Google announced an overhaul to Google Maps at last week’s Google I/O conference and, judging from what I saw on screen during the keynote, it looked very spiffy.
It also looked like a pretty substantial change from the existing Google Maps, so I’ve been anxious to find time to sit down and give it a test drive. That’s what I’m doing in this post: Kicking the tires and making some notes on what it looks like, what it does, and what it might mean to small businesses.
The first important thing to emphasize is that this is an overhaul strictly of maps.google.com; it doesn’t represent a change to the local search experience on google.com, which is what the vast majority of Google local searchers will see and use. I don’t know how many people begin a search on maps.google.com, but I suspect it’s a small percentage compared to those that begin on google.com.
With that in mind, let’s look at…
The New Google Maps
Loading up the home page takes me to a local map that’s customized specifically for me. There are a handful of businesses called out on the map. On the image below, the ones I highlighted in red are places that I’ve rated or reviewed in Google Maps/Places/Local/Plus over the years. The ones highlighted in black are not places I’ve rated or reviewed — only one is an actual business, “Columbia Point Golf Course.”
Each of those businesses/places that show up on the map has a mouseover action that brings up some very basic information, as shown here:
And then, if you click the business name on the map, you get what Google is called a “card” about the business. The card has all of the basic details you’d expect to find. There are two things that seem to be missing in the business card/data: a category and a link to the business’ Google+ Local Page. (The latter being missing may seem odd, but given the pressure Google is facing from world governments on the topic of favoriting its own content, I think it’s wise to leave out the Google+ page link here and only link to the business website. I haven’t done enough testing to see what happens if the business has no website; will the link go to Google+ in that scenario?)
- Open hours: overlays the business hours right above the main info card
- Directions: removes the info cards and brings up the Point-A-to-Point-B directions interface
- Save: saves to my places
- IceHarbor.com link: opens a new tab and launches the company website
- 27 reviews: opens the company’s Google+ Local Page (unclaimed) in a new tab
- Menu: opens the restaurant’s Urbanspoon menu page in a new tab
If this business had any Zagat information, it would show below the Street View image. If it had any interior photos available, Google would show them next to the Street View image. Speaking of which, that Street View image is also a clickable link, which leads to a full screen (“immersive” is Google’s word for it) Street View experience.
(I should note that this business has some NAP problems. That Street View image is of its more industrial bottling location; the restaurant/pub that I’ve been to and reviewed is a few blocks away and is MUCH nicer.)
Back to the home page now. In the lower right, there’s a small display that brings up a carousel of local images — not necessarily related to what’s already on the map, but just a selection of area images that are being pulled in from Panoramio. Clicking on any of the images in the carousel leads to an equally immersive display.
Local Search on the New Google Maps
Let’s first do a general categorical search. You’ll see a pretty dramatic change as soon as you do a local search like “car dealers.” The search results show up right on the map, no separate column with the blue links and business info. (And note, too, that the personalized businesses that showed up on my home page are mostly still showing up here.)
Google is having some accuracy issues with these search results. The locations highlighted in black aren’t car dealers — they’re repair shops, tire stores or something else. And the location highlighted in red is really bizarre. It says A1oils.com — a business that, according to its website, is based in Florida. Whoops.
Here’s the first sighting of an ad — below the search box and options in the upper left. Those “cards” fold up when the mouse is moved away and expand when the mouse moves back to the upper left.
This screen is different from the home page. Hovering over a search result only brings up a small display with the business name and how many reviews it has. As best I can tell, businesses with five or more reviews will also get stars and a numeric rating on the new/old 5-point scale.
The search filters are interesting in the upper left. The first card lets me see results from “Top reviewers” or from “Your circles.” Here’s how using those changes this map/page of results:
This filter eliminates all but two results, one of which is actually a Firestone repair center, not a car dealer.
If I had more Tri-Cities residents in my Google+ circles, this filter might produce better results. Or maybe the problem isn’t my circles, it’s low adoption of Google+ out here in the real world. (It’s actually probably a combination of the two.)
There’s one other search result option/filter in the upper left: “Go to list of top results.” That leads out of the new maps experience and into something more closely resembling the old maps search results.
If I start typing in the name of my wife’s business listing, Google autocomplete kicks in like this:
I have no explanation for those other four options below Cari. Moving on….
Choosing the matching result brings up a page/map similar to what you saw above for the brewery/restaurant, with business info coming from my wife’s Google+ Local Page.
Report a Problem in the New Google Maps
The “report a problem” link shows up in tiny text in the bottom right of every screen. Staying on the screen where my wife’s business is listed, here’s what shows up when I click the link:
This is a nice interface. Clicking any of the individual data pieces, or the checkboxes, opens a text area where you can explain what’s wrong.
The only thing that doesn’t produce that display is the “Edit Details” link at the bottom, which instead opens Google Mapmaker in a new tab, with options to make edits to the business listing.
So that wraps up my tour of the new Google Maps. If there’s something I didn’t show that you’re dying to see, leave a comment below that’s as specific as you can be and I’ll do my best to make a screenshot or two and do another post.
In the meantime, be sure to read Google’s announcement for more detail, especially about how the map is customized to each user and changes the more you use it. This’ll be rolling out to people over the next couple months, as I recall, and you can request an invite now.
The new Google Maps is definitely a snazzy upgrade, but from just kicking the tires over the past hour or so, I already have a developing thought about where this could be a mistake in terms of local search and discovery. I’ll keep thinking on that and maybe post about it if the thought sticks.
Your thoughts on what’s above? Comments are open.