Episode 2: Categories

All places on Google Maps have a category. What exactly is this? Why are they so important? How to select the right one?




Jan Van Haver 0:06
Welcome to Episode 2 of the LetsGuide Podcast, the ultimate podcast for Google Local Guides. Today we will be talking about categories. Is a place of interest, so a point on the map, is that a baker, is it a school or perhaps a travel agency? (Yes, those do still exist). That’s what the category is used for. In today’s episode, we will look into why exactly those categories are so important and how to pick the right one. Before we dive into it, I want to point out once again that I have no official link to Google or the Google Local Guides program. I am just a local guide like most of you. Everything said in these episodes is just my personal interpretation. This episode is recorded at the end of February 2019, and is therefore describing the situation and It is today. If you’re listening to this episode at a later point in time, things might have changed, of course.

Vanessa P. 1:09
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 1:12
So, categories. Really one of my favorite topics in the entire local guides context. Why are they so important? Well, let me give you 3 different reasons. The first one is that ‘category’ is one of the mandatory fields when adding a new place on Google Maps. You then have to give a name, of course, an address to allow Google to put the place on the right spots on the map, and as third mandatory field a category. It’s also a very important factor – and then we’re at the second reason – in making sure that the place shows up correctly in search results. You know that Google is very good at search. Well, of course, the information on Google Maps is also used to produce correct search results. Let’s say there’s a bakery, which has the more general category ‘shop’. It might simply not show up if you were looking with the search term ‘bakery’. The third and final reason is that the category is also important for producing the so-called ‘category specific features’. For certain categories of places special features are available. Let me give some examples that will make this clear. For hotels, for example, there are class ratings, the number of stars and list of the amenities offered by the hotel, so those fields are only available if you have selected hotel as category. For food and drink business businesses, you can add URLs, for example for online orders, for reservations, and also for the menu. Those fields also only show up if you have selected, for example, a restaurant or bar. It would not really make much sense to have a menu field if the point of interest is, say, a florist.

Jan Van Haver 3:10
On to the next question then. What exactly is meant with category? Well from local guides perspective, it describes the main activity of a place. Sometimes this is quite easy to determine because there’s really only one: e.g. a school or a bank. Sometimes it’s not so easy, as the point of interest might have multiple activities. Think of a hair salon that’s also partly a beauty parlor or perhaps they do nails, or a grocery store with a pickup point for dry cleaning. Come to think of it: it’s hardly ever extremely easy. The bank I mentioned as the easy example might also be selling insurance. And the school might also have sports infrastructure used by third parties, on evenings and weekends. So forget about the ‘easy’ – it’s not easy at all. Very important to know is that local guides can only work on the primary category. A place on a map, a point of interest can have up to 9 categories. But the local guides can only work on the primary one. The business owner, using the Google My Business program, can add more of them. As I said, up to nine. We’ll talk about Google My Business in future episodes. So for local guides, the category is the best way to describe what the business mainly does or what the place is meant for in one single term.

Jan Van Haver 4:42
This also means that if you have a kind of shop in shop situation, for example a pharmacy inside the supermarket, what needs to be done actually is to create two separate entries on the map. So the supermarket is one entry, the pharmacy is another entry. If you come across this kind of situation, it might bring you 15 points for creating a new point of interest, of course. Google explicitly mentions this and names a few other examples like a restaurant or a bar, inside a hotel; a gas station next to the grocery store; a Starbucks or another coffee shop inside a bookstore; and finally an ATM at a bank because in this last example, there might also be dramatically different opening hours, the ATM is usually 24/7, the bank is usually by far not 24/7. I find it always very funny that banks have these ‘evening openings’ and then they are open that day until 5:30 in the afternoon. Hmm, quite peculiar.

