Google Pairs Local and Social with Google+ Local

Today Google unleashed another resounding shot across the bow of players in the social and local space: Google+ Local.  This move will effectively make Google Place Pages a memory, replacing those pages with a new local section of their Google+ social network. This falls in line with Google’s overall product consolidation strategy, and like Search + Your World, it demonstrates Google’s commitment to the social space (particularly their desire to integrate Google+ into all aspects of search).  Although it has been predicted for a while, it will take months to fully grasp the implications.

Here’s what’s changed so far with Google+ Local:  

  • Appearance of a “Local” tab within Google+
  • Integration of Zagat reviews
  • Integration of Google+ Local pages across search, Maps, and mobile
  • Integration of circles to find reviews from known peoples

Here’s the http://google.com/places page prior to the update, the ‘Start Rating’ link sent you to Hotpot.

Google Places Before Local+  

Here’s the same page after the Google+ Local Update. image

This change didn’t happen overnight. Well, technically it did, but it’s been in the works for a long time. Google’s acquisition of Zagat in 2011 is a key component of the new Google+ Local.  Their rating system leaves little question when you see four areas that consumers classify as important in a restaurant: food, décor, service, cost. Each area is rated with a nuanced 30-point scale rather than the meager 5 star rating. The scale is from 1-3 and the results are multiplied by 10 and averaged for the final score. Google’s own Adwords campaign for the new Google+ Local proclaims,  “You do not need to read 1,000 reviews to get 1,000 opinions.” 

Reviews written by people in your circles will also show up on the page so users can see reviews from people they follow on Google+l. You will also be able to make reservations from the Google+ Local pages using OpenTable. While this is all specific to restaurant reviews, it doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to see a similar focus on reviews in non-hospitality industries. Google+ Local pages are also more visually stimulating than the old Places pages. Instead of a standard form layout, the page is interactive with more pictures, Zagat scores and summaries, reviews from people you know, the optional inside view and other helpful information. Google has also reincorporated the two search box layout almost identical to Yelp’s.

So what does this mean for local search?

There are huge potential implications for SEO with these new pages. Unlike Google Place pages, Google+ Local pages will be indexed, and they have already been spotted showing up in the organic search results, so the best practices approach on how to manage and populate the data will be a hot topic very soon. This means that incorrect information about a business could be that much more damaging, so getting the data right will be more important than ever.  If managed properly, the new Google+ Local pages could be an extremely powerful lead generation tool.

What’s next?

This change is a huge undertaking for Google, but the final result should be a much better, more integrated user experience.  The take away for businesses, agencies and SEO’s (like so many other recent changes) is the need for an integrated approach.  Looking at online channels like  SEO, SEM, Social, Local, Mobile and others in silos may have gotten results in the past, but this change just underscores the value of understanding how all of these things work together.

Phil Britton, Product Manager (Location Based Services)

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