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Ahead of the holiday shopping season, Google Maps is launching four new features aimed at improving the in-person shopping experience for consumers and driving more sales for local businesses.

The updates not only make it easier to plan your shopping trips ahead of time but also bring many shoppers new ways to order from local businesses online.

Let’s explore these four new features:

New Local Shopping Features for Google Maps

1. Area Busyness

Everyone dreads the idea of getting stuck in a massive holiday shopping crowd when you are just trying to pick up a few things. Now, you can see an estimate of how busy a specific area is before you leave.

For this new feature, called Area Busyness, Google analyzes recent traffic data from local businesses nearby to gauge how many people are shopping in the area.

To see the Area Busyness information, simply open Google Maps and tap on a general area to see how busy it is.

Notably, Google says shopping malls tend to be least busy on Tuesday evenings, while Saturday is unsurprisingly the busiest time to shop.

2. Expanded Directory Tabs

Google Maps is expanding the existing Directory tab globally for all airports, malls, and transit stations on Android and iOS devices.

The Directory tab details the stores in a shopping center, as well as showing airport lounges, car rental agencies, and other services in a building.

The tab also includes other helpful information pulled from local listings, such as whether specific stores are open and their Google reviews.

3. Grocery Shopping on Google

After testing the feature with some stores earlier this year, Google is expanded its grocery shopping feature to over 2,000 stores in 30+ states across the US.

Now, shoppers can order groceries from several large companies in the country, such as Kroger, Fry’s, Ralphs, and Marianos.

Once ordered, Google Maps tracks your order status and allows you to share your location info with the store so they will know when you arrive.

According to data from the tool before the expansion, Google says that customers who shared their ETA typically waited less than five minutes to pick up their order.

4. Additional Restaurant Info From Customers

Google Business Profiles for restaurants will now include more information provided by reviewers.

When leaving a review, Google now prompts customers to estimate the restaurant’s price ranges and note any amenities the restaurant offers – such as curbside pickup, delivery, or outdoor seating.

For more information about these updates, read the blog post from Google Maps Director of Product, Amanda Leicht Moore.

Most of the changes we see to Google are relatively minor. The average user might notice that the layout is a little different, or the ads are in a new place, but in general most of the massive changes to Google occur under the hood, in their search ranking and spam fighting algorithms. But, as you’ve probably seen by now, Google Carousel is Google’s latest update, and it is a fairly substantial change to how Google users see results.

The carousel is a row of images across the top of some search engine result pages (SERPs) laid on top of a black background. At the moment, the carousel contains up to 20 results, and it appears mainly on SERPs for travel, hospitality, or restaurant related searches. However, the carousel has also sporadically been appearing on queries for sports, entertainment, and education, suggesting the future directions the carousel may be expanding in.

Instead of getting what was called the 6- or 10-pack, users get these images as well as review ratings, property name, and address. To compliment the new carousel you also see the usual sponsored links you often get for other searches. Interestingly, the variation of terms for which the carousel appears seems to be random. Jim Yu from Search Engine Watch notes that a search for “hotels near disneyland” gets the carousel, while “disneyland hotels” did not.

The first bit of good news for search marketing professionals is that all of the results included in the carousel are essentially all in the first spot. Of course the majority of viewers will likely view the results from left to right, but they are not visually ranked in the same manner they were before.

The other good news is that the Google Carousel opens up numerous opportunities for local businesses to strengthen their brand online. BrightEdge research reported that the carousel currently affects 14 percent of keywords across all industries, with travel and hospitality being the most affected.

Restaurants are also highly impacted by the new layout, while entertainment terms only get the carousel for five percent of searches. Clearly, those most affected are also those with the most to gain: local businesses.
There are a few things you can do to ensure you’re business gets into the carousel for relevant searches in your area, and to be sure to beat the other competition within the listings. Yu suggests:

  • Set up a Google Places for Business and Google+ page. You can visit this post to learn more about the most important aspects of both services, and understand how to merge the two types of pages for a single business.
  • Make sure images for your pages are high resolution, unique, and up to date. Keep them sorted in terms of priority, so that users will see the images you want them to first.
  • Encourage happy customers to review your business on Google. Not only will it help you gain conversions online, research has shown it plays a large role in getting your business in the carousel.