Google+ Page changes: has Local Search just got tougher?

If you run an online business it won’t come as a surprise to learn that Google has made yet more changes to its algorithms: local businesses have lived through the Panda and Penguin updates, so they’re already well used to it. Yet, whilst some in the local search industry might view these updates as little more than functionality changes and display updates, there is nevertheless understandable confusion and concern amongst business owners. Google gave little warning, and next to no explanation, to business owners about the changes when it introduced the changes on November 17th. So business owners quite rightly want to know how the changes might potentially affect their businesses.

So, what has Google changed?

Well, the changes centre largely on Google+ Local pages. Until the changes, pages displayed all the useful data and relevant information Google held about a business. This information was subsequently linked to these pages from local and map search results. In September, however, Google removed the links from Search Results to Google+ Local pages. With the latest set of changes, Google has now too removed most of the business data from them.

Why has Google decided to rebrand Google+ Local pages?

Google+ started life as a social network – a potential competitor to Facebook. However, for one reason or another Google+ never really took off or challenged the market dominance of Facebook. Now Google is systematically breaking up Google+ and retaining only the pieces it sees as valuable and workable – mainly photos, Communities and Collections. However, in spite of the changes Google still claims to be committed to local search and giving searchers information about local businesses.

What do the ‘new-look’ Google+ Local pages look like?

The new-look Google + is a place for ‘interests’. The old style Google+ Local page was rich with content that was relevant to local businesses, and included maps, photo uploads, business descriptions, and reviews. However, the new Google+ page is much simpler and also more mobile friendly. According to Google it ‘focuses on ‘simple navigation and improved search’.

However, the problem is that there is almost no business information on it. The page no longer displays reviews / star rating, business categories, maps / directions, photo uploads, opening hours and open table/ App integration. So what does the new-look Google+ offer then? Well it offers Community and Collections areas where content can be shared by those with similar interests.

What do the changes mean for local businesses?

Well, in truth the changes won’t really have too much of an impact on local businesses. Few search users actually visited or used Google+ Local pages for information: they got the necessary information from within search results pages. Google+ Local pages were mostly used by business owners or SEOs to help them check, audit, and manage their business information. So the changes, whilst annoying, shouldn’t really affect how local businesses attract new customers from Google. Google still presents local business data prominently in both normal search results and in map results. In fact as Google now shows local/map results for more search terms than ever before –because it knows that searchers want local information – it might even be that in the longer term these changes might be beneficial for local businesses.

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