Do you run a local business and want to be found online? Have you claimed your Google Places page and worked hard to climb in the rankings? Maybe you’ve gotten reviews, added pictures, or posted monthly specials. Maybe you’ve seen your 3rd party reviews come and go.
The game has changed. Google Places is gone.
Don’t panic yet! That doesn’t mean you’ve lost your listing or all your hard work was for nothing. Whether you’ve claimed your listing or not, your Google Places page has been converted to the NEW Google Local.
The new Google Local is essentially Google Plus Local. Your local listing now looks very much like a Google+ page, and if you’re not in Google+ yet, you’ll see a message across the top inviting you to join. (Read below some things to think about before you sign up!)
What does this mean for local businesses? It means that Local just became Social. Instead of one field in Google Places where you could put an announcement (often updated only once/month if even that), your local listing has become a full social page, much like a Facebook Business Page. It’s much more visually stimulating, so if you’ve got some good photos, get them up there! You can still manage your page from the normal Google Places interface for now, but you can also start taking advantage of Google+’s full range of features for business.
Reviews have been a key part of Google Places listings in recent years, and you may have seen great success followed by significant losses as Google has continued to adjust how they handle reviews. Awhile back, reviews played a huge role in how high you ranked in the local business listings. Even third party reviews. Many dentists in my area would sign up for Demandforce, get lots and lots of reviews, and shoot to the top of the rankings. When Google stopped including 3rd party reviews in their algorithm, many of these saw their rankings plummet. For awhile, the answer was to make sure you got your reviews on Google, rather than a 3rd party. Later, Google came out and said it was decreasing the role of reviews on ranking altogether (not eliminating, but it was no longer the end-all-be-all answer). Now we see Zagat reviews. And, I’ve seen Demandforce reviews return to the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). The third-party reviews may not help your ranking, but they’re great for bringing in new customers, patients or clients.
So, isn’t Zagat just for restaurants? Well, that’s what I thought, too. Zagat was acquired by Google last Fall, and now they’re putting it to use with Google+ Local integration. According to Google’s explanation of their new reviews, some categories will have additional ‘aspects’ rated, while others will just use one overall rating. For example, restaurants are rated for Food, Decor and Service, consistent with existing Zagat ratings. Categories with ‘aspect’ tags so far seem to include:
- Food Stores
- Golf Courses
- Stores & Shopping
Before you sign up for Google+
So, now it’s time to get started with your dynamic new Google+ Local Page. But, hold on a minute. Do you use gmail already? Do you have more than one Google login? Does a marketing company or your support staff help manage your social media accounts? Have you already claimed your Google Places listing? Do you use YouTube? Zagat?
These are all questions to consider before you decide which Google account you should use.
With more and more services falling under the Google umbrella, the idea is to integrate them all into one login. However, if you have your staff or an outside company helping to manage your business activity online, you may not want them logged into your personal (or even business) email, or even visiting your YouTube page. It’s a good idea to think about which Google account you should use for your business on Google+.
If you’re an entrepreneur jumping in hands first to social media, the ideal situation is to participate in Google+ yourself, be logged in all the time, and engage with your circles. If you don’t need anybody else to help you out, or you don’t mind them occasionally logging in to your account, use your primary Google account.
However, if you have a team, a support person, or a 3rd party company participating in your online marketing, you might want to create a Google account just for your business. This is often how I set things up for my clients. I’ll connect the account to their general business email, then consolidate all their business services under that login – Google Places, Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, YouTube Channel (for the biz), Google+, etc. That way, the business owner, the staff, or any outside support people can access the services used by the business, without getting into potentially private emails. In addition, you maintain all your history over time, especially important in Google Analytics.
Watch what your marketing company is doing! Many marketing and SEO companies like to use their own Google accounts to claim your Google Places listing or add Analytics to your website. This is a bad idea because YOU don’t have access to it! A much better solution is to create your own account, then share access to your account with your support team. If you change support people in the future, you can remove them as users (if you’ve set it up that way), or change your password.
Google+ Local is brand new and will surely continue to develop. The new format brings up many new questions.
- Will it resolve past Google Places issues?
- Will the link to my old Places page be redirected?
- Will I be able to merge multiple Google Places listings more easily?
- Will I be able to merge existing Google+ Business Pages with Google+ Local Pages?
- What will happen to unclaimed Google Places listings?
- Do my customers have to join Google+ to write a review?
- How will this affect my search results and site traffic?
These questions and more will be answered as we all experiment with the new system, and as Google works out any bugs and further develops the features.
Do you like the new system? Have you run into any issues? Please share your thoughts or experiences below.