You may have noticed recently that Google Places has morphed into Google My Business. Not surprisingly knowing Google, there's much more behind this than just a change of name.
Google wants to simplify the way customers connect with your business across all of its tools including: Search, Maps and Google+. And to make this work it helps if you too, have an integrated connection with Google's services and make the most of the business opportunities they present.
Much of the focus at the recent Google I/O event was on how across a range of devices, users can have a connected and integrated experience with applications and information served up via Google.
For customers, the whole experience should look and feel completely seamless as they move between where you are, what you sell, what you've published and what your customers say about you. And they should be able do this across all their devices (laptops, tablets, mobile phones and even the likes of Google Glass or a smartwatch).
If you have existing Google Places and Google+ pages, these should automatically have been updated to Google My Business
Google Places always made a lot of sense for shops and businesses, such as hospitality, that might have traded or marketed themselves online but conducted business through a physical location. As mobile device use continues to grow and mobile networks become faster and more reliable, Google's vision of where people in an unfamiliar location use a combination of Maps, Search and online reviews to make decisions about where they want to spend their money is becoming a reality.
This ‘Google embrace’ is extending even further with the roll-out of Google Certified Shops, which is being adopted by Schuh, among others, as we covered in this recent feature.
Wearable devices like Google Glass and smartwatches running Android Wear will almost certainly accelerate the change.
But Google My Business is about any brand, whether or not a physical or local presence matters all that much. Understanding the opportunities that Google's tools offer for all businesses becomes more important than ever.
Beyond having a well-managed Google presence through My Business you can transform online marketing and your customer experience through integrating Google's tools into the online platforms that you own. We'll look later at a couple of examples where integrating Google Maps tools effectively into an eCommerce platform and website can transform customer experiences.
First let's take a look at the significance of Google My Business. Google has attempted to tidy up a confusing array of tools and give businesses one simple dashboard (and Android app) for managing their presence. From the dashboard you can post updates to your Google+ page, see insights on page traffic and engagement and manage your reviews. You also have easy access to Analytics and Adwords (fancy that!) from the same dashboard.
You can find out more about My Business on the official Google site.
If you have existing Google Places and Google+ pages, these should automatically have been updated to Google My Business. If you haven't got these set up there's a helpful step by step guide to claiming your local page and getting set up on the Search Engine Land blog.
Integrating Google Maps
For many businesses, integrating Google maps into their eCommerce site means incorporating a widget that shows the Google Maps view of their location. But Google also provides a programming interface that allows developers to achieve much deeper and more useful level of integration.
Portland Brown is a property agent that specialises in renting serviced apartments in London and Bristol. For most people looking for this type of accommodation, location is critical – be it proximity to a transport hub or a specific business.
Because of this the Google Maps integration starts working as soon as you load the home page. Users can immediately select London or Bristol, type in a street, postcode or business and then see a map displaying the nearest available apartments.
The travel time data from Google Maps is then pulled into the display automatically as it would be if you were working directly in Google Maps.
Without such an in depth Google Maps integration, users would probably have a list of available apartments with, at best, a Google Maps pin, from which they would then have to work out the proximity and travel time to their destination, switching between their accommodation search site and Google Maps.
What do your customers need?
The Portland Brown site is a good example of understanding customer intentions and creating a tailored solution to make that process as simple as possible for the consumer.
Once somebody has selected a property that they want to investigate further, the Google Maps integration allows them to explore the local area without having to switch back to the previous page. A fully integrated map view is displayed at the bottom of each property page. Users can select particular facilities such as supermarkets, bars, gyms or bus stops and their locations are displayed on the local area map view.
For Portland Brown the driver was to provide effortless access to all of the information somebody might need to help them make a decision. As location and access to facilities are critical, the Google Maps integration made a lot of commercial sense.
If you're going to go for this level of integration it's essential that your site is well engineered so it works seamlessly across devices.
Internal Street View
Google released the capability to incorporate internal views of your business into Google in 2011. And, for a while, it was a solution in search of a problem.
While there is a potential attraction in a hotel or restaurant being able to offer the ability to virtually walk in of the street (well Google Street View) and have a 360 degree tour of their facilities, would the cost of the photography and integration really deliver a sensible return?
In May 2013 The Guardian reported on how Sheffield University was using the facility to support virtual open days, where prospective students could tour facilities from their computers.
If you prefer something more cultural you can also take a tour of the RSC Theatre in Stratford upon Avon.
All well and good, but maybe not that exciting and possibly questionable in terms of the commercial benefit.
Well, here's something to stimulate your senses a bit more and something that offers a real commercial edge. An internal street view implementation that engages potential customers with an attraction before they visit and enhances their experience when they are there.