Google, whose Place Pages aggregate information about restaurants and landmarks on Google Maps, has integrated ads directly into Google Maps by offering branded icons for, well, whatever store or franchise wants to participate.
Google is letting businesses pay to sub their brand icons on the map for the standard icons. The search engine isn't saying how much it's charging.
Sponsored map icons are being offered as a limited beta to companies in the United States with multiple locations and a well-known brand.
The company stressed that the new feature is only available to businesses that already appear on the map and whose default icons can be swapped out for their logo.
In other words, businesses don't improve their placement on Google maps by participating in the beta.
But they sure will improve their visibility to users, as Google Maps Product Manager Matthew Leske, who explained:
"These logos appear directly on the map when you zoom in to see a close-up view of an area. Just like the existing default business icons that appear in gray, these colored logos are clickable and open the Place page for that business. Both large and small businesses can claim their Place pages and enhance them with information including hours of operation, product inventory, photos and videos."
Check out the red HSBC bank logo on this map result:
Sure sticks out, no?
In time, Google will also make the sponsored map icons available for Google Maps for mobile phones.
Curiously, Google piloted this program in Australia and New Zealand in March.
Stateside, Google already offers Tags, little ad call-outs for $20 per business per month to accompany its Google Places local business offering.
While I think that's the best option to help small mom-and-pop shops get noticed on Google Maps, the branded icons are a great way for the big businesses with famous brand logos, such as Starbucks, Target, Best Buy and others, to catch users' eyes when they're looking at a map.
Wouldn't it be easier to spot the red Target "target" logo than a nondescript, gray shopping icon?
No doubt it would, and this will help those stores get more clicks online, and perhaps more visitors to their brick-and-mortar locations.
As word spreads about the click-throughs, Google will find itself teeming with customers demanding to put their logos on Google Maps. Ca-ching.