Book dinner reservations, request an Uber, check business reviews, get instant traffic updates and (coming soon) schedule appointments at local businesses via Intuit Local—all via the Google Maps interface on your smartphone.
As Google Maps continues to beta test and roll out new features, it’s clear Google is positioning its Maps app as far more than a turn-by-turn direction service. Is your local business ready to take full advantage of these developments?
It’s not enough to simply optimize your business for prime placement in the Google Local Search results, which recently got its own major shake-up. If your business does not offer the ability for prospective clients to book an appointment online, for example, but the competition does, you could lose out.
Image via Google Maps
The local search field is already pretty crowded and with Google narrowing its local snack pack results to three for both mobile and desktop, it's tougher than ever to stand out. Consider this: “near me” searches have increased 33 times in the last four years. A “near me” search is a Google search with the shorthand phrase “near me” in it, which tells Google’s search engine to only generate local results.
Depending on your needs, you might search “coffee near me,” “gas station near me” or “best Thai restaurant near me.” With the Maps app, you can now not only find the best Thai restaurants near you but also read reviews, instantly check availability and book a reservation, all from the app.
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Maps Testing Intuit Demand Force Integration for Online Appointment Booking
Let’s say that you’re new to town and searching for a veterinarian to take your dog for vaccinations. When you search via Maps, Google not only lets you instantly see reviews (and a star rating) but soon will let you book an appointment.
Booking an appointment directly from the search page delivers a smoother experience from discovery to booking, which aligns with Google’s continued push for seamless commerce integration. The appointment scheduling is part of a new "Place Action Form" feature for Google Maps and Search, reports Mike Blumenthal.
“The best way to monetize Maps is to integrate commerce directly,” Scott Jacobson, Managing Director of Madrona Venture Group told the Wall Street Journal last year. “The more Google can demonstrate that the [user's] intent expressed through search or Maps is then fulfilled through an offline transaction, the more they can prove they are delivering value to a car service, restaurant, whomever.”
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While Google is still testing its integration with Intuit’s Demand Force scheduling, this test is consistent with previous Google tests for adding enhanced functionality via third-party integration that eventually rolled out to all users. Google has yet to announce a timeline for a full rollout, but businesses would be wise to watch for continued development of this online scheduling feature in the coming months.
Currently, all Demand Force customers are automatically eligible to participate in the Intuit Local beta testing. More information on turning on this feature (or opting out from online scheduling) is available online.
What else is on the horizon for Google Maps? TechCrunch reports that Google Maps is also testing a sophisticated new feature that will let users snap and share photos of their food by posting directly to Google Maps. Similar to Foodspotting and Forkly, the feature is a second act for the experimental service Tablescape, which Google shut down earlier this year.
Currently Google’s foodie photography capabilities are only available via Google’s Local Guides (a competitor to Yelp Elites) as a reward for users who write high-quality reviews of local businesses and have received a “Level 3” status or higher.
TechCrunch speculates that Google’s goal is to build a high-quality inventory of foodie photos before rolling the feature out to all users, bolstering Google Maps reputation for expanded restaurant search.
Reaching the right local audience is growing increasingly complex for small businesses. Customers now consult an average of 10.7 sources of information before making a purchasing decision. That’s nearly 11 chances your business to win or lose prospective business.
Don’t lose out on potential customers because your business fails to offer a basic service, like online scheduling, that the competition offers. Ranking highly in local search is just one piece of the digital marketing puzzle; streamlining appointment scheduling matters, too.