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Do customers say to you: "I couldn't find you on my GPS"?How is your business mapped in a potential customer's search on Google or Bing? How about when that customer searches on an iPhone or GPS device?The answer is becoming more critical every day to the success of restaurants, retail outlets and any other business that serves customers at a physical location. Business owners need to review the way their businesses are listed online, correct any omissions or errors and provide a full and properly organized profile of contact information, hours and other relevant details to the databases that feed these devices. A missing, incomplete or incorrect listing will cost you customers.Online MappingGoogle MapsGoogle Maps dominates online mapping and local information on the Internet. Not only do map results come into play when consumers click on the maps option in a Google search, but they are now integrated into the primary Google search. For example, if a consumer searches for Asian restaurants near Westford, Mass., Google results automatically show a map of seven local Asian restaurants. The map appears above the general Web results, and the pushpin markers help consumers see what location is closest or most convenient.Microsoft Bing MapsMicrosoft's new search engine, Bing, does something similar. It's designed to eliminate irrelevant Web pages and return answers as opposed to just results, so Microsoft calls it a "decision engine." It may turn up different listings and order them differently than Google does.GPS TechnologyBlack Friday 2009 saw GPS devices as one of the most heavily advertised items, with prices dropping as low as $59. That means more consumers are relying on the devices, not only to provide directions but to identify points of interest, including gas stations, retail outlets, lodging and restaurants. People are using these global positioning systems not just to find the businesses they plan to visit but to identify and choose the businesses where they will eat, shop and buy. Increasingly, these systems are available in cell phones or built into motor vehicles.In four years, we can expect the doubling of navigation systems from a current 56.4 million to 110.1 million in 2013*. This dramatic increase in navigation device ownership includes in-vehicle systems, portable systems and navigation on smart phones. That equals 110 million devices in a country of 122 million households*. Certainly a remarkable trend that impacts how businesses can best reach current customers and attract new ones.*Source: iSuppliAfter a long day of shopping or traveling, a consumer can consult a GPS device and walk through a technology-assisted decision-making process. The consumer may know the name of a restaurant but need to know the location and directions. Or the consumer may want a list of restaurants to choose from near his or her current location, perhaps narrowed to a particular category of cuisine. GPS technology allows these decisions to be made on the road at a moment's notice.For vacationers and business travelers, the GPS is a natural resource in planning stops and meals. When traveling in the Hershey, Pa., area, a contact of mine wanted a Chinese restaurant that was kid-friendly and within a reasonable distance of the hotel. The hotel's front desk was the first step and the GPS was the next. After identifying several possibilities, the family, guided by the GPS, drove past two restaurants and rejected them based on appearance, then chose the third.Friends or business associates who want to meet at an intermediate destination also find that a quick GPS consultation (or online map search) makes the decision easier. These consumer searches for points of interest highlight the need for every business to be listed -- and listed correctly.Errors are not uncommon. For example, one database that feeds GPS units locates a gym that I know in the wrong place -- a few buildings down on the opposite side of the street. These kinds of errors can change a customer's mind about where to go. But business operators can identify and correct the problem if they are prudent about reviewing and maintaining their online profiles. A business that's where the GPS says it is will get the customers. Otherwise, they may select the next best, visible choice.The Intelligent Information RevolutionThe physical location is not the only data that can be distributed about businesses. Online mapping and GPS technology are moving toward "intelligent" or "structured" profile information -- consistently patterned, ordered, concise data that can be sorted, analyzed, and filtered, like cells in an Excel spreadsheet. When searching for a restaurant, consumers will view a clearly demarcated summary of the business that may include the phone number, location, hours of operation, menu, credit card policies, price range and the like. An intelligent information format will allow consumers to search not only for an Asian restaurant in Westford, Mass., but for an Asian restaurant that is still serving sushi at 11:30 pm in Westford, Mass. Structuring the information concisely and compactly can be critically important when its displayed on an iPhone or GPS unit's 3.5-inch screen.These technologies can work for your business, but remember to ensure that your profile is complete, accurate and updated.Patrick Leblanc is a business solutions specialist with Bizmappers.com, which provides GPS and map-based business promotion.Patrick@bizmappers.com508-603-9345www.BizMappers.comBizMappers copyright 2009
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