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By now you’ve probably heard about the merger of Google Places and Google + into a new entity called Google+ Local.
Google touts the release of Google+ Local as “bringing the community of Google+ to local business owners around the world. “ They promote the fact that “with one listing, your business can now be found across Google search, maps, mobile and Google+, and that your customers can easily recommend your business to their friends, or tell the world about it with a review.” While one may agree with the idea of an integrated page, the customer recommendation and review piece has definitely undergone a significant changed and it is this change that has folks buzzing.
A new look for your Google Places page. But let’s first address changes to the basic look. The first thing you’ll notice is a new layout and design for the listing for your business. All your basic business information is still available. And as of this writing you’re still able to log in from the google business page, however, this may soon change to a single log-in from your G+ page.
A new ratings and review system. While your basic business information should not have changed, there are some things that look dramatically different. Most notably the rating ‘Stars’ are gone. Instead google, which bought restaurant-ratings guide Zagat last year, is integrating that rating service into Google+Local. The new service will utilize Zagat's "poor-to-perfect" 0-to-30 rating scale and seeks to create pages for all known places, including businesses and even locations such as The Washington Monument (scored a “23”)
Built to review restaurants, here is guide to the ZAGAT ratings
26-30 extraordinary to perfection
21-25 very good to excellent
16-20 good to very good
11-15 fair to good
1-10 poor to fair
Biggest change: Google is now forcing people to use Google+in order to provide a review</strong>. This is the one change that’s most significant in my view. Starting now, in order to write a review, everyone needs to sign in to Google + (or create an account if they don’t already have one). This will likely (at least initially) make it harder to get your customers to review you using google (since they have to create a google + account first). One additional thing to note is that, in order to make a review “public” the reviewer needs to agree to let the review show their real name (tied to their google account). In addition to writing reviews, google will likely create added emphasis on the use of their ‘Plus 1” button.
Google Circles. Getting into the consideration set of potential customers will also start involving the need to be placed in Social Circles, via the Google Plus Circles feature. The more Plus 1′s, reviews, and circles you are in, the better your site will fare.
What you need to do. 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. Most importantly, make sure your customers understand how to write a review and how to rate your business. It’s really not all that different from what they are doing now having to sign into Yelp or other services. You’ll need to have your digital team become more active on Google+ to both monitor and help push the ranking of your new Google+ Local page.