Oh The Places We’ll Go…

...assuming you’re on Yelp, Google Maps or Apple Maps.

When in New Orleans I have a routine. My coworker Sean and I spend part of the work day at CC’s on Magazine Street. There, I zone out into a combination of casual banter, ferociously typing code on my laptop, and pacing back and forth on conference calls.  At some point it dawns on me – I’m starving! But where do I go? Like many of you, I know every restaurant up and down Magazine Street (or at least I think I do)… but I want something different. With the parade of exciting restaurant openings, who could blame me?

For many of us this means tools like Yelp and Google. After all, the evolution of search and discovery has changed drastically over the last few years. While we are well beyond the days of the Yellow and White Pages, searching on the Internet has adapted to better understand what we want and what we are attempting to ask. In many ways, search has become predictive: it attempts to answer a question before you even ask.

Google, which I consider the gold standard of search, has focused on trying to better engage searchers and return a response that almost immediately meets what you want. Ask Google a math question; it solves it. Ask about a restaurant, and see reviews and a map. Want tickets for the next blockbuster movie? Here is a nearby theater and upcoming showtimes.

For local businesses, it is important to know that all of this doesn’t just happen. It requires you to proactively provide information. Having a website is not enough. In the new world of search, results are integrated into maps and aggregate information, including reviews from many different websites. Because of this, shoppers of all types have grown to expect that the online information about your business is up to date — no matter where it comes from.

For instance, over this past July 4 weekend while I was in Washington, D.C., I checked Yelp before heading to a popular barbecue spot. Yelp listed the spot as closed, but a friend who called (crazy antiquated phone calls!) confirmed it was indeed open.

This is our reality now.  As we get more comfortable with the next realm of search — which uses your voice — these little mishaps may get more important. Every major technology company is or has integrated voice controls into their phones and computers, including Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexis and Apple’s Siri. For those tools to work, they need a central source of information about your business. More importantly, voice search and wearable devices like a watch do not allow a user to drill into websites or other search results.  Results need to be correct and concise.

Google captures tons of restaurant data from Zagat (which they bought in 2011) and asks all types of businesses (not just restaurants) to provide detailed information about times, locations or payments accepted at places.google.com. They also work exhaustively to aggregate information on products, retail outlets and hotels.  

One way Google does this is with something called microdata. Microdata allows a website to alert Google or other search engines about information it might need. For example, a calendar on your website can let a search engine know that not only are these events, but here is the date of each one and how you can register. Currently, support exists to expose locations, events, organizations, products, reviews, recipes and tons of other structures. Each of these items can be exposed to search engines in a smart way using your existing content.

Apple Maps deals with the data issue through its strong partnership with Yelp. Using Yelp, a business can claim an existing listing or create a new listing, one which powers the majority of Apple Maps’ search results. However, Apple has also introduced an option for business owners to claim listings and provide detailed information about who and what they are with Map Connects (https://mapsconnect.apple.com/).  

Jason MICHAEL Perry is the director of the Drupal Practice at Fig Leaf Software. I guess I should ask Siri for the closest coffee shop on my Apple Watch. If you know one, tweet me at @jasonmperry or email me@jasonmichaelperry.com.



Categories: Technology, The Magazine