Google Places Discontinued
On May 30th, 2012, Google nudged unwitting businesses into the social media world by beginning the automatic transition from Google Places (Google's online local listing directory), to Google+ Local Pages.
For years, Google Places allowed business owners to create locations within Google Maps with general business information, making it easier for customers to find them on a local scale with only a minimum amount of work for the business owner. When Google+ was first introduced last June, most consumers, businesses, and social networkers saw no correlation between Google Places and Google's new answer to Facebook; many industry insiders were skeptical about Google+'s staying power at all. It now appears Google is so serious about making Google+ stick that it is using its near monopoly on search to force businesses to adopt a Google+ account. Of course, businesses do not have to do anything to aid this change at the moment; the transition will be automatic regardless of whether or not businesses have actually "claimed" their listing on Google Places. If businesses want to stay ahead of their competition in the future, however, this change will probably mean you can no longer set up the account and just let it run.
For the end user, Google+ Local Pages will offer a richer and more in-depth, helpful review for local listings with multiple images, new Zagat 30-point business ratings, reviews by people in your Google+ Circles, and more. With the integration of Google+ Local Pages as a local search engine itself, 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.
The image below displays what the Google search engine results pages (SERPs) new look like, while the second image is an example of a Google+ Local Page:
While these listings appeal to the user, they spell 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 take on a modicum of SEO and be actively aware of reviews, "plus ones", and the overall appearance of their page. Google+ Local Pages will give businesses a method to communicate with users in much the same way business can use Twitter and Facebook, and will therefore need to be maintained in order to keep pace with the competition.
For now, Google tells us to keep managing our listings in our Google Places account and keep an eye out for more announcements in the coming months. For advertising-savvy business owners, however, now is the time to contact your SEO agency to enquire about social media marketing if you are not already doing so. For those already engaged in social media marketing, your agency should be able to tell you how much time it will take to manage your Google+ Local Page in order to make this transition work for you.
Submitted by Ryan Belcher, Titan Growth, Inc.