking for information about places like restaurants, shoe stores, parks or museums, our goal is to provide them with answers as quickly as possible and presented in a way that’s easy to read and understand. Sometimes the most useful information is a direct link to a business—other times it’s a map or a list of review sites. As Susan and Udi wrote just over a week ago:
Answering users' queries accurately and quickly is our number one goal. Sometimes the best, most relevant answer to a query is our traditional “ten blue links,” and sometimes it is a news article, sports score, stock quote, video, or a map.
When someone searches for a place on Google, we still provide the usual web results linking to great sites; we simply organize those results around places to make it much faster to find what you’re looking for. For example, earlier this year we introduced Place Search to help people make more informed decisions about where to go. Place pages organize results around a particular place to help users find great sources of photos, reviews and essential facts. This makes it much easier to see and compare places and find great sites with local information.

We’ve heard from users and businesses that Place pages are a great way to find local information and reach customers. We’ve also heard from webmasters that Place pages help them reach a broader audience when users click through to learn more.

As Susan and Udi wrote, we built Google for users, not websites. We welcome ongoing dialog with webmasters to help ensure we’re building great products, but at the end of the day, users come first. If we fail our users, competition is just a click away.


Ram said...

Hmmm... also gives local business recommendations and the recommendations are shown based on public opinion, reviews and ratings. You may want to check it out.

APF said...

To have Google links occupy the first few links of a search interferes with natural search. And, no, you have not "read my mind" correctly in determining that Google is necessarily what I think of as the best link in all circumstances! You cannot read human minds.

Julie said...

Have to disagree. Many times I have searched for a local business. On google I get google links, yelp, local search etc. What I want and don't get anymore is the actual website for the business. To get to that I have to click through to all the other sites I am not interested in or go to another search engine.

Blogger said...

Google is not a public service. It's a public company with accountability to its shareholders. As such, it's perfectly reasonable for it to toot its own horn.

One would hardly expect to see an add for a Chevy on the Ford website but who complains about that?

SK said...

Guys, that's awful. For instance, if I look for Lebedeva street in Moscow, I write "Lebedeva, Russian Federation, Moscow" and get a bunch of "places" with that word, but do not get "Lebedeva street". That started to happen recently and hey, you've just screwed maps.

Franz Enzenhofer said...

sorry but thats b*llsh*t, the google places search are about whats best for google. if the google places search would be the best result than there should be no need to hardcode them special treatment into your SERPs. if they were the best results they wold gain the most links, have the most unique content and other quality metrics and they would show up anyway. but with this special treatment on the one side and the hosting of the places pages on very very valuable pre existing domain you are giving yourself a head start (a.k.a. unfair advantage) undermining the current and future ecosystem of location sites (a.ka. big part of the internet ).

i'm consulting a lot of businesses in the location space and everybody is afraid ... yes afraid .... of google because they don't see a big chance anymore to reach the users via search engines.

basically what google is doing is to kill innovation.if the market (google search) is not fair anymore, nobody will invest, innovation dies.

so what do these companies, wich want to enter the market do? they talk about apps (iphone, andorid) and facebook. but the open internet, not so much anymore.

i know i know it's your SERPs and you can do whatever you want with them, but please realize: if you give preferred treatment to one player (yourself) the others will just no invest that much energy into the play anymore.

i hope that somebody in high position at google will realize this someday.

thx and br
franz enzenhofer

Vincent said...

Surely until all businesses are listed with a Google local Places page, then the current search results must give an unfair advantage to those that do?

Jon Deutsch said...

I'd like to raise a point that seems to have been missed in the debate regarding Places in Google's search results: In this Public Policy blog post, there is a direct reference to Google's stated goal for search results:

"Answering users' queries accurately and quickly is our number one goal."

Contrast this goal with the more popularly known and understood Google mission: "To organize the world's information."

I'd argue that the more agnostic mission statement is what helped establish trust in the Google brand, as organizing the world's information is perceived to be a passive and non-targeted activity. Trust equity was gained by Google through the understanding that Google's goal of collecting and organizing more information is aligned with the world's need to seek, find and use more information. Implicit in this was Google avoiding the perception of actively applying an editorial role.

