Google+ Local replaces Google Places – Businesses forced to engage

Earlier this month, Google officially closed the doors on Google Places, replacing it with Google+ Local, bringing all local search results and business location pages into Google+, forcing brands to engage with the social network.

Over 80 million Google Place pages worldwide have been automatically converted into Google+ Local pages, with the goal of merging all business listings into one single entity used across the Google product network, including maps, search, social and mobile.

The launch is a significant step in Google’s crusade to reshape the web, intertwining all of their products under the Google+ umbrella, creating a much more social web.

Google+ has been relatively overshadowed by Facebook’s IPO in the media recently, and with reports of Google+ usage slipping becoming commonplace, the public perception of the search giant’s social network has not been the strongest.

However, the company’s social media strategy remains a key focus for Google’s CEO Larry Page, who little over a week into taking over the reins back in November 2011, took the move to directly link the annual bonuses of over 25 per cent of Google employees to the success or failure of their social products.

Making locations social

Google+ Local is a very social product in itself, influencing a user’s search results by taking into account the places the user’s contacts, friends, family members and colleagues have visited and reviewed.

Users will also be able to share opinions and upload photos. These reviews and photos will help the user’s friends when they’re checking out a place online, and are also integrated into the aggregate score that other people see around the world. No longer tucked away deep in the Google Maps listings, reviews are now brought to the user in a single platform.

With many brands already having a presence on Google+, the next phase will be to integrate the brand’s Google+ Local listings and reviews with the Google+ brand page, creating a single experience for the user, and a single Google listing for the brand that will exist across the majority of Google products.

Google Jen Fitzpatrick, VP Engineering at Google announced in a blog post on Wednesday that Google will “soon extend these social experiences to more local Google+ pages in the weeks and months ahead”, but provided several examples of how this will look for brands in the near future.

Online reviews have had a significant effect on consumer behaviour in the past few years, particularly for businesses like restaurants, shops and brands with retail presences. With Google+, rather than reviews being ‘siloed’ on separate forums or review sites, they’re now centralised around the brand’s primary listing on Google, which will inevitably be seen by a much larger group of consumers.

Social and search

It’s worth noting that the tie in with Google products will not just affect reviews and brand pages, but in the near future the places your friends visit are likely to influence a user’s search rankings too. Therefore businesses not looking to maximise their Google+ presence stand to lose out to local competitors with a stronger focus on the platform, both in terms of online traffic and in-store footfall.

Without a strong branded presence on Google+, businesses stand the risk of their brand message being overshadowed by reviews and customer comments, which if negative is certainly not a good thing. Without a branded presence on Google+, business listings will exist at the mercy of the reviewer.

This overlap of Google products will undoubtedly twist the arms of businesses in the near future, forcing them to engage with Google+ in order to continue to perform well across the search platform. Do not bet on Google+ failing to become a significant online marketing pillar for businesses in the next few years.