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No. 211
February 18th, 2009

Interesting New Interface on Google Maps

Matt McGee first noticed the “K-Pack” announced on the official Google Maps Blog last night and the Local Searcharati have been buzzing about it ever since.

I think it’s a really nice innovation by Google, layered into what has already been a very active year for the Maps team (more on that in an upcoming “Links of Local Interest”). Perhaps this is a signal that the powers-that-be in Mountain View are getting more serious about Local, Mobile, and Maps. It’s exceptionally useful for both business owners AND searchers to democratize the way Local results are presented.

My only beef is that it’s kinda hard to get to from Google Web Search. You do a search, get the standard 10-pack, then you click “More Results” and THEN “Map View” in order to see it. Obviously a) this isn’t the last iteration Google’s going to do, so maybe they ARE going to make it easier, and b) if people search directly on they’ll see it right away, which may have a purpose in-and-of itself, to drive more Maps.Google traffic.

For certain kinds of searches, I can see this interface being particularly useful:

– The search like the above, where I know I want to go out for the evening, but don’t have a particular place in mind. Old Town Portland looks almost like a “heat map” of hot spots, and it’s nice to see the clusters along Hawthorne, Morrison, and Division to remind me about the SE corridor.

– If I do a search for any kind of service or product and I don’t want to drive, I’m now literally 100x more likely to see a business right next door on my first search. Cool!

– Mobile search. If I’m out on the town after visiting one of the above bars and I’m looking for “late night snacks” it’s going to be great to see more than just 10 results at first glance. I can find the absolute nearest place that serves what I’m craving, rather than one that Google ranks well.

A couple of future observations as a result of this innovation:

– Some sort of interface similar to Yahoo Local’s “adjustable radius” must be in the works, that allows the searcher to zero in on a particular neighborhood. Now that we can see all results at once, it can be a bit overwhelming. Once I’ve picked the “hot spot” I’ll want to narrow down my choices.

– The Local PPC custom icons are going to be a lot more valuable…look how well the wine glass on the image above stands out against the sea of little tiny dots. Maybe the ROI on these campaigns will finally overcome the amount of time they take to set up.

Miriam Ellis‘ question rings true: “Will this kill neighborhood modifiers in local searches? Why enter a neighborhood when you can just type a city and get your neighborhood, filled with little [red circles] without any additional effort?”

All in all, this seems to be good for users, good for businesses, and good for Google. Nice going, Maps team.