Navigating Google’s Local Evolution
Google Places has been a mainstay for a local business’s search engine presence. This is the map which typically appears in the top right corner of the SERP, or in the mainline natural results, highlighting relevant businesses with clickable icons to a detailed business listing.
Without much warning or fanfare, Google recently eliminated Google Places and replaced it with Google+ Local listings, creating a lot of speculation and disruption for business owners who enjoyed substantial, in-market traffic from their Google Places listings.
Google’s Marissa Mayer made the announcement in June that 80 million Google Places pages had been converted into Google+ Local pages. The sudden change came as a significant surprise to webmasters and business owners, who had already ridden the changes caused by the unprecedented number of algorithm changes and the Penguin update, rolled out by Google from the end of March through to the start of May.
These changes should definitely result in better accuracy for consumer searches. One month later, much of the disruption created by the initial change has now settled down, and here is a summary of the new Google Local:
- Google Places is now replaced by Google+ Local pages;
- Google+ now has a ‘Local’ tab within Google+, making the business aspect of the social networking platform very similar to a Yellow Pages listing;
- Zagat reviews are now included with Google using Zagat’s entire archive which covers almost every business category. Zagat reviews, based on a 30-point scoring system, will also replace Google’s star ratings;
- Google+ Local is also integrated with Google Maps as well as other Google sites, including organic and mobile search; and
- Google+ integration means reviews and recommendations from within your Google+ Circles will also be included in results.
The general result is that Google+ Local is a much more dynamic platform compared to Google Places, which relied heavily on the business information input by the business owner.
Google’s perspective is that the Zagat scoring system (Zagat was acquired by Google in 2011) delivers a more informative customer review than the 5-point star rating (which is used by Yelp). Zagat reviews have different, better structured scoring opportunities, which allow reviewers to independently score based on food, quality, service and atmosphere. This avoids the homogenous focus of customer reviews around 3.5 stars, which has afflicted both Yelp and Google’s old scoring system. This opens the way for users to search based against independent criteria they specify, for instance on food quality irrespective of service, or price irrespective of location.
Ultimately, Google+ Local is much more interactive than Google Places ever was. The element of social media interaction is important to Google, which is working hard to deliver relevant search results to mobile users in particular. For business owners, it is more important than ever to claim your listing and create your Google+ business page in order to earn and/or maintain prominence in relevant local search results.