The current state of local search is so confusing that even the most search savvy of small business owners can easily get lost in the maze of advice.
Between mixed opinions on already-verified Google Places listings, conflicting direction regarding already-built Google+ for Business pages, and the messiest platform upgrade I’ve ever witnessed in my life, even the Local “experts” can barely keep up with the ridiculousness.
Here is the (very compressed) back story in case you’re just now hopping on board:
Google Places to Google+ Local
Google Places has been around for a while. Most small business owners were aware of the need to claim and update their Google Places listing for the sake of sucking up a bit of that sweet, sweet local traffic. So, they did.
Then came Google+, and along with that, the creation of Google+ for Business pages. “You should have a Google+ Business page, ALONG WITH your Google Places listing!” everyone agreed (mostly… who wouldn’t want to share things on Google+ as their business? Let’s get social, peeps!) As a local business, you probably selected the “Local Business or Place” category when creating your page.
Then came Google+ Local, the sick, twisted, bastard child (initally.. at least) of Google Places and Google+ for Business.
In short, if you didn’t already have your listing claimed via Google Places (when I refer to Google Places, I mean the traditional Places dashboard outside of Google+ and before the new dashboard – don’t make me explain it again!) then you could verify a Google+ for Business page (again, under the Local Business or Place category) and it would be a magical listing that almost looks the same as those already claimed in Google Places, but managed via Google+, with fun features like the ability to share pictures, updates, and links, just like a page on a social network should – (think Facebook Fan Page.) PHEW. Got it?
The +Party Starts to Suck
Unfortunately, if you already had a listing claimed in Google Places, this was not the safest route – because verifying (note I didn’t say creating) a Google+ for Business page as a “Local Business or Place” could essentially create a duplicate local listing, which is, like, one of the WORST THINGS EVARRR in the Local field. (Other than citation clean up. Don’t even get me started on that.)
Even worse, is that most Google-savvy businesses already had their listings claimed on Google Places and had made Google+ for Business pages because they were following everything Google suggested, and ended up essentially getting stuck.
If you’re still confused, welcome to the club! You’re experiencing the same set of emotions as every “local SEO expert” has over the past year by now.
So at that point, we were told that you could MERGE your Google Places listing with your Google+ Page – see Mike Blumenthal’s post about it from Aug 3 2012.
Many people merged. Many listings were screwed. Some lost their rankings, some lost their listings completely, some lost their duplicate-free-status, and I lost my sanity.
So ultimately you had “official” Google/the Google products themselves on one side peer pressuring you to verify and merge, saying LOOK YOU CAN MERGE! LOOK VERIFY YOUR PAGE! DO IT! IT’LL BE FUN! I PROMISE!
Then you had Google reps in the forums telling you a whole ‘nother story. Or in other words – if you already have your Places listing – SHUT UP AND SIT DOWN while everyone else who is just now learning about local search and trying to claim their pages gets to have cool features. You’re especially screwed if you’re a SAB (service area business)… nobody cares about you.
This was on August 16th of 2012! THAT’S OVER A YEAR AGO! 2012, you guys! Do you know how fast the interwebz moves, yo? There have probably been at least a million more cat compilation videos made. And Google STILL doesn’t have their sh__ together. C’mon, big G. Is the NSA slowing you down or what?!
OK OK OK let’s not get into that just yet. Back to my rant, are you scared yet? Take a deep breath, tweet out your frustrations…
Share The Pain (Choose Wisely)
The +Party is Definitely Sucking Now
Over one year later, Google finally begins to auto-merge basic Google Places listings with Google+, providing a
shitty shiny new dashboard and social features for your listing. See the announcement here. As well as Mike Blumenthal’s coverage here, (Dude do you sleep??) (PS: they were actually scheduled to be done with everyone’s upgrades by the end of December, according to a rep I talked to a few months back.. obviously not true at this point!)
When I heard the news, I almost peed myself. Really Google? You’re going to auto-merge everything now?
