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Under the Hood of Google Places: A Look at Google’s Revamped Local Search Offering

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2010 is shaping up to be the year of local search, with so much focus on mobile and social check-ins, geo-targeted tweets and a general shift of consumer behavior that makes them more inclined to post and search content with more geo-relevance. According to Google, web users spend one million hours browsing its Maps and Earth products everyday.  Amid this flurry of local updates within the industry, the Google Local Business Center (LBC) has recently changed its name to, “Google Places”.

The update is a fresh way to bring more attention to this Google platform.  In addition, the new management platform aligns with their original concept of Google Places, announced in September 2009.

Prior to Google Places, a brand’s local business information was viewable only in a Google Map bubble. With the advent Google Places, a permanent HTML page and Google web address become available for places and businesses. The Google Place platform offers functionality for businesses, providing the ability to:

  • Get found.
  • Communicate with customers.
  • Get insights to make decisions.

This Google platform has long created the above opportunities (watch video) for businesses and marketers who seek more superior control of listings within local search. Google Places pages might well be seen as the equivalent to traditional Yellow Pages listings, stressing the importance for larger brands to keep their location data correct and robust.  Long-time users of the Local Business Platform platform have certainly noticed Google’s upgrades from its inception in 2005.

With recent spotlights on Foursquare, Twitter, Yelp or other emerging geo content platforms, Google must see the opportunity to flex their own muscles by expanding Google Places. After all, 1 in 5 searches on Google are related to location, according to Google themselves.

What a Google Place Page looks like?

Where do these Google Places live? (Your business has a Google Place!)

Google creates both a dynamic and clean URL for each business listing found on Google.  The clean version will take on the following pattern:

URL schema:


Okay, let’s get under the hood of Google Places

Top Level Dashboard

The starting dashboard will allow marketers to access reports and edit details for each of their active business locations.

Editing Basic Information

Marketers have the option to control their businesses’ details through the web based control panel or through a data bulk sheet upload when numerous locations are managed under the same Google Place’s account.

Applying Additional Attributes

Other options include the ability to specify each locale’s hours of operation and connect YouTube video links to highlight promotions or other information about the brand or specific spot features.  Opportunities also exist to upload images that give a desired look and feel to each place. Brands might want to consider making a request and having Google photographers do their work for free.

Marketers can also inject custom attributes, for example “free parking – yes” or “brands carried – Izod, Dockers, Ralph Lauren” for each location, aiding search relevance.  For those businesses that maintain a menu or reservation URL, Google allows for bulk feeds to control this more easily.  Ensure your payment options are comprehensive and accurate per location.  In addition, businesses that provide services outside of their physical addresses can highlight the distance or areas they service.

Adding Real Time Posts

Another emerging feature is the ability to edit posts for each of the places under management in real time.  This allows brands to control a 30-day post (160 characters) that will display in each Google Place page of choice.  Unfortunately it’s difficult to manage this for larger brands with many locations, since the bulk sheet upload process does not allow management of this new feature.

New Enhanced “Tagging”

Currently, the only paid or sponsored option found in Google Places is the tagging feature. The tagging options are fairly limiting, as seen in the select box below. With a flat $25/month fee per location it seems unreasonable for larger brands to enhance 10,000 (thousands) locations.

Regardless, the program is currently only available in a handful of cities, so it does not scale for brands with extensive local reach.  However, brands might consider testing these beta cities where participation is possible to gauge potential lift.  No doubt Google will ponder a choice of making the tagging option available to all regions in the near future.  As highlighted below, these enhanced listings will get an extra tag with “sponsored” information.  These tags will add some extra attention to your search results and clearer action paths, but an extra boost in click through for those participating is still TBD.

Places sets a solid foundation as Google offers businesses greater control of natural search visibility, new advertising opportunities, and an ability to control the brand’s local presences through a defined Google URL.

This is just the beginning for Google Places. In a follow up post to this general overview, we’ll provide more insight into some of the insights and reporting available with Google Places and  a look at how Google is bringing mobile functionality and coupons to these pages. (For more on mobile coupons, see my colleague Dave Randolph’s post from earlier this week.)

What do you think? Are you currently using or planning to look at Google Places for your business?