On December 15, Google launched the Google My Business API, which creates a completely new way for brands and platforms to get information about their locations into Google Search and Google Maps.
The API changes the game by allowing owners of locations more control over how they appear to customers in search, and it improves the consumer experience by delivering more accurate, more comprehensive information.
This investment underscores the central importance of location as a data element in the Google ecosystem across maps, search and ads — something many experts in the industry prognosticated about at the close of last year.
Google My Business
Google My Business (GMB) is the interface through which businesses manage their business listings on Google. Using GMB, businesses can add and claim locations, edit listing information (such as opening hours), clean up closed and duplicate locations and more.
Prior to the Google My Business API, all businesses made updates manually in the GMB dashboard one location at a time or by bulk uploading information in a spreadsheet. That could take hours every month for a single location.
The process was (perhaps) manageable for an individual, small business, and even some small chains, but for large enterprises or large digital marketing platforms, it was a choke point in the flow of information. Large enterprises and large digital marketing platforms that manage thousands of small and medium-sized business clients were suffering through hundreds of manual updates across thousands of listings each day.
The Google My Business API removes most of the manual work by feeding information directly into Google. But the API isn’t open to just anyone. Google will only accept data from approved, trusted providers that meet strict standards for data quality. Since the information will appear to consumers across the Google ecosystem, it has to be reliable.
The API is designed for use by enterprises and location management platforms that serve as the source of truth for brands’ location data. Small businesses that manage their location information on their own will continue to make updates through the GMB dashboard.
What This Means
By streamlining GMB with the API, Google will receive more frequent content updates — since the extra steps involved with manual entry and bulk uploads mean that updates happen less frequently. With the API, businesses can send a stream of fresh data to Google’s servers. And better data is a win for customers and businesses.
In the launch announcement, Google used the example of setting special hours for the holiday season as an example of the type of updates that a business can make using the API.
Consumers rely on Google to get around, and they expect the information to be current, correct and comprehensive, even in special situations like the holidays. With the API, Google is making it as easy as possible for businesses to meet customers’ very high expectations.
The API also opens new sources of information to Google. Business listing information on Google frequently comes from crawling third-party sites or compiling data from outdated lists instead of from the businesses themselves.
The API is a shift in Google’s approach for who they consider the source of truth for location data — and it definitively states that the best data about a business comes from the business itself.
By enabling brands and digital marketing platforms to pipe data directly into Google, the owners and most responsible parties become the source of truth for information about their own locations — not data aggregators, crawlers or the search and mapping providers themselves.
The Shift To Location Management Platforms
Given the complexity of collecting, storing and managing location information, many enterprises will choose to interface with the API through a Location Management Platform (LMP).
The launch of the Google My Business API represents a turning point for the location management industry by allowing third-party platforms to act as the source of truth for brand location information everywhere.
Google is not the first search and mapping provider to open its data set to an API feed, but this significant investment marks a major shift in how the world’s preeminent search engine approaches local search. Companies like Google that leverage location information recognize the need to integrate with major LMPs to get the best data.
While using APIs is a common practice to input and query large amounts of information, Google will only open the API to approved providers. A substantial amount of pre-processing work and expertise is required to get location data ready to go into Google and the hands of the consumer.
To this point, it is a best practice for a brand or large digital marketing platform to have a source of truth LMP to manage information about their locations internally to connect to Google and other search engines, directories, mobile apps and more.
Improvement in the accuracy and amount of information that businesses provide to and through Google will improve the consumer’s experience and likely increase their trust and expectations for information.
Businesses will need to keep pace with their competitors — and with consumers’ expectations — or risk falling behind. For example, as accurate hours of operation become an expected norm by consumers, it has become table stakes and can no longer be considered a “nice to have.” We expect that trend will continue for far more data points about every business location.
Currently, the API allows for the input of business information, but it does not provide any outflow of information. Being able to access reporting for how listings are performing or the ability to track and respond to reviews through the API would be a boon for businesses.
In conclusion, Google Search and Google Maps have been, and will continue to be, a dominant driver for all businesses in consumer discovery and location needs.
With the launch of the Google My Business API, Google has finally granted brands and large digital marketing platforms the ability to interact with their location data in an efficient, forward-looking way. The net result is that control over location data can now rest firmly where it belongs — in the hands of businesses themselves.