Just over a year ago, Google™ rolled out its Google+ Local platform in a bid to better integrate its social platform with its other products. As a result consumers are now taken to Google+ Local pages instead of Google Places when conducting a local search. Since it’s estimated that one in four searches on the Internet are “local searches,” Google+ has therefore become a far more important destination. Beyond that, Google arguably also implemented Google+ Local to create a more integrated and easier experience for both the small business owner to manage their data and promotion as well as for the searcher to find these businesses.
Although much of our data – particularly after the initial launch – shows that the migration to Google+ Local pages is more of a re-brand for Google Places than an overhaul of the way in which it operates and ranks businesses, there have still been some significant developments over the last year. Twelve months later, it’s interesting to reflect on the biggest changes we’ve seen, what may still be in the pipeline, and whether Google+ Local has been a success.
Google+ Local Updates
Here are the most significant changes that Google has made in relation to Google+ Local that we’ve observed over the last year, some of which have only been recently implemented
- A Name Change: The most immediate change was that Google+ Local replaced “Google Places.” Google moved everything to a single sign in platform, which now includes a social component, Zagat reviews, as well as search and maps listings. As a result of this social component, when logged into Google you are likely to see results that show reviews and places visited from people that are in your Google + circles.
- New Layout: Over recent months there has been an updated layout on Google+ Local that includes an expanded map as the main cover photo display and business information blended into the map towards the bottom. Directions, favorites, sharing and review buttons are now also easier to find under the map/cover photo.
- A New Dashboard: In April, Google released its new dashboard for Google+ Local and began to automatically add it to all U.S. business listings. Any new users who sign up for a Google account will automatically have the new dashboard. Before the new dashboard, multiple people, groups, or entities could claim a listing and request a postcard to verify ownership of a specific location. This meant there could be several logins that corresponded to one business. With the new dashboard, there’s a single login and ownership for every listing.
- Search Results Listings Improvements: One of Google’s primary goals with Google+ Local was to merge duplicate listings, improving the accuracy of search results and better meeting the intent of consumers. This explains why Google recently expanded their results and invested increased resources to get those results to be more accurate. Now, search results are based on the longitude/latitude for mobile users or IP address for desktops/laptops.
Room for Improvement
Although Google is regularly upgrading the Local platform, there are potentially still some opportunities for improvement:
- No Bulk Listings…Yet: To date, Google+ Local still doesn’t have the ability to handle multi-location businesses. The new dashboard doesn’t recognize when businesses have the same name but different locations. This is a big disadvantage to franchises who own chains, but Google is aware of this need and will hopefully add the capability to the platform.
- The “Nanny” filter: Trigger terms can set off Google’s “nanny filter.” Google has strict guidelines around when businesses can show their address and when they can’t. If the email address you use to create your account has a city name in it, Google might send you a notification that it doesn’t meet their quality guidelines.
In conclusion, it’s fair to say that Google+ Local has become a visually pleasing, interactive platform that is easier to navigate both on the back end and for searchers. Beyond that, with web signals, local signals and now social signals, Google is attempting to provide search results tailored as closely as possible to a searcher’s intent. What this means is that monitoring general search results will become less relevant. What will become more relevant is presenting the unique message of a business to their community. Through Google + Local, individual local businesses can compete with a national brand. This digital equality is one of the biggest game changers that SMB’s have seen in some time.
As a Google AdWords Premier SMB Partner™ and a business with access to an immense amount of customer data, we will continue to track all the changes that occur with Google to stay ahead of the curve ensuring that we’re delivering the best possible results to our customers.
Let us know what you think about Google+ Local’s first year in the comments box below.