Following the demise of Google+, Google has been looking to add in more social platform type business tools into its search results via its Google My Business profiles.
And this week, Google has taken another step forward on this front, rolling out a new range of Google My Business tools which will provide even more options for brands to maximize their exposure through Google search - and even promote their Google presence through physical stickers, helping to drive traffic.
As explained by Google:
"Since launching Google My Business five years ago, we’ve helped more than 150 million local businesses connect with people who are looking for them online. Today, when people search for businesses, they’re on the hunt for something more specific - like “late night restaurants near Washington Square Park” or “rooftop happy hour with great cocktails.” And they’re looking to get more things done - whether that’s booking, a reservation, or asking what products a store offers."
To help with this, Google has added four new options for Google My Business listings:
1. Welcome offers
One of the key lures of social media business listings is special deals - in fact, research shows that 63% of consumers follow retail businesses on social specifically to learn about sales.
Catering to this, Google will now enable businesses to offer new rewards to customers who follow their business within Google apps, with new 'Welcome Offers'.
As you can see, this taps into both the 'Following', social media-like aspect, and the aforementioned lure of offers, providing another way for brands to build their Google presence.
2. Custom URLs
Google will now also enable brands to claim a short name and URL for their business.
"With this URL, businesses can easily refer customers back to their Profile - to catch up on latest updates, to make a booking or to write a review after a visit. In the coming months, people will also be able to search short names in Maps."
3. New visual options
Google's also adding new options for cover photos and photo displays, with newly uploaded images showing instantly on Google My Business profiles.
Businesses will also now be able to upload custom logos for their profiles - "those that have completed their core information (phone number, hours, etc) will have their logo displayed at the top right-hand side of their profile."
4. Stickers and offline promo materials
Google's also launching a new website where businesses will be able to download and order custom assets for their business - like physical stickers - in order to help promote bookings, prompt reviews and encourage follows for their Google My Business profile,
The tools, as noted, add more social platform type elements for Google My Business profiles - and given the dominance of Google search, they're definitely worth a look.
As social media has grown, Google has constantly been working to counter the use of social platforms for discovery - or at least, to provide its own options to fend off competition for search traffic being eaten up by social apps.
These days, people regularly look up information about businesses on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, for different purposes. Google is still the overall leader in online search, there's no doubt about that, but Google also knows that if it doesn't act, if it doesn't step in to stop the rising use of social tools for search queries, it will continue to lose out. Basically, it needs to counter such usage wherever it can.
Its key solution on this front was Google+, it's own, 'improved' social media platform which offered enhanced community tools, and was backed by Google's own network. Theoretically, Google+ should have worked - in practical and technical terms, Google+ was just as good, if not better, than Facebook. But the users didn't follow, and eventually, Google had to concede that its struggling social network was a failure, shutting it down, officially, earlier this year.
But Google hasn't given up in its battle against social platforms - Google isn't going to just lay down and let itself be trampled by rising social search use.
Indeed, since the demise of Google+, Google has re-focused its efforts onto the platform where it already leads - search. Rather than trying to build a social alternative, Google has been working to add more social-platform like business tools directly into its search listings - for example:
- In October last year, Google added a new 'follow' tab in Google Maps, which enables users to get updates from relevant businesses right from the app. Brands can provide updates on events and special offers, much like they can on social platforms, with relevant notifications being sent through to followers within Google apps.
- Google followed that up in November with updated, simplified 'Google posts' tools to help brands publish short updates and announcements, which can be directly displayed in Google search results and within Google Maps. As part of this update, Google also added visitor analytics and messaging options, similar to business profiles on social platforms.
- In January this year, Google provided new options for brands to list expanded service areas on their Google My Business profiles, helping them to show up in more Google Maps searches for local providers
- And in March, Google added a new section where brands could showcase special offers within their Google Business listings, which, again, can be seen in both Search and Google Maps results.
Google's focus, it would seem, is rather than taking on Facebook and other social media tools head on, it's looking to use the scale and ubiquity of its search tools to advantage, by providing new ways for brands to better connect with the millions of people conducting Google searches every day.
You might not have cared so much about posting an update on Google+, where few people were ever active, but 3.5 billion queries are entered into Google's search bar every day. That's a lot of opportunity for exposure, to showcase your brand to people who are looking for solutions and related information.
SEO has long been an essential digital marketing practice, and now, Google is using the same lure of SEO to help fuel its new business tools - and ideally, keep more people coming to Google for business related queries, as opposed to looking for the same within social apps.
Will that work? Definitely, all brands should be paying attention to the various Google My Business options, as they can help your company stand out in relevant searches. Again, despite the rise of social platforms, Google remains the largest search provider, and the largest driver of referral traffic for many websites. If there are ways in which you can attract more attention to your Google listings - in search and in maps - then you should be utilizing them where possible.
And if Google can provide more tools like this, which make its platforms more valuable and relevant for searchers - who are likely already using Google out of habit anyway - then it may well be able to maintain a stronger hold on such queries, and keep users from switching to social apps to find additional offers and news updates which they may not, in the past, have been able to find via a basic Google search.
Basically, Google's business listings are getting smarter, and more valuable. If you've not claimed your Google My Business profile, or looked at how you can optimize your Google listings through the Google My Business tools, then you're likely missing out.