The Inside Story on the GMB App Rebuild

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Google’s Curtis Galloway, software engineering manager from the Google My Business app team, offered a fascinating peek into that team’s development process this week in a presentation at LSA19 in Dana Point, California. Galloway’s presentation revealed aspects of Google’s user-oriented focus when revising the app as well as its customer-centric orientation.

Galloway described a process that began with multiple members of the team, from engineers and product managers to designers and salespeople, talking to business owners about their needs and desires. The theme that emerged from these conversations was that businesses wanted better ways to engage with customers.

Galloway and his team used business-owner feedback to define three critical user journeys for the redesigned app, which he labeled Attract, Convert, and Retain.

The “Attract” journey was related to the following goals: “I want the right people to discover and understand my business. I want to have a great online reputation.” For Convert, the goals were: “I want potential customers to easily interact with me. I want to make it as easy as possible for potential customers to do business with me.” The goal for Retain was very simple: “I want my customers to come back again.”

Whereas the previous version of the app, according to Galloway, presented nothing much more than a laundry list of features, in the new app the team wanted to showcase features that would provide the most value from the perspective of customer engagement. In Galloway’s words, the idea was to make the app more “opinionated” in its approach, offering suggestions to the business user about customer-oriented actions they should perform when they log in.

With their focus defined, the team iterated through several design concepts, each time checking with small business users to test whether workflows were clear and obvious, and going back to the drawing board when a feature did not perform well in user tests. At the culmination of this process, the team produced a design with a floating action button that prompted the user to add content to their listing, whether it be a photo or a new Post. They also created a new Customers tab where all customer interactions, from review response to messaging, could be managed in one place.

Finally, Google introduced the new “follow” feature, which allows customers using the Google Maps app to follow the businesses they like. The GMB app reports on followers and follow counts, and for now, that’s about all it does. But Galloway suggested that the follow feature was one that the team was especially excited about, since it opens the door to further engagement between businesses and their self-identified fans.

The Google team, according to Galloway, went on to deconstruct every page of the app with an eye toward usability. The response after the launch last November has been positive, with increases in activity around Posts, photo uploads, profile views, review views, and Insights views.

As for the future, Galloway stated, “We want to help people get things done in the real world.” He noted that just that morning, he’d tried to find a coffee shop on the way to the LSA venue only to discover that he’d been directed to a place that didn’t exist. Modern consumers have high expectations for how merchants should interact with them online, and Google needs to continually improve in its ability to help merchants meet those expectations.

Galloway placed particular emphasis on two features that would likely see further development in the near future: following and messaging. As for messaging, he noted that for most of us, instant text-based communication has become a part of life, so we naturally expect merchants to be available via text just as our friends and family are. “Building interesting experiences on top of messaging is the way to go,” he said.

Following, he noted, is a way for businesses to see the audience of people interested in them. Google intends to build out this feature based on the notion that consumers expressing an interest in a business will be more open to receiving follow-on communications. It’s fair to surmise that in this way, following and messaging may eventually interconnect.

Greg Sterling, in a Q&A session after Galloway’s presentation, asked about possible support within the app for enterprise multi-location businesses, and Galloway responded by saying the team was currently much more focused on the SMB use case, but saw franchise businesses in particular as operating very similarly to SMBs.

Sterling also asked about any plans to develop tools within the app to help local SEOs work with small businesses. (In another session that day, Joy Hawkins noted that local SEO agencies cannot make use of the app today because it does not support location groups, which agencies need in order to serve multiple customers.) Galloway mentioned that the team was working to see if integration opportunities with other apps might make sense in the future, but also pointed to the Google My Business API as the more appropriate path for companies looking to help businesses manage their GMB presence.

As a whole, the session provided a rare glimpse into the app team’s inner workings as well as a useful overview of their strategic priorities. As I mentioned in my own session on the GMB API, Google has made significant strides in recent years to bring small businesses, brands, and location marketing companies into its fold, making them allies in the effort to provide accurate location data to consumers. The app’s strategic direction seems well aligned with that trend.

Damian Rollison is Director of Market Insights at SOCi.