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Interview: Carter Maslan On Google’s Local Business Center Upgrade
Google Maps recently introduced a new user interface for the Local Business Center. There were some issues with the upgrade and Carter Maslan, Google’s Director of Product Management for Local, agreed to answer some of my questions about the process in a phone conversation. Below, selected excerpts from our conversation:
Mike Blumenthal: What was the goal of the upgrade? What prompted the change?
Carter Maslan: We wanted to address usability issues to make it simpler to get through the process and having it flow on a single screen was a big driver.
Usability was the main motivator… simple things like not a big enough map to be able to accurately move the pin, having a clear sense of where you are in the process, etc. We were trying to address the flow through the enrollment to make it as fast and simple as possible.
What do you perceive to be the greatest improvements from the new interface?
We do a combo of usability studies in labs and monitor actual usage and user success rates. We look at both and try to improve the overall process. This was the first refresh of the UI in a while and was intended to pick up high payback UI changes.
There were a lot of complaints in the Maps groups over the past 10 days. What was up?
All things will be fixed very very soon and those things not yet fixed should be OK within days. We were not able to replicate the bulk upload problem. But all problems [with the new Local Business Center] should be reported into the Maps Group and we will take a look.
The Maps team read the posts about problems on the local blogs and in the groups but their heads were down. The team fixing the problems were totally heads down… so no one was available to give answers in the group.
The main point is that even if we need to work on proactive communication, the team is paying attention, and will try to do better on the communication.
Was there a change in listing policy? The Pin is now required on all single entries? What precipitated that change?
We are experimenting with how much verification vs. how much ease of use. There are variables as to when to prompt… In the past it had been too liberal, and is becoming more stringent. We are experimenting on the quality of the listings and spam. There is no hard yes or no answer to the correct structure.
Will there be some accommodations to facilitate entry for agencies and such? Will there be something like a Trusted Partner status?
We are contemplating something like the letter of agency policy for cell phone companies… we are fleshing out the details. We are interested in coming up with a way to allow people with good intentions to do so, for both bulk uploads and multiple singles entries.
We initially are looking at it primarily geared toward primary sources—like a chain. How do we make it easier for the chain to control the records even if there is conflicting info from a secondary data source?
The first step is for to us to provide simplified verification for use by primary data providers like a national business or chains. Whether it extends to other aggregators or agencies is in discussion.
We hope to have this available soon… less than a year and maybe as soon as a quarter. We are working through the process.
Are there short term efforts to integrate analytics and AdWords?
I am not on the AdWords team. We do have joint discussions on how to make everything simpler. The auction concept is difficult and there are discussions on how to simplify and to maximize an ad campaign. But for now we will stay dedicated to getting basic listings up and running.
Is there a plan to roll out the new Local Business Center interface to the international market? What is the time frame?
We want to work through the kinks in U.S. first and then do localization, but it will go as soon as things are ironed out… less than a quarter.
What percentage of total listings in Maps have been controlled by the businesses or their proxies in the Local Business Center?
No real numbers to publish… individual businesses [with entries in the Local Business Center] are in low seven figures and are growing well.
Coupons seem to be the poor step-child and they don’t get broad exposure. What are the plans for coupons?
We are talking about options to increase discoverability. One of the things being discussed, for example, would be coupons as another attribute and being able to filter on them like by neighborhood or rating.
Was there a significant increase in Maps traffic due to the increased links in the Local 10 Pack?
Part of the increase is growing awareness that users can find more local business information… awareness was a boost in and of itself. It did increase traffic.
Now that you have seen the pattern of many types of spam, is there an effort to clean out old spam in Maps?
We didn’t want to overbuild before the problem was significant, but will go back and purge bad data.
Mike Blumenthal is a student of life, political economy and local search. He writes the blog Understanding Google Maps and Yahoo Local Search and is a partner in a small web design company in upstate NY.
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