There’s no denying it, local is a major focus for the future of search. Local SEO has been high on the agenda over the last couple of years & has featured in many keynote presentations by top SEOs or on ‘things to look out for SEO in…’. There are a number of factors that have contributed to this rise, many of which are fairly obvious, some less so. What is true is that it certainly can’t be ignored, and if you’re ignoring it you’re probably missing out…
Last week Google announced the launch of a new Google Places Dashboard. But what does this mean? Can this be interpreted at a move towards a greater focus on local from the search giant? Or is this just a greater integration of its products into the Google+ aesthetic? Below, I will explore some of the new features and amendments, its expected rollout, and just why local is so important for search engines.
Google Places Dashboard: The New Look
“So, what does it look like?” I hear you say. I currently haven’t been able to give the new dashboard a test drive (as it’s only available for new accounts in the US), but below are some images from Google on the revised layout:
You can see just from these initial images that the new interface provides a much cleaner, more intuitive and user-friendly layout.
Interestingly, it also seems that Google will be pushing paid aspects of their places services (such as AdWords Express and Offers) making them far more prominent to local businesses. Could this be a sucker punch at Living Social, GroupOn and other daily offer companies? Read more in the official Google announcement.
New Features & Expected Rollout
Early reports state that the new dashboard offers a number of new or improved features, including:
- Updated interface, making management and editing business information easier
- View the status of your business information on Google Maps
- Improved insights
- Quicker changes to be made and pushed live quicker
- More closely aligned with other Google products (primarily Google+).
What’s strange about the move is the speed (or lack thereof) that this moved at. The move from Google Places for Business to Google+ Local (also referred to as Google Local+) was announced some 11 months ago, in May 2012. At the time this was featured on State of Search as well as a guide on how to integrate Google Places with Google Local+. However since then, there has been a very sluggish approach (strange for Google) to moving the local listing information to a more Google+ like aesthetic.
As with most Google products, the rollout will begin in the US (for new sign-ups only) and then move across the other 136 countries that currently have access to the Google Places dashboard. Exact times have not been specified, but based on what we know to date, I wouldn’t expect it to be too speedy…
Accessing Google Local+
While it is not required, signing up for a business profile with the same account that has been used for a Google+ personal profile will allow access to Google+ Local. Google+ Local allows page owners to add additional content such as a social stream and videos to their business listings. An example of this can be seen below:
Once this new rollout is completed there will only be two types of pages:
Google Local Categories
One aspect that’s fairly critical in setting up places for local businesses is the categories that they select to classify themselves. Google have used an extensive list of categories, that can be selected from by local business owners, to identify the relevancy of their listing to a given search. Such that, when marking your business as a ‘French restaurant’ and it’s likely that, someone searching for this (or related terms) in your given locality will see your business listing, when considered along with other local ranking factors.
The new dashboard bring changes here too, reported on by Mike Blumenthal last week and include:
- Additional categories
- Change of how many categories a business can use to define their business offering (from 5 to 10)
- Removal of the custom field, removing the ability to define your own category if not represented in Google’s
- Removal of synonyms – so if you’re struggling to define your business in Google’s terms, it’s likely to prove quite difficult finding how to define it
It appears Google’s move is very much to do things their way, with the category selector including the instructions to “Define what your business is, not what it does or sells“. This category list now contains some 2,295 categories to chose from. If you require some extra help setting up a page for your local business then I’d recommend checking out Mike Blumenthal’s very useful Google Places category tool (to be updated including the new categories soon).
But, Why Local Google?
Google has made no secrets about the importance of local and maps in its product offering. Taking just a quick glance at its list of acquisitions over the past decade shows you two distinct periods, between 2004-7 with acquisitions of map and imaging companies like: ZipDash, Where2, KeyHole Inc, Endoxon and ImageAmerica, to name but a few.
Perhaps more interesting was the rapid acquisitions of daily offer and review companies: Punchd, Dealmap and Zagat in 2011. This was met with much media speculation about their intentions to become the world leader in online geographical information provision. The ‘Google’ spin was put on this as there would obviously be built in some way to position these for commercial gain.
After all, local listings (think the traditional Yellow Pages or classifieds listings) are, in many ways, a very primitive paper-based form of what search engines do today. They list relevant information in a way that is easily navigated for the user.
What’s also caused a higher emphasis on local search is mobile. The massive uptake in mobile- and tablet-based search (ref google mobile data) have shown a shift in search intent. People searching on mobile want results relevant to them, the area they’re in, and information of how they can get there. An exploration into this warrants another blog post entirely, that’s not on the agenda today.
For more reading, Googler Joel Headley has taken to time to explain how local businesses should respond to these changes. In this post he answers some of the most frequently asked questions, including what should you do if…:
- You’re an existing Google Places for Business user
- You’re currently using Google+ to manage a local Google+ page
- You’re using the bulk tool to manage multiple locations
- You’re new to Google Places for Business
Also, if you’re looking to optimise for local and make use of this new dashboard, then I’d highly recommend reading about how to capitalise on your local listings on a global level by Clarissa Sajbl.
Image Credit: Yellow pages – http://www.flickr.com/photos/route79/46098544/