The world of local search saw a major change last month when Google announced it was replacing all Google Places pages with Google+ Local, a new listing tool for businesses that is heavily integrated with the Google+ social network. In its blog announcement, Google says it designed Google+ Local to deliver “a simple way to discover and share local information.”
The change went live on May 30 and most businesses are now in the Google+ Local format. So what’s different? Besides a look and format that is reminiscent of Facebook business pages (pre-Timeline), Local pages incorporate the Zagat 30-point rating system, replacing the old star system. Google acquired Zagat last year and will utilize its database of restaurant reviews; non-restaurant businesses will also use a 30-point scale. Anyone wishing to write a review or add photos must be logged into a Google+ account, making use of the Google+ social network a key part of the Google+ Local experience. Underscoring this is the new Local tab that now appears in Google+ user accounts. The tab allows you to explore recommended and nearby businesses, based the recommendations of those in your Google+ circles and other social cues.
But what’s perhaps the biggest change here for SEO? Unlike Google Places, new Local pages will be indexed. If you are searching for a pizza parlor in your town, this means that in addition to a map listing at the top of a results page, your Google+ local page will also be found in regular search results. For brick and mortar businesses currently without a website, careful tending and optimizing of a Google+ local page could yield impressive results. If your business does have a website, local search SEO just became even more important as Google, in essence, put you in competition with not only the websites of your rivals, but with their Google+ local pages too.
Google isn’t done quite yet with the final Google+ Local product (we are actually seeing a lot of issues and discrepancies with listings that were moved), but smart businesses will get out ahead right now to take control of this new local search playing field. Key ways to optimize include:
1. Take control of your local page(s). If you haven’t already, find your business’s Local page and click the “Manage This Page” button found on the lower right of the listing. You will be brought to a page asking you if would like to edit, suspend or change the listing. If you notice any errors or omissions in your listing, now is the time to fix it. Under the listing edit function, don’t overlook the description box. Business owners can add an up to 200 character description of their business, so take the time to work some of your most important key words. Before any changes show up, business owners will need to undergo Google’s verification process.
2. Keep your Google+ business page active. Yes, maintaining a business page and a local listing may seem like a duplicate effort. Google knows this and has plans in the near future to integrate these two entities. Among their beta testers for this upcoming design is New York City’s Meat Ball Shop. Let’s take a look:
Note how the “posts” tab, currently found on Google+ biz pages becomes part of the Local page. Businesses who regularly post descriptively-worded updates now will be a better position to reap search benefits once these posts show up. In other words, start getting in the habit of posting on your Google+ business page!
3. Socialize. The Local tab is Google’s new way of providing custom place recommendations, with the choice of nearby businesses users are shown influenced by the preferences of those in their Google+ circles, top reviewers, and their own recommendations. The more people who +1 your business or include you in their circles, the more visible your page becomes.
How much attention has your business paid to Google+ strategy? Note that the beta Meatball Shop listing above has a Follow button. This is another feature that will start showing up once the merger of local and business pages is complete. Currently, only Google+ business pages include this feature, so for now, focus on building your following there — these will roll over to the Local page. If you don’t have too many people in your circles, make it easier for users to find you by linking to Google+ from your site as you do now with Facebook and Twitter. As you know, there is social etiquette to doing this, but begin by adding relevant Google+ users to your circles and give them a reason to add you to their own circles.
Google is declining to an exact date give for the merger of Local and Google+ for Business, so stay tuned!
“Helping people discover and share local businesses with Google+”: http://googleandyourbusiness.blogspot.com/2012/05/helping-people-discover-and-share-local.html
“Help Desk Hangouts: Google+ Local”: http://googleandyourbusiness.blogspot.com/2012/06/help-desk-hangouts-google-local.html