Local Search

Exploring the Potential of the Google Maps API

For all the criticizing I do of Google, they’ve really hit upon a gold mine with Google Maps and in particular, their development of the Google Maps API.

In honor of this great resource, I wanted to highlight a couple of sites where I’ve found the use of the Maps API to be more than impressive.

Table Hound — This is a local site and it’s one that my wife and I have found useful in a few instances this summer. For example, Newport RI is packed with tourists in the summer, and with a six month old, it’s tough to plan a decent dinner because of long waits and crowds. Table Hound takes the guess work out of the equation because they show you what is close to you and they provide the phone numbers you need to check wait times and make reservations. It’s saved us hours of waiting already this summer already!

Chicago Crime Database — I have never visited Chicago for more than 12 hours, but this seems like a great idea for any metropolitan area. This is a freely browsable database of crimes reported in Chicago, plotted on the maps with dates and basic descriptions. If you were looking for an apartment, this would become tremendously valuable as its data set goes back to November of 2005.

TaxiWiz – TaxiWiz simply calculates your taxi cab fare in any one of eight cities (and, presumably more as data is gathered). Current cities include New York City, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto and San Diego. The best feature here has to be the mobile accessibility offered.

findbyclick – findbyclick is a Google Maps mashup of sorts that allows users to search for Barnes and Noble book stores, Tim Hortons, Starbucks, Timothy’s, Borders and additional stores. The basis is simple… Take existing store locators, map them on a map, and allow users to search for them all in one place. The key is that you can easily add things on in a layering type system — therefore giving you more options and control of what to use and view.

Housing Maps – These guys take Craigslist real estate listings, and plot them on a Google Maps interface for you to search, view and edit listings. It’s amazingly handy and has already proven to be a great resource.

Why Should We Care About Maps?

Local search will quickly dominate most aspects or search engine marketing and optimization. As many people have said, local is social — and the ability to combine local data with socially contributed content is key.

These mashups will go a long way in not only defining how local search starts off, but also in how local site marketing will be affected in the coming years.

Check out these resources and play around a bit. You’ll find some great ideas and motivating tools in action before your eyes…

Involved in the industry since 1999, Eric currently manages organic optimization at a Fortune 500 organization. In addition to contributing here on Search Engine Journal, Eric maintains a blog and consulting business at www.ericlander.com.