Someday we are going to look back at how we once used Google Maps and laugh at how rudimentary the experience was. The idea of using an abstract map to navigate the real world will seem preposterous. We will wonder how we ever endured completely unintuitive directions such as, “Proceed 1,000 feet, and then turn north on Elm” while we squinted at street signs, mentally estimated the distance of 1,000 feet, and wondered which way north is.
That day is coming sooner than you think.
Google has been making some dramatic changes to Google Maps—changes that will make Maps a more intuitive and natural way=finding assistant that adapts to how people behave while showing us a better way to navigate with technologies such as augmented reality. Brick-and-mortar businesses will benefit as a result.
In recent months, Google has launched a number of changes to Maps, some of which the company unveiled at the 2018 I/O developer conference. These changes are turning Maps into more of an experiential tool.
A More Intuitive Interface
In April, Google watchers noted that Google is testing Maps directions based on landmarks such as businesses or well-known markers. For instance, instead of instructing you to turn left on Main Street, Google Maps might instruct you to turn left at Peet’s Coffee. Loyal Maps users began talking about the change on Twitter, and I’ve experienced the same phenomenon.
Incorporating landmarks into directions makes so much sense that you wonder what took Google so long. How many times have you driven to an unfamiliar area and struggled to find a side street or an entrance to a business on a crowded road, especially at night or when it’s raining or snowing? Let’s face it: Sometimes the McDonald’s Golden Arches or the Target logo are a lot easier to spot than a street sign when you need directions.
Google has been low-key about the development, but it’s clear that the company is moving in the direction of using easier-to-spot business signs and other prominent landmarks. As Android Authority noted, Google is probably taking its time with a rollout while it figures out which situations call for using a landmark and which driving directions are better left to traditional street-based instructions. In Chicago, for example, Michigan Avenue is such a prominent street that it still makes sense to tell users to “turn left on Michigan Avenue.”
The development underscores why brick-and-mortar businesses need to mind the accuracy and completeness of their location data. A business that publishes inaccurate location data is unlikely to be cited as a landmark for driving directions. In addition, businesses should make a renewed effort to share location data and content with publishers such as Google My Business in order to be more findable. The more findable a business is online, the more prominent it will be, akin to the way a well-marked business sign makes a location stand out in the physical world.
A More Personal Experience
At I/O 2018, Google announced a number of changes that will make Maps more personal and useful. For example, when you’re using Maps to navigate an area, Google will recommend places to visit and things to do nearby. As Google noted on its blog, “When you check out a particular area on the map, you’ll see dining, event, and activity options based on the area you’re looking at. Top-trending lists like the Foodie List show you where the tastemakers are going and help you find new restaurants based on information from local experts, Google’s algorithms, and trusted publishers like The Infatuation and others.”
In addition—and here things get really interesting—Google will offer personalized suggestions about places to visit and activities to do. Google will use machine learning to make the recommendations based on places you have visited, bookmarked as a favorite, or rated, matched against what Google knows about a neighborhood you are visiting. And the recommendations change as your activity changes.
As Google noted, the personalization features will make Maps a more useful assistant beyond wayfinding: “The next time you’re exploring somewhere new, getting together with friends, or hosting out-of-towners in your own city, you can use Google Maps to make quick decisions and find the best spots.”
A more personalized Google Maps has a number of important consequences for businesses, such as:
- Keep the content you publish on your page as descriptive as possible. Data helps people find you. Content helps users decide whether to do business with you, and specific attributes can set your business apart, such as whether your staff speaks multiple languages in an ethnically diverse neighborhood or offers family washrooms. The more Google knows about you, the smarter Google will be as it matches you with potential customers.
- Mind your reputation. Encourage customers to review you, monitor reviews, and use reviews as input to make your business better. It’s clear that Google will incorporate reviews in its recommendations to Maps users. A poorly reviewed business (or one that is reviewed infrequently) will get pushed aside in favor of a business with a stockpile of positive, up-to-date reviews.
Google announced a number of other exciting changes to Maps, including the forthcoming adoption of augmented reality to overlay directions onto your real-world environment. With augmented reality, your phone will be a lens to view the real world with directions augmenting the experience as opposed to the way we use Maps now by interpreting information on an abstract map.
Users will win with the more personalized and intuitive Maps. Businesses will win, too—so long as you manage your location data, content, and reputation.
Jon is currently the General Manager of Reputation.com, helping large organizations with hundreds or thousands of consumer-facing locations ensure that their star ratings and reviews reflect the truth about the services they provide.