Google offers a program called the Google Local Guides program. The program seeks to have the consumer make contributions to Google maps in the form of reviews, edits to maps, adding points of interest such as businesses as well as adding photos. Through this program Google seeks to enhance its Maps product by improving information and user experience. Learn more about the Google Local Guides program.
In 2015 I started participating in the program and since then have made over 700 contributions. Over this time period I’ve collected quite a bit of data as well as many observations. This post provides an overview of these observation as a Google Local Guide.
1. Many local businesses aren’t even aware they have a Google maps listing. If you’re with Google you might be shocked by this, but on quite a few occasions I’ve encountered local businesses that didn’t even know they had a map listing. When this situation occurs they often wanted to know where Google obtained this information.
2. Even if the business owner is aware that they have a map listing, they can either be disinterested or frustrated with it. I haven’t been able to determine why they are disinterested in it. One theory I have is that the business owner has been bamboozled with offers concerning their internet presence thus resulting in the disinterest. The frustration usually stems from either the business owner not having the time to manage their maps listing or from the fact that Google can change how they can access and manage the listing.
3. While Google Maps is a great product, the underlying data can often be incorrect. For example, the map marker is in the wrong location, hours of the business are wrong, the name of the business is incorrect and more. Of course one of the purposes of the Local Guides program is to discover and correct this incorrect map data. On the other hand, with all the sources of map data Google has at it’s disposal you would expect less inaccuracy. This isn’t a criticism of Google, rather in general the average user tends to trust the data as being accurate.
4. The images that Google appears to prefer the most are those featuring the store front which also has a sign or lettering clearly indicating the name of the business. This isn’t too surprising based on how Google has been deploying machine learning to images. Also, these store front images are the most logical identifiers to the consumer during their journey to the business they are seeking.
5. The oddity of businesses being on the map while they actually shouldn’t be. I’ve seen this most frequently with farms which do not interface directly with the public. Even though they have no direct contact with the public, the farms are listed on Google maps. This is most likely due to Google scraping or being fed the data from a third party. Note, I don’t how many visitors these types of businesses have received.
6. Spamming on Google Maps is still a problem. This is a known issue in the local search community, but I don’t how well aware the general public is of the problem. The most common spam I encounter can be segmented into two categories. First, businesses being listed where they do not exist. One example was a shoe retailer that had created a listing in the center of a city. This included an out of state phone number. Second, obvious fake reviews which were similar in nature.
7. Limited management of Google Maps listing by larger businesses and organizations. Given the resources that larger entities have and given the importance of the Google Maps listing in the customers journey, I would have thought that these larger entities would be managing their listings on an ongoing basis. For example, making sure the listing was claimed, featured nice images, was accurate, reviews were responded to and more. Perhaps they simply are unaware of the importance or simply are in different to it.
8. In addition to adding regular images to a Google Maps listing, those participating in the program can add 360 degree photosphere images to Google Maps listings. These images can be captured either through a smartphone or a 360 degree camera. The 360 degree images provide a more immersive view of the point of interest you’re capturing.
All of the 360 degree photospheres I’ve added to maps are from a Theta S 360 degree camera. If you decide to use one of these cameras, there is a slight learning process to develop a system to quickly capture the image, process it and then upload it to Google Maps. 80% of the images I capture are for outside points of interest and the other 20% are for inside points of interest.
In summary, Google Maps is an excellent product overall. Many of the above problems would vanish if the businesses and organizations with a Google Maps listing would simply spend the limited time needed to manage their listing. Google even has a program called Cities on the Map which is meant to help these organizations with understanding and then managing their listings.