Recently, Google made some changes with a huge impact on location-specific businesses: Google Places has finally merged with Google+ to create the new Google+ Local.
With all Google Places pages worldwide automatically converted into the new format, this is a dramatic change for the 80 million+ businesses who used Google Places globally. However, the good news is that the changes do have plenty to offer businesses that take advantage of the new format.
Here’s a brief overview of the changes and new features:
- All Google Places pages have been converted to the new Google+ Local pages
- A “Local” tab within Google+ gives users recommended places in their location
- The Google Places star rating system has changed to Zagat’s 30-point rating system
- The integration of Google+ Local pages across different Google properties (search, Maps, mobile)
- A circles filter to find reviews/recommendations from friends/family/colleagues
The new Google+ Local pages use much of the same content as the previous Places format with added social functionality, including +1 buttons and the ability to share pages on Google+.
The search engine optimisation potential of the new format is huge, with Google+ Local pages being indexed (unlike Google Places). There’s a far greater focus on reviews and photos, so businesses have more opportunity to stand out in search results if they use the new format correctly. Another great feature is that all new reviews will be linked to Google+ profiles, reducing the risk of fake anonymous ratings.
One of the biggest changes is the move to the Zagat rating system from the old starred review system. Zagat uses a 30-point rating system, which contains separate scores to review different factors of a business. The factors offered for review will depend on the business type – for example, accommodation providers are reviewed on Quality, Facilities, and Service.
In an interview with Search Engine Land, Google argued that Zagat scores express much more differentiation and prevent all ratings from converging at 3.5 stars. It’s important to note that Zagat.com reviews will remain separate to those on Google+ Local for the time being, as Zagat.com continues to focus only on restaurant reviews for specific countries.
If you want to take a look at how these changes translate to real search results, below is an example SERP for “burgers near Seattle.” The top screenshot reflects the “old” Places look and feel. The second is the new search results, with the new Zagat scoring system.
To see what the changes mean for your own business page, below is a Places/+ Local “before” and “after” comparison for a restaurant in the Washington DC area, “Mio.”
While there are a lot of changes, nothing on the ‘back end’ will change immediately for business owners in how you’ll manage your local listing. However, businesses who do use their new listings to the full potential will be rewarded with greater search visibility, so the incentives to get involved are huge.
Google+ will continue to make a greater impact on search results, with more changes scheduled for the near future. According to Google’s official blog, businesses can expect social functionality from Google+ to extend into Local pages in the weeks and months ahead.
Have you played around with the new Google+ Local yet? Let us know in the comments…