In case there was any question about whether Google is serious about its relationship with business owners, the company is now letting businesses that have claimed their Places listings respond to reviews:
Starting today, if you’re a verified Google Places business owner, you can publicly respond to reviews written by Google Maps users on the Place Page for your business . . . For example, a thoughtful response acknowledging a problem and offering a solution can often turn a customer who had an initially negative experience into a raving supporter. A simple thank you or a personal message can further reinforce a positive experience. Ultimately, business owner responses give you the opportunity to learn what you do well, what you can do better, and show your customers that you’re listening.
Google offers a guide and some helpful advice on how to respond to reviewers, both positive and negative:
Business owners don’t get to respond to all reviews that appear on Place Pages (i.e., those from third party sources), just those written by Google users directly at Google.
This feature is not new in the local search market. Many yellow pages sites, for example, have offered this capability for some time. Of course so does TripAdvisor. And, after considerable internal controversy and deliberation, Yelp began offering business owners the chance to comment publicly on reviews early last year.
Still this illustrates clearly that Google wants to continue to deepen engagement and build direct relationships with small business owners through Places.