Yesterday, Google did the unthinkable… They killed Google Places!

If you’re a local business owner and you’ve invested time and hard earned money into ranking your Google Places page, then this news is probably quite disturbing.

In fact, my email inbox was flooded yesterday and today by our Local SEO Formula customers who with good reason were freaking out about Google’s very abrupt change.  They wanted to know if everything they built was now gone and if they’ll have to start back at square one.

Well the short answer is no… You do not have to start over if you have been investing in local SEO.

Google simply moved all of the information in your Google Places page to your new Google+ Local page.  And if you’ve been following the local SEO best practices I teach, then you should be fine.

As of today, not too much has really changed, but this is only the beginning.  In this article I’ll highlight the key differences with the new Google+ Local pages and at the end I’ll give you a glimpse at what’s to come.

The 4 Big Changes

Here are the 4 big changes that are taking place as Google rolls out this update:

  1. New URL and Layout for your business listing across ALL Google channels (Search, Maps, and Mobile)
  2. New local search engine within Google+
  3. New review system using Zagat’s 30 point scale
  4. New social element to local search

1. New URL and Layout for your business listing across all Google channels (Search, Maps, and Mobile)

As I previously said, Google replaced business owners’ Google Places pages with Google+ Local pages so you’ll now have a new URL.  Plus, your page has an upgraded mobile optimized layout, which is great news if your customers like to search for you on their cell phones.

The Google+ Local pages will also be integrated into Google Search, Maps, and mobile search.  So where ever your old Google Places page was listed you’ll now see your Google+ Local page.  Kiss your old page goodbye because it’s not coming back :)

2. New local search engine within Google+

In addition to the page upgrade, Google also introduced a new local search engine within Google+.  If you’re not familiar with Google+, then now is a great time to create an account here:  Essentially Google+ is Facebook for Google users (i.e. a social networking site to share, recommend, and review).

If you already have a Google+ account then log in and you’ll see the new local search button on the left navigation cleverly called, “Local.”

This should be good news for local business owners because it gives us more free exposure.

3. New review system using Zagat’s 30 point scale

Back in September, 2011, Google acquired Zagat and they’re finally implementing all the new found data as part of the Google+ Local launch.

Instead of the old 5 star rating of Google Places, you’ll now see Zagat’s 30 point scale:

  • 26 – 30 = Extraordinary to Perfection
  • 21 – 25 = Very Good to Excellent
  • 16 – 20 = Good to Very Good
  • 11 – 15 = Fair to Good
  • 0 – 10 = Poor to Fair

And when users review your business, they are presented with a 0 – 3 scale for different factors based on your business category (restaurant, store, hotel, etc).

4. New social element to local search

Google+ Local pages are very dynamic like Facebook Fan Pages and this will force local business owners to leverage social media within their local SEO campaigns.

For example, Google+ users can easily recommend businesses they like by sharing the Google+ Local page.  Plus, businesses will soon be able to communicate directly to users who “Follow” the Google+ Local page to run marketing campaigns/promotions and improve the customer service experience.

Therefore, businesses that take the time to learn and leverage this new local SEO social media will get more exposure than businesses that ignore this critical aspect of Google+.

Same Dashboard to Manage Your Account

Luckily, business owners can still manage their Google+ Local listing within the same dashboard as before.

Jen Fitzpatrick posted on the Google blog, “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.”

The Future of Local SEO

One of the nice benefits of this update is that business owners’ listings will be indexed in the search engines.  So your Google+ Local page is yet another webpage you can use in your overall SEO strategy to drive free traffic to your business.  Plus, you could use your Google+ Local page for search engine reputation management so your prospects see your website properties instead of competitors, spammy sites, or negative comments/reviews.

Eventually Google plans to merge Google+ Business pages with Google+ Local so business owners do not have to manage multiple pages within Google+.  Hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later to reduce the work to maintain both pages.

Finally, Google is beta testing with the following businesses so I recommend you take a look at what they are doing to keep an eye on new features soon to be available:

I hope this article cleared up some concerns surrounding this big Google update.  If you have additional questions, please post them below in the comments section.