Jan Van Haver 5:53
When choosing the appropriate category, it is crucial to be as specific as possible. Let’s illustrate this with a Chinese restaurant by way of example. For such a place, you could select the category ‘restaurant’, you could go for ‘Chinese restaurant’ or you could go for ‘Chinese takeaway restaurant’. All three of those are available for selection on Google Maps. Restaurant, of course, is not a good option because Chinese restaurant is already more specific. But whether to choose for Chinese restaurant or Chinese takeaway restaurant really depends. If the place has a lot of tables and chairs where people usually sit to eat their Chinese food over there, well, then it’s a Chinese restaurant. If it’s just a counter where you can pick up food to eat it at home, then it’s a Chinese takeaway restaurant. There are some very general categories as well available, but those are needed very rarely only. One example could be an industrial supplier in some very niche market involved in some very specific process. Well, then ‘business to business service’, a very general category could be used. ‘Store’ is another very general one that is available but usually this can be replaced by a more specific one. You find these very generic ‘store’ ones on places that are unclaimed businesses. What this specifically means I’ll explain in a separate episode – quite soon, I think. For now, you can just go to my blog, where I’ve written a blog post on the topic, I’ll make sure to link to it in the shownotes. So ‘store’ is often used for unclaimed businesses or points of interest that were never edited after the original import into Google Maps years ago.

Jan Van Haver 7:49
If by now you start to wonder: “Well, how much categories exactly are there to choose from?”, I can tell you it’s about 4000 in English, and about 3000 in most other languages that I have looked into – there’s certainly going to be a separate episode on categories in other languages, so staying tuned to the LetsGuide podcast is of course what you need to do. With those numbers, 3000-4000s, it’s of course clear that more or less anything belonging to everyday life can get a fitting category on Google Maps. But mind you: do not always expect logic and consistency. There’s still a lot of work to be done by Google to improve the categories, if you ask me.

Jan Van Haver 8:38
In some domains, there’s a kind of structure with categories and subcategories, for example, as we already mentioned, with the restaurants: restaurant/Chinese restaurant. A similar thing can be found for sports clubs, for example, or for car dealers. A lot of improvements to the map can be made by picking a more special specific category in any of these domains, and for those who like to collect points in the Google Local Guides program: 5 points are earned for each of the edits for categories, of course. Some examples: ‘Italian restaurant’ instead of just ‘restaurant’, ‘basketball club’ instead of ‘sports club’ and ‘Volvo dealer’ instead of ‘car dealer.’ I can tell you there’s really, really, really a lot of these category edits that you can make. You just have to look around on the map to find them and start making the improvements.

Jan Van Haver 9:39
From time to time, new categories are added sometimes to fill gaps in the existing structure. For example, the car brands ‘Mini’ and ‘Skoda’ were added a couple of months ago. And for restaurants also a number of new categories are added like Japanese or Sardinian restaurants. New categories might also be added to cover new types of places that show up all over the globe due to changes or new phenomena in society. Some recent examples are ‘escape room center’ or ‘package locker’ – you know these places where DHL or UPS drop off orders from e-commerce in a kind of lockers where you open them with a code. Well, ‘package locker’ is available since a couple of months. Also ‘coffee stands’ and one I like very much, quite recently added: ‘maker space’.

Jan Van Haver 10:39
Now that we know all that we get to the most important question: how to find and pick the best possible category. Finding a fitting one is not always easy, as you might understand by now. And the very first hurdle – and this comes from my own experience – is that when you want to add a new place to the map and you get to the field ‘category’, there’s this list of 20 categories shown to you. And then you can make the mistake of thinking “This is all the options I have, I have to pick one of this list”. That’s exactly what I was facing. Very early on in my career as a local guide, I came across a hair salon which was not on the map yet. So I was very thrilled to be able to add a new point of interest until I got to the ‘category’ field and until I got to this list of 20, where hair salon is not amongst those 20. Very, very frustrating. Only later on, I realized that you can just start typing text in this field. So when I started entering HAIR, yes, there it was: ‘hair salon’ just for you to pick. So the list you see is just by way of example. These are some of the categories, but you need to start typing the text to find the possible categories from those 4000 that I mentioned before.

