Google has upgraded browser based local search on mobile handsets. It has tied Maps on the PC to mobile in a very effective way. Recognizing the limitations of keying in queries into a search box on a mobile handset, Google has taken a page from its Places Directory Android app and incorporated search/browse by category with location awareness. These changes don’t appear to be major at first sight, but they potentially make Google’s browser-based local search on mobile devices much more formidable than it was yesterday.
This is Google acting on its dominant position that most activity in mobile will ultimately happen through the browser and not from apps. Accordingly these changes enable Google to provide a uniform, cross-platform experience on a wide range of mobile devices.
In terms of PC Maps-mobile linkage, Google enables users to “star” (highlight) businesses (essentially creating a favorites list). Those starred businesses then appear (if you’re signed in) on a new local page in mobile. For example, you select several “energy efficient window contractor, West Coast Vinyl or a restaurant consultant” on the PC.
I then go to the mobile handset and bring up Google. I click the “Local” link at the top.
If I select “star places,” I’m then taken to my list:
You will now be able to see the energy efficient window contractor “starred” on the PC. This single change is very powerful and will reinforce Google usage in mobile, tying it to Google’s dominant mapping site on the PC. Now you can create lists online and access them in mobile.
The category lookup functionality illustrated in the screen above (leveraging location in the mobile browser) is another big change that adds vastly to the utility of Google on mobile devices as well. Rather than typing in queries users can simply “search” for a type of business by category and find ones that are nearby. Ads also appear in these category “search results,” creating more inventory and more potential clicks. The belief is that people will use this lookup functionality very heavily because it’s easier than conventional search via the query box (cumbersome on mobile device).
These upgrades are potentially a big deal that will likely drive more engagement and usage of Google’s browser-based site.