Say goodbye to Google Maps as you know it and hello to a new and improved way of searching for your desired destination. Marketers, if you haven't been invited to test the new Google Maps, there are a few things that you will want to look into that may change the way you optimize for local search.
You may be asking, "How will the new updates impact local search engine optimization initiatives?" Aside from basic changes to the appearance by updating the color scheme, creating icons and expanding the size of the map to fill the entire screen, there are a few changes to the new Google Map that will likely have an impact on local SEO. Here's what you can expect:
1. Removal of the left hand navigation: If you have not received an invite to experience the new Google Maps, you have yet to see the extremities that have gone into updating the design and functionality of the map — including the removal of the left navigation which displayed similar search results.
What does that mean for search engine optimizers? Where we once saw markers A-J popping up on the map and the left side of the screen as the only form of ranking results, ranking order on the new map is displayed very differently and does not correctly correspond with web search results.
Listings displayed by top reviewers allow you to discover new places based on others' recommendations, while your circles will display the best places and businesses based on reviews specific to the people within your Google+ social circles. The third option of discovering places within the map can be found by clicking "Go to list of top results", which is the most similar option to the left side navigation that was removed from the new design.
2. More emphasis on reviews and ratings: You may have heard that content is king, which it is! But in the world of local search, reviews are king. When clicked on, the typical red markers hovering over the search results display red star ratings, which are now present on search results, Google+ pages and on the map itself.
The most important advice you could give a client pertaining to their local listing on the new Google Maps is the importance of acquiring reviews. Without the left hand related search column, one of the only differentiating factors that users will have to go off of are the amount and quality of a business's reviews.
How can businesses get reviews? As a marketer, this is your time to shine! Steer far away from the idea that an email blast asking for reviews is the way to go and think outside of the box. An influx of reviews could look spammy and have the opposite impact on rankings. Think of your client's business and what would initially make the most sense. If you are working with a service provider, a great way to space out your reviews is to send an email to a customer the day after receiving your service asking for feedback. Always remember: slow and steady wins the race.
3. Google+ Local: The need for Google+ is ever-more prominent — and you thought this would be a passing fad? In fact, the need for a Google+ page is more relevant to online marketing now than ever before. As Google has made it clear-the more you use the new Google Maps, the better and more accurate it becomes in guiding your search results based on previous reviews and ratings which are collected through Google+.
4. Maps are personalized to the user: The new map is built specific to each user. Not only does it pull results based on ranking factors such as search popularity, total reviews and your location which SEO's work hard to improve; it also focuses on search history and personal preferences.
Explaining ranking factors to clients: Because local search results are so specific to the user, it is best to explain that a neutral search will display best results. If logged into a specific Google account, your clients' results could be different than your own.
With the latest improvements to Google Maps that range far beyond visual updates, if you're not optimizing for local search, now's the time to get started!
Do you have any tips for optimizing maps for local search? Let us know in the comments below or tweet @BFMweb