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What Google Maps’ Explore Feature Means For Local Search Marketing

"With this new addition to Google Maps, its now even more important that businesses are managing their reputation," says Yext's David "Rev" Ciancio.

Over the past few weeks, Google Maps began rolling out its redesigned Explore Tab, which invites users to click a button and receive personalized recommendations for hyperlocal restaurants, attractions, shopping, and services.

First introduced at May’s Google I/O developer demonstration, the Google Maps Explorer tab was billed as users’ “hub for everything new and interesting nearby.”

“Say goodbye to endless scrolling through lists of recommended restaurants or group texts with friends that never end in a decision on where to go,” said Sophia Lin, Senior Product Manager, Google Maps, said during the May preview. “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.”

Top trending lists like the Foodie List show you where the tastemakers are going, and help users find new restaurants based on information from local experts, Google’s algorithms, and “trusted publishers” like The Infatuation, which acquired Google’s Zagat in March, among others.

“We’ll even help you track your progress against each list, so if you’ve crossed four of the top restaurants in the Meatpacking District off your list, you’ll know that you have six more to try,” Lin noted, highlighting a whole new way for businesses to compete for consumers’ discovery.

Google Maps’ Explore tab
Google Maps’ Explore List

A New Age Of Local Discovery

In a sense, the Explorer feature represents another way Google Maps has been influenced by the changes in search activity spurred by intelligent assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and its own “Okay Google.”

Delivering specific answers by anticipating what users want even before they think to ask is simply part of the way search is evolving as a result of voice activation, where users expect personalized responses versus an infinite list of “blue links.”

And that is also forcing brands interested in maintaining and building store visits to update their marketing strategies.

“With this new addition to Google Maps, its now even more important that businesses are managing their reputation,” says David “Rev” Ciancio, Director, Industry Insights, Yext (Full disclosure: Yext owns GeoMarketing. More details on that relationship here). “After clicking though about 10 different food lists on my app, I noticed that almost all of them were curated by Google. How does Google decide which restaurants should be in the ‘Top Rated Dessert: Greenwich Village’ list, by example? They tell you right on the top of the list: ‘The highest-rated places in the area.'”

As Google looks for ways to own more real estate around locations, the likelihood that someone will learn all they need to know about a business before ever going to their website is going to get higher and higher, Ciancio adds.

Businesses, and restaurants that are particularly focused capturing consumers in the midst of “micro-moment” decision-making on where to go, must be in control of all the public facts about their brand.

Brands that live off of their website info — and ignore how their address, hours, contacts, and other vital info appear on online maps, reviews platforms, and social media — are letting the internet decide what to tell customers about their business on their behalf, Ciancio says.

Redefining Near Me Searches

Google Maps has continually been refining its features over the past year. A recent example includes the testing of “real-sounding” turn-by-turn navigation by designating high-profile brands with clearly noticeable signs into points of direction.

In other words, instead of being told to turn north, south, east, or west, Google Maps will turn tell you to “turn left at the Burger King (or McDonald’s or Wendy’s Or Arby’s).”

That has also changed the notion of “near me” searches that has played such an important role in brands local SEO strategies. The rollout of the Explore tab will bring more changes to that strategy.

“One might think this could start to render ‘near me searches’ more obsolete, as Google is now baking the question into map results,” Ciancio says. “Moreover, this is Google recognizing that near me searches power the internet and are trying to make finding those answers faster and easier.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.