The day everybody has been expecting is finally upon us – as of last Wednesday, Google+ Local has been rolled out by merging Google+ and Google Places. According to the official Google blog, the aim of the merge is to “improve the way people discover new businesses, rediscover places they love, and share them with their friends across the web.” Put simply, this means more interactivity with customers, more trusted reviews made through Google+ profiles, and the beginning of more major changes in the social search landscape.
Here’s what you need to know:
If you already had a Google Places listing, you already have a “Google+ Local page.” No, you don’t need to make one. To demonstrate this, just search for your business on Google Maps, select your listing, and click more info. Boom, there’s your Google+ Local page! You can easily see how Google Places results have been replaced by a combination of Google Places listings that now lead to Google+ Local pages.
This integration with Google+ will allow for more functionality than the static results that were used in Google Places. With your Google+ local page, you will be able to interact with customers, similar to the way in which you can interact with fans on a Facebook business page. You can host “hangouts,” be added to circles, add others to your circles, and even post updates, pictures, and videos. This allows tons of opportunity to interact with your customers and turn businesses into communities.
Reviews will now be linked to Google+ profiles, which is both good and bad for a few reasons. Let’s start with the good:
- Reviews will be more trusted, as they will be linked to real people (unless they were written before the change, in which case Google says the reviews will be attributed to “A Google user.” Users can claim these reviews with their Google+ profile.) This will likely give each review more impact since users tend to trust people they know more than others.
- Users will be able to search for and filter businesses based on their circles, which is an extension of the “trust” factor that comes with the link between profiles and reviews.
Now for the bad:
- In order to leave reviews, customers will have to jump through more hoops. They will have to make a Google+ profile if they don’t already have one, log in, and find your business. This could polarize reviews, causing an onslaught of only very negative or very positive reviews, as most users will only go through this many steps if they feel very strongly about what they have to say. In the long run when most users have already signed up and are used to needing a Google+ profile to access Google’s services, this won’t be as much of an issue. For now, though, it may have an effect.
- Businesses may need to request reviews and follows from their clients and educate them on how to do so. It may be difficult to convince customers to add you to their circles – how many active users of Google+ are actually going to add their chiropractor or electrician to their circles without a push?! It’s certainly another hoop to jump through.
The Google+ Local page layout is much more visual than before. Customers can judge a business more quickly, as there is a very strong focus on pictures, and the 5-star rating has been replaced by the more thorough Zagat ratings which appear above the fold, below the main pictures and business contact info.
To see the end result of these changes, here is a listing that Google worked with and shared to demonstrate a fully upgraded local Google+ page: The Meatball Shop.
As a business owner or social firm with access to Google Places listings, it’s time to promote your Google+ Local page. Check that all of your contact information is updated, add some awesome pictures, take care of duplicate listings, and get your company and your customers on board. The big picture here is that search is becoming more social and we all need to hop on the Google+ train to adapt. Complete integration with Google+ across all Google products – including Search, Maps, and Mobile – is on the way, and although the other services haven’t become obsolete yet, they will eventually. Google is just moving slowly to give everyone time to adapt. Our advice is to start now so you won’t get left behind!