The New Google Maps App: 5 Reasons Local Businesses Should Care

This month Google released new Android and iOS versions of the Google Maps app. If you are a local business owner interested in first-time and return patronage, this affects you. Here are five reasons why, and five-plus things you can do to get your brand represented above the competition.

1) Discovery Without Searching: Help Them Stumble On A Hidden Gem

Of all the new Google Maps app features the one that most impacts local business discovery is the removal of Google Local and the addition of a visual, categorically organized feature called “Explore.”

If you gleaned that a product named Explore integrated into a mapping tool was created to help users explore the world around them, you’re right on with this one. The Explore feature has been added in as a main part of the app home screen and allows mobile users to randomly discover businesses that are close to their current location without having to do any kind of search, or as Google points out, any typing at all.

Google Maps app HomeScreen Explore feature - red callout

For the user, the Explore feature creates kind of a serendipitous process; they search broad and vague and Google delivers specific based on community consensus (reviews and ratings) and the user’s location and category selection (Eat, Drink, Play, Shop, Sleep).

From the user perspective the process looks something like this: I need to eat; I want sushi; these sushi restaurants are within walking distance; this one’s a little farther but it has the best reviews; I’ll try it.

For you, the business owner, this feature offers a unique opportunity for your brick and mortar to be stumbled upon by someone who is at the exact right place in the buying cycle. It also allows you an opportunity to convince a consumer to walk past your competitor’s business to get to yours; a tool that can be especially powerful if you happen to be that seedy looking hidden delight that might otherwise get overlooked (like, say, a liquor store that sells amazing burritos).

How To Reap The Benefit

To reap this benefit you need a verified Google+ Local  (formerly Google Places) listing and a local Google+ business page . Then, once you have both, it is preferable that you verify your Google+ page and merge the two accounts together.

2) App Users Are Ready To Buy: Strike While the Iron’s Hot

Generally if people are searching for your brick and mortar with their phones it’s because they need something now. That means they’re at the purchasing part of the buying cycle, and are simply looking for the best candidate to buy from. Having your business appear as one of the top options in an Explore roll-of-the-dice is the perfect opportunity to convince them to step inside your store rather than the one down the block. What’s the trick? Be less imperfect than your competition, and make sure your presence is optimized to give app users the proverbial hard sell.

How to Reap the Benefits

Make sure to completely fill out your Google+ business page. Think of this as your opportunity to add information that will entice customers through the door. Add high-quality images, make it easy for them to call you, use Google Offers  to give them a deal they can’t refuse, and make sure you have five-star reviews and ratings that are worth walking an extra block for.

The Lobster Goolgle Maps App Screenshot

Since Explore is categorically organized, it’s also important to make sure you choose categories that are specific (for instance, consider choosing “martial arts school” as a specific sub-category rather than “gyms”).


3) Reviews Sell: Let Strangers Sell Your Product For You

A recent Dimensional Research survey asked 1,046 United States residents whether positive and negative online reviews influence their buying decisions. Of the respondents polled, 90% claim that positive online reviews have influenced their buying decisions, and 86% claim to have been influenced in the opposite direction by negative reviews.

With statistics like that it’s no wonder – and lucky for you – that Google put such a heavy emphasis on user-generated ratings and reviews throughout the new Maps app.

While some Maps listings have reviews represented in a more robust way than others*, when applicable most listings include:

  • Written reviews from Zagat users and Google+ users (both on desktop and in-app)
  • A five-star rating listed next to the number of total reviews for context
  • A callout if the establishment was rated 5 stars by a “top reviewer”
  • Zagat badges of excellence like “Best Restaurants for a Quick Bite in Chicago”
  • A “Your Circles” card in Explore that curates a list of places that people in your Google+ circles have enjoyed (based on their positive ratings/reviews)

* When I say, some listings are more robust than others, this is what I mean:

Burger King Ratings and Stars in Google Maps app - red callouts

The above shows two listings for Burger King locations near Wheaton, Illinois. They both have reviews, yet the one of the left shows a number rating and stars, while the one on the right does not show a number rank or stars – only a mention that there are two reviews. I haven’t been able to find documentation that explains why one shows stars and the other doesn’t, but what’s important here is that there is a 50/50 chance that stars and ratings will appear  and I assume a greater than 50% chance for stars and ratings to appear when your ratings are really good.  If you have any idea why the stars and ratings only appear in *some* Google Maps listings I’d love to hear your insights in the comments section.

How to Reap the Benefit

Influencer marketing is definitely something to consider here. In the same way that you may consider expanding your social media strategy by extending mutually beneficial offers to social media influencers, you may want to consider extending your local business marketing strategy by reaching out to “top reviewers” who should be considered experience influencers in the Google Maps app environment.

Influencer rating - Google Maps app - red callout

Beyond that point, taking advantage of reviews and ratings, in all of their forms, is really all about customer outreach and engagement marketing. There are dozens of brand-specific ways to dig into these initiatives but the bottom line is that you need to have a plan to solicit positive ratings and combat negative ones. While that may be a very (very) high-level recommendation, the concept is critical to local business success in the age of Google. Once you understand the concept, how you approach soliciting and combating is more subjective and entirely worthy of its own post all together. (What are your recommendations? Let’s discuss in the comments section.)
In this example, Disalvo's Trattoria offers a free appetizer in exchange for a Zagat review.

4) Stay Connected: Save Button Bookmarks Locations In Map

In the new Maps app every listing includes a Save button that allows mobile users to, well, save collections of preferred businesses to their personal Google+ accounts (which are connected to the Google Maps app). When a location is saved, a star is added to the user’s map making it easier for the user to find and navigation back to at a later point.

