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.

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  • Chris Adams

    Greg – I agree that “Business owners will … [be] compelled now to pay attention to Google+ — in a big way.” Google has made Google Places and the merge with Google + a competitive product to Facebook Pages.  Business owners will need to extend their web presence optimization strategy to include posting content on a regular basis to Google + Local Pages.  

    Cheers,

    Chris Adams
    Co-founder & CTO
    gShift Labs

  • daveintheuk

    Yet more unfair prominence for Google’s own products in the SERPS. Come on EU, lets see some teeth!

  • http://twitter.com/lizbonline Liz Brock

    Thanks for the comprehensive update Greg – any idea how swiftly these changes are coming (specifically, to the UK)? Also, are they happening to all verticals or just restaurants – Zagat ratings are great for hospitality but not really useful for others.

  • http://twitter.com/JohnCarcutt John Carcutt

    Slow Down … Google Places is still working fine, for now. We’ll see if they are completely merged at some point but now they seem to be two different products using the same data. For example, just because your business is claimed on Places, does not mean it’s claim on Google+ Local.

    See .. The five Guys Burger and Fries (sticking with your burger theme) near my office ..

    Maps listing – CLAIMED
    https://maps.google.com/maps?ie=UTF8&cid=4166398317225042401&q=Five+Guys+Burgers+and+Fries&iwloc=A&gl=US&hl=en 

    Google+ Listing – “Is This Your Business?”
    https://plus.google.com/113329453874699750125/about 

    Total replacement may be coming, but it does not seem to be here yet.

  • gregsterling

    As I understand it they’re happening in the very immediate future in the US, Europe and everywhere. There isn’t going to be a non-US delay 

  • gregsterling

    Nothing will change for the business owner in the short term on the back end. But those Places pages are now Google+ Local Pages as of today

  • http://twitter.com/shadowdaddy Jason Meininger

    aww, now I miss Red Mill Burgers and La Carta De Oaxaca… and have a bunch of research to do about my UK office locations. =/

  • http://twitter.com/360spin Malcolm Maybury

    Very interesting for local businesses

  • http://twitter.com/DanielCBerman Daniel C Berman

    So for a business with a google+ page, and a google places page will this turn into a google+ page and a google+ local page? Or will there be a complete merging of a businesses’s google+ plus page with google+ local for a unified experience on one url, at some undermined time frame in the future?

  • http://twitter.com/JohnCarcutt John Carcutt

    Greg, if I go to maps.google.com search for the address it finds the 5 Guys. Clicking on Reviews takes me to the Places Page, not the Google+ page. How are the Places pages now Google+ pages .. They still seem separated. I can even find a way to get to the Google+ Local page from the Original Places page.

  • http://twitter.com/FScharnell Frank Scharnell

    This is a great move as a user, but the business owner is now forced to use a more complicated platform for their business. It is really quite interesting that Google makes this move dramatically into a social search for local while Facebook has an IPO……..

  • arminla

    The problem would be is that Google is not the only search engine out there. If people do not like it they can switch for FREE. Monopoly does not protect companies, it protects consumers, and here consumers hava choice to switch fairly easily. 

    Google is not a search engine anymore. It is switching businesses in front of our eye. Itll always stay an advertising company. Instead of search its becoming more social and content rich. Like it or not companies are allowed to change directions. It doesn;t have to stay purely as a search company.

  • arminla

    I think its rolling out slowly, as always. 

  • arminla

    I think its rolling out slowly, as always. 

  • gregsterling

    They haven’t finished rolling out the changes clearly

  • http://twitter.com/Michelle_Mastro Michelle Mastro

    Same with our Propel Marketing page. It seems as though we still have our Google + page, but now have an additional Google+ Local page. . . this seems confusing.

  • http://www.paligap.com/ Iain Bartholomew

    Excuse me whilst I run around the room screaming for a minute.

    OK. So what happens to the google places account I use to manage every client’s Google Places page? Does it get broken up, or do I get control of their Google+ pages as well? When? Will this end the annoying double-entry issue in Google Places for certain locations?

