Now that more than two months have passed since Google Places was switched to Google+ Local, it’s time to get a feel for how the new local search service has fared. So far, different people have different reactions to Google+ Local. On the one hand, search engine optimization companies and consultants have been unanimous in their praise of it. On the other, everyday users aren’t always clear on the concept, especially when it comes to the new Zagat rating system. Small business owners tend to fall somewhere in the middle. As a result, there is no clear consensus. However, it’s worth it to look more closely at what’s worked and what hasn’t.
What Changes were Made with Google+ Local?
To understand how Google+ Local has fared, you need to have a firm grasp about what’s changed. When stacked up against Google Places, many interesting updates and changes are reflected on Google+ Local pages. For example:
- A New Look – From a purely aesthetic standpoint, Google+ Local pages are a lot more appealing than their Google Places predecessors. Without a doubt, this update has thrilled small business owners and has likely made the service more appealing to users as well.
- Filtered Results – Customization is a key component of Google+ Local. One example of this is that users can filter their results based on several different criteria. They can restrict results to reviews by people in their Circles, by people who are similar to them or to top reviewers. Results can also be filtered through a feature called Just for You.
- Zagat Rating System – The old five-star rating system has been replaced by a 30-point Zagat rating system, which allows people to rate businesses across a number of categories.
- Indexed by Google – Unlike Google Places pages, Google+ Local pages are indexed by Google.
How Google+ Local Appears on Paper
On paper, Google+ Local makes many big promises. It essentially combines local search with a social network, so it allows businesses to interact with their customers with ease. The striking appearances of Google+ Local pages make them a lot more appealing, and they can be customized in many ways too. In theory, the Zagat rating system is supposed to be more precise, nuanced and balanced. The fact that Google+ Local pages are indexed by Google is probably one of the most exciting things about the change, and it has definitely set the world of SEO on fire.
It’s easy to get excited about these changes, but how do they actually stack up? The results are largely mixed:
- Reviews Get Lost in the Shuffle – Since the switch was made, many businesses have reported that they’ve lost many important reviews. Third-party reviews are no longer included, and that has put a damper on things for some businesses as well.
- It Only Works Well for Registered Google+ Users – Many businesses are turned off by the fact that their Google+ Local pages only appear correctly to people who are logged into their Google+ accounts. People who don’t have Google accounts will not see the same features as those who do.
- The Zagat Rating System is Confusing – People are used to five-star review systems. The 30-point scale of the Zagat rating system is far from intuitive. Many people just don’t know what to make of it and don’t know how to translate a Zagat rating. Many businesses worry that people interpret their ratings incorrectly.
- Limited Benefits for Non-Restaurant Businesses – The Zagat rating makes sense for restaurants, but it doesn’t really make sense for many other businesses. It’s unclear whether Google will implement changes to handle this issue or not.
Is Google+ Local Worth it? Absolutely
Despite the small amount of confusion that has ensued since the switch was made, Google+ Local is an invaluable resource for small businesses. If you’re on the fence about Google+ Local, you shouldn’t give up on it without taking the following steps:
- Claim your Google+ Local page and verify it.
- Completely fill out your profile.
- Customize your page by adding photos, logos and content.
- Optimize the content on your Google+ Local page with targeted keywords, but make sure that it’s still appealing to read.
- Encourage your customers to post reviews on your Google+ Local page. Ask them to give your business +1 clicks as well.
- Use the contact page from your website in the website URL field.
Although there’s no clear consensus about whether Google+ Local has hit a home run or not, making the most of what it has to offer certainly isn’t going to hurt. You don’t have to devote a lot of time to it either. For now, it’s definitely smart to get on board. If it grows in popularity, your business is sure to benefit enormously.