Saturday, June 2, 2012

Google+ Plus Local Pages aka Google Places aka Google Maps Local Business Center aka Google Maps

Game Changer:  Google Plus Local Pages Is the New Home of Google Places Business Listings

Biggest Effect is on Reviews - No More Red Stars All Lit Up

What is Google thinking?  They are barely getting traction on the brand, Google Places.  Now they will change it to Google Plus Local or Google Plus Pages or Local Google Plus Pages.  For all of the size, scope and profitability of Google, you'd think they could afford the very best brand managers.  But somehow in the course of creating and establishing the tool/product which could eventually be a massive income producer, Google seems changes the name every two years.  And even then, there is tons of confusion over the actual brand name.

Can you imagine GM changing its brands every two years?  How about Apple?  Is it a MacBook Pro or Pro MacBook?  Never!  To make matters worse, the search aspect of this tool also gets changed weekly, making it a constantly ticking time bomb for local businesses who certainly might appreciate that the service is free, while at the same time curse the roller coaster ride.

The announcement earlier this week that Google Places will be no more, but will be moved and integrated into Google+ was deemed an important news story.  But in the world of internet marketing, it was just another whipsaw in the game of staying up with the critical category of local SEM or Search Engine Marketing for SMB or Small Businesses.

This particular change was quite shock, but most businesses woke up the next morning to find that their Google Places Listing hadn't changed a lot in position or ranking on the default Google Everything Search compared to the day before.  In fact, as of today, the search options on the Google Search Page still offers "Places."  And with quiet calm the leadership at Google suggested that local businesses needn't panic.  Do they understand that a 10% drop in business during this economy can wipe out profits and even the owners take home pay?

Clearly just one element of the change could cost many business owners that very 10%.  Smart local businesses have been working hard at generating reviews on Google Places.  These reviews used to offer a fantastic rewards when the SMB reached five reviews.  Their stars would light up bright red on their listing.  These stars were clearly a big conversion factor.  Many consumers would simply look at the companies that had the stars, see how many were lit on a scale of five, then make a phone call.

But in a major turn, those reviews are now on a scale of 30 similar to Zagat, a restaurant directory and review site bought out by Google in 2011.  The scores no read  16/30 or 25/30 which while still helpful, can't compare to those red stars.

Google now has four ways for consumers to find local businesses.  The default way is a Google Search on the Everything Search which is a blended search.  This may include websites, other directories, videos, social media updates, news, products pictures and pricing, and any other media type that Google includes in search.  As of now, there is still a Places Search.

There is also a Map search which when the keywords being used are relevant to a small local business, will return somewhat of the same result as the Everything or the Places search results.  Now added to these methods is a "local" link on the Google + page.  If a Google+ user clicks on this, they are immediately provided with a seemingly random group of businesses in the geographic area of the user.  Only time will clear up how those listings get to that spot.
 Personal Local Search Option on Google Plus

This local search area within Google +  has the common type and location fields where the user can indicate Italian Restaurant in Chicago, and they will be provided a list of businesses meeting that description.  Ranking in this personal search engine within Google + may be using the same algorithm as the old Google Places, Maps, or who knows?

To make all of this substantially more interesting, any and all of these searches will be effected by your own previous searches, and if you are using Google +, it will also have social signals from those who are in your Google + Circles.  In other words, when a consumer does a search for Italian Restaurant, they will get a result that is skewed by any previous actions you have taken relevant to the search for Italian Restaurants, and if one of your friends has visited an Italian Restaurant and reviewed same, that will also show up in your search.
Note: Red Stars Are Gone.  27/30 Is the New Rating Method

Which brings us back to reviews.  Reviews will no longer be created in a special review page, but will now need to be created as a post on the consumer's Google + account.  This is a fantastic way to insure less fraud in the reviews, as the reviewers will now all be identifiable.  At least the shop owner will know the nasty review was his ex girlfriend.  On the other hand, it will make it substantially harder in the short term to get reviews, as the reviewer must have a Google+ account.  These are easy enough to set up, but it is just one more hurdle for the business owner when trying to persuade his best clients to review him.

These are the big changes for now.  There are other changes having to do with the way the public can change the information, pictures and such on the listing, the look of the actual listing, and more.  Is this a cause for panic or alarm to a local business owner?  Only if they have come to rely on Google Places for revenue.  Is this a major opportunity for those same business owners to get out ahead of the new developments and find ways to outgun the competition in Google+ land?  Absolutely.

What is your take on all this?  Has it effected your business?  Any thoughts on what might happen next?

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