Episode 11: Map Markers

A crucial data point for each place on Google Maps is the Map Marker (or pin), the exact point where the place is located on the map. Why is that so important? What is the optimal spot to put the pins? And how can local guides help to correct errors on the current map?



Jan Van Haver 0:05
Hello, and welcome to yet another episode of the LetsGuide Podcast, the ultimate podcast for Google Local Guides. I received quite some nice feedback about the previous episode, the one about getting to level 5 in a day. So that’s always really nice to get, of course, this kind of feedback. If you haven’t heard it yet, that episode number 10, you should perhaps go back and listen to it right now because people seem to have liked that a lot. So I hope you will also like it, if you haven’t heard it yet.

Jan Van Haver 0:40
The summer break is over. We’re back on track now with episode 11, the episode about map markers. A crucial data point for each place on Google Maps is the map marker or so called pin, the exact point where the place is located on the map. Why is that so important? What is the optimal spot to put the pins? And how can local guides help to correct errors on the current map? All that we will find out in this episode.

Jan Van Haver 1:12
But before we start, as usual, I want to point out that I have no official affiliation or link to Google or the local guides team. I’m just a local guide like most of you. Everything you hear in this episode is of course my personal interpretation of things. This episode is recorded at the beginning of September 2019, and is therefore describing the situation as it is today. If you’re listening at a later date, things might obviously have changed.

Vanessa P. 1:46
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 1:49
The map marker or pin location are two frequently used terms to refer to this symbol, which is round at the top and pointed at the bottom with the dot inside or a symbol, an icon that is used to mark the exact location of a point of interest on Google Maps. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. In the instructions found in the local guides help section, not really a lot of info is found on this particular topic. Under ‘What makes a good edit’ I read “When you move a marker, make sure you zoom in far enough and switch to satellite view. This will help you see buildings and move the marker on the building where the place is”. That’s all I was able to find.

Jan Van Haver 2:39
Some things are important there. So zooming in until you see the individual buildings, and importantly, switch to satellite view to recognize where exactly the building is, and then put it on top of the building. I assume of course that the same goes for the placement of the marker when adding a new point of interest, because in the instructions, it only talks about moving a map marker, but make sense that the same goes for adding one for a new place. Actually, it’s a bit weird if you ask me that Google does not give any specific instructions because also in Google My Business – the help section there – it only says “You may be asked to position a marker on the location of your business on the map” – and that’s it, nothing else. That brings, of course, a number of questions. For example: what if the building is quite big? Where exactly on the building should you put the pin then? That’s something you could be wondering. I haven’t found any specific instructions on that, but I have come across one point in the social media groups for local guides, or on Local Guides Connect, the official forum, and that was that you should put the pin where the main entrance is. Perhaps there were some more specific instructions in the past that have led to this bit of info being passed to our generations of local guides, so to speak. But I haven’t found any written instructions on that anyway. That makes sense, of course, to put it on the main entrance. The goal of a user of Google Maps when he or she enters a destination in the search is of course to get inside the building and then knowing where the main entrance entrance is, makes perfect sense.

Jan Van Haver 4:38
That brings me to one of the big reasons why the map marker is so important. When a Google Maps user enters a destination, the pin location is used as the goal of the navigation – meaning: if the map marker is in the wrong place, the Google Maps Navigation will send you to the wrong destination, which is not really an issue if the pin is only five meters off. But from personal experience – and you can hear the full story as I told it in episode number 1 – from personal experience, I know that in some cases when a business moves, the address is changed, so the text of the address is changed on Google Maps, but the pin location is not moved… resulting in people still being directed to the old address, which can be pretty dramatic, of course.