    Hopefully they get this right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1359245120 Jim Bryant

    Can you say “New Coke”

  • http://twitter.com/marketing_jive Jody Nimetz

    If the Google+ local pages will be indexed in Google, It will be interesting to see what the impact will be on sites like Yelp, UrbanSpoon, YellowPages, SuperPages etc.  In essence this is yet another big push for Google+ and social from Google.

  • CharlesKGim

    Maybe you missed the story about the other ratings companies suing Google for including their results in search. You can’t have it both ways. Either Google can include them or it can’t. Advice, read-before-react.

  • daveintheuk

    OK, here is what actually happened:

    Google launched Places with none of its own content, so it aggregated other people’s reviews (Yelp etc) onto their pages without permission or payment to make it appear like they had content. They then gave their Places pages “money can’t buy” exposure in the SERPs including putting “101 reviews” next to the link — as this was the sum of review scraped from elsewhere it made it appear to have more content than anyone else.

    Nobody was suing them for including them in results – but for taking the content and using it to build Places pages.

    Google only stopped using the content from others after about two years when it had leveraged other’s content built up its own review content – nothing to do with complaints or legal threats… the content was removed because it had served its purpose in giving Google a bunk up into Local.

    Wise up, Google is a leach – just look how they are scraping Wikipedia and claiming it is “knowledge”… nobody else could get scraped content ranked in Google like that.

  • daveintheuk

    Google controls 90% of the search market in the EU … this isn’t just on merit. Read SEOBook.com’s excellent article on tihs.

  • daveintheuk

    The results will be even worse for small publishers.

    By indexing the pages Google is giving them another chance to get in the SERPs – when they already have massive “money can’t buy” promotion.

  • http://www.buzzmaven.com/ Scott Clark

    Your mention a franchise…. I’m very hopeful that Google+ will pay attention to the enormous number of franchisees and franchisors that struggle with the lack of a parent-child relationship model in managing places.  The legal arrangement of a franchisee is a license to use the brand, and the franchisor needs to maintain control (add/remove/change,) while giving the franchisee the ability to respond to reviews, post new information, etc.  

  • http://twitter.com/BIGELLOW Bob Bigellow

    Wikipedia is free information that anyone can use. Facebook has been using the information from Wikipedia for years. Wikipedia *exists* so that people can use its information. So, somehow, when Google uses this information it’s called “scraping Wikipedia”?

  • http://twitter.com/BIGELLOW Bob Bigellow

    For now, it’s just a URL change and a face-lift. During the transition, it means both will exist simultaneously (but working off the same base data). So, it won’t magically fix the problems that existed before.

    However, once everything is officially migrated into Google+, it may get the needed attention it deserves and some of these other issues can be addressed.

  • http://twitter.com/BIGELLOW Bob Bigellow

    Editing a Google+ page is a whole lot easier than editing a Google Places page. Not sure where the “more complicated platform” comes in, unless you’re talking about the fact that there are more optional features available.

  • daveintheuk

    Seems I can’t reply to @twitter-22117540:disqus directly so I will reply here.

    I understand that about WikiPedia – but peddling it a “knowledge” is disingenuous. It is also another example of their dual standards – they enforce rules on other publishers who must produce original, quality, fresh content to get anywhere near the organic rankings – yet they can serve up scraped data with no value added with massive exposure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1193463803 Russell Hayes

     More proof that Google doesn’t really understand local small business and this is just going to end up being MAJOR FUBAR, watch and see.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1193463803 Russell Hayes

    Yups, so what happens when the algo finds those old outdated no longer valid business NAPS that some site scraped 10 years ago and then puts that back in the database, will G now create a unverified G+ business page and a Places listing too?

  • gregsterling

    Google is mindful of this I think. Hopefully they’ll roll out something that will make it easy to manage multiple locations. 

  • gregsterling

    Agree this will be confusing for SMBs

  • http://twitter.com/DeadMaddy5 Maddy

    Since Google is moving into Social Search, what will be the future of SEO ?