So after all this time of sitting on our hands with “non-social” Google Places managed listings AND “limbo-style” social Google+ Business listings that we’ve been sharing things on while waiting, is this finally our Holy Grail? Is it over? Will everything be ok now?
I sat and I waited. I hoped and checked. Out of all of the local listings we managed, ALL of them had been claimed in pre-historic “Places-only” times, because we’re on that shit, yo.. so that’s all I could do. Waitwaitwait. I kept hearing about this magical “G+ upgrade widget” that *might* appear in one of my dashboards. I couldn’t even find any screenshots of this stupid widget.
It never happened. I kept waiting. I kept logging in and looking. It was like the elf that lived in my freezer that I was told about as a child – always hiding. I kept praying to the Google gods for an answer. In some dashboards, there was a notification that the Places dashboard was going to be upgraded. Was this the widget? (This is not technically a widget. Why is everyone calling it a widget?!)
Then one day, I logged into an account and there was a magical new dashboard and a magical message – one of our clients was finally being upgraded! Yay! It was the light at the end of the tunnel, I thought! (PS.. there was still no widget!)
But no, no it wasn’t. It wasn’t the solution. See, this was the average listing.. a non-SAB listing that had already been claimed in the traditional Google Places dashboard, along with an already-existing Google+ for Business page in the “Local Business or Place” category that we had created in order to get our social juices flowing, but not verified (because we didn’t want to cause duplicate issues. Because that’s ANOTHER thing that Google SUCKS at handling. Yeah Google, I said it.. you suck at combining listings! Get your data in check!)
They had the same information as everyone was instructed to include, and they were both managed via the same email – one through Places, and one through Plus. So you’d think the listing and the page would have been merged, right? Like we were told? Nope, not at all. What actually happened when the upgrade occurred?
DUPLICATES! One verified, one unverified. I now had two listings in this new Google Places for Business dashboard that both lead to social Google+ Local pages with the ability to post (shared posts) and leave reviews on both. Only one had aggregated reviews so far (the PLACES-originated listing) and only one was socially active (the PLUS-originated listing).
I spent an hour on the phone with Google one morning trying to figure out if we could merge the two. Side note – do you have any idea how hard it is to act somewhat normal and polite when on the phone with Google, especially when you know more than the Google employee seems to know about this stupid upgrade? The guy I talked to literally kept getting “posts” and “reviews” mixed up. To be clear – a POST is something that I shared on my client’s Google+ for Business page (just so I have it drilled into your head – think FB FAN PAGE but ON GOOGLE. No biz reviews – just a social page for the business.) REVIEWS are things that people other than the business have posted on a Local page as an evaluation of the business. K? K. The guy couldn’t even get that. *facepalm*
At the end of the conversation and after un-verifying the Places-originated listing, moving the verification to the Plus-originated listing, and attempting to (unsuccessfully so far) move the reviews as well, he tries to tell me that Google will see them as the same now, that it’s ok. Really? I should just trust you? Can you explain why they both have two different URLs now that are still totally accessible still with the same NAP and still both showing in my new dashboard, but not the same or even the properly merged content? And you’re telling me that we can’t get rid of one, but that Google will see them as the same thing now? WHUT? That part of the story isn’t over yet.. I still have to email him back 😐 (NOTE: this was written in November and has since been taken care of.. whew!)
IN CONCLUSION, this was just a big rant on behalf of everyone who deals with local, and I think we need to accept that we’re all screwed for now when it comes to Local/at the mercy of Google’s mistakes until they get their act together (LULZ! IN YOUR DREAMS!), but your best bet is still to consult a “local expert” who has already been through the G-ringer so you don’t have to. Whether your listing is in Places or Plus, has reviews or not, is social or not, or is an alien combo of all of those, it’s important to consult someone who knows what they’re doing to help straighten out your data so you don’t make it worse for yourself. Also, I’m not afraid to yell at Google for you. Or write an angry blog post.. whatever.
I don’t know how to end this except to say.. don’t worry, it’ll be ok.. and if you have any questions or need help with Local, don’t be afraid to ask in the comments or tweet me @TopHatHannah!