Google My Business Looks to the Future

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Aditya Tendulkar has been with Google for 7 years and currently serves as Product Manager for the Google My Business API. He’s a familiar presence if you follow the Google Maps blog, and about as close to the source as you can get when it comes to the strategic direction of Maps and Google My Business. I asked Aditya a few questions over email about the quick pace of feature releases in recent months and the new openness Google seems to be showing toward listing management companies and crowdsourcing. What follows is a record of that conversation.

I’d like to start by turning back the clock to December 2015, when the public version of the Google My Business API was first released. For many of us in local search, this was a long-anticipated event that seemed to acknowledge for the first time that companies were welcome to help small businesses claim and manage their Google listings. Since that time, the API feature set has grown steadily with several updates, most recently the v4 update which added support for Posts. Can you talk about the strategic thinking behind the GMB API and where it is headed in the future?
At Google, we’ve built many products with healthy third-party ecosystems. So it was a natural progression for Google My Business as the product evolved. In the past year we’ve added additional features to Google My Business as well as the Google business listing that benefit both the merchant and the consumer.

Our goal is to give businesses a streamlined way to update information easily across Google to help them succeed online, while also giving users access to up-to-date information for millions of businesses throughout the world. In regards to the Google My Business API, we realize that not every business owner is able to manage their own online presence. Making it easy for them to get help form third parties who specialize in this space, complements our goal of helping them succeed online and keep their information on Google up to date.

Giving partners an API and an ability to manage and maintain business listings at scale, is a win-win-win for businesses, partners and Google. As we continue to add new features to Google My Business, we look forward to making them available via the API as well. It’s also important to continue improving the user experience to ensure that agencies of all sizes get the most out of the product.

This year has seen a great number of feature releases — Messaging, Questions and Answers, Posts, Local Services Ads. The pace of these releases has been kind of remarkable, given the relatively slow rate of change in the product in previous years. Can you shed any light on what, if anything, has changed? Has Google decided to pay more attention to local, and is there a broader plan behind this?
As Sundar mentioned earlier this year, Google helps drive 100B visits to business websites, and creates more than 3B direct connections between businesses and their customers. These interactions drive huge economic opportunities and growth for small businesses. Some of the new features you mention are focused on increasing these opportunities by making it easier for consumers and merchants to interact on Google. Our goal is to help businesses get online and grow their business.

One of the favorite tools in the arsenal of local SEOs was Google Map Maker, which allowed users to suggest edits to Maps. It was closed down in March due to issues with spam. It seems like the Local Guides program was beefed up specifically in order to provide a replacement for Map Maker, where trust signals could be used to ensure higher quality of data. I’m a Local Guide myself and I enjoy the game aspects of the program as well as the chance to improve Maps data. Can you talk about the role of Local Guides today in the GMB ecosystem?
Over the last couple years, we rolled out new and easy ways for people to help keep Google Maps up to date by allowing them to make edits directly from the Google Maps apps and through Google Search. Based on those efforts in addition to the existing Local Guides program, we decided to retire Map Maker in order to focus on improving and expediting the Maps editing experience on both mobile and desktop.

We developed Local Guides to help make local expertise accessible to everyone. Local Guides gives members a platform to share their discoveries directly to the map while gaining access to new products, contests, perks, events, and more. We want to empower people to take ownership of their neighborhoods and keep them as accurate and up-to-date as possible – and that includes local business information. Since 2014 the community has grown to more than 50 million Local Guides. The community makes more than 20 million contributions per day and adds more than 700,000 new places to Google Maps every month.

Local Guides are asked to answer questions about businesses, such as whether a restaurant has a children’s menu, vegetarian options, live music, or a romantic atmosphere. I’ve noticed this data starting to show up in some listings. What are your plans for these attributes? You must have millions of them by now.
Attributes about a place appear on many Google business listings. These attributes (whether a place has a wheelchair accessible entrance and more), help people explore options and decide where to go.

As you know, businesses and local SEOs spend a great deal of effort trying to get listed in the so-called Snack Pack, the 3-listing box displayed in the organic SERP for many local searches. With so many searches happening on mobile today, and with proximity being such a strong ranking factor, what are your thoughts about the importance of local ranking?
Businesses want their customers to find them and it makes sense that all businesses want to appear prominently on Google when customers search for them. As you pointed out, Google looks at many signals in determining what shows up to a user on the Search page. The most important thing from a business point of view is that they should provide and update business information in Google My Business so that they have a presence on Google Maps and Search. You can find more information on local search ranking here.

During the recent hurricanes in the South and fires in the West, we’ve had many businesses come to us looking for ways to mark locations as temporarily closed and otherwise to support their efforts to rebuild while remaining available in Maps. Have the recent natural disasters impacted the thinking on the GMB team about the kinds of support businesses need?
Incidents like these are a constant reminder about how important our role is in providing accurate real time information to our users. We’ve looked at ways that existing features can help merchants during crisis situation. Here is one example of how CVS used Posts to tell their users they were closed due to hurricane Harvey and here is another similar example.

Damian Rollison is Director of Market Insights at SOCi.