Starred Location in Google Maps app - red callouts

How to Reap the Benefit

This is an easy one; for the most part you just have to open your doors and make sure your patrons have an experience that is worth dog-earing for a return visit.

As there are many creative ways to solicit people to use Zagat or Google+ to rate and review their experience, there are also many ways to proactively encourage people to Save your business in their Google Maps app.

That said, before putting all of your effort into a Save campaign I would keep one specific caveat in mind: it is very easy to un-save a business. Much easier than unpublishing a review, or taking back your 4-star rating. Un-saving a location is literally a tap (tap to save, tap again to unsave). With that in mind, if you want to forge forward I think this should be a scenario where you forget about the this-for-that incentive campaign that works well for a more labor-intensive Zagat review (i.e., “Review Pink’s Tacos for a free taco”) and just go the informational “hey this exists, if you like us it might help you” route. For instance, a simple flyer or door decal that says “Had a great time? Add us to the Maps app rolodex” with a picture of the Google Maps apps Save button (in a smartphone context) and some short instructions on how to Save a place in the app.

It may seem like there’s no chance they’re going to use it down the line if they don’t already know how it works, but the trick here isn’t to get them to use the Save tool all the time. The trick is to get them to put a permanent star on the map that highlights your business location so that the next time they’re near Los Angeles Ave. in Simi Valley wondering how they can make themselves less starving they will see the star in their current location view and be reminded of how awesome your restaurant is.

5) Feast or Famine: They Have To Choose Your Competitor If You Don’t Show Up

What it really comes down to is this: if a mobile user wants a restaurant (or a hotel, or a toy store, etc.) that is within 5 miles of them, they are going to find and eat at a restaurant, and if it’s not your restaurant it will be your competitor’s. Of course they prefer better, or cheaper or whatever other thing you have to offer that the competition doesn’t have, but there’s no way to know you’re better or cheaper if you and/or that information are not listed in an accessible way.

How to Reap the Benefit

When they want it and you got it, it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. Be proactive, consider items 1-4 on this list and take action.

Chelsea Adams Brooks is a long-distance cyclist, aspiring cob house builder, schema/analytics/algorithm obsessor, and a former senior content writer at Bruce Clay Inc.

See Chelsea's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (14)
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14 Replies to “The New Google Maps App: 5 Reasons Local Businesses Should Care”

Thank you Chelsea, i am glad to read the article. Its really very helpful and informative. I didn’t know the difference between Google+ Local and Google+ Business and we have to merge them to take the advantage of “Explore”. You explained well the “Explore”. Thank you again. Keep sharing such valuable information.

Glad you found it helpful, Pushpendra. After you get everything all set up, I’d love to hear more about your Google Local experience with Explore and the new Maps app. Drop in and give us a status update if you think about it.

Good info Chelsea, thanks :-)

*both Linda and Phil (along with Mike Blumenthal and David Mihm) are regarded as “experts” with respect to Local search, and excellent resources should your readers want to keep absolutely up to date on Local search issues.

Thanks for reading, Andy. And extra thanks for the expert nod of approval.

Always good to know there’s more than one person in the room who knows what’s going on.


Wow great blog! Local business owner like me, find this article interesting. Now i know that google maps can make a good help for my biz, thanks!

Glad you found it helpful, Katrina!

(and I am hoping you are a real person that I am talking to and not an enthusiastic spam robot..)

If you are a real person tap your head and rub your belly at the same time then report back!


Great post, Chelsea.

Just to answer on Linda’s behalf (we know each other):

The 4-5 -star threshold for getting reviews doesn’t appear to be a policy that Google has written down anywhere; it’s just something we’ve noticed. I first pointed it out in a comment on this post by Mike Blumenthal, – which he then did a follow-up post on (

As you probably know, it used to be the case that it only took 5 reviews for your “stars” to appear. It was only between May of 2012 and June of 2013 that Google required 10 reviews for your “Zagat” rating (i.e. those annoying ratings that were calculated 30-point scale) to show up in the search results.

Got it! Thanks for the follow up, Phil.

What a great article! Thank you for including my post about Influencer Marketing. I think you are spot on when you point out that app users are ready to buy. It’s all about the opportunity to capture them while they care.


Thanks for the comment — and thanks for writing a reference-worthy article! Always good to connect with other content-focused SEOs.

Great article Chelsea. Specifically, I did not realize to is a difference between Google+ Local and Google+ Business Page AND that they need to be merged into one. Thanks for sending this record straight for me.

Hi, Ken! I feel pretty comfortable saying you’re not the only one that didn’t realize Google+ Local and Google+ are two separate entities that need to be merged.

The documentation explaining the slow and somewhat less-than-eloquent transition of Google Places to Google+ Local has seriously been lacking, and I, personally, find the branding language to be very confusing (Google calls Google Places “Google+ Local” and Google+ business pages “local Google+” which, really, could not be less clear.)

It’s like they sat in a room, made “ways to confuse consumers” the brainstorming topic, and then decided to change the name of an old product (Google Places) to be exactly the same as another slightly-less-old product (Google+) with the addition of a new descriptive word (Google+ Local). The key, I imagine, was to make it just different enough to cause confusion, and just the same enough to cause more confusion.

I wish they would make a Dilbert cartoon about this…

Thanks for the comment!

Great article Chelsea!

FYI on the review stars, it takes 5 reviews before the stars show. Occasionally a listing with only 4 reviews shows a star but that’s normally due to a rating attached with no review.

Hi, Linda! That makes a lot of sense — thanks for chiming in. Did you find the five-review policy documented somewhere, or did you just figure it out by browsing around the app?


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