Google updates cover new features for Business Profiles.

Google cranked up its courtship of retailers and other businesses on Thursday, when it introduced new business profile features in Google Search and Google Maps.

The five-year-old Google My Business service now lets stores and other local operators create and edit their profiles, which appear in the tech giant’s Search and Maps sites.

The change effectively gives businesses more control over what people see about them when they use the Google products.

According to Amir Fish, group product manager on the Google My Business team, the company has “helped more than 150 million local businesses connect with people who are looking for them online.”

In a company blog post published Thursday, he wrote, “Today, when people search for businesses, they’re on the hunt for something more specific — like ‘late night restaurants near Washington Square Park’ or ‘rooftop happy hour with great cocktails.’ And they’re looking to get more things done — whether that’s booking a reservation or asking what products a store offers.”

Business profiles already include basic information, such as contact details, address, hours of operation, web site and user reviews. Now owners or authorized managers can add their own cover photos and company logos as well, and the ability to add photo captions is in the works for the near future.

In a social-like turn, Google is offering a new “follow” button for business profiles, too. The latter update includes a mechanism for businesses that want to reward followers with a digital coupon or other special offer. Fish contends that more than half of online shoppers are looking for an offer or discount.

The tech giant is also offering unique short names and URLs, so shops can more easily refer customers to their Google business profile. People will also be able to search for businesses by short names within Google Maps.

Altogether, the changes look like a spiritual mash-up between Yelp, Facebook and Amazon, which may be by design. Google and Facebook have been vying in their courtship of retailers, brands and other companies, alongside major rivals like Amazon. The major tech players have been working at a fever pitch to make their platforms the go-to destination for businesses and consumers.

The effect has the lines blurring between what used to be distinct categories of opportunity in the tech sector, namely search, social media, advertising and, increasingly, retail sales. The giants find themselves competing with each other in new and interesting ways now — from Google and Facebook’s push into more e-commerce features, not to mention Facebook-owned Instagram’s social commerce proposition, to Amazon’s hit-or-miss attempts at social influence and more successful efforts at building an ad network.

Google’s latest updates may be a reminder that the battlefront does not strictly lie in e-commerce or digital business. Local brick-and-mortar businesses are another key front, as companies like Yelp — which beat earnings expectations last quarter — can attest.

By Google’s tally, more than 150 million local businesses have used its free Google My Business tools to create profiles, facilitating more than three billion connections between merchants and customers per month.

The activity is meaningful for the Google My Business team, as well as the broader Google organization, which relies on a steady pipeline of engaged site visitors for ad revenue. Over the first three months of 2019, the tech company reported that its ads business delivered nearly 85 percent of its revenues.

Not that it’s been an easy ride. Google has been a target of heightened scrutiny over its advertising, search and mobile technologies and policies. The latest has the Justice Department supposedly on the brink of a new investigation into potential anticompetitive practices.

Those aren’t the only wrinkles. On the heels of Google’s announcement, another report surfaced on Thursday accusing the platform of hosting phony business listings in Google Maps and profiting off of them, to the tune of roughly 11 million false entries.

It’s an obvious risk in crowd-sourcing business information, which may be one reason the tech company is asking companies to take more ownership of their listings.

In response, Google released a new blog post on Thursday afternoon, asking owners to help flag the fakes.

“Although it’s important that we make it easy for legitimate businesses to get their business profiles on Google, we’ve also implemented strict policies and created tools that enable people to flag these issues so we can take action,” wrote Ethan Russell, product director of Google Maps, who wouldn’t go into more specifics about its internal efforts due to concerns that the information could help scammers bypass their checks.

But, said Russell, the company took down more than three million phony business profiles last year. And when it comes to this game of whack-a-mole with fakes and scammers — a pursuit that retail knows all too well — the work remains ongoing.

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