Google, Now with Travel Times
The kinds of information Google displays on their results seem to get more interesting and complicated. Recently an SEO specialist I work with, Ana Diaz, saw something interesting. A number of travel queries came with a map, with a route, distance and travel time displayed. Like the special dates details seen last month, there was not much either on Google’s blogs or elsewhere online about this.
While it seems that adding this information to the main search results is a new thing from Google, displaying this kind of information isn’t much of a departure for the search engine. Google Now, available on Android, provides the same kind of information automatically based on your location and time of day. Google Maps has also provided this kind of information for a few years now, and has even been providing their traffic data via API.
Understanding the Query
Unfortunately, as cool as this new kind of result is, it is easily confused. The map with travel details does not display consistently across a number of queries. While it will show for “St Lucia to Newstead” and “St Lucia from Newstead” (two Brisbane suburbs) it won’t for “Drive from St Lucia to Newstead” or “Travel to St Lucia from Newstead”. It won’t support more than two destinations in a sequence either. For now, it appears to only be able to return a result for “location” “direction” “location”. It will also accept other qualifying location terms like “St Lucia to Newstead Brisbane” or “St Lucia from Newstead Australia”. Just like the fields available in Google Maps.
It is interesting how closely the queries used in Google’s main search need to match to the format seen in Google Maps. It seems to indicate that this feature is not as closely integrated with Google’s search as you would expect.
As cool as it is, there are a number of ways this tool seems to fail. A search for “Ascot to Manly” won’t return a map, which isn’t surprising as a number of cities have suburbs with these names. Adding a location qualifier like “Ascot to Manly Brisbane” doesn’t help, nor does the fact that Google is pretty certain I am in Brisbane, QLD. However it will work with “Surry Hills to Paddington”, although there are suburbs called Paddington in both Sydney and Brisbane.
How good is it really?
Travel time and distance results in Google’s main search results are interesting, and they do appear to be new. When they work, they are useful, and it does not appear to be using any information that they have not had for a while, or used in the same way elsewhere. It is interesting how sensitive to query structure this feature is, especially given how good Google usually is with poorly structured and spelled searches. Even Google Maps seems to be able to cope with some of the searches that stymied this other feature.