In an effort to increase use of its social network and place more emphasis on local search, Google has revamped Google Places by integrating it into Google+. The new offering, called Google+ Local, is actually the culmination of several recent Google shifts and acquisitions, and will solidify Google’s domination in the local search marketplace, while also (Google hopes) bringing a lot of fresh eyes to Google+.
The post outlines what Google+ Local means for Search and Google+ Pages and explains the implications for brands and local business owners.
What has changed in Google Search?
Google has been moving faster than ever in the direction of making Google less of a tool to find information and more of the place to go to find information. In other words, they want to be a destination on the web. With that in mind, Google has been displaying more local results in its results pages, including links to Google Places pages, as well as showing a map with local results to the right of the traditional results.
Also significant here is that any user that wants to create a review for any business, will have to do so using a Google+ profile. Not only could that mean a significant boon in the amount of Google+ profiles created, but will also play a huge part in extending social search. Reviews left by users in your Google+ circles will be highlighted in Google+ Local.
What has changed in Google+?
The one Google product or service that will change the most as a result of this update is Google+. If you already use Google+, you may notice a new “Local” tab on your sidebar. This is how you access the new hub for Google+ Local. Clicking on the “Local” tab from your Google+ homepage will take you to a list of recommended places in your area, and highlight any reviews that people in your Circles may have left.
Google’s aim is to do this with two major steps. Its first step is to make Google+ Local pages the definitive “home” of any business’s information on the web. “With one listing,” Google explains, “your business can now be found across Google search, maps, mobile and Google+.”
Second, Google has added the all-important social component. In the old five-star Google Maps based review system, a user would leave a review on a business’ Google Places page for the benefit of anyone that might stumble across that particular Google Places page. There was no concrete or efficient way to guide others to that review, or put that review to work. This has now changed. By integrating reviews and business pages with Google+, Google has done two very important things:
1. They made reviews shareable. By easily being able to share a review with your Circles in Google+, you can now write reviews for the benefit of people you know, rather than strangers. Google hopes this will encourage more people to write reviews, and therefore become more active on Google+. Of course, this is also great for businesses—if users are sharing your business’s reviews, it’s free publicity for your business. Notice in the below screenshot, what happens when I clicked “publish review.” People who have placed me in a Circle, or that views my profile can see my reviews.
With this new Local product, Google wants reviews to be an easy-to-share commodity, and believes users will like it and find it helpful to explore businesses and restaurants that their friends reviewed. This is a true social move for Google+, and is one feature that its biggest rival, Facebook, doesn’t have.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Google+ Local makes reviews sharable commodities that are tied directly to a user’s G+ profile page. [Click to tweet]
For business owners, an unprecedented way to communicate with customers via Google+
Every business owner that had a business that showed up in Google Maps or that was registered in Google Places woke up on Wednesday to find that they now had a Google+ Local page. This Google+ Local page has all the same information as Google Places pages, and business owners should continue managing their listings via the Google Places interface.
For now, these automatically created Local pages do not actually have the full range of capability of a Google + Brand pages. Google says they will eventually upgrade every Google+ Local page to a “full” page, with the biggest difference being that a “full” page can create “posts.”
These can be anything from text, to pictures of videos, and is an unprecedented way for businesses to communicate with their customers via Google. In the past, business owners could respond to reviews left on their Places page, but now, Google has allowed for business owners to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to the content of their business’s presence on Google.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Google+ Local provides biz owners with an unprecedented way to communicate with customers via G+. [Click to tweet]
Creating a local search experience that links mobile & general search experiences
In general, Google has been putting more of an emphasis on localization of search results and this latest update puts Google+ Local pages in a position of prominence by making them the official home of businesses in Google search results.
Over 70% of smartphone users have used their phones for local searches, and Google+ Local pages will be available for mobile phones as well, both in regular search results and via the G+ app. By taking local in the social direction, Google has effectively created a local search experience for its users that integrates components of both Yelp and Foursquare (there is a check-in feature as well), but with more social potential, and more of a connection to the user’s non-mobile online presence.
KEY TAKEAWAY: With Google+ Local, Google ups social potential while linking mobile & general search experiences [Click to tweet]
Why Business Owners & Marketers Need to Pay Attention
For now, since full Google+ Brand page functionality has not yet rolled out to Google+ Local, the most important thing to do is make sure information that’s displayed on the Google+ Local page is correct. It would be the same information that previously existed on the Google Places interface, but Google has made it very easy for non-owner users to change that information.
Given this, your first step should be to assess your published business information—are your address and contact details correct? How about the business category? Is the logo the right size and is it correctly rendering in the new Google+ Local format?
Once full functionality for Google+ Local has been rolled out, business owners and marketers will be able to update their Local pages with images, videos , responses to reviews, or even coupons and special offers. It has never been this easy for business owners to communicate with their customers online, outside of a traditional website, and marketers should take full advantage.
KEY TAKEAWAY: With G+ Local, it’s never been so easy for biz owners to connect with customers online, outside of a traditional website [Click to tweet]
Parting Thought: Reviews matter more than ever
Marketers should pay attention to not only the content of the reviews, but how the reviews are being shared. Because customers will leave reviews with their real Google+ profiles, business owners can contact users directly if they want to thank them for a review, or offer a special deal. This has the potential to drive up customer interaction and satisfaction.
On the other hand, some consumers may feel wary of leaving reviews because reviews are tied to their real online profiles, not to mention that their Circles will be able to see any reviews they write. Reviews are already thought to be a major ranking factor in the old Google Places/Google Maps interface, but by making reviews a shareable, social commodity Google has made reviews more important than ever.
Since reviews are thought to be a major ranking factor in Google Places, it is important for Page owners to assure users that it is safe to leave reviews. Marketers and Business owners should communicate with their Google+ Local visitors (perhaps via Posts on the Google+ Local page itself) to make sure they know their users are being heard loud and clear in a safe, social environment.
While Google+ Local is still a developing product, the move underscores Google’s dedication to moving from a search tool to an information destination. Part of this evolution involves integrating sharable local data across the search and social experiences within Google.