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Google+ Local Replaces Google Places

Those of us that work in the Local Search field have a complicated relationship with change. Change can be both eye poppingly maddening and a wonderful warm welcome. Case in point – this week on May 30th, 2012 Google decided to completely change the game on how businesses interact with the number one search engine in the world. What was formerly Google Places, a haven for those of us involved with Local Search, has been replaced by Google+ Local. That odd section of a displayed search with the red balloons in Google Maps is no longer the same. While the balloons remain and still function in organic searches, the entire look and feel of business pages has changed. Google has taken the next step to fully integrating businesses with the Google+ platform. The changes are numerous, and the functionality has changed to allow a completely different user experience. With the acquisition of Zagat, Google is offering a new review rating system. While Google + Local is still in its infancy, and the impact of the switch is just starting to be felt, what follows is a general overview of some of the more significant changes as I see them. Temporarily, Business owners are not able to manage multiple listings. This means we can only control one flagship listing, and no satellite locations. According to Google there is no estimated time as to when this problem will be solved, though they promise a solution is one the way. Business reviews are now based upon Zagat’s 30 point scale instead of the previous five star rating system. This is actually a rather positive change as a bad review will carry less weight than it did previously. It is still incredibly helpful to have many reviews, as a bad review with only five reviews listed will still tremendously effect ranking and placement, but the system is designed in such a way that the more reviews a business has the less impact a single review carries. The previous five star rating system allowed for a single bad review (or two) to greatly affect the overall rating. It appears that the content of a review will also start to affect the ranking system. A reviewers choice of wording will translate into the Google+ Local “At A Glance” categories section. This allows for additional “key words” to be placed in the business profile at no additional cost to the business. You must be a Google+ User to write a review, and NO reviews will be anonymous. Essentially Google is gearing up to make the business users experience far more social than ever before. Rather than simply have a N.A.P listing (Name, address, phone number) the business can now connect more directly with the more social aspects of Google+. It appears Google is directly remarketing the way searches are conducting and how they are ranked. Stay tuned for the future – Google style.
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