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Digital Marketing & Social Media Blog

Exploring Google Places Redux: User Interaction, Features and Limitations

in Search Marketing with tags , , ,

In last week’s post about Google Places, we took a high-level look at the platform and what it offers to businesses looking to improve local visibility in Google. In today’s post, we’ll continue to explore Google Places in terms of user interaction, extra features, as well as some limitations it presents for marketers seeking to optimize hundreds or thousands of locations.

First off, let’s take a look at all of the ways consumers can interact with businesses in Google Places.

How users interact with Google Places

It should now seem clear that maintaining local information through Google Places will improve control of a brand’s visibility in Google Search, including:

Web Search (Universal Listings)

These predominant local “universal” listings, often seen through a standard web search, significantly influence the local visibility for brands, aiding direct search traffic to the brand’s website (via the A, B, C links seen below).  Plus, users clicking on the link just below the main hyperlink –perhaps seeking details like user reviews, hours of operation, directions and more — will be sent to a corresponding Google Place page to get the information, in contrast to the brand’s website.

Local / Map Search

Searching in Google Maps will yield other paths to Google Place pages. By clicking on “more info” on the left panel or in the map “pop up” will direct users to the businesses Google Place page.

Google Earth Search

A desktop program, Google Earth, will also pull in the same or similar result as viewed in Google Maps.  Or, a new 3D Earth view in Maps, as seen below.

Mobile App Search

Take note: Google does not appear far behind the game when it comes to location-based check-ins and social buzz.  In fact, Google’s Mobile App already allows users to “Buzz Up” a Google Place — analogous to a check-in on other location-based networks.  The by-product is that social and localized content is produced through a user’s mobile app, which can provide compounding relevance for a brand’s locations through Google Buzz.  Therefore, don’t be surprised if Google starts to display this captured “Buzzed Up” data as another layered source of content in the standard Google Place web pages.

Example of Google Mobile App to Buzz Up Google Places

Explore areas that are not a place of business

As users search for local information, they might not start by defining a business name, instead opting to search for the place or region itself.  For example, someone looking to vacation in “Folly Beach, South Carolina” might begin their search with that exact query.  The Google Maps “explore” option, let’s users view more detailed photos, videos  and user-generated maps for nearby places in aggregate.  Brands who have a business within various regions might benefit if they are particularly active in a few areas .

Geo-specific participation tactics within YouTube might help a brand create visibility and credibility as its videos become relevant in these explored regions.  Any YouTube videos that include a name and/or description of the location or place (including city, state and local modifiers), will potentially drive greater visibility.  The same goes for images.  Plus, marketers can take advantage of creating their own mapplets (my maps) for those regions and cities in which they operate their businesses.

Businesses that are active in their neighborhoods can  get creative with their own suite of public “my maps,” which provide added value to communities and customers. For example, a marketer might highlight nearby places of business that complement their own business.

Extra features within Google Places

There are a number of advanced features within Google Places, although some are easier for large brands to implement than others.

1. The Google Places Reporting Dashboard

Originally launched in June 2009, the reporting dashboard offers insights that allow marketers to evaluate the activity of their local searchers.  To get more background on the reporting dashboard, check out Google’s original announcement and our recap on the blog.

While Google continuously works to improve this dashboard, it’s not easily exportable for large brands looking across hundreds or thousands of locations. Businesses can get insights on how many impressions each location is getting, day-by-day or over time and see which types of actions users are taking (see screen shot below), but this info is unfortunately only viewable on a location-by-location basis.  Marketers can also view top keyword impressions and take note of regions that generate the most “drive to store” relevance, as evident from user’s request for mapping directions.

2. Coupons:

According to Google Insights, there was a 148 percent increase in searches for coupons in 2009. This highlights an opportunity for brands to manage Google Place coupons, and transfer their Google Places visitors into an online or offline transaction.

3. QR Code Options

So, what’s the barcode found in the dashboard report per each business location? These two dimensional barcodes allow people with certain mobile devices or iPhones an ability to scan it, pointing a mobile browser to your mobile Google Place Page.  So, it’s up to businesses and marketers to get creative with ideas on printing these out and promoting an offering.  Creating offline action through mobile devices can lead users to special online promotions, discounts on the Google Page and more.

In the end, forward thinking and creativity will be paramount as businesses will be best served if they coordinate the QR promotion with print, TV and other traditional marketing channels in increase awareness of such scanning opportunities.  Placement of these codes on your businesses entrances, or other areas where pedestrians might frequent, is also something to consider.

4. Other Relevant Local Activities at Google

Other emerging BETA programs now combine store location details with product inventory levels and pricing, which simply escalates the importance of location-based data maintenance. Large brands need to hold accurate and robust data, especially retailers looking to align local store attributes with “in store” product information. Google has also tested adding hotel pricing to local listings, and it’s likely other such tests have been noticed.

This focus, coupled with Google’s turn by turn navigation and other continuing developments (such as Street View to browse businesses or Google Earth in Maps),  demonstrates Google’s push for local dominance and desire to create a medium through which brands and businesses can promote themselves.

Conclusion

Google certainly was not thinking about big brands managing hundreds or thousands of locations as they designed and developed the management platform for Google Places.  Hopefully, they’ll seriously consider expanding the product to provide more value to those brands working to optimize a large volume of locations with greater accuracy and efficiency.

Regardless of these limitations, Google Places is a principal step in local search optimization for brands with stores or business locations.  Emerging options like QR codes, real-time message postings, coupons and other value exchange should be considered.  Strategies around geo relevant YouTube videos or development of “my maps” are more advanced areas to investigate.  In addition, marketers can start to leverage the active reporting insights as they execute their local marketing strategies.

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