In mid-2012, Google announced that it would merge its business-friendly Google Places directory with its consumer-friendly Google+ Local feature. Among small business and local franchise owners, this transition has engendered some confusion and plenty of apprehension. This is largely unnecessary. In fact, Google+ Local holds a great deal of promise for members of local business communities around the country.
As a company principal, you might be relieved to learn that the crucial business interface of Google Places is still in operation. For the time being, your Google Places account is still functional and fully interactive. However, you’ll notice that the directory’s name has been changed to Google Places for Business.
In fact, the biggest immediate change to Google Places occurred on the consumer side. When your customers log into their Google+ accounts and search for your business, they’ll be presented with a Google+ Local page that contains the information found in its former Google Places listing. By seamlessly integrating Google+ Local with Google Places for Business, the tech giant takes a page directly from Facebook’s wildly successful business-to-consumer marketing playbook.
The Google+ Local transition has two major implications for your business. For starters, your company’s directory listing now functions like any other Google+ page: It can be seen by searchers and added to the contact lists or “circles” that define the Google+ service. As on Facebook, your customers can associate themselves with your business. By attracting an ever-growing number of prospective customers to its Google+ Local page, you’ll raise your company’s visibility and build sales momentum within your local trade area and beyond.
Thanks to Google’s late-2011 acquisition of famed restaurant guidebook Zagat, you can also expect your business’ Google+ Local page to contain increasing amounts of user feedback. If it hasn’t already, your business will also receive a Zagat-style rating that sizes it up using the guidebook’s familiar 30-point system. Depending upon the nature of its primary products and services, your company is liable to be rated on several different metrics.
This arrangement is not meant to intimidate. In fact, it presents a golden opportunity for service-driven business owners who are willing and able to devote significant amounts of time to reputation management, online marketing and quality customer service. Unlike the ratings in the “analog” annual Zagat restaurant guide, your business’s Zagat-style Google+ Local rankings can change in real time. Since your business’ Zagat score is the weighted average of its user-generated ratings in various categories, you have a vested interest in implementing strategies that increase its overall score.
As you might imagine, businesses that can improve their rankings on a consistent basis will appear more attractive to potential consumers. If your business regularly ranks ahead of its local peers, it’s also likely to attract the attention of customers and trendsetters within an expanding geographical radius. In other words, Google+ Local has the power to spread word-of-mouth reviews on metropolitan, state-level and regional scales with relative ease. If you operate in a heavily-populated trade area, a well-managed Google+ Local page might make a significant dent in the broadcast, print and banner ad sub-sections of your business’ advertising budget.
Google has taken pains to make the Google+ Local transformation as seamless as possible for local business owners. At the same time, the transition has the power to be a true game-changer for principals who have the diligence and foresight to harness it properly. Once you’ve established a robust Google+ Local presence for your business, its local marketing strategy might never be the same.