[frame_right][/frame_right]Google+ and Google Places have been almost completely merged as of this past weekend, and many in the internet marketing and search engine optimization industries are already screaming foul. However, closer study of what this merger means will likely reveal significant benefits for many business owners, but it also means there might be a lot more work involved in order to "stay with the times." Because social engagement and the "fresh" factor play such a large role in SERP rankings, developing an understanding of the Google+/Google Places merger is vital for businesses to stay ahead of their competition and in front of their customers.
Google has made a lot of changes in the last year and it could easily be argued that these changes were deliberately designed to lead to this merger. From acquiring Zagat to getting rid of Google Website Optimizer to doing away with Google Product Search and rolling out Content Experiments, Google is clearly on the move, but the big news is the integration of Google+ and Google Places.
So what happened? In summary, Google Places was essentially absorbed by Google+ - the search giant's answer to Facebook and other social media. What this means is that you can now use the social network to search for places based on what's near you. The mechanics of how this is done isn't as import as what it means for business owners - whether or not you already have a Google Places page.
Keeping in mind that Google+ is a social network and has absorbed Google Places, the following are some bullet points on the most important changes:
* Google+ users who have a Google Places page will now notice a "Local" tab on their account screen that lets you search for businesses and other listings based on your geographic location.
* Pages are more dynamic now - this is social media at its height. For webmasters and business owners that built a local places page and thought they could just forget about it and leave it as a static business card will be unpleasantly surprised to find this is no longer the case. Local listings are now engaged by users of the Google+ social network, which can cause reputation management nightmares if you're not careful.
People that comment or leave reviews on your Google+ local page can now influence the World Wide Web. This also means that if people are talking about your page, business or website across the internet, their comments and opinions may show up in your comment feed. Yikes! Time to be on your best behavior, and time to be sure to keep an eye on things.
* Star ratings for your listings in search results are gone. Instead, Zagat reviews and scores are now shown (if any).
* Updates to your places page are permitted now without all the fuss and hassle that was once required.
* Specific aspects of your products and services can now be rated by Zagat, so having a good (or bad) overall score isn't as important anymore, depending on what your customers are looking for.
* Close to 100 million Places pages have already been moved over to the new system. The good news is that if you already had a listing, it isn't going to disappear and you don't need to do anything - you'll still appear in local search results and your listing should still get the same level of organic traffic as it did before the merger.
In conclusion, the changes will likely benefit most businesses, but overall it will require a higher degree of interaction in order to capitalize on the full potential the new Google+ Local system has to offer. If you don't have a Local page or yours has traditionally been one of those static "online brochures," then it's time to think about the level of interaction you're prepared to commit to.
If this all seems like mumbo-jumbo nonsense to you, call the number at the top of your screen now for an immediate, free consultation. We've been following this story closely and will be happy to review your listings free of charge and tell you exactly what it means for you specifically. After all, if you're not engaging the way Google wants you to, it's likely that your business could fall behind the times. Don't let that happen - give us a call right now.