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As we all know, Google made a HUGE shift on May 30th, when they moved all Google Places pages to Google+ Local. We are 1 month since the announcement and shift, and I wanted to share some of my experiences and observations so far.
Google is very important when it comes to online reputation and specifically online reviews for local businesses, including auto dealers and other categories. Google's move to launch Google+ Local shows a large commitment by Google to reviews and the local business space. As with any new launch, it will evolve over time. From what we have seen thus far there are some great things about Google+ Local and some challenges with how it is implemented currently. The fact remains that it is here to stay, and the best thing we can do is educate ourselves and our customers on Google+ Local, and utilize it to the best of our ability, while being aware of its current limitations.
This blog post summarizes some of my own observations, so please comment if you have any additional insights to share.
1: User Experience
The overall look and feel of the new Google+ Local pages looks great. It is easy to read, the larger images are compelling, and the way the review summary is highlighted is nice, etc. However, there are two areas where Google+ is lagging, and these two areas will impact user adoption: sign up process, and lack of iPad / iPhone support for writing a review.
Currently, in order to sign up for Google+, a user is taken through a 4 step process where they are "guided" through a variety of new features that Google has to offer. For new users, this may be over-whelming. In addition, each time there is a new step, users will fall out of the conversion process. Google needs to refine this sign-up process to make it easier for users to join Google+ and participate in reviews.
One of the big reasons that Google launched Google+ Local was to provide an increased focus on reviews and propagate their new Zagat-style review scale, the 30 point scale. For that reason, having users write reviews seems to be an important outcome of the launch. At this point in time, Google has not launched an iPad app for Google+ and their Google+ app for iPhone does not include the ability to search Google+ Local or write reviews for local businesses. With the penetration for iPhones and iPads and users' desire to do things while on the go, this will limit user adoption and users' ability to write reviews.
2: Phasing Out Google Places
The launch of Google+ Local really only encompassed a partial launch of the service -- the front end user interface. The back end, which includes the management of a Google+ Local Business Page as well as integration with the Google search offerings is not fully implemented yet.
In order to manage or change information, local businesses still have to log into their Google Places dashboard. This is where they would update images, any information/ hours, etc. The business also has to log in here to respond to reviews from customers.
Google+ Local is not yet fully integrated into the Google search results. When you execute a search that includes local businesses in the search results, reviews are not included as a part of the Google organic or paid results. Where you do see reviews/ Google+ Local information is in the Google Places part of the search results. It is still entitled "Places for [xyz business] in [city]" and includes every listing for that business, the associated reviews, and a map to the businesses. I am sure that we will see further integration down the line and a complete retirement of any references to Google Places.
Google+ Local is here to stay. Google is pushing its review platform to be more relevant to local businesses and get users engaged. I believe that over time, using Google+ will become easier to use from all devices, and Google+ Local will be fully integrated within Google Search results.
Google is also establishing different standards (e.g., the 30 point scale, and 1-3 ratings) and requirements for reviews than other sites. For example, Google has stated that reviews can be obtained directly within the business location. Since a Google+ account is required to submit a review, Google must feel that the benefit of getting more customer participation by involving the business in encouraging customers to review outweighs the threat of abuse, since users have to have their own Google+ account to leave a review.
We cannot ignore Google+ Local and Google Reviews. We need to educate ourselves and our customers on how Google+ Local can be leveraged as an asset to drive additional business into dealerships.