This equation clearly works, evidenced in Google's stupendous success over the past decade.

However, when Google introduces a goal such as "answering users' queries accurately and quickly," it strikes me as somewhat antithetical to the mission. I am particularly hung up on the term "answer." This is quite different philosophically than terms like "deliver" or "provide" -- which is what I thought Google was doing based on the mission.

Organizing information and answering queries are certainly connected activities, but they are not the same. Organizing is around collecting and sorting via pre-established and accepted criteria that helps the information be found. Whereas answering requires context, fundamental knowledge of the request, and an active attempt to provide value. Answering is a form of curation.

One could argue that Google has always curated results -- after all, that's what ranking is. However, Google's traditional ranking heuristics have been based on long-held and widely-regarded "citing" processes -- by others. This more distributed approach to curation established trust equity in Google, probably because Google itself did not have its hand on the wheel -- i.e., Google itself was not trying to answer questions through its interface.

Now, with this more proactive, customer-focused stated goal, Google is doing something rather seismic (at least with Places): Google is shifting from using others to drive ranking of results to a Google-driven results list based on user profiles & archetypes in an effort to more accurately answer queries.

This seems Big.

When the goal shifts from collecting information to answer users' queries, Google is leaving the agnostic "this is what we found" approach and entering the "this is what we think you want" approach. Certainly, this is value-add for many. But not for all, and as soon as Google begins curing results in its search engine for a target audience, Google now has its hands on the wheel. Google is now turning some spigots on and others off in an attempt to lead its users where it thinks they want to be led.

Google can clearly do what it wishes, but there are two things that I'd humbly request:

1. If Google hasn't fully considered this fundamental shift in mission from "organize" to "answer," I request that they do so with their smartest and most respected minds within the organization.

2. To mitigate this issue without reducing value-add services for the masses or for Google's bottom-line, I request that Google offer users of its search services a choice of being actively served through Google's understanding of its user archetypes/profiles, and being more passively served by the more traditional citing approach that epitomizes Google Classic search.

Guillermo said...

Please, we all know what this noise is about. It is about the EU do to Google what they did to Microsoft. Now they are going to ask Google to show how their search algorithms work in order to see if they are being unfair. This issue is being trickled down to other services. They want your secret sauce Google. I say unless the complainers have a better FREE service to find information, then I don't see anything wrong with Google getting some self-promotion to their products which are superior most of the time anyway. Keep up the good work Google.

missm said...

This astonishing issue needs to be headline news - and fast, as the effect it's having on many businesses every day is catastrophic. Like mine - a local web portal that does the job well, but cannot compete with the likes of an abusive and billion dollar monopoly.

We provide accurate, relevant and well presented local information on a growing number of towns in the UK - including local business directories. Our users are loyal and many have bookmarked us due to the quality of our content. However, we have now been demoted to the lower realms of the SERPs in order for 'Google Places' to claim pretty much the entire first page, certainly every top spot for competitive local business search keywords. It is outrageous that you have been allowed to get away with this for so long.

I have personally worked extremely hard; day and night, weekend after weekend, plus invested all of my savings to make this business work - only to have Google steal the limelight and trample over our first glimpse of success. I am extremely worried - the future prospects of my website and income looks very bleak, if Google are allowed to continue this downright illegal abuse of your obvious monopoly.

andyg said...

I recently had an SEO project that was focused on maximizing my client's 1st page local Google results and literally within the same month that their web content and properties started to rank...BOOM... our client gets pushed to page #2 with 8 out of 10 positions. These positions should have been on the 1st page. People will likely get annoyed with the changes and either instinctually learn to jump to page #2 as the NEW page #1 or they will end up using another search engine. Don't get me wrong, I love Google.... but the new local listing change is something I am probably many other don't love. I think a solution would be a position #1 or #2 vertical listing that the search engine user can DECIDE on their own to expand the local search listings and not be forced to look at it.