Jan Van Haver 12:08
A difficulty, however, if you start typing text is that you have to use the right word. For example: a store selling newspapers. It’s no use entering the word newspaper because that category is called ‘magazine store’, as of course, those stores typically also sell magazines. Sometimes different synonyms are used and those are not found. For places, or points of interest, where liquids – things you can drink – are sold, some of them have in the category the word drink, some other have in the category, the word beverages. So, you need to learn how to deal with that as you go along, like regular search. Typing in too much will not have the results you want, because If you type too much, you get zero results. If you only type one or two letters, you get a lot of results. So it’s really: try it out, test it, and time will help you if you are getting more experienced. Sometimes there are categories where even I have no clue what the difference is between with the two categories and my favorite example there is a ‘do-it-yourself store’ versus a ‘home improvement store’. By all means, if you can explain to me what difference is between those two, do send an email or a tweet, whatever. I’d like to know very much.

Jan Van Haver 13:39
Sometimes categories are simply missing as they might be eagerly needed in your particular country, but not in the rest of the world or in most other countries. In my home country, Belgium, for example, there are a lot of bread vending machines, you find them really everywhere but probably not in most other countries. So the category is not there in Google Maps. Other vending machines like ‘coffee vending machine’ and even ‘skincare products vending machine’ are available but not ‘bread vending machine’. Alas, what you should know – and this is a quote from the Google website: “You can’t create your own category. If the category you had in mind isn’t available, choose a more general category that still accurately describes the business”. So what it comes down to is, you have to choose from the 4000 which is actually a smooth transition into a very special section of the podcast, that I have in every episode.

Vanessa P. 14:42
What a great idea.

Jan Van Haver 14:45
In what a great idea, I highlight one of the ideas from Idea Exchange, the part of the Local Guides Connects official platform where local guides can submit suggestions to improve either Google Maps or Local Guides Connect itself. Other guides can then click on the like button to vote for it. Of course, for this ‘category’ episode, I want to point out an idea that’s also related to categories. And it’s the one called ‘Reconsider selection criteria for new places’. It’s actually one of the ideas I have submitted myself. It’s one of the most popular ideas with over 100 votes at the moment, but more votes are always welcome. Of course, the point I want to make there is that the current criteria to determine if something is mappable, so if it’s allowed to be a point of interest on the map, is too business-oriented. I plead to allow more or less everything on the map that can be a destination for users of Google Maps. Some examples are publicly accessible art forms like street art or health related Points of Interest like AEDs, defibrilators that can be a lifesaver in emergency situations. I’ll of course have a link in the show notes. And please do vote for the idea if you haven’t done this already.

Jan Van Haver 16:17
Before wrapping it up, I still want to point out that in June of this year, there will be the 2nd European Meetup in Ghent, Belgium. We’re still looking for people who will take part there. It’s called European but really, local guides from anywhere are more than welcome. And it’s good to know that some participants are already preparing some extras. These will be added to the announcement post on Local Guides Connect but I will of course put a link to in the shownotes. Keywords for those extras are 360 photography and accessibility.

Jan Van Haver 16:58
That’s all we have for this Episode but feel free of course to get in touch with me. If you have any remarks or questions, you can find me on Twitter as LocalGuidesGuru. Or you can just send a good old fashioned email to letsguidepodcast@gmail.com. You could also find me on Local Guides Connect under my real name Jan Van Haver. Or you might find me in the Local Guides World groupo on Facebook, especially on Sundays, there are always these Facebook Live events by our good friend Jeroen, the Dutchman living in the Canaries. I often hang out in those Facebook Lives on Sunday – you should really check them out. If you like the show: ratings and reviews are of course more than welcome on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you found the podcast. The shownotes can be found on letsguidepodcast.com, where I recently have also added a new page with a kind of lexicon, the most used abbreviations and terms to do with local guides. Go check it out and I hope you will return soon for Episode 3 of the LetGuide Podcast which will deal with selecting pictures.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Episode 1: The basics

In this first episode we cover the basics. What exactly is meant with Local Guides? Can anyone be a local guide? Why should you become a local guide?



