Jim McRoy
James McRoy

Google+ local business pages offer new opportunities

Last Wednesday (May 30th), Google switched over 80 million business listings from Google Places to their newly created Google + Local platform.

Industry experts believe that this move has a twofold driver; Bing, the Microsoft Search engine who partners with Facebook to provide their search results on the Social Media site, has recently updated the way it delivers results. Bing search engine has launced its revised format featuring three columns of relevant information and added social components to augment search queries.

The new format offers three panes in response to search queries

1. Regular search answers appear at left;
2. a centre pane features “snapshot” views about queries, including photos, maps, reviews or
product prices;
3. a right-hand “social sidebar” includes relevant comments from social sites.

While the Bing algorithm also drives search on Yahoo.com in the U.S. and Canada, the new format does not appear on Yahoo, which controls the user experience.

The second driver is the expected launch of Google’s new small business toolbox aimed at the SME
market.

According to a recent report from The Wall Street Journal, Google is preparing to launch a new ad service and tools aimed at small businesses as soon as July. Noting that the new service was once called “Business Builder” internally, the report claimed it will consist of various products that have been developed by Google and technologies/services acquired through the purchases of over six companies at a cost of roughly half a billion dollars since last year. The source claimed Google is hoping the new service will bring in billions in new revenue each year.

A few of the acquisitions mentioned in the report include in-store loyalty program Punchd and SMS customer interaction service TalkBin. The service would also include aspects of AdWords Express, Google Offers, Google Wallet, and several new products.

Google’s own take on the moves is outlined in their report:

‘Central to the effort is Google+, the company’s social network, which it hopes consumers will use to interact with local businesses that now have special Web pages on the network. Those Google+ pages will draw traffic from the company’s Web-search engine. When shoppers visit these businesses, Google wants them to use their Internet-connected phones like a digital wallet, earning loyalty points and making payments at stores that sign up for Google’s new services.’

Google began listing local-businesses as Google+ pages last week, which further encouraged businesses and users to apply the network for interacting with one another.

Google was expected to roll out these changes in the autumn, but the Bing launch has prompted a rapid response by Google.

In addition to the changes of Google Places pages to Google + pages, the company has also adopted the Zagat review system for listings, dropping the ‘Star rating’ used until last Wednesday. Zagat was a restaurant review site acquired by Google that uses a 30 point scoring system that provides more precise and explanatory ratings. Because reviews can now only be left by people who have Google+ accounts, this also provides more transparency to the service and avoids the potential abuse that the previous review system was prone to.

What does this mean for the business owner? Well, the new system is a great opportunity for businesses to tap into the power of social networking to maximise their own business exposure on the search engine giant, but it does mean that they will have to upgrade to Google+ to join the 170 million other Google+ users worldwide.

We have worked with several companies optimising their Google Places listing with some impressive results, and while these have transferred to Google+ Local Pages, there is still another step to finalise the transition.

As a Google+ member, you can claim your own business page and optimise it for search engine traffic. However, if you already have claimed and optimised your Google Places page, which has now transitioned to Google+ Local, the next step is to claim your Google+ Local Business Page and let Google know that you would like them to integrate the pages. Integrating the pages and adding customers to your ‘Circles’ will result in better search engine optimisation for your business and the potential for a massive word of mouth boost for your business.

There is a downside, which is a plus for the consumer; the social web won’t let you get away with less than excellent service; each customer now has a sphere of influence for beyond the immediate circle of friends, and businesses will have to be on their game to ensure that any glitches or failings in the service or product provided are dealt with swiftly and to the satisfaction of all concerned.

I would like to thank Google for helping to change a holiday weekend (Diamond Jubilee here in the UK) into a full-on working weekend; I was scuttling around most of the weekend to see how these changes would impact on our clients and ended up on several webinars where the intricacies of the changes were fully revealed.

What seemed initially a disaster in the making has turned out to be a fairly exciting opportunity for businesses to move ahead of their competition even further by early adoption of the new structure.

Looks like it could be a busy summer.

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