Google + Local Replaces Google Places

Google Places is extinct and is now replaced by Google + Local.  So what’s changed?   Why do businesses have two pages? Why should you even care?We’re pretty handy with all things Google, but understanding Google + and how it relates to business is somewhat confusing even for the educated Googler.

Why should you care about Google Plus Local for Business?

Everybody searches, but not everyone is found.  Being in the top search positions is crucial to being visible.  Google has been tweaking it’s search results for years to constantly provide more relevance to the searcher, and providing local listings is one such way to maximise relevance.  In fact the stats suggest 97% of consumers search for local businesses online*.

The best way to explain it’s importance is to search and see.

Try it.  Type in coffee and pick a suburb.  Notice the amount of Google + Local Listings!

Google + Local Listings

Most people are probably unaware but the majority of businesses already have a Google + Local listing courtesy of the Yellow Pages.  This contains only the very basic of information.

For those clients that don’t have Google + Local listing, or for those that do have the basic Yellow Pages listing we advise that they spend some time adding their details in order to appear higher in search rankings.   Getting to the top of the search rankings is a dark art, but can be helped by doing the very basics such as completing your profile.

Adding your details requires an approval process which can take up to 2 weeks and requires Google sending you out a verification code in the mail.

What’s new with Google + vs Google Places

Naturally Google wanted to start driving traffic to their new platform, as well as integrate their new acquisition Zagat.

On the surface it doesn’t actually look like a lot has changed, with the integration between with Google +.

Here’s a brief overview of what’s new and what’s changing:

  • The substitution of the new Google+ Local pages for Google Places pages
  • The appearance of a “Local” tab within Google+
  • The integration and free availability of Zagat reviews (although this doesn’t appear to have rolled out to AU?)
  • The integration of Google+ Local pages across Google properties (search, Maps, mobile)
  • Integration of a circles filter to find reviews/recommendations from friends/family/colleagues

The big change, from what we’ve read in the US is that Zagat scores contain separate scores for food, service and atmosphere which allows much more differentiation than a five star scale, which is forced to factor all those considerations into a single rating.  What we noticed this morning however was that it doesn’t look to be active on AU searches just yet?  Please do correct me if I’m wrong!

The intergration of Google + means you can refine your search.  For example you can review users will be able to sort and filter search results by several criteria, including “your circles,” which will reveal places “touched” by friends. Currently this means reviews and posts, but of course this assumes you are active on Google + and have circles!

The big difference is the more prominent placement of social media content, such as photos, videos, updates and offers.  Posting a twitter style update lasts 30 days.

Google says there will be many more merchant features to come, in a post on the Google and Your Business Blog (formerly the Google Small Business Blog):

We know many of you have already created a Google+ Page for your business, and have been hosting hangouts and sharing photos, videos and posts. We’re excited that we’ll soon extend these social experiences to more Google+ Local pages in the weeks and months ahead.

Why do I have 2 pages – Google + for business and Google + Local?

It still seems like a rushed roll out to me.  There is the issue of still seeing Google Places references in the administration tools, as well as of course the fact that businesses now have 2 pages to manage.

Despite both pages being within Google + the two are not the same.

The difference is that Google Plus Local pages are a new face for Google Places, with maps and scoring integrated, to create a directory listing for a business to help customers find and evaluate the business.

The Google Plus business page on the other hand is essentially like a Facebook Page, which includes all the social features of Google Plus – hangouts, posting, sharing, commenting, photos etc.

Can I merge the two pages?

You cannot currently merge the two unfortunately.

Google has said here: “We will we be combining these two pages, so that you will only have to manage one listing — basic information, social features and all — across Google. Please give us time to get there … If you’re ready to be on the cutting edge, you can sign up to be considered for an early upgrade. Please note that this is a test and isn’t for the faint of heart! Sign up using this form.”

More on that to come, but in the meantime we encourage you to update both pages.  The importance of search rankings should not be under estimated and we encourage you to update both pages.