Google introduced Local Guides four years ago. Since then, it’s grown into an incredibly popular program with 60 million Local Guides contributing around the world. Local Guides are people who answer questions, share photos and update information about places and businesses on Google Maps. Google rewards Local Guides for their contributions with prizes that range from a free movie rental on Google Play to a Local Guides Conference in San Francisco that attracts 150 Local Guides from 62 different countries.

Anyone can become a Local Guide — it’s as easy as signing up, turning on location-sharing and contributing to information on Google Maps. Contributions include updating a business’ location information, answering specific questions about a business, leaving reviews and posting photos — which Local Guides did more than 300 million times in 2017.

Multi-location businesses need to be aware of Local Guides and the impact they have on Google My Business pages, which is the platform through which businesses appear on Google Maps and Google search. Below, you’ll find four ways in which Local Guides are changing the Google Maps landscape, and what marketers can do to adjust.

Local Guides: Beyond Google Reviews

Local Guides can write reviews that appear in Google Reviews, but they also provide different kinds of information about local businesses. Local Guides operate in Google Maps; answering questions, verifying information and adding photos and videos. Business owners set up their pages in Google My Business, and that information appears in Google Maps when users find the business. These business listings have Google Reviews, the business’ address, phone number, operating hours and Google Q&A posts; questions and answers provided by consumers and business owners.

When consumers post on Google Reviews, they provide a star-rating, write a short summary of their experience, and can post an image of the business. When Local Guides contribute to Google Maps listings, they contribute specific information about a place or business. They might answer Google Q&A questions such as, “is this store wheelchair accessible?” or “does this coffee shop have WiFi”. They also might be asked to provide the business’ address, or confirm whether or not the website on the listing is the correct website for the business.

Making Google Maps Even More Relevant

Nearly 70 percent of smartphone owners prefer Google Maps over other navigation apps, making it the number one maps app on mobile. It’s imperative that every multi-location business has an accurate listing for each location on this popular app. These listings can be created and edited through the business’ Google My Business account.

Once you’ve verified the operating hours, location, business name, optimize your listing by adding photos and providing pre-populated Google Q&A questions and answers. If your business is a restaurant, add menus to each location’s Google My Business profile. If you run a service-based business, give users the option to book an appointment right from the Google Maps listing. Turn your listing into a one-stop-shop for consumers seeking information about your business.

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Local Guides Can Shape Your First Impression

Local Guides can add a new place to Google Maps if it isn’t already there. If a new business opens and the owners don’t create a Google My Business page, it’s likely that a Local Guide will end up creating it for them. This happens more often than you might think; over 700,000 new places are added to Google Maps each month. If you recently opened a new business location and haven’t already created a listing for it on Google My Business, it won’t be long before a Local Guide fills in your business info themselves.

Local Guides can add your business’ address and operating hours, post questions and responses on your business’ Google Q&A page, and add pictures of your business. Wouldn’t you rather that you control the narrative around your new business, especially as you’re establishing your first impression on the surrounding community? If you don’t want someone else controlling the public perception of your business, take control by optimizing your business’ Google Maps listing.

Incentivizing Accuracy on Google Maps

Through the Local Guides program, Google is holding both consumers and businesses responsible for posting authentic and accurate information. Local Guides are incentivized to submit accurate edits since all edits are reviewed, and Local Guides don’t want to have their edits denied. The more edits that a Local Guide has published, the more Google trusts and rewards their contributions.

Google has policies to control the type of content that Local Guides can post. Google Q&A posts and Google Reviews can’t be spam or contain fake content. They can’t be off-topic and they can’t come from someone with a conflict of interest. If Local Guides are found violating any of these rules, Google may go so far as to ban them from editing information on Google Maps.

Businesses also have an incentive to submit accurate data for their Google Maps listings. If the business provides accurate data, there’s no need for a Local Guide to come in and provide edits that may or may not be in the best interests of the business. Providing accurate information in Google Q&A can also involve adding keywords to questions and answers, which boosts SEO.

Local Guides can help businesses too, as Google trusts their positive reviews and often moves them to the top of the Google Reviews page. It’s easy to tell if a Local Guide reviewed your business, because their profile will have a “Local Guides” title under the profile picture. Local Guides can also update inaccurate information that may be adversely affecting your business, such as the wrong address or an inaccurate Google Q&A answer.

Most business owners understand the importance of a website; the site acts as a digital information hub for everything customers need to know about your business. Consumer browsing habits have changed, however. Consumers want information right in their navigation app or in their search results page, so Google has provided GMB profiles that act as microsites for businesses. While websites are still necessary for SEO purposes and overall consumer engagement, the GMB profile serves as an important initial touchpoint that can influence the purchase decision.

Local Guides are yet another tool Google uses to ensure accuracy on Google Maps and GMB. Businesses can get out ahead of Local Guides by ensuring each listing has accurate information and pre-populated Google Q&A questions and answers. The more accurate the information, the easier it will be for consumers to find each of your business locations.

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