RIP Google Places
Google Places has been the longstanding, traditional directory offering by Google—for a good reason. Google Places was a fairly simple offering that worked for its intended purpose. It all the information you needed to contact a business and allowed you to look at fairly accurate and unbiased reviews.
I am sad to announce the death of Google Places. I have mixed emotions about introducing its replacement—Google+ for Business. Here are the changes that we know so far and what that will mean for your business.
Like you would expect, all of the existing Google Places pages have been converted to the new Google+ Business Pages (or soon will be). To date, Google has migrated some 80 million pages but still has quite a few more to go before the switch will be completed.
If you currently manage or control any Google Places pages, there is not really any action needed on your part, but do expect some changes to be happening to your account (think Google Docs to Google Drive).
One of the most obvious changes will be the over all look and feel of the product from a users standpoint. The overall look and feel of the listings has become slicker and more user friendly.
The actual map of the location will take center stage with this layout (its about time). Also making an appearance will be the previously hard to find business description. All of these changes should make for easier conversion and a better user experience.
It has been much rumored that Google reviews were about to undergo a major overhaul since Google’s acquisition of Zagat in 2011. Reviews will now be weighted on the Zagat scale and include various subcategories specific to the business type (service, price, cleanliness, atmosphere, etc.).
There have been mixed reactions about this from the SEO community, but I think the change is a good thing. The reviews posted on Google have been considered fairly candid and uncontaminated by fraudulent reviews—due in part to Google’s sophisticated fraud detection algorithms. The introduction of the Zagat style reviews only shows a considerable mark of improvement for Google on their goal of becoming the best and most relevant provider of local information.
One thing to note is during the shift many reviews (good and bad) may have been lost in the shuffle. Google pulls data from various servers and information sources. Google is notorious for loosing reviews and other data during its quarterly data cleanup, but during this transition the loss was greater than usual for some listings.
Go Social or Go Home
Google is putting all of its weight behind Google+ and this is just another prime example of this. With its slow adoption rate and strange variety of features, Google + has struggled to build and maintain an active and engaged audience since its introduction.
Google hopes to change that by leveraging the power of local listings. The change has introduced the idea that Google+ activity for the business will strongly influence the position of the business in the SERPs. While business that are not active on Google+ may still see their listings appearing, it is apparent that Google is trying to force search engine marketers to help them get Google+ on its feet.
Ironic isn’t it? The love/hate relationship between SEOs and Google has become even more complicated. Blatant manipulation not withstanding, only time will tell if there are any more changes on the horizon and what exactly SEOs can do to improve their local results amidst this new set of rules.