Google Maps is becoming a location-ad juggernaut

Seeing ads in Google Maps isn’t anything new, but Google is making it easier and more effective than ever for brick-and-mortar businesses to advertise themselves to people using the location-based service and to get them to pay a visit.

Beginning Nov. 12, Google is expanding its Local campaigns and product so when users get directions using Google Maps, Google will start surfacing promoted pins. So, if you’re looking for directions to a specific place, you can see promoted pins along the way. And if you tap on that pin, you can add that promoted business as a stop on your route.

The company is also expanding “local actions” to make them available for a wider range of businesses, so advertisers can make it easier for users to call their businesses directly, as well as get driving directions more easily.

Each of these new features helps businesses extend their reach with ads they’ve purchased from Google to encourage people to visit them in-store or on-location, and the ads apply to Maps, Search, Discover, YouTube, websites and other apps.

Google’s newest Local campaigns features are further developments in the greater promise of location-based ad targeting in an increasingly more mobile world. Since Google Maps launched 15 years ago, it has mapped more than 220 countries, and it has information, ratings and reviews for more than 150 million businesses and places worldwide.

In the past 10 years alone, Google Ads Global Product Director Kim Spalding said that the company has seen 350 times more search interest in “local” and “near me” search inquiries.

In response, more local businesses are pouring money into digital advertising. The most recent BIA Advisory Services Local Advertising Forecast estimates U.S. local business media spend will reach $148.8 billion, and while the majority of it will go toward direct mail (25%) and local video (19.9%), mobile accounts for $21.8 billion, or 14.6% of total ad share.

And with the holidays approaching, it’s an ideal time for local businesses to advertise via mobile. The NPD Group’s 2019 Holiday Purchase Intentions Survey said that while 75% of consumers plan to shop online, more than half of purchases for the holidays will be done in-store. The survey also found that 25% of shoppers plan to shop using their smartphones, up from 19% last year.

Oren Naim, director of product management for Google Maps, said the company wanted to be very careful about creating an ad experience that “is a great addition to user experience and doesn’t get in the way of what that user is trying to do with the application.”

All of these new features are dependent on how much information a user is willing to share with Google, and the company uses IP addresses, device locations or terms in their searches to serve up relevant promoted pins. If a user allows Google to track their location, Google can show them local businesses in their area in real time but can also make suggestions based on their location history.

For example, if someone searches for something specific, like black work boots in a specific size, they might start seeing ads from local retailers who carry those kinds of shoes nearby.

Josh Cohen, svp of product for Foursquare and former group product manager for Google’s publisher advertising platforms, said that while location-based ad targeting has evolved dramatically over the last few years, it’s still somewhat “nascent.”

“The more you can create a contextualized and personalized message, the more effective an ad will be, and location can be a really powerful driver in that,” Cohen said. A user’s present location and their previous location history are both “powerful components to effective advertising,” but Cohen said there are “still so many possibilities out there for how to use location-based contextual notifications. For users, for marketers, we’re just scratching the surface.”

Cohen also noted that it’s traditionally hard to measure foot traffic tied to local digital advertising. However, he said that if location-based apps and platforms just serve up ads that help users find stores along the way from point A to point B that align with what they’re looking for or what they like, and it’s done well, “it can be an incredibly powerful trigger to serve up information to the end-user and drive them into a physical location.”

Photo Credit: Google

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