In case it may have escaped your attention, Google Places is no more: it has now been consigned to history and replaced Google+ Local pages for business.
When Google+ was introduced just over a year ago most people didn’t give it a hope of competing against the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Obviously in terms of scale Google+ has a way to go to compete with the biggest players in the sector, but it’s more than holding its own now. On the strength of that the search giant has thrown all its eggs into one social media basket and decided to merge Google+ and Google Places pages.
Google has been allowing business owners to create locations with basic general business information on Google maps for years now.
It was a simple process that didn’t involve a great deal of work, yet the listings paid dividends as they made it much easier for customers to find local businesses. However times move on and things change. Google is now deadly serious about Google+. What’s more it also has a virtual monopoly on search, so it made sense to combine the two. The advantages for Google are obvious, but what about the end user? What difference will the change make for businesses, and what sort of impact will the changes have on local search?
Users will be able to discover the new Google+ Local pages in several different ways: through a regular search on Google or Google Maps, in mobile apps or through a search on Google+. Effectively what this means is that Google+ now becomes just another local search destination within Google. However, what users will find is that the new system will give business owners the freedom and flexibility to use richer and more vibrant content in a far more functional way than they could ever have done through the regular Google search results pages. In fact many industry experts have claimed that the functionality will be very similar to that offered by Foursquare. The integration of Google+ Local Pages as an actual local search engine means that users can filter their search criteria in various ways such as ‘Top Reviews’, ‘People Like You’, ‘Just for You’ and ‘Your Circles’. This allows users to find much more targeted results when searching out local businesses and use this information to interact with these businesses as well.
Google’s original intention had been to make Places into rich and vibrant interactive content pages that businesses would regularly use to communicate with customers.
However, the Places pages were too limited and therefore things didn’t pan out quite as the search giant intended. Google+ Local pages will be much more versatile and social, and should give Google’s local listings the same sort of functionality equivalent as either Facebook or Twitter. Yet it’s also important to understand that this will mean more work and social engagement for the business owner. Since Google will be indexing these results, businesses who want to perform well in the local listings will need to optimize their websites and content accordingly and be actively aware of reviews, ‘plus ones’ and the overall appearance of their page.
As a result, Google+ becomes another local search destination within Google, arguably with richer content and more functionality than Google.com offers at the SERP level.
Not unlike some similar functionality offered in Foursquare, users will be able to sort and filter search results by several criteria, including “your circles,” which will reveal places “touched” by friends. Currently this means reviews and posts, but could extend to check-ins later.
Google had originally hoped to make Places into interactive content pages that merchants would use regularly to communicate with customers and prospects. However that didn’t happen in part because of the limitations of Places pages themselves. Google+ Local pages are much more versatile and “social.” Indeed, it gives Google a local vehicle with functionality equivalent to Facebook and Twitter.