  • http://www.buzzmaven.com/ Scott Clark

    Well, I work in the franchise world quite a bit, but it’s still only 4% of small business.  The way Google responds about multiple locations it’s as if the only issues we face are loading the data.  In fact, we need solutions for analytics, Adwords, and place page admin / user management.

  • http://www.yodelay.com Duncan Johnson

    Does anyone know if Zagat Reviews are going to be opened up across all business categories because their website certainly does not show that they are covering much more than restaurants.  

    My guess is that Google is going to pull reviews from their own archive and supplement it with Yelp (or similar).

    Any ideas anyone?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1193463803 Russell Hayes

     Before Google goes any further with places/+ for businesses they need to get a grip on all the data scraping they do which constantly creates new listings for businesses that are outdated and no longer valid. I can’t tell you how many listings I’ve found for my clients on sites that don’t let you delete or update the information that Google has obviously found as well and create a new places page for it. If Google can’t stop this from happening they need to show the business owner the source of the data and give the owner the option to tell Google not to revisit that listing ever again.

    Lets get that situation straight before moving forward shall we?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1193463803 Russell Hayes

    No idea at all. It surely doesn’t help the service companies I work for. 

  • http://twitter.com/gsterling Greg Sterling

    All the Zagat content across the board is going free according to what Google told me

  • Chris Vendilli

    Are you guys going to hit on this in an upcoming SEO 101 podcast?

    I’m eager to hear the thoughts of you and Ross.

    I also appreciate the blog post from Greg! Thanks for the in depth walkthrough.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1193463803 Russell Hayes

    So what you are saying is that Zagat is opening up to all industries?

  • SilvaSharlene

    “knowledge”… nobody else could get scraped content ranked my classmate’s mother makes $84/hour on the laptop. She has been laid off for 7 months but last month her income was $12024 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Here’s the site to read more CashLazy.&#99om  

  • Boris Zilberman

    It seems like, right now, Google went to a 0-3 system for “individual users” and will multiply those scores by 10 to create an “average” score for businesses without categories: 
    https://support.google.com/local/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1723748&p=zagat_score

  • Nathan Byloff


    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+. ” 

    Ugh… I have 1700 locations to manage. I hope this is sooner rather than later. What will happen to all the statistics I get out of Places for each of the locations too? Will it go away? Will it get better? Getting sick of these curve balls, Google. I’ve been dealing with cloaked/hacked sites for weeks now ranking in the top 5 for keywords, now I get another curve ball. Thanks Google!

  • http://www.yodelay.com Duncan Johnson

    Hey Greg, thank you for taking the time to reply.  Your post has caused a buzz… must have been amongst the first.  Or was it the first? ;o)

    Did your Googler let you in on any more details as to how much of a partnership they are forming with Zagat?  Is Zagat replacing Google’s own Review system in the “Old” Google Places?

    Again, huge appreciation for your time.

  • http://twitter.com/rogermedia Roger Williams

    Welcome to the new Places nightmare. When I go to a clients Google+ Local page and click on Manage it wants to goto the Places management location. Unfortunately a prior employee setup the Places page in a different account from the one that the Google+ account is setup in.
    Also we already created the Google+ business page months ago but this new thing seems to completely ignore that page. Excellent work Google!

  • http://twitter.com/rogermedia Roger Williams

    Looks like Google+ Local is an update to Google Places and is not yet syncronized with Google + - https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!category-topic/business/need-advice/SWzIsqkVyCk

  • http://twitter.com/BryantJaquez Bryant Jaquez

    wow

  • Around Claremont

     I can only hope that they also FINALLY recognize that independant contractors at the same business address need a parent child relationship. I.e. a dentist and a oral surgeon in the same building. Two lawyers in the same office. Realtors with the same address as broker and 10 other realtors.

  • Around Claremont

     I’m curious about this too, because I don’t see anything other than restaurants yet in Local+.  I think you’re right they may pull their own reviews…perhaps tailor by industry? It could go really poorly for other segments going live on Local+…

  • arminla

    Again, users are NOT locked into google. You dont have to search using google. Do you? bing.com easy as that. its a choice…..

    You are missing that point.

    If customers dont like the new google, its FREE for them to change it.

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