WHAT HAPPENED TO GOOGLE PLACES?
What Happened to Google Places?
Retail businesses, especially those in the food service industry, rely heavily on local search to drive traffic. Your customers won't come if they can't find you, and today that means being found on Google. But how customers will find you on Google is changing. The search giant recently announced that they are killing their local search known as Google Places and replacing it with Google+ Local, a modified version of place pages that are built on Google's own social network. Once the transition is complete, all of your business profiles in Google, including search, maps, mobile and Google+ will be linked.
It's all part of Google's grand vision to blend social and search -- but to do it using their own data and their own platforms rather than Yelp, Foursquare or Facebook. Google's ultimate goal is that every time someone searches for something, say the best hamburger in town, his or her results will be heavily influenced by what their social connections think and do. If you search Google Maps for the closest Smashburger, every listing will include reviews (with your friends' reviews featured) as well the business' social profile. The problem is, people aren't really using Google+ on a regular basis. So what does the 800 pound gorilla of search do? They find something people are using -- in this case, Google Places -- and integrate it into the Google+ social network.
So what does this mean for businesses?
Basically it means that if you want to control how your business appears across the Google universe, you will have to join Google+.
First, it means Google has already migrated your current Places page to a Google+ Local page, but you're still able to manage it through the old Google Places administration tool
.(Google has not yet launched their tool for linking your Google+ page with your Google+ Local page, though they promise it will be coming soon.) Any reviews that you had on your old Google Places page have been moved, and all ratings have been adjusted to a new Zagat system.
Second, Google is betting that the move will inspire you to start regularly using Google+, or use it more often, as they expect to be sending a lot more traffic there via local search. If you're like most businesses, you're already trying to balance a social strategy on multiple platforms with limited resources, so adding another to the mix might be a challenge. Thankfully, since Google has not yet enabled linking Google+ pages with Google+ Local pages, there isn't an immediate need to engage in Google+.
In time, Google's gamble may pay off, so in the immediate term it's a good idea to make sure you've secured a Google+ page and have optimized it for your business. To get started, just head over to http://www.google.com/+/business/
and click Create Your Google+ Page. You can use the same account that you used to manage your Google Places page.
Other than that, make sure you check out the new Google+ Local page for your business by searching for it here
. You want to make sure that all of your business's information is accurate and check to see if there are any reviews that need your attention.
Google has been trying to break into the social networking game for years now, and while Google+ had some great early buzz, it hasn't yet been able to gain the same type of traction as Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. It's interesting that rather than creating a social network that people really want to use, Google is now using their influence in search to basically force people to adopt Google+. The last time a technology company tried that (Microsoft with Internet Explorer), they ended up facing a myriad of anti-trust suits. Whether Google will be able to get away with it remains to be seen, but considering Google's influence in search and the impact that it can have on business, this is one area businesses can't afford to ignore.
Mike Lee is the PR & Social Media Director at Cactus.