Google courts local businesses with new profile features
Customers will be able to share information about restaurants or other businesses with new "short name" URLs.
Richard NievaFormer senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Google wants to become the go-to hub for people searching for restaurants or other local businesses. The search giant on Thursday announced new features to revamp business profiles on Google Maps and search. Those are the pages that give you a restaurant's rating, a snapshot at popular dishes and general information like store hours or the restaurant's phone number.
Now, business owners will be able to customize the cover photo you see at the top of the profile. Owners will also get to pick a new "short name" URL that customers can use to share the business profile with other people. Businesses can also reward people who follow them on Google by offering them exclusive deals. And the businesses that are most responsive to customers and keep their profiles up to date will be able to earn badges and receive a "local favorite" distinction.
Google is also offering store owners more options for window stickers, like one that says "Review us on Google," and another that says, "Follow us on Google."
"When we first started mapping out the world, we were first focused on getting users from point A to point B," Bhavesh Mehta, a Google vice president of engineering, said at a press event in San Francisco. "Over time, we saw people wanted more information about businesses."
The new features take aim at other local business services like Yelp, which also offers business profiles with ratings and other information. Yelp has long been antagonistic towards Google's local business efforts, arguing that Google abuses its dominance to prioritize its own listings and services over those of competitors. Google wouldn't directly address the competition with Yelp, but said it's focused on creating a good experience for users.
The new features are part of Google's push to make Maps about more than just navigation. Last year, Google announced features to make the app more social, such as a "for you" tab that offers tailored recommendations and a "match score" to tell you how much you might like a restaurant or business. Business profiles that you follow will show up in the "for you" tab.
Google also said last month it's bringing food ordering to Maps, search and its Google Assistant software by partnering with delivery services including DoorDash and Postmates.
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