The official Google intro video on the Local Guides program



Jan Van Haver 0:06
Hello, and welcome to the very first episode of the LetsGuide podcast, the ultimate podcast for Google Local Guides. My name is Jan Van Haver, and I hope to be your host for a new episode in this podcast roughly every two weeks or so. Most people listening, I assume, are local guides and so are well aware of what it means to be a local guide. But some people might have stumbled upon this podcast and have no clue what it is about. And also, since I plan to promote this podcast quite heavily on my personal, private social media accounts, I guess some colleagues from work or family and friends might be listening to at least part of this. So it’s a great opportunity for me to explain what the heck I’ve been doing all this time.

Jan Van Haver 0:51
Today, therefore, I will simply be covering the basics. What exactly does it mean to be a local guide? Who are these people? Why are they doing it? Future episodes will typically deal with one specific aspect of the local guides program, and could include some tips and tricks or best practices. It’s up to you to stay tuned and find out what exactly next episodes will be about. A very important remark before we really kick off is that I want to point out that I am not a Google employee. I have no official connection to Google whatsoever. I’m just a local guide myself. And this means of course, that anything I say in this podcast is simply a personal interpretation of things. This episode is being recorded the beginning of February 2019 and is therefore describing the situation as it is today. If you are listening at a later point in time, things might have changed by then, of course.

Vanessa P. 1:54
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 1:57
So, the basics. Let’s first look into what exactly it means, this local guys program. And what better way to do this than to have a look at the official definition as given by Google itself on the website. Let me just read it out loud to you. “Local Guides is a global community of explorers who write reviews, share photos, answer questions, add or edit places and check facts on Google Maps.” It then continues “millions of people rely on contributions like yours to decide where to go and what to do.” So there are a few important keywords there. First and foremost, of course: Google Maps. The local guides program is all about Google Maps. Feeding Google Maps with content is actually what it is all about. The second key word is then ‘explorers’ which makes it sound a bit adventurous. And that’s, of course, part of the fun that we local guys experience every day. The definition then explains the three main things, the three main activities, that local guys are involved in. And those have to do with the so called ‘points of interest’. That’s a very important term.

Jan Van Haver 3:21
So what is a point of interest? Well, more or less anything you see on the map on Google Maps can be a point of interest. For example, a baker shop or a dentist or a school or a hairdresser. All of those are points of interest. And what kind of content can you add? Well, reviews of course and star ratings – one to five stars you can give to any of those points of interest. But of course, you know, one image says more than 1000 words. So the second important activity is uploading photos for those points of interest; and a lot of local guides are very active uploading photos of the points of interest that they come about. The third thing, then has to do with the information which is on Google Maps about these points of interest, for example the opening hours, the telephone number, the exact name of the place: that third activity is editing those. Yes, you heard it, right. You can edit the points of interest, you could update the information on Google Maps. How cool is that? And it goes even further: you can also add missing places. And I can tell you, from my personal experience, that’s one of the most satisfactory elements of being a local guide. When you go into Google Maps, you can then you say: “okay, this particular point of interest, this shop, was not there and I have added it as a local guides”. All of these things, all of these types of contributions, we will cover in depth in future episodes of course, but for today, we stick to the basics.

Jan Van Haver 4:59
After the ‘what’ question we can move on to the ‘where’ question. Where is the local guides program available? Well, basically, it’s available wherever Google Maps is available, meaning more or less all over the world, except for those countries where, for example, for political reasons, there is no Google Maps available.

Jan Van Haver 5:21
On to the next question, Who are those local guides? Well, basically, almost anyone can be a local guide, the only thing you need is a Google account, and then go to maps.google.com/localguides and sign up. That’s really all you have to do. There are however, two important restrictions to who can become a local guide. The first one is you must be 18 years or older to participate in local guides. Only adults should make changes to Google Maps because, of course, some maturity is needed. You are adapting actual places of actual businesses on Google Maps. So it’s not a game, it should be correct. And therefore, I guess, that is one of the main reasons why Google is stating you must be 18 plus to take part. The second limitation is that the local guides program is for individuals, not for businesses. For businesses, there is a separate program called Google My Business where they can even do much more to control how their business is represented on Google Maps. Unfortunately, a lot of them are not aware of this – we will tackle that for sure in a future episode. So, as a business, you cannot become a local guide. Does this mean that if you have a business, if you’re a business owner that you can’t be a local guide at all? No, of course not. If you have a personal Google account, you can just sign up as a local local guide with your personal account under your personal name.

