Google Maps Introduces New Features for Small Businesses

5 min read • Jan 29, 2021 • Joe Kukura

Your business’s customers are probably evenly split between iPhone and Android users, but even if they’re on iPhones, Google Maps is still the most popular app for getting around and finding small businesses. And the ubiquitously-used Google Maps is rolling out some new features designed to not only let customers find you but to communicate with them directly, whether they’re searching on smartphones or desktop computers.

While Apple’s Maps app is also a terrific tool and the go-to way of getting directions for iPhone users, it’s sort of a “walled garden” that is only available on Apple devices. Google Maps is by far the most common desktop or laptop navigation tool, and the latest Google Maps updates work the same way on both computers and smartphones.

Google frequently rolls out new Google Maps tools, as the company wants to soup up Google Maps to have the social media capabilities of Yelp, Facebook, and Instagram. They’ve already added user reviews to Google Maps, and their latest update allows customers to message you directly within Google Maps if they have specific questions about your business.

Messaging With Customers in Google Maps

You’re probably already aware you have a Business Profile on Google Maps, even if you didn’t know that’s what it’s called. Your Business Profile is the screen display that comes up when a Google Maps user clicks on the red dot with the pointy bottom that turns up in Google Maps searches. It shows your address, your hours, and—when expanded—reviews, photos, and your menu if you’re a restaurant.  

In August, Google Maps rolled out an update that lets you update your Business Profile directly from within Google Maps, either in a desktop browser or on your smartphone. Now they’ve launched a new update that allows any customer to message you directly within Google Maps if they have very specific questions about what you have in stock, your parking arrangements, or COVID-19 precautions.

“We’re rolling out the ability for verified businesses to message with customers directly from the Google Maps app,” Google said in a December announcement. “Once you turn messaging on from your Business Profile, you can start replying to customers on Google Maps from the business messages section in the ‘Updates’ tab. And soon you’ll also be able to see your messages right from Google Search (via the Customers menu on your Business Profile) and message customers directly from your computer.”

Shoppers are behaving differently during the pandemic, and buyers want to make shopping decisions before leaving the house, particularly when safety restrictions often require they can’t spend as much time in the store. You need to verify your small business on Google Maps for these features to function for you. But it’s probably worth it, as Google says they’ve seen buyers send twice as many messages to businesses on their various platforms before deciding on their purchase in the pandemic period.

Sure, some of us are old enough to remember when you would simply pick up a phone and call during normal business hours to get a question answered. But buyers have shifted to digital shopping, and these days, you might have sales coming in 24 hours a day. To that end, if a customer calls your business and they don’t get an answer, Google Maps will prompt them to send you a message.

New Visual Details in Google Maps

You may have noticed that Google Maps gets a little bit more detailed from time to time, and over the summer, the company rolled out highly detailed street updates to Google Maps. The Google-focused news site Android Police reports they’ve just rolled these changes out to a wider audience, and the site has posted an excellent before-and-after animated gif showing how these updates display for users.

New details in Google Maps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Android Police

 

Why does this matter to your small business? Google explains the new upgrades show “highly detailed street information that shows the accurate shape and width of a road to scale. You can also see exactly where sidewalks, crosswalks, and pedestrian islands are located–crucial information if you have accessibility needs, like wheelchair or stroller requirements. These details are particularly helpful as more people are opting to walk or take other forms of solo transportation due to the pandemic.”

These changes will eventually be applied worldwide, but right these updates only display for the following 4 cities:

  • London, UK 
  • New York City, USA
  • San Francisco, USA
  • Tokyo, Japan 

That said, the changes are available to all Google Maps users, and you can search on locations in those cities to check out the new features. 

Google tends to roll out these improvements incrementally, and not everyone gets them all at once. But the new features are coming if you don’t already have them, and regardless of what devices your customers use, Google Maps will always be a crucial part of your small business’s digital strategy.

Joe Kukura

Joe Kukura is a San Francisco freelance writer whose work also appears in SF Weekly and SFist. He’s written financial advice for NerdWallet, tech industry analysis for the Daily Dot, sports content for NBC Bay Area, and good, old-fashioned clickbait for Thrillist.