Posted by Alli Berry, SEO Analyst Google unveiled a new look for Google Maps in mid-May with a much improved interface, more features and a promise of a more personalized experience. These changes, which were announced on May 15th, are available by invitation only and are expected to be rolled out to more users in the coming weeks. What’s New? The user experience has improved tremendously for Google Maps users in this new version. Any time you click on the map, it will zoom into the area you clicked on, show you related places and how to get there. The search box is “smarter” allowing you to easily select your recent places from the drop down menu – Google Maps will remember and include your home and work locations if you have let Google know where those are on your Google Maps account. Below you can see my home, work and a brunch spot I recently searched in the drop down. When you do a search on the new version of Google Maps for “car rental, Chicago,” the results are put directly onto the map so you can easily identify where each car rental company is. You can also select “top reviewers” to show the places with the highest reviews or filter by what places are in your circles. Like the old version, an ad still appears in the search results; however, it is secondary to the other results options. Old version: If you want to get more information about a result on the map, the informational cards make it much simpler. Click on an icon for any location of interest on the map and it will pull up more information like the image below. Here you can easily see the address, hours and reviews. You can also save the location to your account and get directions. If you click through to see all reviews, you will be redirected to the business’ Google+ page with reviews. The last major new feature is the gathering of all images of an area into one place so you can take a photo tour from all angles. A photo sphere is also available for certain locations, which provides a 360 degree view of the spot. In addition to the new photo tour features, you can also view areas on Google Earth in 3D. Implications for Search This update from Google Maps is going to place even more emphasis on personal preferences. As searchers star places they like and leave reviews, the map will get “smarter” and show users results they think they would be interested in. More emphasis is placed on what the user and his/her friends have liked and shared on social networks and in email conversations when providing search results to a user. As Google Maps mobile director, Daniel Graf, told Tech Crunch in February, “If you look at a map and if I look at a map, should it always be the same for you and me? I’m not sure about that, because I go to different places than you do.” For businesses this means that it is more important than ever to develop a presence on social media and get your participants engaging with you. It is imperative to have your business’ Google+ profile complete and up-to-date with accurate location information, contact information and operational hours. The more positive reviews (particularly on Google+), +1’s, likes and engagement from participants your business receives, the more likely you are to rank well in the results on Google Maps searches. The new version of Google Maps also allows you to take a photo tour of places that have been photographed by many people. There is also a photo sphere feature available for some locations that allow you to rotate 360 degrees around the spot. To ensure your business has a robust number of images for users to find, you can contribute pictures to Google Maps by tagging photos on Picasa, Panoramio or using the Photo Sphere feature on your Android camera app.