So here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: an article about Google local. Or Google + Local, or Google Places, or Google Places for Business—whatever those crazy kids over at Google are calling it these days. I’ll sort out any confusion there may be amongst these different devices momentarily, but in the meantime, let’s quickly talk about why it’s important to you, the business owner.
As a search engine, Google currently owns more than 65% of search market share. Considering that percentage, you should be doing everything in your power to make sure that each non-human entity that you own is optimized and discoverable in search, particularly business listings. The advent of an ever growing knowledge graph and Google’s deeper semantic understanding of entities across the web are clear indicators that you should be giving them whatever little tidbit of information you can about the business(es) you own. For many, that means hiring somebody to organize, add, verify and maintain those listings in Google. And with all the change that’s occurred, and continues to occur, I recommend doing just that.
Google Places for Business
To date, Google still continues to scurry around to repair and enhance what has always appeared to be somewhat of an imperfect system of creating and managing business listings. And of course, no system that’s dependent upon the user is guaranteed to work precisely the way it’s intended to.
In the case of Google Places for Business (its current name), the system and its user aren’t the only variables keeping things from working the way they should. There are a variety of factors at play, ranging from change of address and brand name, to mergers and bankruptcy. Brick and mortar business establishments rarely hold the same physical location for long — especially the successful ones that eventually grow, move, and branch out into multiple locations. So how is it possible to keep up with everything that’s at play here? Unless you’re a developer at Google, it seems nearly impossible.
For SEOs, keeping up can be a struggle from time to time, especially since our primary concern rests in understanding why local business listings rank. However, I’ve held hands with Google local for a while now — I’m talking way back before it began its relationship with Google +. But before I can account for all of its moving parts, particularly issues with user accountability, everybody should understand what’s changed over the years.
Local Brand Evolution
Prior to the introduction of Google Places, and before Google + even existed, there were Google Local Business Listings. Local listings had to be verified in Google’s Local Business Center, which could be accessed by simply logging into your Google account. From there, you could create any local business listing you’d like. This gradually evolved into Google Places, an enhanced local ecosystem for creating, submitting and verifying local business listings in Google. More advertising features and better verification processes were added.
If you went into Google Places for Business today and attempted to add your company, you’d find the process pretty simple. It’s as easy as filling in a form with business categories and service offerings to choose from. The interface looks almost identical to that of Google +, Google’s social networking engine.
But despite all it’s effort to keep things easy and consistent over the years, Google appears to keep missing the mark, or at least they’re still having trouble seeing it.
An Awkwardly Simple System
Within Places for Business, you would think that the process for adding, editing and managing these listings is identical for each. And it is, unless of course you own hundreds, or thousands of business entities. If this is the case, you’ll want to use the bulk upload tool. If you choose to utilize bulk upload features, your listings will be dumped into the old platform, Google Places, not Places for Business. Unfortunately, a data download doesn’t seem to be occurring seamlessly between the two. Submitting bulk listings works as intended, but it keeps the user within the confines of Google Places and the listings don’t transfer over into the Places for Business dashboard.
Inevitably so, not bridging the gap between Places and Places for Business provides inconsistencies in user functionality. Things look very different, and Google points out that using bulk upload features will result in a lack of access to Google Adwords Location Extensions (that is if you’ve also registered locations with Places for Business.) What they fail to point out, however, is that you also won’t have access to Insights, Adwords Express, or Google Offers— Yikes! They don’t really provide any clarity here either. There’s nothing here or in their help section that points to the fact that Places for Business will ever absorb the bulk listings that have been added using the old Places dashboard.
First impressions here are typically that Google is sending mixed signals. On one hand, the release of Places of Business screams, “Switch to this! It’s newer and better!” where conversely they’re saying, “it’s one or the other guy.”
When I first tooled around with Places for Business, I thought to myself “the reason Places for Business lacks a bulk upload tool is simple: Google wants individual store owners maintaining their own Places for Business accounts,” mimicking what’s considered a standard practice for Facebook pages. As time passed, and I really had a chance to dig in, I figured out that not only was my theory right, but that there was still a shred of hope for users interested in using the bulk upload tool.
As everything continues to move toward social, you should want to set up and manage your business accounts so that you have the capabilities that come with Google + Local pages. Separation of local pages for business owners with more than one business location has become the norm — the man (or woman) upstairs should have some say in what’s being published on the web, but they shouldn’t dictate everything. For large businesses, corporate dominance over local pages is not practical, nor does it completely make sense from a marketing standpoint. Again, this type of segmentation is already happening on Facebook.
However, simply creating a Places for Business account won’t give you access to social features like status updates, photo/video uploads and direct engagement; it must first merge with Google + Local.
Since the inception of Google + Local, a predecessor of Google Places for Business (but not Google Places), Google has been attempting to successfully allow users to merge it’s social networking engine with local. If you haven’t already established a Google + Local page for your business, but have created Places for Business listings, you’re in for a treat. Creating Places for Business listings first will automatically create phantom (non-vanity) Google + Local pages/URLs, just floating around waiting to be tinkered with. They can be reviewed and commented on, but what you can do with them from a social aspect is limited until you claim or ‘merge’ them. Also, they’re technically not Google + Local pages until you do so.
If you have a Google + Local business page already created, but don’t have any listings in Places for Business, your life might have just become a little more difficult. Nevertheless, you can still add your business directly from Google + Local. Simply create a new business location and follow the necessary steps (i.e. enter business name, category, etc.). This creates an entirely new Places for Business listing. Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “what if I’ve used the bulk upload tool to add listings in Places?” Well, here’s where things start to come together, kinda. You see, you can grab bulk business listings using Google + Local and they will automatically populate in your Places for Business Dashboard. Upon verification, you will have access to all those things I mentioned above; Insights, Adwords Express and Offers. As strange as all this is, it’s appears as though it’s Google’s passive aggressive way of telling the user to get used to their new Places for Business dashboard.
This is where Places for Business (and Places) meets Google + Local. Ultimately, merging local listings with Google + Local is what any business owner should strive for if they really want to drive their bottom line. Merging these accounts adds another step in the already cumbersome process, but it’s one that’s necessary. It’s a real call to action to corporate and individual business / store owners to start paying attention to an ever growing online consumer base. Constant maintenance and engagement through Google + Local predictably earns your business more credibility and creates greater brand loyalty.
It’s unclear when, or even if this will ever occur, but Google should definitely move bulk upload features into Places for Business for usability purposes– this is, of course, if Places for Business continues to be a viable and user friendly device.
Yet, Google local will continue it’s evolutionarily awkward journey forward. For this reason, it’s important that we all remain “plugged in” to one degree or another. It’s one of those things where if you’re not along for the ride, catching up may certainly prove difficult. The intricacies that are involved with creating, maintaining and organizing local listings, although simple in nature, can often times be frustrating and onerous when change occurs. Similarly, there’s really no way of getting ‘hands-on’ with this unless you own a business or are managing somebody else’s local account(s). And I wouldn’t suggest setting up any experimental listings because you’d be playing a role in adding to the already substantial number of unqualified and fake local results out there.
All in all, I hope this helps to shed some light on the evolution of local, and hopefully opens your eyes to some of the more puzzling and unwieldy parts of the process. It’s always good to realize that change is never easy—in the case of Google, it’s typically always for the better.
In time, I believe that the dust will settle, and Google Places, Google + Local business pages and Places for Business will converge into one unified platform that will work flawlessly. Until then, I’m always here to help.