What are the most popular direction requests, and what can they teach us about indoor navigation?

The rise of Google Maps as the world’s leading GPS system has coincided with the increasing use of voice assistants such as Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. Nowadays, getting from A to B no longer requires navigating an awkward user interface to plug in a Zip code and then waiting for a lengthy loading period; instead, it can be as easy as simply telling your smartphone where you need to go.

Understanding the ever-evolving manner in which everyday users are interacting with their personal mapping and GPS systems for outdoor environments is critical to informing how we can better improve our indoor mapping and navigation solutions. Long gone are the days of users tracing their route on a map with their finger, consistently checking back to check their own navigational senses hadn’t let them down. Modern consumers have become accustomed to pinpoint directions being fed directly to them, and taking into account their preferences, like avoiding busy routes or toll roads. While indoor mapping and navigation remains more of a novelty, user expectations are rapidly catching up. 

These are the most popular direction and navigation based commands currently - below, we’ll discuss these in greater detail and delve into what they can teach us about effective indoor mapping and navigation systems. 

The most popular directions asked for

Before we dig into the analysis, here’s the breakdown of the most popular directional and navigational requests. This ranking has been arrived at via monthly Google search volumes in the US. For sake of clarity, we’ve split the commands into categories, and restricted the number we show per type - so we won’t be listing every command for every fast food restaurant or city, just the most popular examples.

Search term Monthly Google searches (US)
Food near me 20,400,000
Restaurants near me 16,600,000
Covid vaccine near me 16,600,000
Walmart near me 7,480,000
Covid testing near me 7,480,000
Pizza near me 5,000,000
Walgreens near me 5,000,000
CVS near me 4,090,000
Starbucks near me 3,350,000
Hotels near me 3,350,000
Target near me 3,350,000
McDonald's near me 3,240,000
Gas station near me 2,740,000
Home Depot near me 2,740,000
Domino's near me 2,240,000
Take me home 368,000
Restaurants nearby 165,000
Directions to home 135,000
Navigate to work 49,500
Navigate to the closest grocery store 49,500
Where is Yellowstone National Park 49,500
Directions to work 40,500
Where is the Grand Canyon 40,500
Navigate to home 33,100
Directions to Walmart 18,100
Take me to Walmart 12,100
Take me to the nearest gas station 8,100
Directions to Nashville, Tennessee 8,100
Directions to McDonald’s 8,100
Directions to airport 6,600
Navigate to nearest gas station 4,400
Navigate to nearest coffee shop 4,400


The most popular ways of asking for directions

The idea of issuing a strict set of commands in order to get directions is now a thing of the past. Modern search engines, voice assistants and GPS systems are capable of understanding a wide array of different styles of navigation request. Something that all modern navigation systems (both those for indoor and outdoor environments) that make use of voice commands need to take into account is the different ways users are now requesting directions.

As you can see from the above table, traditional ‘navigate to’ style phrases have been supplanted by ideation and discovery phrases like ‘near me’. Also seeing a substantial surge in usage are phrases that tie to the increasingly personalized world of GPS systems, such as ‘take me home’ and ‘navigate to work’. These commands rely on a knowledge of the user’s personal preferences and points of interest.

This final point is well worth bearing in mind when thinking about how an indoor mapping and navigation system ought to operate. Any app-based system that allows users to log in could offer them the ability to personalize their favorite options for easy access and gain an advantage over competitors - for example, a mall app that lets users quickly get directions to their favorite stores no matter where they are in the building. 

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Do users know where they want to go, or do they need help?

One must-have for modern interactive maps, no matter if they’re for indoor or outdoor areas, is a comprehensive index or directory, ideally coupled with the ability to search in an intuitive manner. This is because increasingly, users have come to rely upon smart search functionality to help them decide what it is they’re hoping to find, and don’t approach navigation with a set idea of precisely where they want to go (although plenty of users do know what they’re looking for, and just want the fastest route to the most convenient location!).

This is borne out in the data - by far the two most commonly searched for terms are ‘food near me’ and ‘restaurants near me’, far eclipsing similar searches for specific locations (‘Starbucks near me’, the most commonly searched brand-specific search, received roughly 15% of the searches that ‘food near me’ did). Granted, these major generic terms are catch-all, while there are thousands of different restaurant and takeout brands to search for, meaning that the discrepancy may not be quite as pronounced as these numbers suggested. However, there’s no denying that offering users the opportunity to discover via search before navigation is now critically important. 

Having clear, interactive maps that are able to display information in an intuitive manner is absolutely critical. If a user is looking for food options in an airport, for example, a map that is able to hide or minimize non-pertinent information while forefronting what the user has searched for will deliver an optimum experience.

Do users want to go to specific locations, or broader categories?

One final takeaway that we can gather from the data is that both generic searches - such as ‘gas station near me’ - and specific ones - such as ‘Walmart near me’ - remain prevalent. For this reason, offering smart search in your indoor navigation and mapping system is a good idea; some users will have a set idea of where they want to go or what they’re looking for specifically, while others will simply want the most convenient option. 

To use our mall example again, some users will arrive knowing that they specifically want to visit The Gap, and will use either their app or a kiosk to find directions to that specific store. Others may simply want to look for ‘women’s clothing’, and will then select from a list of options. 

What this data demonstrates is that it’s important to cater to both types of user. In this example, helpfully categorizing store types and letting users search for these categories as well as just store names would provide the next step in an intuitive indoor shopping experience. The same is true for other types of venues. In a large workplace campus, for example, an employee or guest may well need to request directions to a specific building, area or floor. However, once there, they’re far less likely to want navigation to a specific location - instead, they might search for ‘available desk near me’ or ‘free meeting room near me’, which would require smart search to parse the request and correspond with a meeting room booking or hot desking system