Google Maps sees big changes for local search

At its annual developers conference in San Francisco, Google unveiled comprehensive changes to Google Maps, focusing on localizing and, in turn, personalizing the map experience for users. These new changes mean big things for small businesses' Google Maps marketing and local SEO strategies. Here are some of the biggest changes for local search:

Personalized maps
The biggest change to Google Maps is that the service is now personalized to each individual user and, as Google proudly proclaimed on its blog , "A map for every person and place." For example, the names and locations of places that were recently searched will be prominently displayed for easy access to users' favorite places. Using its huge cache of personal data, Google also might know where particular users work, live and drop their children off at school, and it will pre-populate these things in the revamped search bar in the upper left-hand corner of the screen.

According to Google's blog, the more time a user spends on Google Maps, the better it is at recognizing a user's preferences. When users star favorite locations, write reviews on local businesses and set their home and work locations, the map will be better at coming up with local business recommendations.

Also, business locations are now placed directly on users' personalized maps, rather than off to the side. For local businesses, this means that having a Google Maps marketing strategy and making sure Google Plus Local pages are up to date can pay off.

Google Maps already dominates about 90 percent of local searches, and this move is meant to keep Google's lead over other viable map sites, like Israel's Waze and OpenStreetMap in the U.K., as well as Apple's maps service. What this means for small businesses is that paying attention to Google Maps and local SEO rankings remains important.

Advertising changes
There are also changes for paid Google Maps advertisements. The new system makes it easier for users to locate businesses with paid advertisements by placing the business name directly on the map. When a user clicks on it, a box will pop up to the left, showing the first few lines of the ad and showing whether that business currently has a special offer. This part of the redesign is experimental, but if Google gets good reviews, small businesses can definitely benefit by having its local ads more prominently displayed.