The Google I/O 2013 keynote announced a new version of Google Maps and retail businesses better get ready for change - it's going social. Google Maps has over one billion monthly active users making it the most popular way to explore and get directions. Google+ is Google's social network and it's being integrated into all of Google's products including the new maps. Let's dig in and show how customers are going to find your business in this new version of maps.
Google map users will be shown a customized map that highlights places that are relevant to your search, places you have starred/visited, and reviews left by friends and others deemed as experts. The new Google Maps is taking advantage of your Google+ circles, customer reviews, and the business listing itself. Google displays your business in a nice card format which includes operating hours, ratings, reviews, photos, website, and a link to get directions. The map becomes more customized the more you and your friends use it and share their own experiences.
See it in action
For example, I'll begin searching my local area for restaurants using the new Google Maps.
The old Google Maps would have shown a list of businesses on the map sorted by the most relevant results. That list no longer gets automatically displayed and instead businesses bubble up to the top on the map as bigger icons. If there is enough room on the map your business name is also drawn.
Displayed directly below the search box allows you to select additional filters for "Top reviewers" and "Your circles." Let's check out the top reviewers. Notice the "Top reviewers" filter actually says "by experts" in the search bar so this filter is based on reviewers that Google deems as expert. I wouldn't expect a reviewer that only has a couple posts would be deemed an expert so this helps to avoid the fake reviews which many retailers use to game the system.
You can also search restaurants by your circles. This will allow you to see the restaurants that friends and family have reviewed (and anyone else you following on Google+)
My map was a little blank but I did see a few restaurants which I've never tried but that made me want to visit. If your friend likes it that probably means you will too. So what does this all mean for retailers?
Businesses should first review your Google Places for Business listings and make sure the information is accurate and up-to-date. It's a free service that Google provides and it'll allow you to post useful information about your business including address, phone number, description, hours of operation, and even photos. Customer reviews will have a bigger impact on what businesses are seen on the new Google Maps. That means you should encourage loyal customers to rate and review your business from within Google Maps. I would also make sure you create a Google+ landing page for your business. And it wouldn't hurt to get your website updated so that it has links to not only your Facebook page but also Google+. This social network isn't going away and it's being integrated into all of Google's products and services, so you should actively participate.
To put it simply, many of your potential customers are probably using Google Maps to find you. You should spend the time to make sure your business listing is accurate and encourage loyal customers to post reviews. And if they don't want to, then maybe you can bribe them with a free coupon or beer.
Todd Moore is an app developer, technology host, and published author. His most popular application, White Noise, has been downloaded by millions of sleep-deprived customers. Although his app has received critical acclaim in the press, the biggest compliment came from Jimmy Fallon when he spoofed an Axl Rose edition of it on his "Late Night" show. Todd recently published the book, Tap, Move, Shake (featuring a foreword by Steve Wozniak of Apple, Inc.), which shows how anyone can publish their ideas to the iTunes App Store. He can be found giving tech advice at mobile conferences and on his weekly Tech 411 podcast. Todd resides in the greater Washington D.C. area.