Putting Small Businesses on the (New) Google Map

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Google-Maps-icon (1)Google Maps is a key resource that businesses can use to get more local searchers to discover them online. But can it also help them get more leads? The simple answer is yes, but it’s a not as easy as simply claiming a listing. Like any other online destination, Google Maps is constantly changing and creating new features, updates, and enhancements that improve the experience for both end-users and businesses who use the site.

It’s only by taking advantage of all that Google Maps has to offer — and then tracking how traffic from your maps listing converts into leads and customers — that you can see just how powerful accurate, optimized maps listings can be. Here are several new features you need to know about to help you get the most out of your Google+ Local listing.

1. Info Cards Put Your Content Front and Center
One of the most relevant Google Maps features is a business’ info card, which shows consumers detailed information about the business they are viewing on the map. For instance, if someone searches for and clicks on a restaurant, Google Maps populates an info card featuring details like the business’ physical address, operating hours, reviews, Zagat ratings, photos, and a link to their website or menu. Google will display information on the info cards based on what’s available in the business’ Google+ Local profile.

For businesses where quick access to details can sway a potential customer whether or not to do business with you, it’s extremely important to make sure your info card puts your best face forward. Make sure your Google+ Local listing is up to date with correct information like address (the info card will include a street view image of your business), telephone number, and of course, a link back to your website in order to drive more traffic from your Maps listing. Plus, featuring captivating photos and encouraging positive reviews will entice users to visit and contact your business.

2. Reservation Capabilities Reveal the Power of Online Booking
For hotels and restaurants, to begin with, the maps update offers is the ability to book reservations directly from a Google Maps info card. For hotels, Google shows availability and prices from the business’s website and aggregates booking details from their profiles on booking sites like Hotels.com, Priceline, Travelocity, and more. For restaurants, consumers can currently create reservations via the info card if the restaurant is using the Opentable reservation system.

I know this feature doesn’t apply to all businesses, but if you run a hotel or restaurant, providing users with an online booking solution can be a huge value-add. In fact, now that Google Maps allows users to start making reservations directly from the search results, this feature can even help you land even more bookings and business.

3. Google+ Becomes More Relevant with Personalized Map Results
As users search the map, add places to their “favorites,” and leave reviews, Google Maps will suggest personalized results such as similar or complimentary local businesses they might enjoy. In addition, Google Maps also allows users to filter searches by top reviewers or by people they have added to their Google+ circles.

This growing connection between Google Maps and the Google+ platform is key for local businesses going forward. You can boost your visibility in search results by leveraging the personalized search feature when you encourage your best fans to add you to their Google+ circles, leave you positive reviews, and favorite your business. The more active your business is on Google+, the more opportunities you’ll have to influence search results by driving social signals that Google may take into account when determining your placement in the search results, helping drive even more traffic to your business.

4. Responsive Design Means Mobile is a Must
Google prides itself on working seamlessly across multiple devices, and Maps is no different. For users who are logged into their Google accounts on both their desktop and mobile device, Google Maps can load previous searches. For instance, say a user is logged in to Google and looks up a store’s address on Google Maps via their desktop. As long as that user is logged in with the same account on their smartphone or tablet, they’ll be able to pull up directions to the store on their device that they initially found on their computer. In addition, users can save specific places to their “favorites”, which makes them available on all their devices.

When it comes to looking for local business information, there’s no question that consumers are going mobile, and this new feature only makes it easier for consumers to leverage their smartphones and tablets to find local businesses. But, if your business’ Google+ Local listing is not claimed and updated, you will not only lose out on business from desktop searches, but on mobile searches, too. It’s critical to make sure your website is mobile-friendly, too, so searchers who do click from Google Maps to visit site have a streamlined experience, helping them choose to do business with you.

Google Maps has a lot to offer local businesses, and it’s important to take advantage of as many of them as possible. Improving your Google+ Local presence is imperative to not just getting discovered when people search on Google, but also for providing the information searchers looking for, so they contact you and turn into a lead, and maybe even a customer.

-3Kris Barton has served as ReachLocal’s Chief Product Officer since February 2012. Previously, he was Chief Operating Officer of multimedia software and platform company Nero AG from 2010 to 2012.