Visit from google plus local

Among web developers, social media marketers, and search engine optimizers, the opportunity to meet with Google reps is like Christmas come early. Since we spend our days working within the confines of their products, we relish the opportunity to pick their brains, (beg for) request functionality, and pick up clues about upcoming changes to our favorite Google services.

This week, 435 Digital had the opportunity to meet with Amy Ravit Korin Google’s Google+ Local Regional Community Manager Lead in the Mid Western US, and Ashley Glassman Google+ Local Community Co-coordinator.

Amy and Ashley visited to discuss the numerous features of Google Plus Local and what this new service means for users of (now retired) Google Places. Needless to say, there was a lot of excitement amongst the staff preceding the meeting. (Having 435 Digital pick up our lunch was also a plus. There were those among our number who had more than 5 but less than 10 sandwiches.)

By now most web-savvy business people are aware of the move Google has made away from the old Places product, but there still seems to be some confusion as to what Google Plus Local will offer over Google Places, and why it is important to adapt to the new program.

Google plus local and zagatGoogle Plus Local changes and new features:

  • Yelp, Urbanspoon, YellowPages and other third party review sites are out. Recently acquired Zagat is in. (Side-note: it sounds like “the cat”, with the emphasis on the “gat”.) The new basic rating will combine user ratings on scale of 1-3 on various criteria and roll them into one overall score of 1-30. More on the criteria can be found here: Zagat and Ratings
  • Reviews from sources outside of those submitted through Google reviews no longer matter. This means businesses can focus their social media efforts around acquiring user ratings solely through Google Plus Local.

  • More options for conversation between businesses and customers. One of the biggest benefits to using Google Plus Local is the ability to reach out to customers through a business Google Plus page. In addition to the standard “write a review” call to action, users will have the option to follow the business, +1 their pages, and partake in “Events” and “Hangouts” through Google Plus. This is a vast improvement over the previous platform as it allows businesses and social media managers much more access to interactive customers and various methods to engage them.

  • A great opportunity to work with a Google-backed service. Using the number one search engine’s social media platform is a good idea. Google has been pushing for more and more personalization in the search engine results pages for a long time. Users who are logged into their Google Plus accounts while browsing have the option of viewing results customized for them based on their browsing habits; who they have “plussed” and who their friends and family have plussed. It isn’t a stretch to believe that Google will place a higher value on Google Plus results within their overarching search algorithm. Having every opportunity for your pages to be plussed and your popularity to be vetted by the big G is advisable.

  • Better integration with all of Google’s products, including those to come. A Google Plus user already has easy access to all of their favorite Google Apps from one user account. Analytics accounts, Adwords, Google Docs and Drive. Now Google Plus Local joins the rest. Amy suggested that we see Google Plus as the thread connecting all of Google’s services together. This leads one to believe that Plus Local will be a big part of future services like the Project Glass and other yet to be announced Google products.

The Moral of the Story

Since the meeting I have been spending much more time reviewing and reading through Plus Local businesses. Through this reviewing process it has become apparent that many companies are letting the opportunity to be an early adopter slip by.

Here are some key steps to getting a headstart with the Google Plus Local service.

  • Sign up for a Google Account
  • Register your business or intitate the verification process.
  • Read and review all user-submitted material
  • Add attractive photos and videos to your account.
  • Start engaging with your customers through daily communication

Taking the time to acclimate to the new platform, reaching out to customers, and adding value to your Plus Local presence will go a long way in any effort to increase brand recognition and customer engagement.