Earlier today Google announced that the long awaited merger of Google+ and Google Places had begun. Over the next few days all Places page will be transitioned to the new Local Google+ Pages, making this the largest change to Google’s Local Listings since they merged the local and organic ranking algorithms in October, 2010.
An Overview of What Has Changed
Previously, a business’s information was housed on a Google Place page and appeared in the search results on Google.com and Google Maps. As of this morning, business information is being moved from Places into a new Local section of Google+. While the look of the local business page is different from Places, the information contained on the new Local Google+ page is exactly the same as the information on the Google Place page, with the addition of Zagat reviews for businesses that had existing Zagat reviews.
Here is a screenshot of what the Google Places & Google+ Business pages look like…
And what the Local Google+ page looks like for that same business.
Essentially this change is a reskinning of the Google Place page and having the information moved from Google Places to the local section of Google+.
For the time being, businesses that had a Google Place page (now a Local Google+ page) and a Google+ Business page will need to continue to manage their information through the same, separate interfaces. Both pages will have the same functionality as before, but there is currently no crossover in functionality.
Managing Your Business Information in Google
Currently, the management of Local Google+ and Google+ Business listings has not changed from how these listings were handled when Local Google+ was Google Places.
Under Local Google+, business owners still update:
– Primary Business information
– Business Description
– The placement of the map marker
– Photos, videos, additional details, and all other data points you’re used to.
Under Google+ Business, business owners still update:
– Primary Business Information
– Business descriptions
– Add photos
– Update Statuses
It’s important to reiterate here that while both Local Google+ and Google+ Business allow you to update Primary Business Information, Business Descriptions, as well as add photos, the changes made to one do NOT currently transfer to the other. So if your business’s phone number changes, you will need to go into both accounts to update this information.
Algorithm Update Not Included
At this point it doesn’t appear that a major algorithm update was included with this release, changes in how businesses are ranked in local are minimal and don’t differ from a normal monthly update. Here is a screenshot for the search term “Bal Harbor, FL Restaurant” from yesterday and one taken for the same search term this morning. While there are a couple minor shifts, they don’t indicate a major update to the ranking algorithm and are more like due to a data refresh and individual business listing optimization.
While this morning’s launch doesn’t appear to have had an algorithm component to it, some of the changes to how Google displays business listings in Local Google+ might pave the way to them including new signals in the future.
One important difference to take note of between the sunsetting Places pages and the new Local Google+ pages: The Local Google+ pages are indexable by Google. This means that business owners who take the time to build out this page and throw some links to it have another business page that could rank for them organically. Again, this is not part of an algorithm update but does create a new set of pages Google may potentially index.
What’s Next for Local Google+ Pages
In the short term, we anticipate few changes in the management of local listings on Google’s platform. The change of venue, from Places to Plus, will take a little getting used to for the average business owner and Google will want to test how searchers interact with the new pages. Rolling out additional functionality too soon could cause confusion for business owners managing their own listings, leading to lower adoption of more robust functionality that is sure to roll out.
In the long term though, we anticipate a few important changes as Google further incorporates the local and social aspects of Google+. A few changes we are anticipating are:
1) Full Integration of Google+ Business pages and Local Google+ – Given Google’s focus on presenting accurate information efficiently, having two separate business pages makes little sense. Expecting business owners to make the same update to two different pages can lead to slightly different entries or having one page updated and another left unaltered. Google’s data would quickly become unreliable, which leads to a bad user experience.
The more elegant approach therefore is to have one spot where all business information can be updated. In the current state, this isn’t possible because Google is using different backend systems to manage the data. So in order to be able to maintain local and social listings for businesses on Google+, Google will need to…
2) Update the Backend Management Infrastructure – Google currently has an issue when it comes to fully integrating the Business Pages with the Local pages – adoption versus infrastructure.
On the one hand, Google+ Business Pages have the infrastructure needed to manage both the social and local information, but adoption rates of Business Pages for local businesses is low.
On the other hand, Local Google+ pages have a higher adoption (ie – “claim”) rate by local businesses, who are familiar and comfortable with the Google Places listing management interface. But the infrastructure is limited to managing business information and doesn’t quickly lend itself to managing social interactions.
So the next step would be for Google to incorporate the social management functionality that businesses with Google+ Business pages have enjoyed into the accounts Google Places business owners are comfortable with. It will probably begin small, with the ability to link accounts, but ultimately end with users having one account from which to update business details, add photos, respond to reviews, and add/respond to social posts.
But to maximize on the new Infrastructure, Google will also need to:
3) Allow Multiple User Management – Google+ Business listings already offer the ability for multiple users to update information, whether by adding new photos or status updates. Local Google+ is more limited in how many users can make updates and what updates those users can make. In order to take full advantage of the convergence of local and social on Google+, Google will need to allow multiple users access to curate, modify, and update all information for a business listing.
So while the Google+ Business infrastructure is slowly migrated into a user’s Local Google+ (Places) account, Google will need to add ways for multiple users to either access the same information or access a single master account. Adding this functionality is helpful for a lot of business groups, such as:
– Corporate brands working with local franchises
– SMBs working with marketing agencies
– Businesses of all sizes that have different employees contributing to their social messaging.
So What Does It All Mean?
While we anticipated that Google Places would be included in Google+, the current change is negligible in terms of the impact on rankings and the management of listings. Aside from a new look, life in Google’s local realm remains status quo.
Of course this change hints at more exciting changes to come – the merging of Local Google+ and social management, increasingly relevant search results, and more flexibility in listing management. All of these additional changes will be beneficial to the savvy local business owner.