Google Maps: A ‘Social Network’ in Disguise
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
Gone are the days when Google Plus was the epicenter for local business information. Google My Business now owns that domain, for the business owner. For users, Google Maps has become a replacement for Google Plus Local and is somewhat of a social network in disguise.
In this article, I outline Google Maps’ features, including its more “social” aspects, using a local business (a restaurant) as the example.
Once a user selects a business, a “card” appears that includes location data, customer reviews, star rating, photos, and, in this case, a notification that the establishment is Zagat rated. (You may recall that Google acquired Zagat in 2011 and incorporated it into Google Plus Local.) Although I’m using the desktop version of the card, for illustration purposes, it looks the same on the mobile version as well.
The top portion of the card contains summary information that includes a cover photo, star ratings, price estimation (evidenced by dollar signs), business category (“Restaurant”), and a link for directions.
Underneath, users are presented with four options:
- Save. Users can save the location for future reference.
- Nearby. Click this link to open search options related to the business category. Google estimates the use of “Nearby” and “Near me” in searches has increased 34 percent since 2011 and nearly doubled from last year. The vast majority — 80 percent — come from mobile. (Read the article “Local SEO: 9 Ways to Take Advantage of ‘Near Me’ Search” for more information on nearby searches.)
- Send to Your Phone. This link opens a box that shows a list of the mobile phones users have registered with Google, to which they can send the business’s information.
- Share. Clicking Share opens a box containing a permalink, which users can shorten, along with an “embed map” option that contains an iframe embed code.
Local Business Information
The next section provides detailed information about the business, including a short description, the street address, website address, phone number, operating hours, and popular times, which shows when it’s likely to be the busiest.
Where Maps Get ‘Social’
The next section is where the “social” aspects of Google Maps come into play. (This was formerly part of Google Plus until the recent changes.)
It contains user-generated photos along with a link to add a photo, a review summary accompanied by star ratings, a list of a few customer reviews, and a link to write a review.
While this does not qualify as a social network in the traditional sense, the ability for customers to share photos and reviews could be described as social attributes. Think of it as crowdsourced user-generated content — something that certainly fits within the social media paradigm.
In addition to writing reviews and uploading photos, users can create custom maps consisting of their favorite spots (including businesses), and then share them via Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, and email.
Another way users can contribute is by signing up to become a “Local Guide,” which, in addition to writing reviews and adding photos, allows users to answer questions about a particular place and edit information about a place. (“Place” is Google’s term for a specific location.)
Guides can also connect with other guides via a Google Plus community designated just for them and promote in-person “meetups” using the Local Guides calendar — all of which is just another example of how Google relies on crowdsourcing as a means to improve the Maps’ experience for users.
Recommendations for Local Businesses
Google doesn’t relegate local businesses to the sidelines as onlookers. They, too, can participate in the social aspects of Google Maps. Consider these four ways:
Encourage reviews using Google Maps. The more reviews, the better, so far as local search and peer-to-peer influence are concerned. Some reviews may be negative, but it’s likely that the majority will trend toward positive.
Claim your business listing. Claiming and verifying your business helps customers find it on Google. You’ll be able to update business information, such as hours and categories, respond to reviews, and share updates with followers.
Typically, business owners use Google My Business for this purpose, but you can also claim your business on Google Maps using the mobile app by following these steps:
- Open the Google Maps app;
- Search for your business;
- Touch “Are you the business owner?” and follow the prompts provided.
Upload photos. People love looking at pictures, so uploading photos is a good way to help them visualize your business. Google even offers a paid service that allows you to create an interior 360-degree virtual tour of your business, which appears in Google Search via the Knowledge Graph and on Maps.
Pay attention to what customers’ have to say. It’s wise to lend credence to customers’ viewpoints as expressed in reviews. Not doing so is tantamount to burying your head in the sand. Learn from reviews and use the information provided to improve your service, products, and operating efficiency.
Google Maps may not be a social network in the conventional sense, but, as a replacement for Google Plus Local, it does contain social attributes with which users can participate and have a voice, and through which your business can promote its products, services, and location.
It’s conceivable that Google will revisit its emphasis on local and provide a way for businesses to have more of a social network home base — as it once did with Google Plus Local. For now, Maps is as social as it gets, so take advantage of the opportunities it presents to engage with users and point them to your location.