How Google’s on a mission to build the “most detailed” maps in the world

Earlier this week, Google invited 75 of its top Local Guides from many corners of the world, to an all-expenses-paid summit at its headquarters in Los Angeles. According to Business Insider, these individuals ranged from a disabilities advocate in the Dominican Republic through to a Tunisian woman on a mission to bolster tourism to her country. All were there to share their local stories and offer Google Maps engineers and product managers their insights and ideas.

The attendees represented just a small proportion of the five million people who currently make up the Guides programme, yet have between then made 330,000 user-generated contributions, including 5,000 entirely new places added on Maps (source: Business Insider). Their dedication is of utmost importance to Google, and Jen Fitzpatrick, the exec who leads Maps, told them:

“Our ultimate aspiration is to build the richest, deepest, most detailed understanding of the real world that’s ever existed and to share that back to our users. You are the community that’s helping us build that understanding.”

“Local search” is a phrase that’s been on the tip of every marketer’s tongue in 2016, and innovation from Google within this space has been so fierce it’s been tricky to keep track of. We’ve written about many of these updates by Google on the blog this year, including the launch of Promoted Pins and Promoted Locations, expanded product pages and local inventory ads.

Google Places listings, for example, have become of utmost importance, as they’re an intrinsic part of our daily lives. According to Google, 50% of those using local search will visit the store within a day. Having the most accurate local location data is now the silver bullet of marketing success for businesses and retailers particularly, as it closes the gap between search and the high street, enabling marketers to build that highly sought after single customer view. Google’s biggest selling point to advertisers right now is that its combination of search and maps data can show when its ads are actually driving people into businesses. 

It’s easy to see why the Local Guides programme is of such critical importance to Google right now. The volunteer programme was launched a year ago, and since then more than five million people in 235 countries have answered questions and made edits, added landmarks, written reviews, uploaded photos and corrected inaccurate data. “Make the whole world feel like home”, is one of the slogans Google uses to promote the community. Google is truly relying on these individuals to make Maps as complete, accurate, and up-to-date as possible.

Local Guides has become a bustling online community, and regular official hangouts and unofficial events take place throughout the year, with a public Google calendar (of course!) giving full details. For example, a London coffee crawl was organised by a group of Local Guides in London. Google shares: “staying caffeinated in London is serious business for some Local Guides. One Sunday, a group got together to argue over the perfect milk-to-coffee ratio while sipping espresso from the city’s best new cafes. Their route was shared on a My Map, along with photos posted to Google+.”

Over the past few days, Google has also announced that is now adding “reviews from the web” to critic reviews, within local search results. This will see user-generated content from third party sites such as TripAdvisor, brought to the knowledge panel and prominent placement in mobile results.picture2

Google is clearly on a mission to make Maps as useful a resource as possible, and it’s intriguing to see how it’s using a community of volunteers to achieve this, who are passionate about their local area and who are keen to see it rise in prominence.  

“I think the fact that Maps is increasingly becoming a community-powered product and system is an incredibly exciting shift,” Fitzpatrick said at the Summit. “It opens up things that simple weren’t possible for us to know and understand before. We’re at the very early stages of a long journey.”

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