Navigating the world became a whole lot easier 13 years ago, when Google launched Google Maps.
Within two years, Google started to make Google Maps a social experience by allowing users to post reviews of local businesses. Not only could users find businesses on Google Maps, but they could also leave public ratings and reviews.
It seemed like Google was trying to keep pace with Yelp, which had launched at roughly the same time as Google Maps.
When smartphones exploded in popularity, the ability to provide both wayfinding and recommendations became even more critical as Google Maps became a mobile application.
Now Google is getting even more social and Yelp-like.
At Google’s I/O developer conference, the company announced a slew of new Google Maps features such as the incorporation of augmented reality.
The product enhancement that caught my eye from a social media standpoint was the launch of a more personalized and social version of Maps that once again emulates Yelp. For example, Google announced For You, Group Planning and Your Match tabs that:
- List businesses such as restaurants based on your own behavior on Google Maps, including places you have rated and places your friends have rated: Google Maps uses machine learning to make smarter recommendations as it learns more about places you and your friends visit more often than others. Onstage at I/O, Jen Fitzpatrick, Google’s vice president for engineering and product management, said, “Your Match uses machine learning to combine what Google knows about hundreds of millions of places with the information that I’ve added—restaurants I’ve rated, cuisines I’ve liked and places I’ve been to.” If you know how Spotify makes smarter song recommendations based on your tastes and those of your friends, you can understand intuitively what Google Maps is doing here.
- Add places to a shareable list: If you long-press on a place, you can create a short list of recommendations with friends, get their input and vote on different locations. With easy voting, users can do a better job planning a night out together. By providing a convenient sharable link, Google has eliminated the need for users to clumsily paste links to different places in group texts.
It’s also interesting to note that For You lets your favorite small businesses alert you about sales and other events. Google is not only making content more personal and social, it’s also helping businesses create more loyalty with users who are more likely to respond to what they have to offer.
These changes have a number of implications on any brick-and-mortar business.
First off, Google is giving businesses a way to compete in a digital world by allowing them to rely on location-based data to make offers to users based on personalized information—not just for restaurants, but for retailers.
In addition, Google Maps is becoming even more of a mobile experience that capitalizes on in-the-moment opportunities for businesses to be present with personalized content at the right time. Businesses that capitalize on those opportunities will enjoy a social boost when users respond and share their responses with friends.
To succeed in a more social Google Maps, businesses should:
- Manage reviews like an asset: By now, Yelp has taught businesses why reviews are essential to business survival. But clearly, Yelp is not the only place where people evaluate your business and share those evaluations with friends. Google itself is a prominent reviews platform, and businesses need to monitor and respond to customer feedback (this post from Google shows you how).
- Advertise: Consider Maps as a local online advertising resource. Especially as Google makes it possible to share offers through its more personalized features, Google Maps is becoming an even more attractive tool for advertising in the moment, as well as being found in the moment.
- Get your data and content right: Ensure that your location data is always accurate and your content compelling. Imagine the massive buzzkill your brand will create if people include your business in a shareable list and decide to visit you, only to find out that your posted business hours are wrong. You’ll lose business and potentially gain a negative review. In addition, if you want to be included in anyone’s consideration set, your content needs to be compelling and accurate, using powerful writing and strong visuals to create a more likely match with someone who has never visited you and might be looking for something new that matches their tastes.
We know with certainty that Google Maps is going to continue to change, as it always has. If your business is not devoting attention to Google Maps as a resource to create customers, it’s time to get started.
Jon Schepke is general manager of online reputation-management company Reputation.com.