Jan Van Haver 6:57
Being a local guy, one of the most frequent questions you will get is: “What level of local guide are you?” And that’s a very important fact: there are 10 different levels, which are related to the number of points you score in this local guides program. Every place you review, you add a photograph or make a change to the information, you earn points in the local guides program. That’s of course an element of gamification which makes it a bit more fun. And the number of points can also be seen as an indication of what Google wants us local guides to focus on. For example: if you just give a rating, so a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 star rating to a point of interest interest, or you just check some facts, or answer a simple question (we will cover those in future episodes), you just get 1 point. If you provide an answer in the Q&A section, you get three points. Making an edit, for example, changing the telephone number or upload the website, or if you upload a photo that’s five points. They even like videos more, because a video is seven points. A review is really what Google wants you to provide because a review will give you a straight 10 points. And if you go to the trouble of adding points of interest to Google Maps, you deserve 15 points. But that’s not it: you can also earn 20 points by writing a long review – another indication that they want us to upload reviews especially – and long review is defined as 200 or more characters. Your score, your points can also decrease when pictures that you uploaded before are being removed for some or other reason. Or if the point of Interest where you made edits, or where you upload the photos is being removed from the map.

Jan Van Haver 9:08
These levels then, that we talked about, come quite easily at first, but the last levels require really huge steps. To become a level 1, you really do not have to do anything. Just sign up for the program, because level one requires zero points. Level 2 is 15 points. So just write a review, give a star rating and upload a photo and you’re already a level 2 local guide. Level 3, then, is 75 points – quite manageable. Level 4 is 250, then 500 points for level 5, but then it becomes quite challenging. And it starts reminding people a bit of the game show ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’, because from the 500 we go to 1,500 for level 6, then 5,000. Times 3 again: 15,000 for level 8. But then the big guys come along: 50,000. So from 15 to 50, more than times 3 to reach level 9. And then once you’ve reached 50,000 points, you need another 50,000 points to reach the legendary level 10. This can sometimes lead to a phenomenon that I call ‘level fever’ because when you when you’re getting close to the next level, your motivation to make extra contributions really goes up. I know what this is all about. And probably I’ll do an episode on this later on. in the show notes to the podcast I also will also include an animation provided by Google itself: a video animation covering the most important things of the local guides program, you should just check it out in the shownotes – more about that at the end of this episode.

Jan Van Haver 11:06
And then finally, we come to the $1 million question to stick to the millionaire metaphor. Why do people become a local guides? Why do they do this? It’s not for the money, that’s for sure, because it’s not allowed to earn any money in the local guides program. You cannot ask a business to be paid for doing this or to be paid for writing a review, for example. That would definitely be an infringement of the local guides rules. It’s really just a hobby. It’s a volunteer program. There are some perks (will do an episode on perks probably), but that’s not really the reason why people are involved in the program, because those perks usually are not adding up to all that much. The main motivation for most people is just helping others, both users of Google Maps and also the businesses, especially the small businesses on the map.

Jan Van Haver 12:09
An anecdote from my personal experience might be a good example to illustrate what I mean. A while ago my stepdaughter had an appointment in a town nearby to an office where she’d never been before. So what do people do in this kind of situation? Exactly, you enter the address in Google Maps, just hit the navigate button, and off you go. Unfortunately, the office had moved to a new location, but the map marker, you know this little red thing that indicates where exactly on the map the place where you go to is located, this map marker was still on the old address. And since the navigation instructions are based the place of the map marker, not the address as its typed in, the instructions were completely wrong. And if you know that at the time she was pregnant with what is now my youngest grandson, you can imagine that it was quite a bit of drama, which fortunately got sorted out in the end. In this specific occasion, I myself moved the map marker for that office. And it was approved by the Google Maps algorithm (more about that in future episodes, for sure). It was approved within seconds. So other people in the future will not face the same problem when they go to this place, which gives me a very satisfying feeling, of course. That more or less covers the basics. So now it’s time to move on to a very special section that I will have in every episode of this podcast.

