It’s no surprise that Google keeps their Search Engine algorithm a secret, but more recently Google users have been befuddled over the difference between some of Google’s products. There’s Google+, which seems just like Facebook but with a different interface. And then there’s Google Places, but also Google+ Local, both of which are essentially online business listings. What’s the difference, is there any difference, and where does my company belong? After some investigative research, we’ve come up with the answer.
Before there was a Google+ and Google+ Local, there was Google Places. In fact, it still exists today and many people still use it. Businesses create a listing for themselves on Google Maps by opening a Google Places account. When users do a search on Google for ‘hardware stores in Newport, Beach’ for example, businesses with Google Places accounts can show up in the Search Results.
If you click on the arrows next to their name, you will see their Google Places account information pop up to the right.
Google Places still exists, and you can manage it just as you did before. However, Google is moving towards a more social Places and Maps experience, one that incorporates their more recent products – Google+ and Google Local.
In an effort to step into the social media world, Google created Google+. It is essentially Google’s version of Facebook. There are some differentiating features, such as Google Hangouts and Circles, but the idea is the same. However, it’s becoming increasingly important that you have a Google+ account, especially as a business. Businesses can create a Google+ for Business Page (similar for Facebook Pages) and identify your company as a local business. There is also rumor that this helps your website SEO.
Now, here’s where things get tricky. In their effort to make Google Places more social, Google redesigned the look of Google Places Pages to look like Google+ Pages. When they did this upgrade, they also changed the name to Google+ Local. Moreover, if you were to create a Google+ Local account today you would also have to create a Google+ Page and identify your company as a local business. So, Google+ and Google+ Local are intertwined, and if you decide to go this route you can manage both from the same page. Not confusing at all, right?
Why does this matter? Because for people who are searching for local businesses through their Google+ account, or more importantly through Google+ Local on their mobile devices, this is where your company information is going to appear. On top of that, Google+ Local accounts are more beefed up than Google Places – they include a Zagat rating system and a different format for reviews. Google+ Local Pages look better than Google Places ones, so you are at a disadvantage if you only rely on Google Places.
As a business owner, if you previously had a Google Places account, your Places page has been converted (at least in look) to a Google+ Local page. You can still manage your page in the same way (through Google Places).
Google does give you the option of combining your Google Places and your Google+ Page into one complete page that is both listed on Google Maps and has social features. The benefit of doing this is so that you only have to manage one account instead of two, and your searchers get the Google+ Local Page experience. However, you should only make the change if you fit the following criteria:
- You have a Google+ Page
- If your Google+ page is not listed as a Local Business
- You can receive verification postcards
- You are not a business that only serves people at their homes
- Your business’ Google Places listing and Google+ Page are under the same email address
- You do not use the Bulk Uploads feature
We recommend you consult a digital marketing specialist before combining your accounts, as it may not be necessary in all cases.
During the Google I/O this year, they announced the Google Maps UI would soon be completely revamped, complete with brand new social features. Search results will be filterable by “top reviewers”, “top results”, and Google+ social circles. This will undoubtedly increase the importance of maintaining your social media accounts through Google.
To wrap this up, Google is moving into the social realm, whether you like it or not. If you have been resistant to jump on the Google+ bandwagon, you better do so. Google Places is more or less, old news, and Google+ Local is the future. While it’s hard to predict the impact that the new Google Maps will have on local search, there is no doubt that it will be greatly impacted by the other social products Google offers. If you’re still confused, we don’t blame you. But we hope this cleared a few things up!