The Glacial Rate of Change at Google Maps

Filed in Local Search, MY BEST POSTS by Matt McGee on March 20, 2007 7 Comments

While Google’s main SERPs are in a near-constant state of change, the recently added Google Maps Onebox display is an entirely different story. Since being introduced on January 29th, the new Maps display has changed very little on several searches I’ve been watching. This is, admittedly, an incredibly unscientific survey with a very small data set. But let’s take a look and see what’s worth discovering….

Back on February 15th, in preparation for my local search presentation at SearchFest in Portland, I took this screenshot of a search for [italian restaurants in portland or]:

Google Onebox screenshot, Feb 15

The night before my presentation, I ran the search again and it was exactly the same. During the March 7th SearchFest, Rand Fishkin asked during the Q&A session if these results were changing frequently. I said that I had just checked the search the night before and it was exactly the same as when I made the screenshot in mid-February. We were both surprised there’d been no change whatsoever in three weeks.

Tonight, I did the same search. Here’s that screenshot:

Google Onebox screenshot, March 20

The three restaurants listed are the same, and in the same order. But I’ve circled the two obvious changes: Listing “A” now has one more review to its credit, while listing “C” has one less. (Say what?) So, while the rankings are the same, there’s at least some level of data updating taking place. In this case, not enough to change the rankings of the three businesses that appear in this prime real estate.

But, this isn’t the case across the board. Here are a couple examples:

1) A search for [italian restaurants in seattle wa] has changed from the image I used in this Jan. 29 post. Listing “A” is new, and listings “B” and “C” have switched places. And like the Portland example above, one restaurant has more reviews to its credit, and the other has less.

2) A search for [dry cleaners in san jose] has changed completely from the image I used in this Feb. 16 post. All three listings have changed.

3) A search for [keys in seattle] has changed from the image I used in this Feb. 15 post, but the other four (silly) searches still produce the same results next to the map.

So, based on very unscientific and limited evidence, I’m (finally) seeing some Google Maps Onebox displays changing. But it’s inconsistent, and not nearly as frequent as Google’s regular SERPs change.


I think there are several possible explanations for the much slower rate of change in the Google Maps Onebox results:

Data: Google Maps listings rely on getting business data from a variety of sources, including Google’s own Local Business Center, business database services, Yellow Pages providers, and others. All of these require, to some degree, business owners to claim their data and manage it. If there’s no fresh data, there’s less reason for the listings to change.

Algorithmic: The local/maps algorithm is more complex than the traditional algorithm. In Google’s regular SERPs, an authority site can create content that targets a certain keyphrase, and within a day or two that content can upend the SERPs, moving other pages down. The local/maps algorithm is different. It’s tied to the idea of businesses and locations, not keywords. And you don’t create new businesses and new locations overnight like you can with keyword-targeted content. The fact that the local algo isn’t only about keyword matching and ranking means the data is less likely to change frequently.

Competition: Unlike Google’s main SERPs, there’s still far less competition for local keywords and rankings. With much less SEO influencing local rankings, those SERPs are less likely to change.

Google is slow: Genoa Restaurant is one of the three businesses ranking for “italian restaurants in portland or”. CitySearch, one of Google’s sources, has five 2006 calendar year reviews for this restaurant. But Google hasn’t picked up any of them yet. All of the reviews Google shows from CitySearch for this restaurant are from 2005 or earlier.

Final Thoughts

As we think about the impact of this new Onebox display, the slow rate of change of these prime listings is great news for the businesses that are fortunate enough to score one of those A, B, or C spots. And until the data gets processed more quickly, good luck to those businesses on the outside looking in.

[tags]google, google maps, local search[/tags]

Comments (7)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Cathy says:

    We do appear in OneBoxes but Google Maps has yet to display any of the reviews (or review stars) of our company. It wouldn’t matter except they show for others in our category so we look like an unknown entity. I emailed them in January and this was part of the reply:

    “It’s possible that reviews posted on these sites will be included in Google Maps. However, please note that since
    these are non-Google sites, we can’t guarantee that these reviews will be
    incorporated within a specific time frame or at all.”

    Six weeks later and no change. So it appears all we can do is wait and hope. In the mean time, we’ve linked to the existing reviews from our site.

  2. Matt McGee says:

    That’s tough, Cathy. Probably not much more you could do, right? It would be great if they’d make a bigger effort to clear out some old reviews and get some more recent ones in the system.

  3. aurinka_jon says:

    We submitted all of our business information to Google Maps in mid-January, and although our listing appears if you search by our name, if you do a search by any one of a dozen directly-related keyword phrases along with our city, we don’t show up anywhere. Example: “custom stained glass windows in Minnetonka, MN” Ironically, our ranking in regular Google search is very good for the same phrase/city combination. Double-ironically is that Google Maps results list plenty of either unrelated or geographically irrelevant results. Don’t misunderstand me – this is not a complaint about ranking, this is about not even appearing when you submit your information directly to Google as we did.

    When we approached Google Tech support, they first responded with basically “tough, that’s just how our algorithm works”. When we pressed them and supplied screenshots, they wrote back with some cryptic wording about our listing having been changed (it wasn’t) and that it would take a month to appear.

    There’s something really “broken” with their method/algorithm. It would be very interesting to hear other’s stories.

  4. Matt McGee says:

    Jon – there are a lot of business owners in the same boat, and there seems to be some very recent issues Google Maps is having with addresses/businesses getting lost. I think they have some bad data in the system at the moment.

    Real quick — add your street address and zip code to the footer of your web site. Can’t hurt. And if you’ve never seen this, it might give you some new ideas for local SEO:

    8 Simple Steps to Make a Page More “Local”

    Good luck, and please let us know any updates!

  5. earlpearl says:

    Nice research Matt. I haven’t seen any changes since 1/29…but I’m not looking at enough diversified queries. It’s good to know some things are changing…even if at a very slow pace.


  6. aurinka_jon says:

    Matt – thanks for your insights. I wonder if it would be better to re-submit or to wait it out. All I know is that their customer service doesn’t seem to give a hoot, yet they actively promote for businesses to provide them with data. Time is precious, and business owners shouldn’t be urged to waste time on something that provides no results. For now its just a black hole.

    That link you provided “8 simple steps…” was very useful. I’ll plan to apply some of what was written there.

    I’ll post here as soon/if we see anything happen with our listing in Google Maps.

  7. Matt McGee says:

    You’re spot on, Jon, with the comments about Google’s customer service. That’s always been the big fear as Google has expanded beyond the search box — can they support all these new applications and services they offer? They have maybe 2-3 people who monitor the Google Maps discussion groups, and those folks only check in every few days — not nearly enough to help all the people asking for help.

    Anyway, glad to help with that link.

    Dave – thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *