Google Places Is Over, Company Makes Google+ The Center Of Gravity For Local Search

When Google+ and Google+ Pages for business were introduced a little less than a year ago many people in the local search arena began anticipating the day when Google would merge or integrate Google Places and Google+ Pages. Well, today is that day.

Google Places pages have been entirely replaced by new Google+ Local pages. As of this morning roughly 80 million Google Place pages worldwide have been automatically converted into 80 million Google+ Local pages, according to Google’s Marissa Mayer. It’s a dramatic change (for the better) though it will undoubtedly disorient some users and business owners.

(See our related Google+ specific coverage, New Google+ Local Tab Unveiled, Will Replace Google Places, at Marketing Land.)

A Range Of Changes Implemented

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

  • The substitution of the new Google+ Local pages (as mentioned) for Google Places pages
  • The appearance of a “Local” tab within Google+
  • The integration and free availability of Zagat reviews (its entire archive across categories)
  • The integration of Google+ Local pages across Google properties (search, Maps, mobile)
  • Integration of a circles filter to find reviews/recommendations from friends/family/colleagues

Static Places now give way to more dynamic Google+ Local pages. Google’s star ratings are also being replaced by the Zagat 30-point rating scale (for user reviews as well).

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, sans stars.

Marissa Mayer argued to me that Zagat scores can express much more differentiation and nuance because they contain separate scores for food, service and atmosphere vs. a five star scale, which is forced to factor all those considerations into a single rating (read: Yelp). The greater, 30-point spread also prevents everything from converging at 3.5 stars.

Consistent Experience, Several Doorways

Users will be able to discover the new Google+ Local pages in several ways: through a search on Google.com or Google Maps, in mobile apps or through a search on Google+. The image below an example of a local search result within Google+.

As a result, Google+ becomes another local search destination within Google, arguably with richer content and more functionality than Google.com offers at the SERP level.

Not unlike some similar functionality offered in Foursquare, users will be able to sort and filter search results by several criteria, including “your circles,” which will reveal places “touched” by friends. Currently this means reviews and posts, but could extend to check-ins later.

Google had originally hoped to make Places into interactive content pages that merchants would use regularly to communicate with customers and prospects. However that didn’t happen in part because of the limitations of Places pages themselves. Google+ Local pages are much more versatile and “social.” Indeed, it gives Google a local vehicle with functionality equivalent to Facebook and Twitter.

Below is a Places/+ Local “before” and “after” comparison for a restaurant in the Washington DC area, “Mio.”

Google+ Local pages are much more visually interesting. They also enable the presentation of a wider variety of information types than Google Places allowed. They will permit local merchants to develop followers and message them, and to have the kinds of social interactions now available on Facebook and Twitter.

Google says there will be many more merchant features to come, in a post on the Google and Your Business Blog (formerly the Google Small Business Blog):

We know many of you have already created a Google+ Page for your business, and have been hosting hangouts and sharing photos, videos and posts. We’re excited that we’ll soon extend these social experiences to more Google+ Local pages in the weeks and months ahead.

Below is another example Google+ Local profile page. The design and functionality essentially match but seek to improve upon Facebook Pages.

Discovery . . . And Search

If you click the new “Local” tab in Google+ you’re taken to a personalized local home (discovery) page, which offers a mix of popular, social and recommended content. There are several variables that go into the content that appears on this page. The same two people in Seattle won’t see the same page, though aspects of it may be the same.

What’s also interesting is that Google has returned to a two search-box approach for Google+ Local.

Users can browse this “home page” content or search as they normally would on Google or Google Maps. As I said, the integration of Zagat content, plus the other social filters and features make Google+ now an arguably better local search destination than Google.com or Google Maps.

Below is what the new experience looks like on Google Maps. It’s largely the same as what exists today except for the replacement of the star ratings by Zagat scores (and of course the underlying new Google+ Local pages).

Rather than being asked to rate businesses along a 4 or 5 point star continuum, users are now asked to fill out a more structured form (food, service, atmosphere/decor) and leave additional comments. Some of those online reviews may also make it back into Zagat proper, at the discretion of Zagat editors I was told.

Mobile A Bit Less Straightforward

All these changes will show up almost immediately on Android handsets in what was the Places layer on Google Maps for Mobile and in the Google+ app. (The images below are Android shots from Google Maps for Mobile.) Google has submitted app updates to Apple for review and approval. They should be out very soon but will look and be accessed in a different way than on Android handsets.

It’s quite likely that Apple will replace Google Maps in June with its own Maps and so none of this experience will probably ever show up on the iOS map. Instead, Apple users will be able to access this Google+ Local experience through the Google Places app and the Google+ app on the iPhone. There was no discussion of other smartphone platforms.

Overall this should present a stronger and more useful local-mobile search experience for consumers, in large measure because of the Zagat content, but to a lesser degree the social and recommended content.

Google+ Local Pages Will Be Indexed!

The conversion of Places pages to Google+ Local pages is taking place regardless of whether Places pages were claimed by business owners or not. However nothing on the back end will change immediately for merchants. Google says this in its Google and Your Business post:

If you are a business owner, you should continue to manage your information in Google Places for Business. You’ll still be able to verify your basic listing data, make updates, and respond to reviews. For those who use AdWords Express, your ads will operate as normal as they’ll automatically redirect people to the destination you selected, or your current listing.

Despite this temporary calm, business owners are effectively being dropped into the social fray with more customer-interaction potential but also greater demands to learn how to use Google+ to their full advantage. Those who do will be rewarded. There’s a ton of SEO potential here. Most notably, unlike Google Places pages, these new Google+ Local pages will be indexed.

We asked about management of multiple locations from a single page. Google said that there’s no news for the time being but that’s the ultimate goal:

A single page through which businesses can manage their online presence is a top priority, and we’re committed to ensuring business owners have a clear voice in how their business is represented on Google, via Google+.

In its SMB-focused blog post Google provided example businesses that were invited in early to enhance their  Google+ Local pages. I’ve reproduced only a partial list here:

A Few Preliminary Final Thoughts

These are major changes that Google is making in the fabric of local — for both consumers and marketers. They will enhance the consumer experience with a relatively small adjustment and learning curve. People will be able to go on using Google as they have but get the benefit of the richer pages and Zagat ratings. They won’t be forced to use Google+ to get the new content.

By the same token Google probably hopes that millions of local merchants creating and enhancing dynamic pages and content can bring additional usage and greater engagement to Google+. We’ll see how it plays out.

Business owners will probably have a somewhat more difficult transition than consumers, as they’re compelled now to pay attention to Google+ — in a big way. They now ignore Google+ at their own peril.

Overall local search also just got a lot more social for Google, as it has recently in a different way for Bing. We’ll explore the social dimensions as well as the SEO implications of Google+ Local pages in companion articles and during next week’s SMX Advanced, especially in the Hardcore Local SEO Tactics session.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Features: Analysis | Google: Google+ | Google: Maps & Local | Google: Mobile | Top News

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • Alan Duvall

    what does this mean for adwords express?

  • Francesco Giartosio

    I find it interesting that in the last video the ratings you can give are Good, Very Good, Excellent, …  They don’t want bad reviews, apparently.

  • http://www.multibrain.net/ Bruce Porter Jr.

    This article is great especially for the small to mid sized business owner who has depending on their local presence for so long now. It is imperative they they realize there are new procedures to properly transition their Places Landing Page to the Google + styled Landing Page. 

    If any of you need assistance with this, please do not hesitate to visit Multibrain.net

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=718065078 Grant Simmons

    Challenging. 

    How can Google rank it’s own pages above other pages in the SERP in a way that doesn’t create anti trust concerns AND convince users (through example) that they are showing the most relevant results in the SERP?

    Does this create a new opportunity for SEOs to optimize Google+ Local Pages to outrank an actual business’ website?

    Obviously I understand that Google has been providing visibility to Places Pages for a while in their ‘local results’ 10-pk (3 pk 5 pk etc.) but how (if) will they mix in organic and Google properties via their ranking algorithm,a big part of indexing the new + profile?

    To answer my own question, I don’t think they will.

    Their “indexing” could be available for other Google results *apart* from the standard SERP, the Google+ Local Page directory, maps, images, videos etc. but not the SERP itself. Many potential issues that even as the 600lb gorilla will be tough for some advertisers and website owners to stomach = possible litigation at the US state level.

    Understanding that G+LP will be a repository for a business’ content, media etc. and making that easily accessible for Google properties might be the advantage SEOs can leverage to enable their clients to be found everywhere (or at least everywhere Google chooses to display indexed and categorized data.)

    Too soon to feel any impact, but I definitely think this is a game affecter, not necessarily a game changer.

    Grant Simmons
    The Search Agency

  • http://twitter.com/bigspintv steve

    I am confused as fuck. None of the data in Google Places matches the listing anymore as the details are different on the local page (someone else set it up). 

  • http://bizventura.info/ bizventura

    I just think this is a great alternative to other sites business owners were avoiding, not everything will ever be perfect, but this has visibility, name, visibility, rank, visibility, did a mention visibility?  Service or features of certain social media cites pushed business owners far far away, and that’s what makes Google+ awesome, they are a lot more flexible than other sites to allow a business to be represented in a highly traffiqued environment, what else would anyone want- if you want to grow a business, make sales and gain new customers, it doesn’t matter how they hear of you, as long as they do and that’s what Google+ does. Of course I am thinking and talking about business uses (bizventura.info), it’s money that moves the world, if we can’t make it, nothing moves. I think Google+ will be easier to use for business owners than FB or Twitr.

  • http://www.webstatsart.com/ Webstats Art

    New seo services can
    1. Get you registered with Google+ using a local cell phone numbers (you will need many)
    2. Get a paper company for you in 100′s of locations 
    3. Get an answering service in those 100′s of locations
    4. Feed all the data back to one central local database. 

    I wonder which companies will lead the way to defeat local?

  • http://www.web101marketing.com Tom Parker

     That’s not TOTALLY true. There is no map by default on the page, but if you click Maps on the left, then you get map and A,B,C….etc

  • http://www.web101marketing.com Tom Parker

     That’s not entirely accurate. While the map doesn’t show by default as it does for most local services, clicking Maps on the left will display local website designers on a Map with A,B,C, etc.

  • temafrank

    Love or hate the changes: Google sure is keeping SEO expernts on their toes. Constant learning curve!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_K3XE7EGT4TDB2UNDNV4RFWVKKQ Curt

    I have no complains with your article. My complain is with
    Google and the fact they think they can just do whatever they want. Google+ is
    not winning in social media, so they highjack 80 million customers and put them
    in it with out their consent.

     

    I setup my Google Places site 3 months ago. I liked the look
    and everything. I just went out to change something and it is half gone and it
    looks like crap! Don’t tell me Google is not trying to get rid of Google
    Places. I know they say they told everyone, but I never got an email. If I wanted
    a Google+ account, I would have got one.

     

    Excuse me, I’m just a little bit upset at Google for being a
    bully and just finding out I have crap instead of a Google Places account.

     

    Curt

  • Ginger Fawcett

    I have to chuckle at everyone who says Google has hijacked them and messed up their lives…how dare they.  Well here’s how they dare…they ARE Google.  They aren’t being a bully and messing up the internet.  All they are changing is their own internal infrastructure and that’s fully within their rights.  You’re all free to use another search engine as despite what many of the comments imply, Google itself is NOT actually the internet.  They are a company making a living and since competitors aren’t as good or have as strong of a brand people won’t leave because Google basically rocks at this.  If you’re business is messed up right now so is everyone else’s so that makes it a pretty even playing field for now.  The difference will be for those who choose to adapt and those who don’t.  I still believe Google will remain king and personally I’m very happy that Google+ will be merging as I’ve been waiting for the rest of the social world to start using their platform.  I like it better and now hopefully the rest of the public will finally getting on board. 

  • Peter Kern

    You don’t know much about monopoly, do you? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sana-Ryan/100001229089361 Sana Ryan

    hello dave. you need to write us some articles. I mean you have completely different perspective on Google (particularly, on updates). but you will have to have something to back-up your so called claims? or “!”.   

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