Exploring Local
Mike Dobson of TeleMapics on Local Search and All Things Geospatial

Maps, Schnaps!

May 16th, 2007 by MDob

Last week I was talking to a potential client, a second-tier local search provider, about their use of maps and how the maps might be redesigned to better support their SERPs.  This particular company uses maps in manner that does not add to the utility of their site, in addition, the design of the maps is so poor as to attract unwanted attention, much as a wart with a hair growing out of it does on an otherwise smooth face.

I was told that a well-known ASP, who provides the company’s maps, was in the process of provisioning a new release of their mapping system that addressed many of the visual design problems with the current maps.  This was followed by a comment that things were looking up because the senior managers of the company were pleased with the look of the new map design.  I responded that this was great news, but wanted to know if there were any additional requirements that had been specified for the maps, based on either a formal or informal requirements analysis regarding the functionalities needed to support the strategy behind the business objectives set for their service.  The silence that followed was uncomfortable, but not unexpected.

The scenario started me thinking once again about the use of geographic data in local search.  While the use of maps and other displays of spatial data is considered a “must have” in local search, it appears that the reasons for the various uses of geography (or its representations) in local search are complicated and worthy of examination. 

Consider the inclusion of maps in local search –

At the recent Kelsey Drill Down 07 conference on local search
Peter Horan, President of Media and Advertising for Interactive Corp (IAC), when asked about the company’s new, interactive map format that  allows users to annotate and mark-up the map, responded “…local is not about reading, it is about doing”.  (This is from my scribbled notes.  I apologize if the wording is not exact.)  Nice comment for the map makers in the crowd, but what does this really mean.

Conversely Peter Krasilovsky (http://localonliner.com/?p=347), in a blog titled “Closing the Map and Revenue Gap”, indicated his concern with the map-centric focus of some sites by asking “But is it really clear that they are the future of directories? As things stand, I could see an equation where maybe 15 percent of usage is map-driven, while 85 percent is “traditional.” You don’t always need a map, OK?” “  Undoubtedly true, but do local search companies really understand the search task well enough to know when to provide a geospatial display and when one isn’t necessary?

While maps are obvious points of debate, what about the inaccuracies of geocoding and how can they be resolved?  How about the error induced in search based on the use of straight line distances between search origins and potential targets?  Yep, SERPs may show you the closest places based on distance, it just isn’t driving distance – unless you have a helicopter parked outside!

Issues related to and surrounding the strategic use of geographical data will be the main focus of our TeleMapics blog.  Of course, we spend a lot of time noodling on the market trends in local search and will comment on these and more, so stay tuned.

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Posted in Local Search, Mapping

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