23 Aug 2011

Innovative Ways to Use Google Maps on your Website

Google Maps is taking over the world. Well, at least the way we see the world online. According to BuiltWith, there are more than a million sites currently using Google Maps. For sites that cater to travelers, providing a map has obvious advantages. 

However, a lot of travel sites have maps that are either overly simple or overly complicated. Amongst the wreckage of boring and/or confusing maps available online, there are a few shining examples proving that a little creativity and knowledge can go a long way. Here are ideas that may be put to good use on your site.

1. See the Streets

When it comes to on-street navigation and imaging, no cheap knockoffs can compare. Street View is one of the most popular features of Google Maps. This tool gives anyone with a laptop or phone the ability to explore major cities and popular sites almost anywhere in the world.

Street View’s reach continues to expand, giving potential travelers a chance to see more and more places. Providing Street View on your travel site allows visitors to take virtual tours of beautiful vistas, unique towns, and even famous museums. The site Globe Genie, for example, transports visitors from one side of the world to the other with one click.

For those planning a trip it can be a practical tool. Travelers can visualize routes and explore the area around their hotels. Returning tourists can explore the places they’d been before for that great place they can’t quite remember the name of. No matter how Street view is used it’s a fun and engaging tool that will keep visitors clicking away on your site.

2. Accommodations for All Kinds

There are many ways you can customize Google Maps to be the most beneficial to people visiting your website. Highlighting an assortment of possible accommodations can be a great way to help potential travelers. Consider hotels with unique themes, great locations, varying price ranges, and other factors that will cater to a variety of travelers. However, it’s important to remember to keep things well-organized. An all too popular “don’t” with using Google Maps is flooding the map with a mass of pins and arrows, leaving any potential customer overwhelmed. However, a regularly maintenance and easy to navigate map is always a welcome site.

If you’re a hotel owner, putting your business on the map is just as (if not more) important to your success. One of Google maps newest and most talked about features is their new pricing tool. Sites like Worldhotels are using tools like these to help hotel owners compete with the big boys through scale pricing, rewards programs, and partnerships with airlines and rental companies. So many travelers are searching for alternatives to bland chain hotels and an essential part of business is making sure those travelers know where to find you.

3. Keep it in the Family (and by family, I mean website)

Anyone with an online business is hoping for two things: 1. to get eyeballs on their site and 2. to keep them there. For a travel site, providing an interactive map on your site is a good way to do both those things. The result can boost viewing times and keep eyes from wandering off your site. The site Roadside America uses Google maps to pinpoint fun and strange locations to explore during road trips through the US. Including Google Map features on the travel site provides a seamless experience from “we need a vacation” to “We HAVE to go there”.

Simple additions such as a search bar, embedded images, or pinpointed “lesser known” destinations can keep even the most attention deficit browsers from moving on. Include enjoyable functions along with your map and you could turn a possible traveler into a new customer.

4. Branding Made Fun

You’ve probably searched around Google Maps and seen the basic icons. A knife and fork marks a place to eat. A smiling purse means a place to shop and so on. Look at a major city on a map and you’ll be looking at a sea of bland icons that all blend together. Thankfully, Google offers a couple of customizing options to make your brand not-so bland.

The first and most obvious is to replace the simple icon with your unique logo. If you don’t have a logo that would work, you can find another creative icon to help your locations stand out. Also, one of the newer features allows you to customize colors on the map so you can match the representative colors of your brand or logo. PhilaPlace, a site dedicated to exploring the unique history and sites of Philadelphia, features a Google map unlike any otheryou’ve seen. With a little creativity, it’s easy to make a map fun and memorable.

5. What She/He Said

As a Seattleite, My favorite thing to do with visiting friends and family is ride the water taxi from West Seattle to downtown. For a few dollars you can take a peaceful boat ride and get the best view in the city. Little things like this are what I want to know about the places I’ll be traveling to and it’s why user generated reviews are so valuable.

Allowing people to provide reviews of cities, hotels, and restaurants can be immensely helpful to future travelers visiting your site. Sharing the personal accounts of others creates a sense of connection which can be the foundation for interactive and enthusiastic community for your website. Travelers can help others decide where to go and when. People who’ve “been there” usually have the best insight and can provide tips and advice to first-time tourists they would never even consider on their own. A perfect example of this is the site tripadvisor. They include tips, reviews, and opinions in Google Maps to help customers get the best experience possible when they travel.

6. Real Time

It’s an all too common travel blunder and one I’ve made a lot. A full day of scheduled events is cut in half by gridlock traffic or confusing bus and subway routes. After so much planning about flight, hotel, where to go, and what to do, we sometimes forget just how stressful getting around a big city can be. But with Google Maps on your site, you can provide the information tourists will need to get around simply and quickly. Real time updates on traffic and public transit systems is a practical tool for both tourists and frequent travelers. This is one of Google’s newest features that can save your customers from feeling like they’re vacationing in a parking lot.

7. Tell a Story

Sometimes, when I travel I don’t mind being the naive tourist. I’ll visit the most popular sites and snap photos of everything I see. Most of time, however, I enjoy getting away from the other bustling tourists and blend in, relax, and find the quiet out of the way spots. For me and a lot of travelers, this is best way to create a truly personal experience. To do this, I usually seek advice from those who’ve been there.

A few websites are capitalizing on this feeling by using multimedia features along with Google Maps. The site zoomandgo, for example, uses embed video snippets history of locals talking about the history of a certain city or what they think about the spots they visit. Providing a few location-based stories can enrich both the online and travel experience.

Need some help spotting the opportunities right in front of you? Let us grab the map with our TOP Free for Three.

Article by Amber Candelaria for TravelOnlinePartners

Amber graduated with a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Oklahoma. She's now a resident Seattleite and writing about anything and everything she can, especially tourism.