As Google Maps continues to roll out new features that competing map services don’t have, web users are rewarding it with big gains in traffic. A recent analyst report says Google is the number one maps site in terms of features and usability, and new Hitwise.com traffic data just shared this week with Search Engine Land shows Google Maps pulling much closer to category leader MapQuest.
In a report issued this week, the boutique investment bank Cowen and Company says Google is the clear leader with the most user-friendly features among the four major mapping sites. “Google Maps has meaningfully expanded its lead in features and functionality over its competitors,” Cowen analysts say in their report.
As for those three competitors, the Cowen report isn’t very kind: “Since our initial survey in July 2007, innovation at MapQuest (AOL) and Yahoo Maps has stagnated. Microsoft Live Search Maps, which is the least popular of the four, ranks a distant second, but has launched a couple unique features over the past two years.”
The report includes a case study using all four mapping sites to get directions using the phrase, [South Orange community center to Yankee Stadium]. The report praises Google Maps for its “unified search box” because it converted the phrase into “Point A to Point B” directions while allowing the user to choose exact start/end points. The three other services, Cowen analysts say, all failed to provide such a user-friendly experience; Yahoo! Maps and Microsoft Live Search Maps were dinged for requiring the user to provide the exact address of the South Orange Community Center. The report’s analysis of MapQuest says “text and display ads clutter MapQuest pages to the point that it is difficult to find where to click to continue the process of getting directions.”
Google Maps also gets credit in the report for providing easy access to street-level photos, public transit directions, and other features:
Since our last report in July 2007, Google has added a number of unique new features, such as My Location, which pinpoints the location of mobile users to within around 500 meters using cell tower triangulation. In addition, Google has dramatically increased its database of street level imagery and public transportation directions; none of the other online maps sites offer ‘street view’ or public transportation directions.
What About Market Share?
Innovation and user-friendly features aside, Google Maps remains second behind MapQuest in terms of market share — but is gaining ground quickly, according to new traffic data from Hitwise analyst Heather Hopkins.
The image above shows U.S. market share in the Travel-Maps category. Over the last nine months, Google Maps has seen a traffic increase of about 45%. Hitwise stats show Google currently having just over 32% market share among mapping sites. MapQuest, meanwhile, has fallen from above 50% to 44.4% market share at the moment — that’s down about 15% so far in 2008.
Longer trending of these same numbers can be seen by looking at Hitwise stats published earlier this year. At the start of 2007, Google Maps market share was only about 10%, a distant third behind MapQuest and Yahoo! Maps.
Stepping outside the Maps category to overall U.S. web traffic shows similar numbers:
The image above not only casts a wider net, but also shows combined numbers for Yahoo! Local and Yahoo! Maps, as well as combined numbers for MSN Live Local and Ask City (which uses Microsoft Virtual Earth mapping). Heather Hopkins shares more about these charts on the Hitwise blog today.
We’ve noted on Search Engine Land that two factors likely began to change the traffic trends for map sites: First, when Google stopped linking to MapQuest and Yahoo! Maps; second, when Google Maps began to be featured prominently in Universal Search results.
Cowen and Company expects this trend to continue, and to pave the way for success in mobile search: “Google’s aggressive investment in maps positions the company to achieve a dominant share of search in the mobile Internet.”