Over the years, Google has proven time and time again that it has a keen understanding of user behavior. Improving the functionality of the search engine wasn’t just about adding more listings, but also enhancing the user experience. They innovated based on what users were searching for. Over time, it became clear that local intent could not be ignored, and that’s how Google local search was born. How has it changed over the years? Below, I highlight some key updates that Google has made and why each of these changes was significant.
In March, the company launched Google Local Beta. This new feature enabled users to find relevant local information with neighborhood business listings, maps, directions and useful web pages.
The search giant made a couple of improvements to their local search capabilities in 2005.
In February, Google Maps Beta was released, which included detailed driving directions, draggable maps, satellite imagery, keyboard shortcuts, and more.
Building on the idea of creating a listings service, in March, the Local Business Center, was launched. This was a free tool where businesses could claim, add and edit listings within Google Maps. Seeing the overlap between the two products, Google Local was born. In October, the company merged the technologies in one place. Google Local became a comprehensive local search and mapping product.
Why is this significant? The launch of this new service shows immense foresight from the search giant. They recognized how two vastly different products could interact and saw an opportunity to improve user experiences.
In April, Google Local was renamed to Google Maps, keeping the same functionalities as before.
Google Local Business Center received four new features for business owners: add photos, custom attributes, adjust map marker locations and see performance statistics.
Why is this significant? Among the new features, the Business Center included unlimited category options, a redesigned interface and reviews that could be added from mobiles. The inclusion of the last feature is most interesting as it was clear that the company anticipated the importance of mobile very early on.
A new interface to show in-depth customer interactions was released. Verified business listings were given access to a reporting dashboard that showed statistics about business listings (e.g. impressions in local search result).
The following year, the Local Business Center (LBC) officially re-branded as Google Places. A new feature was unveiled so that verified Google Places business owners could publicly respond to reviews.
Why is this significant? Google were increasingly seeing the importance of business listings as a product. Making improvements to the business side interface showed their commitment to making Google Places an important part of any business’ online strategy.
Between 2011 and 2014, the company made improvements and acquisitions, keeping users in mind. They acquired Zagat, one of the most well-known online restaurant review guides. They further put users in control, by allowing them to update information for verified listings, on top of the information that a business owner has provided.
The move was part of Google’s mission to improve its local products, which was run by Google’s VP at the time, Marissa Mayer. The Zagat review system complemented Google Search and Google Maps, giving the two products a sense of authority.
After, a few iterations of Google Local (which had been integrated with Google+ in this time), Google launched Google My Business. Google My Business had more features and was connected with AdWords to create an all-in-one small business online management center.
Why is this significant? The company was increasingly seeing the importance of local search, making it easier for users by giving them more control and providing businesses with an integrated system. The company further highlighted the importance of local with the launch of their biggest local search algorithm update in 2014 – called ‘Pigeon’. Pigeon was noteworthy in that it created a closer integration between local and the core algorithm, which helped push Local Search forward.
Over the past few years, Google has worked on making GMB easier for businesses to use. First, Google changed the Google Maps listings from five results to three. This move to 3-pack listings has made competition for page one listings even harder. Primary and additional categories replaced the ‘categories’ column, giving more weight to the primary category. The new version of the Google My Business API has given developers more options to manage their locations at scale. Most importantly, businesses now have access to more data. For example, in 2016 the company gave businesses insights on the photos they’re using to see how they perform compared to photos of similar businesses. As of this year, businesses can access 18 months of data (instead of 90 days) from Insights inside their Google My Business dashboard.
Why is this significant? Getting actionable insights from GMB is extremely important to help your business stand out. The flexibility of the platform and the data that you have access to, can really make or break your business online.
In this age of local intent, it’s surprising that brands still don’t invest time in GMB listings. If your purpose online is to have users find your store, then having incorrect information will only negatively impact the perception of your brand. Users want information quickly and on the go, which is why you should consider spending on building GMB listings as one of your first steps. If you’re interested in learning more about local search and Google My Business, get in touch with us.