If you’re a local business owner with a Google presence, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the many changes that have affected the world’s favorite search engine over the last few months, such as the fact that Google Places has given way to the far more dynamic Google+ Local. But even for business owners who keep up with industry news, Google’s new local search features could be confusing, so let’s break them down right here.
Goodbye Google Places, Hello Google+ Local
Google Places pages were entirely replaced by Google+ Local pages on May 30, 2012. Roughly 80 million Google Places listings worldwide were automatically converted into Google+ Local pages. In Google’s own words, Google+ Local “is a simple way to discover and share local information featuring Zagat scores and recommendations from people you trust in Google+.”
Users can browse or search for businesses listed on Google+ Local by clicking on the “Local” tab on the left-hand side of Google+. Users can filter their Google+ Local search results based on the following criteria: People Like You, Just for You, Your Circles, and Top Reviewers.
When a user clicks on a business’s name, she is taken to its Google+ Local page, which features the business’s address, hours, reviews, photos, etc. Users score businesses on Google+ Local based on Zagat’s 30-point scale. So, rather than being asked to provide a star rating when reviewing a business, users are asked to fill out a form rating various aspects of a business.
Google+ Local is integrated with Google’s other services, so when users look for local businesses on Google Search or Google Maps, they have access to the same information. Reviews from people in a user’s Google+ circles are highlighted in search results on Google+ Local, Google Search, and Google Maps.
A Unified Google Presence
Many business owners have Google+ Business pages in addition to Google+ Local pages. Rather than requiring you to monitor and update two separate Google+ pages, Google has made it possible for business owners to create a unified presence. Since earlier this month, you can become the verified business owner of a Google+ Business page, which essentially combines your Google+ Business page with your Google+ Local page.
Verification only works for Google+ pages created in the “Local Business or Place” category. If you created a Google+ page for your business in any other category, you won’t be able to merge it with Google+ Local… yet. If you only have a Google+ Local page, you’ll need to create a Google+ page in the “Local Business or Place” category to take advantage of the upgraded features. Visit http://www.google.com/+/business/ to get started.
How the New Google+ Could Benefit Your Business
Google+ is far more social and interactive than Google Places. Not only are Google+ pages more appealing on a visual level, they also enable you to develop a following and have social interactions with your customers and prospects like you would on Facebook or Twitter. Google+ Local also makes it easier for customers to write reviews and recommend you to their peers.
Still trying to get a grasp of Google’s changes? Well, you’re not the only one. Google didn’t exactly make the transition from Google Places to Google+ an uncomplicated one – they’re still working out the kinks. But if you choose to ignore Google+, do so at your own peril. Business owners who learn how to use Google+ to its full potential will ultimately reap the rewards.