Online maps are essential to our lives. We all rely on them to some degree as they have grown in relevance and applicability over the years. Gone are the days when checking online maps was reserved for seeking answers to curious geography questions, though. Now, digital maps are integrated into our mobile apps as well as our in-car navigation, and we use them to give us detailed directions on the roadways and to search the the location of local businesses. Some of these applications of the maps lend themselves to internet marketing and search engine optimization more than others, most notably, local business searching, however they all factor into the mapping market and impact the direction the sector will take.

From MapQuest to OpenStreetMap
In the last decade we saw MapQuest rise as a leader in online mapping, then this was passed onto Google Maps who has for several years dominated both the search and map markets. Google broke from the free mapping model recently, however, at least in some forms of their Map operations as they now charge websites and apps that use Google Maps API ($4 for every 1,000 visitors over 25,000).

These charges pushed some websites and apps away and has added fuel to the open source mapping movement. OpenStreetMap, a “free wiki world map” platform, is a leader in the sector and is now being used by Apple iOS instead of Google Maps. Foursquare is also cutting ties with Google and is instead using open source MapBox on its platform. This movement by Apple and Foursquare represent strategic distancing from Google Maps by big industry players that could become a trend if Google does not re-evaluate their API pricing.

Strategic Positioning by Microsoft, Nokia, and Apple
Additionally, other companies appear to be making a strong push at online mapping looking to give users a competitive alternative to the dominant Google Maps. Microsoft and Nokia recently began a strategic partnership that saw them roll out a new shared mapping platform for Bing Maps and Nokia Maps that presents a different user experience than Google. Further, Apple appears to be mounting their own run at mapping considering their own purchases of mapping companies C3 Technologies, Poly9, and Placebase in previous years and their apparent search for mapping engineers, as pointed out by Gizmodo.

It’s clear the online mapping sector is going through an evolution of sorts indicating it may not look the same in come the end of the year, 2 years from, and so on. With these developments, two bigger questions result. First, how is the emergence of open source mapping impacting the sector, and second, how would a mapping service by Apple further impact the sector and SEO? Check back in tomorrow and I’ll address those two questions.

When Google was introducing the Street View feature of its Maps platform in Germany, culture was at the root of its initial resistance. This is yet another example of technology and the internet challenging cultural norms and existing laws in new ways. German culture largely tends to be more private than others, particularly US culture. This can be seen throughout society, but most applicable for tech companies and search engine optimization experts is how it impacts their online activity. As such, Germans had one of the lowest adoption rates of social networking sites in Europe during the initial years of their existence. But in time, Germans have joined social sites in great numbers, once the technology and its impact on privacy was understood and accepted it appears.

The same trend was seen with Street View, as there was great initial resistance to the idea of private homes being represented digitally for all to see. From businesses to private homes and communities, people were simply unsure about this literal and figurative uncharted territory relating to digital privacy. The immediate concern was personal privacy and safety as there was a belief that online representations of such properties could be used by individuals for break-ins and other illegal activity. Individuals who did not want their property to be digitally represented could opt-out, but once people saw the technology wasn’t overly intrusive and used for malice, it was slowly accepted.

This has serious implications for companies utilizing geo-targeting and Google Maps in general for international SEO purposes. Optimized business sites show up in SERPs and Google Maps, and now customers can walk the streets and look at the restaurant or shop itself in many cities of Germany, assisting in customer product or service research. Customers can thus engage with the businesses even further, looking at the building, signing, and the neighborhood it finds itself in, among other elements.

Further, a new area of marketing potential has emerged. According to a Time Magazine/Worldcrunch article, the service is popular among Germans looking to rent or buy property, or even visit a specific area, which presents additional opportunities to target traffic. This is an initial step in the German market, but the impact that Google Maps with Street View has on the SEO and paid search industries will only evolve further.