Like it or not, Google Plus Local is Here

Earlier than anticipated, and in full force, Google has announced the merger of its Google+ social networking platform and its Google Places business listings. Big G decided to eschew a gradual roll-out and slow integration of features in favor of an expedient approach. Local business owners and SEOs have been scrambling to determine to what extent their search rankings and Google Places listings have been affected since Google’s announcement yesterday.

The ramifications of the Google+/Places merger and the exploration of new features have been outlined in posts by Mike Blumenthal, David Mihm, and Linda Buquet. I recommend taking the time to read these informative posts to clarify many of the details. Google’s official announcement can be found here, and Vanessa has been answering questions at the Google Places help forum. This post was written as a quick overview of the complicated merger.

Google’s Rationale

In an aggressive attempt to expand its Google Plus member base, Big G has chosen to force businesses with existing places listings to register for a G+ account and actively participate in the network lest they be relegated to the lower depths of local search results. To make matters worse, anyone wishing to leave a review on a local business page must first sign up for a G+ account. Google claims its priority is to create a seamless searching, shopping, and social experience for its users.

Clearly this integration will include further opportunities for Google to display targeted paid ads throughout this ‘streamlined’ experience. Throughout the early stages of this integration we can expect to encounter a lot of missing, merged, and duplicate content issues similar to what plagued the Google Places platform from conception to its final demise/resurrection. Take a look at a report by Newsy for one take on the story.

 

A Quick Rundown

Although the merger is still in its early stages, we can expect a wild ride with new features being added or scrapped on a daily basis. Here are some of the changes observed thus far:

  • The five-star rating system has been replaced by reviews from Google-owned Zagat and Google Plus members. Anyone wishing to leave a review must be a registered Google+ user, and must be signed in. Real names (not nicknames) will be associated with each review putting an end to anonymous reviews.
  • The ‘Leave a Review’ button on Google Places listings has been removed, though it is likely to reappear in one form or another.
  • Likewise, the ability to upload videos using the Google Places dashboard is now gone.
  • Franchises and businesses with more than one location will have to sit tight while Google works out how to deal with multiple-locations. It is highly unlikely that a franchise with 400 locations would have to register for 400 different G+ accounts.
  • The ‘Owner Verified’ listing has been replaced by ‘Is this your business?’ and ‘Manage your page’.
  • A ‘top reviewers’ feature has been added to Google Plus Local
  • There is conflicting information on whether or not Google Places reviews will migrate over to G+ Local pages. Obviously this would completely level the playing field, requiring business owners to track down former patrons and request that they re-post their reviews.
  • You can keep up-to-date with these developments at the Google Places help forum. Vanessa has been working diligently to field the flurry of questions that have been thrown her way over the past 30+ hours.

Rather than fretting over lower rankings and lost reviews, it’s best to hang tight while the integration progresses. Make sure to claim both your Google Plus and Google Places pages if you haven’t already. Add some fresh content to your Google Plus page, and continue looking for local citations and link-building opportunities. Hopefully things will become more certain over the following days.

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