Google Maps has always been an important place for businesses to be visible. Now Google has given businesses a reason to turn Google Maps into next moments of discovery via promoted content. The advent of promoted content on Google Maps means that businesses can expect free real estate to start disappearing on Google Maps — and it’s all the more important to pursue a holistic paid/organic search strategy.
Next Moments and Google Maps
A next moment is a term SIM Partners created to describe the action that occurs after someone finds your brand through a search, typically on a mobile device. Next moments can occur anywhere searches are done, including apps such as Google Maps.
Next moments are critical for any business that operates locations. Being visible in search results puts you in the consideration set when people look for things to do, places to go, and things to buy. When you offer content such as a mobile wallet offer or a booking widget, you encourage the next moment, such as a visit to your store to make a purchase.
In a May 24 blog post, Google made some important announcements that, in effect, make it easier for businesses to create next moments on Google Maps by publishing ads and promoted content on their Google Maps locations:
- Businesses that enable location extensions on their AdWords accounts can display ads for their locations on Google Maps. Your ads appear in two places: within the search results list when people conduct near me searches; and on Google Maps themselves where your location appears. According to Google’s Sridhar Ramaswamy, Senior Vice President, Ads and Commerce (and author of the blog post), your ad may also have a Directions button so that a searcher can easily get directions to your business.
- Google is also experimenting with ways to make businesses easier to find through promoted content as people conduct near me searches. As Ramaswamy noted, “For example, Maps users may start to see promoted pins for nearby coffee shops, gas stations or lunch spots along their driving route.”
- Local business pages are becoming more interactive. To encourage searchers to visit your location, Google is adding new features to your Google Maps pages such as special offers and the ability to browse your product inventory.
You get the picture: Google Maps is becoming a playground for promotable content.
We’ve been seeing this change coming. For instance, last year on our blog, we noted that Google was making gas stations more prominent on driving routes on Google Maps (as Apple was doing). As we noted, Google was showing the name of the gas station, its distance from the driver, and how to get there — certainly not the same as promoted content, but definitely nudging Google Maps to a more brand-friendly experience. The addition of Pit Stop on iOS was another sign of Google connecting the dots between businesses and consumers using Google Maps to assist in navigation and discovery.
But features such as Pit Stop were more oriented toward enriching brand discovery in a more organic way, and they reminded businesses of the importance of being findable with accurate location data. The features Google announced May 24 are clearly geared toward businesses are willing to advertise.
Why the New Features?
So why is Google making these changes? As Google noted, Google Maps is a bridge between the online and offline worlds — and the successful conversion online-to-offline searches is not only of interest to Google advertisers but to Google to remain relevant to how consumers discover brands.
These words from Ramaswamy jumped out at me:
We’re also making it easier for marketers to bridge the digital and physical worlds. With location-related mobile searches growing 50% faster than all mobile searches, it’s clear that consumers are moving seamlessly between online and offline experiences. So it’s important to help marketers think this way too.
Not only are consumers seamlessly moving between online and offline experiences, they’re seamlessly moving along the sales funnel: 80 percent of local searches on mobile phones convert. According to Google, nearly one third of all mobile searches are related to location. Google Maps is all about mobile.
Google also intends to make measuring online-to-offline foot traffic more common so that brands can track their progress, too. In 2014, Google launched Store Visits, a feature that relies, in part, on Google Maps data to help businesses measure the offline impact of online ads placed on Google. On May 24, Google announced the availability of Store Visits to a broader range of advertisers.
It’s no coincidence that the expansion of Store Visits is occurring alongside the disclosure of a more brand-friendly Google Maps. Google not only wants to encourage next moments via advertising, the company wants to make them happen on Google platforms — and Google has the data (from Google Maps) to measure the success of those next moments.
What Should Businesses Do?
My advice to businesses that operate locations is as follows:
- Set the foundation with location data. You can’t create next moments without first being found. Job One should be making your location data accurate and then sharing that data with Google so that your locations appear when near me searches occur on Google Maps. Treating your location data as a competitive asset requires a strategy and ongoing management, as we discuss in more detail in The CMO’s Guide to Location Data Management.
- Develop a coordinated paid/organic search strategy. With free real estate on Google Maps and search engine results pages shrinking, brands need to develop a coordinated strategy that allows them to dial up their voice when appropriate and follow through on the increased awareness by making it easy for customers to find your locations. A paid strategy works best when you complement it with a foundation of strong location data.
- Be smart about creating next moments. Don’t use promoted content to plaster boring billboards on Google Maps. Winning next moments means creating contextual content such as offers customized by place, season, and the circumstances of the discovery.
As Google enriches company brand pages for Google Maps, businesses should take advantages of the opportunity to create rich, descriptive content and experiences that turns discovery into business. Contact us to talk more.