Online Map Providers: Oh the Places You'll Go

The internet has not only revolutionized communication, but how we drive as well. Gone are the days of driving while feeling around the back seat for the Atlas to find Missoula, Montana located on page 100. Learning to fold a map to its original shape is a lost art. Few continue to use conventional maps for directions; most now use the web. But where, specifically, are people finding directions?

The Chart below shows Monthly Unique Visitors to the five largest map services sites over the past year. At a macro level, map services follow a seasonal trend: more travel in summer means more traffic to map services.

  • Though traffic is down more than 20% from it’s peak in June, MapQuest remains the king of online map services with over twice the traffic of it’s nearest competitor.
  • Google Map’s functionality has allowed it to nearly double in size since January 2006. Google’s service is quickly gaining ground on Yahoo’s similar offering, and also shirking seasonal trends.
  • Live Search* has been gaining significant traction: coming out of beta in September, it has since grown to twice the size of well established RandMcNally.
  • RandMcNally may have led the digital mapping charge with TripMaker in 1994, but it has failed to convert this brand awareness into site traffic; it currently attracts about 1% of visitors to this space.

Map services provide similar offerings, but the way people interact with these services differs significantly. The chart below shows the percentage of total site visitors who queried either a map, or directions.

  • Google Map’s visitors are heavily skewed towards map queries. This is most likely due to the service’s option to display both maps and high resolution satellite images. Additionally the "link to this page" feature takes the guess work out of pathing people to specific maps from other websites. Of these four competitors, Google is the only service to offer both of these features.
  • The ease of transitioning between maps and directions at both Yahoo and MapQuest’s offerings is encouraging people to do both. At these two services percentage of visitors performing either type of query is above 50%, indicating overlap in the two types of queries (at least one in a month).
  • At the opposite end of the spectrum, RandMcNally.com appears to be attracting primarily travelers, as it skews heavily towards queries for directions.

To me, maps feed the adrenaline of adventure and offer excitement of the unknown; the excitement is always greatest at the beginning of a road trip that ends somewhere I have not seen. This feeling isn’t lost on digital maps"¦as long as you don’t switch to a satellite view.

*Does not include traffic to previous MSN map offerings

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