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Can Google make a play in mobile search-based offers?

Google announced during its I/O developer conference this week that it was revamping both its desktop and mobile products to focus on more personalization. Google’s decision to integrate its Offers program directly into Maps could help in scaling the company’s local deals and social media businesses.

“This is smart because by delivering relevant offers to consumers who have offered up their location and destination, Google can add to the value they already provide and let merchants who are signed up forAdWords or AdSense populate the platform with the same sorts of deals they are used to promoting via Groupon or other daily deal platforms,” said Wilson Kerr, vice president of business development and sales at Unbound Commerce, Boston.

“And what consumer doesn’t want to save some money?” he said.

The play for local
The new Google Maps updates point to the growing role that user-generated and local content play for Google.

With the Offers integration, marketers will be able to serve coupons and offers to consumers who are searching in a particular area.

For example, a consumer that clicks on a listing page for Starbucks Coffee might see an offer that can be used at that particular location.

Google’s news comes as competitors such as foursquare, Yelp and Groupon are scrambling to expand their mobile offerings.

As consumers have become bombarded by deals in the past few years, finding ways to make offers more contextually-relevant is key.

For example, Groupon recently updated its app with a universal search feature to help consumers dig through its trove of deals quickly (see story).

However, Google’s mapping technology might give it a leg up to competitors such as foursquare and Groupon since Google Maps is a utility-based feature.

Depending on the strength of the offer, consumers might be willing to stop in a local business while they are already searching for a store via Google Maps.

“Google is the master of giving away functionality and then, when consumers cannot live without it, linking in revenue opportunities that add to the utility of the free functionality,” Mr. Kerr said.

“They do this, of course, by making the paid content relevant and contextual, in real-time, which disguises the commercial element in a cloak of utility,” he said.

“Maps are a perfect vehicle for this, as the consumer volunteers their location and this is often the name of a business.”

Mobile revamp
Other new features added to Google Maps include transit reroutes and explore features.

Live traffic reports will be available via the app, for example.

The revamp also lets consumers click on restaurants to rate and view Zagat reviews, which has particularly strong implications for local merchants who rely on Google Maps to drive in-store traffic and sales.

In addition, Google is also adding rolling out Maps for Apple’s iPad and Android tablets, which will launch this summer.

On the desktop side, Google has redesigned its Web maps to focus on customized content.

For example, users can set their home and work addresses and star favorite businesses to set their map preferences.

The site also uses prior-search history to customize content.

The new desktop site is also configured with Google + and highlights information such as a recommended restaurant based on a user’s Google + friends.

The tighter integration with Google+ could help the company grow its social media business, which has been slow to take off.

“What Google does is very interesting because they are so powerful that they have the means of combining things like Google Maps with smaller areas that need a kick start like Google+,” said Marcus Thielking, co-founder of Skobbler, Berlin.

“In the end it is always about positive engagement and should be something that feels very natural,” he said.

“Getting people to a point where they interact with Google Maps in a new way that thinks about all of the features will be a major hurtle to overcome.”

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York