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Just a few weeks ago, David Mihm published an article that spoke widely about the Plus-Places merge, and now that plane has landed. Today, Google announced that Google Places is now Google+ Local. Google+ Local presents a number of opportunities for local businesses to engage socially with their customers online. The biggest changes that I see in the switchover are the visual presentations on business pages, new review system and indexed Google+ Local pages. Let’s touch on each of those points here.

What’s Changed?

Greg Sterling did an excellent post that detail out the major visual changes from the Places to Google+ Local move. But to illustrate, I will use one from my city, Ottawa, Canada (yay, we didn’t get left in the dark for once).

Here, we see that suggested search in Google+ Local is different from the natural Google web search. I’ve confirmed that these suggested searches are not in relation to businesses ranked on the first page of Google under local results, they appear to be randomized and matching only titles with phrase match. For example, if your business does not have “photographers” with an “s” you will not be suggested.

Google+ Local - photographers search

The search under Google+ Local also presents two criteria; keyword and location.  At default, it appears as though Google is using the location you specified under your Google+ Account. Without including a location, it will use your city for the search.

Clicking through one of the results, I arrive at Parent Photography, where they appear to be a very reputable business to get wedding photographs from. On their Google+ Local page, we can see that the visuals are just popping! The page mirrors your Google+ Business Pages, which I suspect will merge with the Local pages as we see here (one of the piloted businesses to use Google+ Local first).

The one thing I noticed appearing on Google+ Local pages that was taken off of Google Places along with the “additional information” was the Hours of Operations. Hmm… makes sense for the to include it. Good job Google 🙂

New Rating System

“All scores in Google+ Local are determined by user reviews.”

The new rating system for users is based on a 0-3 point scale (source). The ratings are then averaged and multiplied by 10 to get an average score out of 30, where 0 being the poorest and 30 extraordinary. The rating system is based off of Zagat, which was acquired by Google in September 2011.

“Zagat believes that the shared experiences of large numbers of passionate consumers is inherently more accurate than the opinions of a few critics. Zagat’s editorial team curates user feedback worldwide into concise and unbiased reviews that help people make quick, smart decisions. In addition, consumers rate distinct criteria of an establishment (for example, restaurants are rated for food, decor, and service) on a scale of zero to three, which is then averaged, multiplied by 10 and presented on Zagat’s signature 30-point scale.” Read the Source

Also, looking through 100-1,000 reviews can be tedious and may not answer the question you have in your mind. The sorting feature under the reviews is a useful gadget, which allows you to read reviews by Most Helpful, Latest, Highest Score and Lowest Score.

Another thing I like about the new rating system is how the criteria are broken out into multiple components. For example, restaurants are scored in three areas; food, decor and service. Other businesses will have different options for the review. The benefit of this is it brings in more perspective than a single rate (i.e. what does 2.5/5 stars mean? was the food bad or was it just the service?).

But… the big question will be… will Ratings have any influence on rankings? Please leave your thoughts below.

Closing Thoughts

Google+ Local is an opportunity pool for local businesses to think outside the box and to engage more with their customers online. The layer of social + local will only benefit those who share their passion for great customer service.

But, I think the message is quite clear; Get on Google+! Over and over, I see these messages popping up on blog posts:

  • If You’re Not On Google+, You’re Not A Suggestion.
  • If you’re not on Google+, you can’t appear in the box.
  • If you’re not on Google+ yet, you’re missing out.

Getting on Google+ does not simply mean to create a basic Google+ account and a business page. Instead, focus on developing an approach, think outside the box and start engaging with your customers. Whether you want your brand on social or not, people are talking about you. So jump on board!

I created a checklist of items to watch out for a while back, and I strongly believe they all still apply. The Google+ Local page is another piece to focus on. From an SEO standpoint, optimizing and linking to your Google+ Local page is something to consider as these pages will get crawled and indexed by Google.

Given this is a new roll-out, I would love to hear your feedback on the comments I made above. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.