It’s not exactly surprising that Google recently made the widely-expected announcement that it plans to convert all existing Google Places pages into Google+ Local pages. So instead of boring you with further details on this transition, I want to jump into the meat of the issue: how this shift affects local SEO best practices.
But first, I want to make a few clarifications since some of the terminology surrounding this change can be confusing.
In the past, you had two options for promoting your business through Google:
- A Google Places page, which was essentially a directory style listing that showcased your basic business information, pictures, and reviews as part of the “Places” listings. These pages weren’t typically included in the traditional SERPs.
- A Google+ Page, which was a separate web property that could be set up within the Google+ social network. Although most businesses opted to use the “Local Business or Place” category, Google+ Pages are available for several different categories, including “Product or Brand,” “Company, Institution or Organization,” and “Arts, Entertainment or Sports”. Google+ Pages have always made social integrations like Google+ circles and hangouts available to page owners.
The recent rollout of Google+ Local pages only affects the first of these two types by replacing the former Google Places listings. As a result, it is currently possible to have both a Google+ Local page and a Google+ Page for your business, thanks to Google’s nonsensical, product rollout schedule and its confusing naming conventions.
Currently, Google Places has been replaced by Google+ Local pages, although there’s still no way to combine your existing Google+ Local page with your Google+ Page. Google has stated that integration options will be available in the future, but there hasn’t yet been any word on when that might occur.
To get a feel for what the merged pages will look like, Google has made the following “early release” pages available for review:
- The Meatball Shop
- Delfina Restaurant
- Oh! Sushi
- North Bowl
- Pomegranate Cafe
- Chicago Music Exchange
- Extreme Martial Arts MMA
How will Google+ Local pages affect SEO?
Essentially, the following changes have occurred as a result of the Google Places/Google+ Local pages transition:
- Google Places pages have become Google+ Local pages.
- A “Local” tab has been added to Google+ to provide users with personalized and social recommendations for specific Google+ Local pages.
- Zagat review data has replaced Google’s old five-star system, and the site’s former paywall has been eliminated.
- Google+ Local pages are being integrated to Google Search, Google Maps, and Google Mobile.
These modifications have had a few, subtle impacts on Local SEO. The first is that the new Google+ Local pages will be indexed, in contrast to the older Google Places pages. For the local businesses that take advantage of this effect by creating new Google+ pages, this may result in an increased presence in the natural blended SERPs.
The second expected impact of this transition will be the benefit of future social functionality that will be made available via the Google+ network. In terms of SEO, social signals tracked on future Google+ Local pages could be relayed to traditional search users via local annotations in the SERPs, as well as featured recommendation positions within Google+ Local internal searches.
However, it is worth noting that many of the social perks promised to local businesses on the Google+ network are currently only available on Google+ Pages. Until the full integration of Google+ Pages and Google+ Local pages occurs, they won’t be available on Google+ Local pages.
Interestingly enough, the transition to Google+ Local pages doesn’t appear to be having a tremendous effect on the organization of the natural SERPs. That is sites won’t necessarily jump in the rankings based on the presence or absence of their Google+ Local pages. In nearly all cases documented so far, the order of the results listings displayed in the traditional SERPs appears to closely mimic the organization of pages within former “Places” SERPs.
What actions do you need to take?
If you already had a verified Google Places page:
According to Google, if you already had a verified Google Places page, you’ll need to keep up with the maintenance of this page in the Google Places for Business dashboard:
“If you are a business owner, you should continue to manage your information in Google Places for Business. You’ll still be able to verify your basic listing data, make updates, and respond to reviews. For those who use AdWords Express, your ads will operate as normal as they’ll automatically redirect people to the destination you selected or your current listing.”
In addition, if you already had an established Google+ Page for your business, you’ll need to keep up with this page separately until Google provides the opportunity to move your former Google Places (now Google+ Local) page and your Google+ Page.
If you haven’t yet taken advantage of this feature, now’s the time to create one. Just be careful to set up your Google+ Page using the same email address you used to create your former Google Places page. Doing so will make the transition process easier in the future.
If you don’t already have a Google Places page:
On the other hand, if you haven’t yet set up your business listing with Google, you’ll still be able to do so by visiting www.google.com/places and clicking “Get started now” to claim your company via business phone number. As you create this page, you’ll want to keep a number of standard local SEO best practices in mind:
- Use a phone number in your Google+ Local listing that contains the area code of the city you’re in, as proximity is a major factor used in the local ranking algorithms.
- Minimize keyword usage in your business title, as extra words here can result in data center mismatches between your business name and keyword-optimized title.
- Use your “Contact” or “Location” page in the “Website” field, as these particular landing pages tend to have stronger geographic signals.
- Incorporate target keywords into the “Description” and “Category” fields of your listing, while still clearly articulating your business’s objective for readers.
- Upload as many pictures as possible in order to make your profile as appealing as possible to new visitors.
Once this is set up, you’ll want to create your separate Google+ Page under the “Local Business or Place” category. Be sure to select this specific category to assist with future integration to Google+ Local.
Then, once you have the proper Google business pages created, it’s a good idea to start beefing up your presence on this site. As social signals are likely to play at least some role in local SEO and the performance of your Google+ properties, consider taking any or all of the following actions:
- Build out your personal Google+ profile and begin forming connections via Google+ circles in order to develop your individual authority beyond your Google+ Page and Google+ Local page.
- Get in the habit of posting updates and connecting with followers on your Google+ Page.
- Encourage customers at your local business to leave reviews on your new Google+ Local page, although they’ll need to have active Google accounts to leave feedback.
- Email all of your newsletter subscribers who signed up with Gmail accounts and ask that they “+1” your Google+ properties and leave reviews on your pages.
Beyond taking these actions, stay tuned. As the integrations between Google+ Pages and Google+ Local pages begin to roll out, we’ll undoubtedly see more changes in terms of the best practices small businesses need to undertake in order to maximize their local SEO.