Google+, the Social Network You Can’t Afford to Ignore

As you may have noticed, over the past few months Google has made some major changes that affect local businesses in a big way. Over 80 Million Google Places pages have been transformed into Google+ Local pages.

It’s a dramatic change, and in my opinion it’s for the better. Unfortunately, these changes are an ongoing work-in-progress that have been disorienting for some users and many business owners.

An Overview of What’s Changed

Here’s a brief overview of what’s new and what’s changing:

  • As mentioned, all Google Places pages have been transformed into Google+ Local pages
  • Google has added a new “Local” tab within its Google+ dashboard
  • Google’s star ratings systems has been replaced with Zagat’s 30-point rating scale and integrated Zagat reviews in Google+ Local pages
  • All of Google’s properties (search, mobile, maps) are now displaying the new Google+ Local pages as opposed to Google Places pages
  • New filters have been added to Google+ searches so users can more readily find businesses that have been reviewed by friends and colleagues

Your Google Places listing was composed of three parts:

  1. Your public business listing display
  2. The backend management tools accessed through your Google account dashboard
  3. A ranking system

As mentioned, the biggest change is that the more static Google Places business pages have been automatically replaced by more dynamic Google+ Local pages.

The first thing you’ll likely notice is the new layout and design for the listing for your business. All your basic business information is still available, but by streamlining the layout and putting more focus on photos and reviews, Google hopes to help you highlight what makes your business truly unique.

Google+

New Ways for Clients to Find and Interact with You and Your Business

Your clients and potential customers are now able to find your new Google+ Local page in several ways:

  • Your Google+ Local page can be found by someone searching Google.com or Google Maps
  • Your new page can be found through a variety of mobile apps
  • Your business’ local listing can now be found directly through searches on Google+ (the image below is an example of a local search result within Google+)

Google+ Local

As you can see from the image above, Google+ has become another destination for local searches, and one that provides more functionality and richer content than Google and the other search engines offer in their regular search results.

If you click the new “Local” tab in Google+, you’ll be taken to a personalized local home (discovery) page. This page offers a variety of popular, social and recommended content. There are several variables that go into the content that appears on this page and no two people in the same city will see the exact same page.

You’ll also notice that Google offers a “two search-box” approach for Google+ Local, one for keywords related to the type of business people are looking for and one for the geographic location.

Users can browse the content suggested on their Google+ “home” page or use the search boxes as they would use any other search engine.

All of this means that Google is now offering a local search platform with Google+ that offers potential functionality to rival Facebook and Twitter.

Unlike with your old Google Places page, your new Google+ Local page allows you to develop relationships with clients, potential customers, and colleagues.

This having been said, even if you have no interest in using the “social” aspects of your Google+ Local business page, these pages are already appearing in the regular Google search results and are replacing Google Places pages.

If your business is at all reliant on Google’s search engine for new leads and clients, then you need to create a Google+ account and create a Google+ Local page for your business… These pages are already being indexed and appearing in Google’s regular search results!

What Do You Need to Do?

While the display of your local business page has changed, this change essentially gives you more control over the visuals of your listing while allowing for more segmented social activity around reviews.

The current backend, the Places Dashboard, continues to be the primary location for you to input data about your business.

As per Google’s Google and Your Business blog:

What does this change mean for how business owners add and edit their listings? Do business owners need to have a Google+ profile?

It’s business as usual on this front. Verified business owners can edit the listings (now local Google+ pages) through the Google Places for Business dashboard, as always. Business owners just now looking to get verified can go through the process by clicking on the “Manage this page” button under “Is this your business?” header on the right of the page. Right now, business owners do not need to have Google+ profiles to verify and edit local Google+ pages.

Will Google+ Local pages and existing Google+ pages be merged?

Yes! If you’re a business owner that’s got both the local Google+ page (formerly Google Places listing) and a Google+ page that you made in Google+ separately, the current recommendation is to continue managing each separately. The plan is to merge them, so business owners have just one page to manage.

To Merge or Not to Merge Your Google+ Pages

For the moment, when you set up or claim a business listing using the Google Places dashboard, the data you enter will feed directly into your Google+ Local page listing.

So, if you haven’t already done so, you should definitely claim or create a Google+ Local page for your business and verify it, as this is the page that shows up in Google search results, on Google Maps, in Google-powered mobile apps, etc.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to set up a personal Google+ account and use it to set up a Google+ Business page.

As with Facebook, you need to set up a personal account with Google+ in order to create a Google+ Business page. But, to make matters more confusing, the Google+ Business page you create will be a separate entity from your Google+ Local page until they’re merged.

While the terminology can be bewildering, basically your business most likely had a Google Places page earlier this year (whether you had claimed ownership of it or not). That Places page was transformed into a Google+ Local page overnight, although you can still manage the page from your Google Places dashboard.

In order for you and your business to get the full benefit of Google+ going forward, you’ll need to create a Google+ Business page and merge it with your Google+ Local page. But, there is a caveat.

Google is still in the process of integrating all the various pieces of the puzzle they’ve created and there are a few known issues:

  • In order to merge your Google+ Local page with your Google+ Business page, you’ll need to re-verify your ownership of the business by having Google send a verification postcard with a PIN to your business address. (This means if you haven’t already claimed ownership of your Google+ Local page, you’ll need to verify your ownership of the business twice: once to claim your Google+ Local page and once to merge it with your Google+ Business page!)
     
  • Even after you’ve merged your Google+ Local and Google+ Business pages, you’ll still need to use the Google Places for Business Dashboard to add categories, do bulk uploads, view statistics, and add offers.
     
  • If you’ve already created a Google+ Business page but didn’t select the “Local Business or Place” option, it can’t be changed to a local Google+ Business page. This means you’ll need to create another Google+ Business page to use for the merge and your followers from your original page will need to be added to this new page manually.

While there is no need to create a Google+ Business page and merge it with your Google+ Local page, I recommend doing so… In fact, I recommend setting up all three (a Google+ account, your Google+ Local page, and a Google+ Business page) now under one, business-related e-mail address.

Given Google’s use of Google+ pages in its search results, you don’t have to have a social media marketing strategy in place in order to benefit from creating and claiming ownership of these three assets.

Not to mention, if you take care of all three of these items and start getting familiar with the Google+ Business pages (make a few posts, post a few photos, follow some people in your industry), you’ll be light years ahead of your competition.

In fact, even if you have no interest in taking part in social media and using it to promote your business, if you want your business to rank well in the search engines, Google+ is one social media platform you’re not going to want to ignore.

Local search and social media marketing may still be in its infancy, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tremendous benefits available to those who get involved today!

Please be sure to leave your questions and comments below and I’ll do my best to answer each one, and share this post with anyone else you think may benefit.

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