Vanessa P. 13:50
What a great idea.

Jan Van Haver 13:53
The section is called ‘What a great idea’ because it refers to the Idea Exchange. That’s a special section, a special part of the ‘Local Guides Connect’ forum. That’s the official platform provided by Google itself for local guides to meet one another, to exchange information and things like that. I’ll make sure to put a link to it in the show notes. Because, if you have not visited it so far, you definitely should make an effort to do that. In this Idea Exchange you can submit suggestions to improve either Google Maps or the Local Guides Connect platform itself. I for one, like it very much and monitor the Idea Exchange quite frequently to check if new ideas have been submitted. And if I like them, then I click the like button to vote for it, because that’s how it works. You just look into the list of ideas, and the ones you like, you vote for to make them go up in the ranking, of course. In this section of the podcasts, I want to highlight an idea that could use some extra votes, some extra support, in my humble opinion. Some of the ideas, by the way, that have been submitted there, have already been implemented. So that’s another ‘nice to know’: if you submit an idea and if it’s really good or if it’s worthwhile being implemented, the Google team is listening and is implementing those ideas.

Jan Van Haver 15:25
Today’s idea that I want to put into focus is called ‘A map for upcoming local meet ups’. It’s submitted by a local guide called Herve_Andrieu or something of that nature. Sorry, Herve, if I messed up your name. I’ll put a link to it of course in the shownotes, so you can still vote for it. And the idea is related to meet ups, those are place or moments when local guides physically come together (I’ll make sure to have one or more future episodes about meetups). There is an official platform for them, where they are all listed. But it’s really hard to find the ones that could be of interest to you, because you could only scroll through the list and see all of them worldwide, or search by a specific city. And that makes it quite hard, because, for example, in Germany in the Ruhr area, there are a lot of cities quite close by and, say, there’s a meetup like the ones that I organized myself a couple of times already in Bochum. When you type in the name of the city next to it, Essen, you don’t find this meetup. You really have to type in literally the word Bochum as the right city, and then you will find it, not if you type in any other name. The idea now is that Google, being good at maps, could perhaps create a kind of internet active map where all those meetups are shown for a selected period of time. So for example, if you say: “Okay, in the next three weeks show me on a map of the globe, where are all the meetups”, and then you could zoom in and focus on the meetups that are near to where you are located. Would be a very good idea, and very practical, if you ask me. So far, this idea has only received three votes. So please: go to the shownotes, go to the idea through the link that I will provide there and give it one more vote.

Jan Van Haver 17:35
On the topic of meetups, I certainly also want to mention a very important meetup, which will take place in Belgium, in the beautiful city of Ghent in June of 2019. It’s the 2nd European Meetup. The first European meetup took place last year in September, I think, it was in Krakow, in Poland. It was a lot of fun, I can assure you. So this second one is from 7th until the 10th of June in Belgium. So far, people from six different countries have signed up, but there’s always room for a bit more of course, so feel free to check out the post that I will link to in the show notes. Or just go on Local Guides Connect and search for the second European meet up, you should find it quite easily.

Jan Van Haver 18:30
And that already brings us to the end of episode 1 of the LetsGuide Podcast. Do let me know what you thought about it. If you liked it, or if perhaps there were some things you did not like, reach out to me. That can be done through email by sending an email to letsguidepodcast@gmail.com or you can find me on Twitter under LocalGuidesGuru. Yes, indeed, modesty was never my strongest point. I also hang out quite a lot of the time on Local Guides Connect under my real name Jan Van Haver, spelled JANVANHAVER. Or perhaps you are a member also of the Facebook group, Google Local Guides World. That’s also where you might find me some of the time. Make sure to check out the shownotes on the website letsguidepodcast.com. And one final requests. I know as local guides that most of you are very good at writing reviews. So, please also do write a review for the LetsGuide podcast on iTunes or wherever you found this podcast. Thank you very, very much for listening and I hope you will continue to listen to the next episodes. I can already reveal that the episode number 2 will deal with one of my favorite topics of the local guides program and that is: categories.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai