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

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