So I went to visit Google in Mountain View …
… and learned that every second sentence has to be prefixed with “so”. Wait, that’s not all.
I’m sure you’re all just reading this to hear about the secret information they’ve been feeding me, heh. Sorry, you’ll have to join Google yourself to find out more about that part. It’s been really interesting so far, so many documents to read and digest, so many neat people to meet and chat with, so much good food to eat (good thing I’m only here for a week). The Google campus is really neat, but it’s also good to get out and do something else, like getting some neat toys for the kids (bribe my way back to getting them to recognize me when I’m home)…
Where are you in local search?
So I’m off to find a neat toy store that has more than the average plastic junk. Of course I’ll try to use Google local search to help me find one, I’m sure there are lots of really great stores around here…
… only I can’t find out enough about them to be sure that I want tot go there. How far can you get with ["toy store" "mountain view"]? Some of the stores mentioned in the map view show more than just the location and some scraped user “reviews” (used lightly, when you read reviews which mention “conveniently located in …” and “… any seasonal holiday such as Easter, Valentine’s Day, etc.” – yeah sure, that’s how I would describe
my a store) and an image copied from a page mentioning the store.
What if you want to narrow your search down? How the heck do you put “good” into words? There are people out there who think cheap plastic junk makes for a good child’s toy, so I can’t just add the word “good” (what’s up with “Uncle Frank’s BBQ” in there?). In the end I go for “wooden toys” or “wooden toys store” and try several locations in the area, checking the results of several local web directories that were included in the search results to pick out a handful of stores (which I write down on paper to feed into my GPS). I end up heading to The Wooden Horse in Los Gatos which was really fun (and made me buy way too much).
If you’re new to an area (or just visiting like I was), it can make sense to try to find good stuff through a search engine that can search based on location. I can understand that it’s a bit spotty way off in
Sweden Switzerland (ok, in Sweden as well), but heck, we’re in the middle of Google’s backyard.
The average smaller brick and mortal store still has a web presence that is terrible. It doesn’t take much to get those websites cleaned up and ready for the minimal search engine friendliness. It doesn’t take much to get the business registered with Google local search. Do it! Help your local businesses to get it done, help the small guy get his business listed properly. Put a nice image in there, add a good description (without the “etc”), put the real hours in there and make sure that all of that is also shown on the website in a readable fashion. Do a good deed and help that mom & pop, where you get a special treatment, to get found online. It doesn’t take much, once you know what to do.
There is a lot of opportunity in local search, but it won’t happen by itself. This is where having a clean website really pays off for a local business – when the information is presented in a machine readable way a lot of this can be automated and made available correctly. It doesn’t take much work to add the rest, and suddenly even cars are sending customers.
Why can’t I browse your site on my phone?
Sometimes I forget my notes or – gasp – can’t get a wireless connection with my laptop and have to look things up on the way. Why is it still the exception to have a site that can be used with a mobile phone browser? Some people might be using the iPhone, but the general public isn’t (especially those who from undeveloped countries like Switzerland). Why is it still so hard to access sites on the phone? I just want to look up the address or the times they’re open, argh! Ironically even some of the sites that are running mobile ads are not ready to be browsed with a phone.
Saying that nobody is using a phone to access your site now is no excuse — if your site doesn’t work on a phone, nobody will use your site that way. Make it easy for a customer to find you on the phone, make it easy for them to view at least some minimal information about your site / business while on the road. The longer people wait to get this done right, the more business those who can do it will get until then . Opportunity is waiting!
Spoiled by web 2.0 – easily adding neat stuff for free
Well, this is kind of getting long but I’m still in Silicon Valley. I really need to get out, run up some hill and get some fresh air into my lungs. Searching for [hike mountain view] (don’t those brackets look neat?) leads me to http://www.bahiker.com/, which has a fancy map that I can click on. Looks good so far, I bet I can find something there. Going to the right area, I end up on a page with a map and a gazillion links (less than 100, so we’re still good, lol) all bunched up on the map.
I want something nice, a couple of miles long that goes up and down a bit and is somewhere in the area. The only way to find any of that is to click my way through almost every item that is somewhere in that general location. I wonder how much work went into making that map – the one that is almost useless (it can only give you a very rough location).
Maybe I’m just too Google-oriented now, but adding a nice map that can be annotated is really simple now (I’m sure you can do the same with some of the other online mapping services), eg:
By using a system like Google Maps you can have a map that lets the user zoom in and check locations before actually going in and reading all about the details. You can even set up your own maps to be public, findable on Google Maps and Google Earth. How neat is that? Add a few images to the site, perhaps even a video and you’re all set to cover all bases for universal search.
To cover even more (and get another entry in the search results for your site ) you could even set up a Google Group for the site or set up a forum on your site (for more control over the look and feel, and to display your own ads). Using Google Groups you can get that done really quickly. For this site you could start a separate thread for each location and link to that from the pages themselves. As a user, it’s great to see multiple opinions about something before actually packing up and going someplace. User generated content is great — you only have to enable it, your users can fill it up for you (provided your site is compelling enough).
Another opportunity is kind of lost with regards to the ads on that site — they’re way on the bottom, a place where nobody would ever bother looking, let alone clicking. You can make more money with Adsense if you test where ads work best and use them there. If done right, the ads could even add value to the page. That alone doesn’t really provide value in search, but it could provide more motivation to keep the site “modern”.
There are opportunities in search all around – look around, take advantage or help others to take advantage of them!