It seems the rate of change is on hyper drive when it comes to the world of social media and online marketing. Companies are merging, splintering and colliding faster than we can keep up with, and new applications and technology appear on the scene every day. With this rate of change, it’s hard for businesses to stay on the top of their game.

I just recently encountered this first hand when I Googled to find the address Greenville map from Googleof a new doctor for an appointment. I used the information that showed up from his Google Places account to direct me to his office. After driving to the destination, I found out that he had moved and also, obviously, that he hadn’t updated his Google Places information.

That, coupled with my curiosity on how Google is currently handling the merger of its Google Places with Google + to create Google Local, its recent acquisition of Zagat and its continued push for the world to recognize the value of Google +, made me want to jot down what’s going on with Google’s local search and provide some links for where businesses can go to find out more about maintaining their online presence with Google.

Google Places for Business

Google Places for Business has free online listings about your business that provide users with information about your location, services, hours, photos, videos and even special offers for users. Google estimates that about 97% of people who are looking to buy locally search for local companies online.

Google Places for Business has merged on the consumer side with Google +. In other words, the information you enter into Google Places for Business shows up to the searcher visually just like a Google + page does. But, you as a business owner can still make updates to the data via your Google Places for Business account.

Note though that as Google Places for Business has merged with Google Plus, the new name is “Google + Local.”

Google +

Google + is a social medium for sharing and reviewing, for both people and businesses.  You can create circles to share with, upload photos and videos, comment on posts and review businesses. It’s important to remember that Google + accounts need to be created for a person, not a business. You can create a “page” on Google + to represent your business, but you are prohibited from creating a + account that has anything other than your legitimate name.

Google + Local

As Google fine tunes its strategies for Google +, continuing to merge Google + with Google Places and weaving in its newly acquired Zagat reviews and ratings, Google + Local is coming into its own. In its help center, Google explains, “Over the next months, we’re making lots of changes to improve our local listings experience and bring the community, identity, sharing & relationships of Google+ to local businesses.”

Google + Local is a way for consumers to read reviews about businesses (mainly Zagat’s data for now) and rank businesses. It’s a way for consumers to benefit from social sharing about businesses, to “know before you go.”

Businesses are scored on a 0-30 scale with 0 being bad and 30 being near perfection. Right now, those rankings come from Zagat’s rankings, but, I can only guess, that down the road all types of businesses will be eligible for the same types of rankings and your content may fare better if it’s reviewed (and reviewed well, obviously).

But, as a business owner, you need to create and manage your Google + Local page through a Google + account. So if you don’t have a Google + account, now’s the time to sign up for one.

You create a Google + account and then you must specifically create a “page” for your business. Google provides instructions for creating such a page. This “page” is what fuels your Google + Local information and gets indexed in search. Previously Google Places was not indexed; this “new” version of Google Places (Google + Local) is now being indexed, which is a very good thing!

Despite the change at play here, your local business listing andAmish buggy and horse the growing nature of social relevance with Google means that you need to pay attention to the changes Google is making and to respond to those quickly. Do note that Google still has the owner of an account verify the account via postcards. Really? Yes, apparently they are also trying to bring back the popularity of the horse and buggy, but that’s another blog post. Also you’ll want to consider that it can take up to a week for the updates you make in your Google Places account for your Google + Local page to begin showing up actively, even after you have verified your account(s).

Aubrae Wagner – VP Strategic Content Development

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