Google recently announced the creation of Google Local to replace Google Places. It’s clear that continued changes are in store for businesses in the Google pasture, but what does this latest change mean for users of Google Places? There are several significant differences to the new system, but the overall take is simple: It means that businesses must get on Google+, because Google is going to send them there, anyway.
Google+ Local is the latest changed offering from Google
Social Search For Everyone
Right now, Google+ Local pages are mere replacements for the Google Places page, and so they lack the social aspects of a full-blown Google+ page (following, circles, etc.). However, Google has said that that kind of integration will happen, and so what used to be a search result is now a social page with a following and a reputation and interaction.
That’s big, for businesses.
This isn’t a search buried in the Facebook walled garden — this is the result that shows up in a Google search, accessible by all users with or without Google+ accounts, just like with Google Places. Facebook has millions of users, that’s true, but how many more Google searches happen every day?
Google+ is no longer a search result, but is turning into a place to make the initial search.
Local Search Made Social
For customers without Google+ profiles, access to the Google+ Local content (including now-free Zagat review content) is still available. They cannot, however, participate in reviews or other social activity.
The Google+ Profile is becoming the home for local search.
Customers with Google+ profiles can fully use all features with the new Google+ Local icon in the sidebar of their profile. That icon shows them businesses nearby, and provides the ability to edit their reviews by clicking through to the business and selecting the blue “Edit Your Review” button. Google+ profiles users can also get filtered searches based on the reviews, check-ins, and activity of people in their circles.
Google+ becomes, in effect, the better search destination for finding local businesses, much better than Google.com or Google Maps.
What Businesses Can Expect
These changes raise important questions in the minds of business owners, both in how it will affect their business and how they are to manage the new system.
The All-Important Reviews
Customers can no longer leave anonymous reviews. This is good in that people tend to be more controlled when their name is attached and it can be seen by friends, but it also might cause some customers to prefer not to leave any reviews — good or bad — of a business. Additionally, all of the old reviews a business had are now attributed to “A Google User.” Businesses are either going to have to get those reviewers to re-claim them (provided they’re on Google+), or have a large collection of unattributed reviews. Names, even nicknames, always carry more weight than anonymity.
Gone are the anonymous reviews. From here on out, there must be names.
Google purchased Zagat in September 2011. Reviews are now based on the Zagat score of 30, which might seem problematic for businesses that Zagat traditionally didn’t review. Google is adapting this system across the board for all businesses. It might seem like a negative, but the benefit for businesses is that it allows customers to rate on different aspects, which are then tallied all together. A restaurant with great food but outdated decor, for example, might have received a poor score overall in the past. Now reviewers can say “the decor wasn’t so good, but the food and service was great!”
For restaurants, Google+ Local is integrating the OpenTable reservation system. You can find out more about that here.
What To Do Right Now
There are a few key things for businesses to keep in mind:
- Get a Google+ Page now, if you don’t have one. We tell you how to do that here.
- Make sure you choose the “Local” category for your Google+ page so that the future merge goes smoothly.
- You can still manage your Google Place as you always have, but expect it to change in the future. You can easily access your old Google Places dashboard by clicking “Manage This Page” on your new Google+ Local listing.
- If you have a Google+ Page, it is still separate from the Google+ Local (formerly Places) page that now exists. Google has said it is their plan to integrate this, so do keep your Google+ Page alive and well. The integration is rolling out slowly.
- Visit this website, fill in your email, and Google will let you know when integration is ready.
- Google Places weren’t indexed. Google+ Local is, but as of now, it shows up as both a stand-alone page as well as a pinned search result. Google+ Local pages show competitors at the bottom, making it still a Google-controlled search result in some regards.
As always, with Google, things will be changing quickly.
What Customers Can Expect
Customers and individual users can still benefit from the Google+ Local features whether they have a Google+ profile page or not. Just as Google Places provided information to any user, so does Google+ Local.
Current Google+ users will see that Google Local is integrated into their Google+ Profile with a new icon on the left sidebar. Android users will also see some changes in the latest Google Maps and Google+ app updates. The Google+ app sends users to Google+ Local services on the map. Google has submitted changes to Apple, so it shouldn’t be long before this is available on iOS devices.
Changes Users Will See Right Now
There are key changes that users will experience with Google+ Local.
- To leave a review, users will need to have a Google+ account. (Read more here.)
- Anonymous reviews will no longer be allowed, nor can nicknames be chosen as was previously allowed in Google Places.
- Google will try to get you to republish your old reviews when you go to leave a new review. You have the option of selecting which, if any, of those old reviews you will put your name to or leave as “A Google User.”
- When searching for a business, you’ll use two search boxes: the kind of business, and the place.
- Free and full access to full Zagat reviews. Which is a great thing.
- You can filter your results based on previous reviews (“Just For You”) or the reviews of those in your circles (“Your Circles”). More filter options are rolling out, but all are based on preferences. The more reviews you write, for example, the better Google knows what to suggest for the “Just For You” filter.
Google+ Is A Must
Whatever else businesses take from this latest integration of Google+ into Google’s overall product offering, it’s this: you MUST be on Google+. Everything continues to point to the fact that Google is wrapping its social media product around its search. The larger social media base may be on Facebook, but Google search is the industry leader. As a business, you can’t ignore either.