For many small businesses, Google Places Pages are their big chance to overtake their larger competitors and get onto the front page of Google with a red balloon highlighting their listing.
However, the changes that have been rolled out over the last few weeks have caused a lot of confusion, rather than an injection of enthusiasm for the huge potential for opportunity.
From my perspective, it’s almost as if Google keeps re-leveling the playing field to keep Places within the reach and grasp of the average local business owner – who doesn’t have a fortune to spend on fancy websites and search engine optimisation advice – whilst still keeping up with the latest technological advances and innovations.
The advent of Google+ – whilst seemingly separate from Google Places Pages – is a huge step in the right direction when it comes to improving customer activity on both Places Pages and customer websites.
With the social media evangelists leading the clarion charge to get one of the rare tranche of initial invites, the desire to be a part of this new ‘restricted numbers’ platform has mushroomed, so that people from outside the digital world clamoured to be part of this new ‘competitor’ for Facebook.
They’re also becoming more clued up about the significance of the +1 button on many pieces of website or blog content. Just as Facebook has the ‘like’ button and the facility for Facebook comments to show up on the personalised search results pages of Bing, Google have come up with something similar for Google+ – but with added juice. By linking your name to any content that you submit on your blog, website or as an article and from there to your Google+ profile, you are providing author authority which allows the search engine to place an image of you as the author beside your work on any relevant results page.
If that doesn’t make your content stand out over your competitors, I don’t know what will. It’s the equivalent of the Places Page red balloon – but for people.
With so many additional people joining Google Mail (otherwise known as Gmail) in order to be part of Google+ and then using their account as their standard email address, they have the key piece of the jigsaw which will allow them to participate in the intricate web of services that Google is building. You need a Google account to claim a Google Places Page and you also need one to leave a review – whether you’re on your PC or a mobile device.
It is also now possible to access domain-based email accounts and non-php mail functions using a Gmail app, rather than Microsoft’s Outlook or Mozilla’s Thunderbolt.
So, with the groundwork in place to connect up their spider’s web, Google rolled out the latest changes to the Places Page format. A big red ‘Write a Review’ button replaced the previous third party testimonials from local listing directories. Some experts said there were issues regarding using other websites’ content, but why offer customers the chance to leave reviews through other directories when Google now have an effective method of their own?
Pre-Google+, not so many people had a Gmail account, so it required a lot of determined effort to leave a review on a Places Page. That problem is now solved. And with their own mobile app already in popular usage, Google have a head start over the majority of the local listing apps – even though some of them are now paying to have their mobile app installed as default on some mobile networks.
Having said that, although the third party reviews no longer show in the exact number listed against any page, that doesn’t mean that Google does not still take them into account and it would be a very brave business owner indeed who put all their eggs in one basket when it comes to reviews. Get your business listed in as many local listing directories as possible so that people have the opportunity to review you, whatever app they use.
Uploading photographs is another addition to the latest roll-out – again, for the mobile customer, people are far more likely to upload a review and a photo at the same time, whilst actually at the venue and having a great time, than waiting until they get home and connecting their phone up to the computer.
But, more importantly, these images will make the business entry stand out in the listings on both a PC and a mobile screen, as well as increasing on-Page activity. Indeed, if you look at the newest branded one box entries, these are definitely trying to include the most useful information in the easiest way. Eye-catching pictures with only the most relevant wording taken from both the Places Page and the business website – so no detailed description and working hours to over-complicate the slick preview that is seen by the customers.
What is becoming quite clear is that Google is optimising the local Places Pages for both social and mobile, using the factors that have always underpinned their SERPs – relevance and trust. But now it’s their own users who are providing both the information and the verification.
Jo Shaer is a Local SEO Aficionado, who uses Google Places, Search Engine Optimisation and Social Media to direct traffic for a wide range of businesses at Lollipop Local.
She also writes a regular Blog