ORLANDO, FLORIDA-Have you noticed that your Google Places page looks different yet? Because it probably does as of last month when Google converted approximately 80 million Places pages into 80 million Google+ Local pages. This is a move toward integrating Search, Maps and mobile.
Users can still access these pages through regular Google search or maps, but that information is now available on a new tab within Google+ called Local. Businesses’ old Google business profile is now a Local+ page that is the home of all important business information, including address, phone numbers, hours of operation, photos, videos and reviews.
The announcement was made by Avni Shah on May 30, a director of product management at Google. He explained, “Today, we’re rolling out Google+ Local, a simple way to discover and share local information featuring Zagat scores and recommendations from people you trust in Google+.”
Business owners might not even notice the change since managing their local listing is still currently done via Google Places for Business. There is mention of future changes that will allow them to “take full advantage of the social features provided by local Google+ pages” though. That sounds like a Google guarantee that they will continue to push Google+, so get used to it now.
How This Might Change Local SEO
You might be wondering what the difference really is if the user might not notice anything other than an aesthetic change, and the business owner might not notice big changes when it comes to managing their listing. However, there is a big difference between the old Google Place Pages and the new Local+ business profile. These new local business profiles will be indexed. That means they will show up in the search results and, when optimized properly, can be another tool used to get more visibility and a higher SEO ranking.
There are all sorts of ways to spiff up the new business profile, but here are some basic guidelines to help you create a page that appeals to your visitors and the search engine:
1.Keep the About section brief. The introduction section is one of the areas where you can include keywords about your business. Just make sure they fit naturally into what you write there and keep it concise. The address, contact information, hours of operation and category tags show up under the intro, and then the reviews of the business show up under that. Reviews and recommendations are often the biggest influence in people making a decision, so don’t crowd those out with a long-winded explanation of your business. There is a new rating system as well. Zagat’s 30-point scale is being used to score all types of businesses instead of Google’s previous rating system of five stars.
2.Ditch the stock photo. The flexibility of Google+ gives you the option to really display your business. Take advantage of it by showing visitors the new office renovations, a photo tour of the facility, the staff hard at work, or some of the products your business sells.
3.Start asking satisfied customers to leave you a review. Some businesses have had problems with their reviews getting lost in the transition between Google Places to Google+ Local, an issue that Google has acknowledged in the forums. However, there doesn’t seem to be a resolution to the problem at the moment, so focus on getting new reviews. Let your customers know that their feedback is important and valued. Don’t be afraid to make a direct request that specifies what you would like instead of hinting around. Most people aren’t going to be offended by, “I’m so glad to hear that you’re satisfied with the service you received! We would love it if you took the time to write a review on our Google+ Local page that explains what you needed and how we were able to meet that need.”
4.Don’t ignore your reviews. The point of the page is to be social, to develop a following, to discuss and interact. Negative reviews are going to happen. The way you respond to them is the opportunity to define the business. Reach out and try to resolve the problems. Best case scenario is you convert a disgruntled customer into a loyal fan, but if nothing else you are showing all the other potential customers that you genuinely care enough to respond thoughtfully to complaints.
5.Find the Posts’ section sweet spot, somewhere between abandoned looking and spam city. The Posts section is where the action is at, and theoretically where the interacting happens. Don’t let this section sit untouched-the time stamp showing that your last post was four months ago, but try to avoid the mistake at the other end of the spectrum too. Posting link after link to content you’ve posted elsewhere or posts simply promoting yourself is spammy. A conversation should go both ways, so keep throwing “conversation starters” out there.
It might take some people time to get used to the new look and way of managing the page, but the good news is that this transition has the potential to transform local search and how local businesses can get to the first page on Google. The discussion online amongst the SEO experts about the switch has been mixed-some love it, some hate it. Wherever you fall on that continuum, hopefully you’ve gotten a few ideas for the new business profile.