Google+ Local Creates Need For ‘Local Social’ Strategy
Just a few weeks ago, Google launched “Google+ Local,” transforming the former Google Places pages for businesses into their Plus-page equivalents. The much-anticipated change also melded reviews and ratings information from Google’s recently acquired Zagat property into the mix. So, if you are a company with local presence, what will these changes mean for you?
If you’ve already been using Google+ before this sea change, the layout generated for local business pages will look pretty familiar. The business’s name appears in the upper left of the Google+ Local page, with the address in a lighter gray, small print beneath. Just below that is a strip of up to five, clickable thumbnail photos, or a wide masthead cover photo similar to what appears on individuals’ profile pages — if no thumbnail images or cover photo are available for your business, Google may display a wide map image of your location here — and a larger primary image representing the business is to the right of the smaller photo thumbnails or overlaying the masthead cover photo. In the center area below the masthead, address information may be displayed, the business’s website URL, Zagat scores, categories and pricing information. Below the larger primary image on the right, is a small pinpoint map, below which can be other photos and related links.
While this change was anticipated since late last year, it’s still not completely over. Some local businesses already set up Plus pages for their businesses in addition to their already-existing Place pages. Google plans on merging those preexisting pages with the newly generated ones. The Google Places dashboard will continue to be the administrative interface for these new pages, although when you’re posting status updates, you’ll likely be doing so from the Google+ Local page itself, just as when you post to your personal Google+ page.
Even though the dust hasn’t completely settled on Google+ Local, post-launch, there are a number of clear takeaways that point to how businesses will need to adjust their online marketing plans to effectively compete.
Google Plus overall marks a significant shift in Google’s focus. Until now it has not had a successful domestic social media venture. However, the implementation of Google+ beats its past, abortive attempts, and the integration is deeper with other services such as mobile apps, Google Maps, Google Latitude, and within Google’s search results.
Challenge to Facebook?
While the overall usage and adoption rate for Google Plus is still well below that of Facebook, it’s Google’s integration in its regular keyword search results and with local search and Maps that can be expected to provide a reasonable equivalent to Facebook in many ways. Reviews and recommendations by one’s friends will draw the eye to specific listings in search results, and will increase socially-influenced personalizations more and more. Listings of articles and blog posts in search results will draw the eye — and clicks — more if they are enhanced with photo icons and bylines of their authors.
But, there are more than superficial reasons to integrate more deeply with your Google+ Local pages. Beyond just the layout changes and listings getting dressed-up a bit more, it’s reasonable to predict that these changes are going to have a significant impact upon rankings themselves.
Over the long term, businesses that are followed by more people in online social communities could logically be considered to be more popular than businesses with few followers. And, Google likes to quantify popularity signals to use them as potential ranking signals.
Additionally, ongoing and consistent engagement with online communities is something for which consumers have shown a preference. And, another hallmark of Google’s products has been an obsessed devotion to improving the quality of user-experience with each iteration of their evolution. So, those companies that are more active on their Google+ pages may also get some beneficial treatment from Google, too.
Even if Google wasn’t focused on promoting the pages that users interact-with more, Google pays attention to indications that a business is active and viable, since it’s often very difficult to detect when companies have shut down. A company that posts ongoing Google+ updates is clearly still in business, and could rank higher in search listings, than companies that are not giving off any signals of activity.
There are other reasons to build communities of followers around your business and to maintain ongoing engagement with them. Developing passionate fans and friends interested in your business can give you a platform for communicating special offers, seasonal items, new products and services, and developments of interest.
For all these reasons, local businesses need to plan to develop their social media presence more through Google+. The work involved with this may be daunting for small businesses that have not already integrated social media. If this is the case, try ramping up gradually to posting status updates once a month, once every two weeks, once weekly. Different frequencies make sense for various types of businesses as well. You can also hire online marketing companies to handle this for you, too . This option that may be ideal if you have little experience in social media.
Google+ Local is on course to change the game. The practice of setting up and optimizing your business information, then merely leaving it alone is fast going to become a thing of the past. Plan now to begin developing your social media presence – whether by doing it yourself, or by hiring a company to perform social media campaigns on your behalf. Start working on it now to get ahead of your competition, and to maintain and improve your position in local search rankings.