Carter Maslan, Google product director for local search, took the stage during last week’s ILM:10 conference to track and extrapolate the advancement of online local media.
The aha moment for Maslan was when he was at Microsoft and his friend John Hanke called to say that Google had acquired his little mapping company, Keyhole. The company that went on to become Google Earth and Google Maps had a curious tie-in to Google at the time, said Maslan.
Of course its vision became quickly clear as the mission to organize the world’s content started to move from text-based search to a broader range of multimedia. That of course includes geography, location and places — all of which have been boosted lately (Places, Hotpot, Marissa Mayer).
Location, Social, Social
After deflecting an audience pelting about the nuts and bolts behind Google’s ever-changing local ranking factors, the fundamental challenges of local took center stage. Local is inherently a long-tail market that involves diversity in not only location but also language and demographics.
The challenge therefore is to algorithmically infer relevance from what are inherently ambiguous search terms and references. One of the ways to do this is through social connections that surface search results that are more likely to be relevant to you. Hotpot is one example.
“In order to build great local search, you need to get smart about all these references and spots,” said Maslan. “Local isn’t just geo; it’s a diverse and expanding set of variables, [including] identifying your tribe.”
There are also challenges such as the locus of relevance across different categories. The distance you will travel varies if you are looking for furniture stores versus coffee shops, or if you’re in Manhattan versus a rural area. And of course distance becomes more relevant in mobile.
“In terms of places rankings, relevance holds true for [place] prominence and distance,” he said. “In mobile, distance is moved up.”
Lastly, Maslan invoked recent BIA/Kelsey survey data (Local Commerce Monitor) asserting that small businesses need simplicity. The data show that a clear and simple message is the most important factor for advertisers — even above price.
That is essentially what Google’s newer local ad products — Tags and Boost — are all about. Similar to comments earlier from Zillow’s Spencer Rascoff, the flat-rate priced Tags are meant to lower adoption barriers. They can also be viewed as training wheels for SMBs.
“In AdWords, you get higher performance but there are lots of nobs,” said Maslan. “We were looking at businesses that wanted a simpler way to get started, and a motivation for us was giving them exposure to something that would increase their investment in online advertising.”
More of his comments on Tags and other subjects in the videos below.