Jan Van Haver 5:34
There are a few other types of pin placement errors that I’ve already come across: one very good example is points of interests, or places on the map cluttered together on a square in one single dot. So, really one stacked on top of the other, sometimes 5, 6, sometimes 10. Actually, I find this some something that is very fun to do as a local guide. I call that activity ‘Clean up a square’ – more about that in a minute. That comes about probably due to the way that the location info, especially the exact place where a house number is supposed to be situated, was entered or imported into the map. This is pure speculation on my part, I have no idea about the exact process. Perhaps I should investigate this for a future episode. Then there’s also the fact that on a square house numbers are sometimes differently organized compared to a regular street, so to speak. So, if you remember this activity ‘Clean up a square’ that I was talking about, you can now picture me running around multiple times a square to find the correct location for each single point of interest that is stacked on top of each other. By the way, on the topic of pin locations on squares: often you can find on food or fast food carts or small houses that are located permanently on a square but have no real house number, which makes them a good candidate for an incorrect location on that square. So if you’re on square, please also look out for those because there’s room for improvement as far as those are concerned.

Jan Van Haver 7:24
Another common type of mistake is to have the pin just a few meters away from the optimal location, where it’s supposed to be – could also be due to bad house number info. Often it’s just one house off from the place where it’s supposed to be, or on the wrong half of the building. You sometimes have buildings where there’s a business on the left hand side and another business on the right hand side – and of course: the pins being the other way around. Easy to fix, I would say. Or, and this is probably the most common type of error with pin location is that the map marker is exactly in the middle of the street, which can’t really be right. You don’t have businesses typically in the middle of the street, either they’re on the left hand side or the right hand side of the road. Also: those are often very easy to correct without need to physically be there, provided of course, there’s good Street View imagery for that street.

Jan Van Haver 8:29
The next one you can go and hunt after is related to shopping centers. Some of the shops there, often the new ones, are located outside the actual place of the shopping center. Perhaps those were added after the initial indoor map of the shopping center was created – that’s one of the speculations about that. I’m not going to go into further detail on this because shopping centers and indoor mapping is one of the topics I’m planning a future episode on.

Jan Van Haver 9:02
And finally, you should definitely also check the border of two cities, two towns, two villages, especially if there’s a long road with the national number extending from one town into the next. There you sometimes find points of interests for that street exactly at the border of one of the two towns. Often those have no house numbers, so it could be that the place was added to the map and they know which village, which town it was, they know which road it is, but no clue where exactly, so: let’s just put it at the border of the town at the beginning of the street with that zip code. Once again, here Street View is your friend. Of course, if there is a house number in these cases, then you can also use house numbers of other places on the map to figure out where the point of interest that is at the border should be placed. Suppose you are searching for number 87. And somewhere down that road you find a point of interest that has number 82. Well definitely put Street View on there and check if you can find the 87. Let’s say two houses to the left of that one. A lot of times you have success this way, this is experience talking.

Jan Van Haver 10:30
As I mentioned before, the incorrect locations are often linked to the data quality of the map. So let me give you a tip to find places with a lot of map markers that can be improved: look for areas where Google only is providing the map info as this is different from one country or region to another. For example, I noticed that in Australia on the map you also see the house numbers of the individual houses. That’s an indication, I think, that they are working with a local partner for the map data. You can check whether or not they’re working with a partner by looking at the bottom right corner of the map in the desktop version of Google Maps – so not a mobile, you won’t see it there – go to the desktop version, and check the bottom right corner. Now you will see in small print the copyright info which mentions if there are any external, usually local, partners for the map data. By the way, if you switch to satellite view on the desktop, you can see very detailed copyright information there in the bottom right corner about the images for the satellite view.

