Online maps: we use them everyday for purposes as varied as finding out how to meet our friends at a new restaurant to sending out invitations to our child’s birthday party. Maps are valuable graphical presentations of how to get to a certain place.
Most companies that depend on local customers are beginning to recognize that including their full physical address as well as a map on their web site is a must. But often, if a map gets included at all, it is slapped on a web page without much thought. With just a bit of effort, you can include maps that are truly useful to your site visitors and that will help draw them to your business. Here are five simple things you can do to fully leverage the power of maps on your web site.
Make your map useful. Recently I traveled to a city I didn’t know well. While I was planning my trip I tried to find a hotel near the city’s convention center. I went to several hotel web sites and immediately looked for a map on their site so I could see how far a walk I would have to the convention center. Only one hotel site I visited offered a map that actually gauged the distance for me. The same hotel site offered estimated walking times and distances to a variety of landmarks in the area. Excellent!
The other hotels’ maps showed the location of their hotel, but the image of the map was static (non-zoomable) and showed zoomed-in view that only showed two or three streets around the hotel itself. I couldn’t zoom out or view a big picture of where the hotel was located in proximity to the general area, so it wasn’t really a helpful map for me.
Since I didn’t know the town well, I wanted the flexibility to zoom out and get a feel for where the hotel was in relation to landmarks I was familiar with. The hotel with the "good map" figured out what was important to many travelers and provided that information on their site. All the hotels I researched had been equal in my mind up until that point. Providing a helpful map on their site pulled that one hotel ahead of the pack and favorably influenced my buying decision.
Interactive maps are extremely helpful for travelers who are new to a city. With Google’s announcement of an easy-to-use, cut-and-paste version of Google Maps, you can now quickly and easily add a map to your site. If for some reason an interactive map is not an option, include two maps instead. One should be a regional map showing your business in relation to popular attractions/landmarks. The other map should display your location in relation to its immediate surroundings. The smallest details (such as which side of the street your business is on) can be of great importance to out-of-town visitors.
Include GPS coordinates. Summer is the time for travel. While most people take to the road in a car or SUV, many also pull large recreational trailers. This can sometimes complicate things. When you’re pulling a rig, you want to know exactly where you’re going. I can tell you from experience, backing up and turning around while pulling a 30-foot horse trailer is no fun! For this and other reasons, drivers have begun using GPS systems to improve their chances of arriving at their destinations without any hiccups.
As good as Google Maps and the other mapping programs are, there are errors in the databases. An address might appear on the wrong block or some other glitch may make it impossible to find the location you’re seeking. The accuracy of street addresses seems worse in suburban and rural settings, so many small business site owners in the tourist industry are now including GPS coordinates on their sites. The GPS coordinates allow travelers to lock in and get the exact location easily and accurately.
A related idea: If you have a parent or friend who is touring the country in an RV, direct them to Google Earth. Many RVers try to avoid mountain passes with tight switchbacks because it makes driving more difficult and dangerous. Google Earth can show the traveler where twists in the roads are so they can chose a better route.
Provide directions from a variety of starting locations. Not everyone drives to your business from the main interstate or the airport. One bed and breakfast owner in a remote area included very detailed directions on his web site from a number of locations. The addition of photos depicting landmarks along the way helped travelers find their B&B regardless of where they were coming from. The site owner also placed his phone number on the directions page so travelers could call from the road using the printed directions if they got lost.
Orient your location. Frequently, you’ll find that business web sites neglect to reference the landmarks they are near. If your business is in a small town which few people have heard of, mention a larger, nearby town as well. This will not only improve your chances for increased search engine traffic, but will also help customers find you in person. Searchers are more likely to use the larger town with a generic description of your services (New York dentist) than they are to use the name of a small town (Hastings dentist).
Case in point: Recently I was hauling three horses cross-country when I had an emergency with the trailer. Repairs had to be done before I continued my trip. It was 103 degrees and the work was going to take hours. I needed to find a safe place to board three horses for a half a day—no easy task! So I turned to the Internet for help.
I remembered a friend telling me about a business that provided overnight stabling. Ironically, I was fairly close to the "horse hotel." I couldn’t remember the name or exact location so I started my search with a query that included the name of the larger town where the stabling facility was located. No luck. I tried a variety of searches and still didn’t find the place… frustrating since I knew I must be within a few miles of the stable!
Finally, through sheer determination, I found the facility in an online stabling directory. I was able to contact the stable, which boarded my horses in comfortable, safe stalls for the day while the trailer was repaired.
While visiting with the barn owner, I happened to mention my problem finding her site through search. Since she was within 10 miles of a larger city, I suggested that she was probably missing out on business from people looking for her services by not mentioning the larger city. The next thing I knew, we were having a deep discussion about keyword tools and adding geographical descriptions to her web site. Hopefully the next horse traveler who comes through the area will benefit from our conversation!
Include business hours on the map page. It only makes sense to have all the information a site visitor needs to contact you on one page. That includes your business hours, physical address, phone number and a variety of maps on a single page. You have to make it easy for visitors to find you if you want to ensure their business.
Remember that new customers are just that: new. They may not know your store or your city very well, if at all. Take a fresh look at your site through the eyes of someone who hasn’t been there before. See if a person who is unfamiliar with your company or your town can find you using the map and directions currently on your site. If they can’t, it’s definitely time for a change!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.