The release this week of version 3.1 of the Google My Business API represents another significant step in Google’s increased openness to businesses looking to manage and optimize their listings, and offers a glimpse into where Google sees local search heading in the near future.
This week’s release follows the 3.0 update in May, which offered support for review response and introduced the concept of attributes, or structured data elements added to a listing and determined by its category, such as whether a restaurant takes reservations.
Since the public API was first announced last December, Google has followed a semi-regular schedule of updates, each of which has introduced important new functionality. The 3.1 update, among other new features, adds real-time notification for listing updates and new reviews, and increases the sophistication of the attributes feature by adding support for new types of content such as menu URLs and accepted payment methods.
For many of us in the local search industry, the surprise that Google My Business has an API at all still hasn’t quite worn off; agencies who manage local data for businesses have been awaiting such a development for many years. But the pivot away from Google Plus, which fell short of Google’s expectations that businesses would engage with consumers socially and by default take ownership of listing content en masse, seems to have resulted in an admission on Google’s part that businesses need the help of technologically savvy service companies who can work on their behalf to create and maintain accurate listing content.
Simply put, listing management is a task no one but a specialist is ideally suited to do, given its inherent complexity and the state of constant, ongoing course correction in the standards and practices maintained by Google and the other sites where consumers search for local information. With its commitment to growing the Google My Business API user community and empowering them with a steady stream of new features, Google is essentially moving to outsource the effort of gathering data from businesses and using it to improve the Maps dataset. Google has many paths for sourcing local content, from user edits to third party licensed data, but none provides as comprehensive or accurate a source of truth as data that comes directly from businesses, so there’s every reason to remove friction from that path wherever possible.
With its support for review response and now real-time review notification, Google is also signaling its desire to encourage businesses to pay closer attention to consumer reviews and take an active role in engaging with consumers on that channel. Where most of the social features of local that Google emphasized in the Google Plus days are long gone, the company has wisely chosen to retain a focus on consumer reviews, one of the most important assets in local. It’s also a welcome development that Google has decided to provide access to review content for free to anyone interested in building tools for data mining and sentiment analysis, given the wealth of consumer insights buried in review content.
Speaking of insights, Google’s own Insights page, which tracks search impressions and actions taken on listings such as clicks to call or clicks for directions, still hasn’t made its way into the API. But as Mike Blumenthal noted in his writeup, Google’s recent restructuring of that page to remove all Google Plus related data and provide deeper analysis of search activity is unlikely to have been carried out without the API in mind. We can expect some future release to support Google My Business Insights and thus provide businesses with a better means of understanding how listing performance links to consumer actions that indicate purchase intent.
As for the future of search, the structured content Google now supports in its attributes feature likely provides a big clue as to its thinking. Google seems to want to gather as much information as possible about special offerings that differentiate a particular business. For example, the department store category already supports the following attributes, with more likely to come:
- Brand-name goods
- In-store pickup
- Installation service
- Kids’ furniture
- Kids’ shoes
- Kids’ toys
- Men’s clothing
- Men’s shoes
- Repair services
- Women’s clothing
- Women’s shoes
- Wheelchair accessible elevator
- Wheelchair accessible entrance
- Wheelchair accessible parking lot
- Credit cards
- Debit cards
- NFC mobile payments
What is Google doing with all this data? Not displaying it in listings. Rather, the company seems to be using attributes to capture intent for long tail searches and make sure the right businesses are being returned in search results. Moreover, it’s likely that rich attribute content tied to listings will help Google with newer services such as Google Allo, the AI-powered messaging app. Allo includes a Google chatbot that helps you find local businesses, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the company is looking to use attribute content to make sure the chatbot can surface the best answers for complex, specific requests.