Jan Van Haver 11:50
Another interesting topic related to map markers is the fact that the color of the map marker and the icon inside it depend on the category. Let’s have a look at the different ones that are around at the moment. There are orange ones which are used to represent the category ‘food and drink’, with an icon of a fork and a knife used for restaurants, a cocktail glass used for bars and a coffee cup for coffee bars. Blue markers are used for shops in general, with a shopping bag representing retail shops and a shopping cart representing supermarkets. The bright green ones represents nature-related points of interest, with a tree for a park or a playground, and the symbol of a tree combined with a gravestone for a graveyard. The blueish green ones represent ‘culture’ with two masks for a theater, for example, or you have a building with the letter M inside – that’s a museum. Accommodations also have the separate color – hotels, for example – these are pink and of course the icon is then a bed for hotels. There’s also red ones for ‘healthcare’ with the hospitals indicated with the letter H inside the red pin, a house with a plus-sign for doctors and this kind of beaker or cup that pharmacists use to do their pharmacy thing, of course being used to indicate pharmacies. The gray ones points to public places, with a student hat for example for schools, a building with pillars for government-related points of interest, a church icon for Christian churches and half moon and a star for mosques, an envelope for post offices and so on. In one particular case, the same color is used for two different domains: purple. It’s used for mobility: for example you have the charger for electrical vehicles, there’s the letter P for parking, and I can have a car combined with a key for car rental. But that same purple is also used for financial points of interest with, for example, the currency symbol for a bank. At least, I don’t see a different color for those two, but perhaps that’s due to the slight touch of color blindness I’ve been told to have. (I have to admit: in some cases, indeed, I do not see that triangle or the number seven in those designs with those with lots of colored dots; so that might also be the case). If you see a distinction between this mobility purple and this financial purple, just let me know I would say. Finally, you have big quantity of gray map markers with just a white dot inside and those are used for ‘the rest’: anything that does not have a specific color or icon is just represented with a gray marker with a white dot inside.

Jan Van Haver 15:15
And then a final thing I’d like to point out about the map markers – and it’s something you might have already seen yourself: Google has started using the map marker for advertising purposes. The normal pin is then replaced with a slightly bigger version that does no longer have a white dot or a white icon inside, but the company logo instead. Clicking that pin will open a promotion, typically. This is all handled inside the Google My Business program. And that then brings us to the special section of the podcast that we have in every episode.

Vanessa P. 15:56
What a great idea

Jan Van Haver 15:59
In ‘What a great idea’ we dive into Idea Exchange, my favorite section of Local Guides Connect, the the official platform provided by Google for the local guides to interact. There, you can submit suggestions to improve Google Maps or Connect itself. And then other local guides can click the like button to vote for them. This time exceptionally, I’m going to refer to two different ideas and it all modesty two ideas I have submitted myself but both of them are pin-related. So that’s of course why I bring them up both here.

Jan Van Haver 16:41
The first one is called ‘Additional icons to indicate types of places’. I mentioned before all the colors and the icons to represent the different places, but a lot more are possible. So go check out the idea – I’ll make sure of course to include a link to them in the shownotes – and you can go and check some extras I proposed including some mock-ups of possible suggested new map markers. If you do so, I have to warn you and you will see it immediately: I am not a professional graphics designer.

Jan Van Haver 17:21
The second idea I want to draw your attention to is called ‘Adapt not replace map marker when adding a place to a list’. When you add places to a list – and Google is encouraging local guides to add places to lists and to publish a lot of lists – when you do this, all the places look alike because the map marker is then replaced with a blueish green one with a square inside, a white square, not a circle but a square in that case. But of course if you do this for a lot of places on a lot of lists, you end up with a map that is practically filled with those markers all looking the same and that’s actually removing useful information: you no longer see “Was this place on the map a bar or was it a restaurant? Or was it a church or monument?” and so on. That’s a pity. So, I’ve made a proposal on how this could be improved. Please go check it out through the link in the shownotes and vote for the idea if you like it.

Jan Van Haver 18:31
And that’s all I have for this episode. Please, as always, do get in touch with me with your feedback on what you’ve heard and – why not? – suggestions for what might come. You can find me on Twitter with handle LocalGuidesGuru. You can send an email to letsguidepodcast@gmail.com or you can reach out to me on Local Guides Connect under my real name @JanVanHaver. And of course, as always, the shownotes can be found on http://www.letsguidepodcast.com. Thanks very much for listening to another episode of the LetsGuide Podcast. In two weeks time, there will be another one. It’s not 100% fixed yet what the topic will be; it might just be another news & updates one, as we’ve seen – in the past few weeks and months – some very promising previews of new stuff, both on Google Maps itself and on Local Guides Connect. So just stay tuned.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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