As you may have noticed, over the past couple of years Google has made some major changes that affect local businesses in a big way. Over 80 million Google Places pages have been transformed into Google+ Local pages.
It’s a dramatic change and, in my opinion, it’s for the better. Unfortunately, these changes are an ongoing work-in-progress that have been disorienting for more than a few users and many therapists.
An Overview of What’s Changed
Here’s a brief overview of what’s new and what’s changing:
- As mentioned, all Google Places pages have been transformed into Google+ Local pages
- Google has added a new “Local” tab within its Google+ dashboard
- All of Google’s properties (search, maps, and mobile apps) are now displaying the new Google+ Local pages as opposed to Google Places pages
- New filters have been added to Google searches so users can more readily find businesses that have been reviewed by friends and colleagues
As mentioned, the biggest change is that the static Google Places business pages have been automatically replaced by more dynamic Google+ Local pages.
The first thing you’ll likely notice is the new layout and design for the listing for your business. All your basic business information is still available, but by streamlining the layout and putting more focus on photos and reviews, Google hopes to help you highlight what makes your business truly unique.
New Ways for Clients to Find and Interact with You and Your Business
Your clients and prospective clients are now able to find your new Google+ Local page in several ways:
- Your Google+ Local page can be found by those searching Google.com or Google Maps
- Your new page can be found through a variety of mobile apps (think of all those smart phones using the Android operating system)
- Your practice’s local listing can now be found directly through searches on Google+ (the image below is an example of a local search result within Google+)
As you can see from the image above, Google+ has become another destination for local searches, and one that provides more functionality and richer content than Google and the other search engines offer in their regular search results.
If you click the new “Local” tab in Google+ (as shown above), you’ll be taken to a personalized local home (discovery) page. This page offers a variety of popular, social and recommended content. There are several variables that go into the content that appears on this page and no two people in the same city will see the exact same page.
You’ll also notice that Google offers a “two-search-box” approach for Google+ Local, one for keywords related to the type of business people are looking for and one for the geographic location.
Users can browse the content suggested on their Google+ “home” page or use the search boxes as they would use any other search engine.
All of this means that Google is now offering a local search platform with Google+ that offers functionality that rivals, and in my opinion is superior to, Facebook and Twitter.
Unlike with your old Google Places page, for better or worse, your new Google+ Local page allows you to develop relationships with clients, prospective clients, and colleagues and them to develop relationships with you.
This having been said, even if you have no interest in using the “social” aspects of your Google+ Local business page, these pages are appearing at the top of the regular Google search results.
If your practice is at all reliant on Google’s search engine for new leads and clients, then you need to create a Google+ account and create a Google+ Local page for your business… Again, these pages are being indexed and appearing at the top of Google’s regular search results!
What Do You Need to Do?
While the display of your local business page has changed, this change essentially gives you more control over the visuals of your listing while allowing for more segmented social activity around reviews.
The current backend, the Places Dashboard, continues to be a primary location for you to input data about your business, but you can now input information about your business directly via your Google+ Local page.
As per Google’s “Google and Your Business” blog:
What does this change mean for how business owners add and edit their listings? Do business owners need to have a Google+ profile?
It’s business as usual on this front. Verified business owners can edit the listings (now local Google+ pages) through the Google Places for Business dashboard, as always. Business owners just now looking to get verified can go through the process by clicking on the “Manage this page” button under “Is this your business?” header on the right of the page. Right now, business owners do not need to have Google+ profiles to verify and edit local Google+ pages.
Will Google+ Local pages and existing Google+ pages be merged?
Yes! If you’re a business owner that’s got both the local Google+ page (formerly Google Places listing) and a Google+ page that you made in Google+ separately, the current recommendation is to continue managing each separately. The plan is to merge them, so business owners have just one page to manage.
To Merge or Not to Merge Your Google+ Pages
For the moment, when you set up or claim a business listing using the Google Places dashboard, the data you enter will feed directly into your Google+ Local page listing.
So, if you haven’t already done so, you should definitely claim or create a Google+ Local page for your practice and verify it, as this is the page that shows up in Google’s search results, on Google Maps, and in Google-powered mobile apps.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to set up a personal Google+ account and use it to set up a Google+ Business page.
But, should you choose to do so, the Google+ Business page you create will be a separate entity from your Google+ Local page until they’re merged.
While the terminology can be bewildering – especially since Google is still in the middle of this transition – basically your business most likely already had a Google Places page (whether you had claimed ownership of it or not). That Places page was transformed into a Google+ Local page overnight, although you can still manage the page from your Google Places dashboard.
In order for you and your business to get the full benefit of Google+ going forward, you’ll need to create a Google+ Business page and merge it with your Google+ Local page. But, there is a caveat.
Google is still in the process of integrating all the various pieces of the puzzle they’ve created and there are a few known issues:
- In order to merge your Google+ Local page with your Google+ Business page, you may need to re-verify your ownership of the business by having Google send a verification postcard with a PIN to your business address.
- Even after you’ve merged your Google+ Local and Google+ Business pages, you may still need to use the Google Places for Business Dashboard to view statistics and update/add some information.
- If you’ve already created a Google+ Business page but didn’t select the “Local Business or Place” option, you’ll need to create another Google+ Business page to use for the merge and your followers from your original page will need to be added manually.
While there is no need to create a Google+ Business page and merge it with your Google+ Local page, I recommend doing so… In fact, I recommend setting up all three (a personal Google+ account, your Google+ Local page, and a Google+ Business page) now under one, business-related e-mail address (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org).
Given Google’s use of Google+ pages in its search results, you don’t have to have a social media marketing strategy in place in order to benefit from creating and claiming ownership of these three assets.
Not to mention, if you take care of all three of these items and start getting familiar with the Google+ Business pages (make a few posts, post a few photos, follow some people in your industry, and start getting a couple of reviews), you’ll be light years ahead of your competition.
In fact, even if you have no interest in taking part in social media and using it to promote your practice, if you want your practice to rank well in the search engines, Google+ is one social media platform you’re not going to want to ignore.
Because of this, we recently released our first special report, “The Therapist’s Guide to Getting More Clients with Google+ Pages,” a step-by-step guide that shows you exactly how to set up all of your Google+ pages as well as optimize them for greater visibility so you can drive more quality traffic to your practice’s door. If you’ve yet to download this special report, I highly recommend clicking here.
Local search and social media marketing may still be in its infancy, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tremendous benefits available to those who get involved today!
Please be sure to leave your questions and comments using the form below or below the “The Therapist’s Guide to Getting More Clients with Google+ Pages,” and I’ll do my best to answer each and every one.