Google + Local: Year One
Remember that one time Google unveiled that really cool free product that made everyone realize how cool Plus was? No? Me either. This time last year Google presented the new Google Places: + Local, and while many had high hopes for this product, + Local’s first year had some definite low points.
From reading help forums, I can tell that many of you simply gave up trying to keep up with all the changes and bugs of this new Google product, but the dust may be settling now. If you did tune out somewhere along the way, let me provide a recap of the year for you. It’ll help you know what technical issues to look for in the future and what to expect in the coming months.
May, June, July
In late May, Google made several updates to Places, which included changing the five-star rating system to the ZAGAT-model scoring guide, requiring reviewers to have a Plus account, and offering people with + for Businesses pages the ability to merge their page with their Places listing for a new social + Local page. By mid-June, Google was manually merging the first set of pages with overall success. However, shortly after, complaints started coming in. Apparently, with the rollout of + Local, Google updated their review filters, causing the incorrect removal of reviews from many listings.
August, September, October
Starting in August, most Google + Pages could be merged with a + Local listing for upgraded social functions as well as custom URLs. Many believed a new dashboard would be available for an easier, more automatic merge process in just a few more months. More bugs started popping up in September; listings lost information and media after merging. And though the ZAGAT scoring system was introduced just five months earlier, it was replaced in October with a meaningful wording system.
Due to these bugs and limitations (videos were unavailable for months) of the + Local pages, towards the end of 2012, experts and even Google began to recommend not merging. In fact, some locations were even told to delete their merged page because the product couldn’t support them yet. The product that was set to drive traffic to Plus made more trouble than progress in its first eight months.
January, February, March
While Google continued to advise people to wait for their new automated merging system, they brought back some faith to the Places/+ Local community by making a few notable improvements. They provided a helpline to help with verification problems and general data issues. They began prompting users for reviews based on search history and check-ins, and they added a highly-visible “Write a Review” button to + Local pages (which is notable since many have commented that reviews, not ratings, are ranking factors). After months of bad news and bugs, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
Finally, nearly one year later, Google introduced a new, widget-heavy dashboard for Plus Pages that eventually included a one-button upgrade for the social functions of + Local. For the first time since + Local was unveiled, Service Area Businesses are able to sign-up for Plus pages. While the new dashboard offered many perks, such as edits going live quicker and an easier-to-navigate interface, several noted that reviews were mistakenly taken down (again) and that there is no longer the option to create custom categories.
What you can expect in the coming months . . .
1. New Dashboard – If you aren’t yet seeing the new dashboard, it’s probably only a matter of weeks before it’s available to you. Google started rolling out this new feature over a week ago for existing pages.
2. Five-Star Ratings Return – While the ZAGAT-scoring system sounded really cool to someone last year, they’ve decided to return to the five-star ratings, only this time they’ll be red stars instead of yellow.
3. A New Name – For those of us trying to manage our Google Places, Places for Businesses, Google + Local, + for Businesses pages, we’ve grown weary of trying to keep up with the newest version of (basically) the same product. Even though +Local is only a year old, experts like Blumenthal foresee a push to something simple like G+ Pages.
4. More Issues – After everything we saw last year, I think it’s good to remain slightly pessimistic about the good that will come from the product in a few short months. But, please, if you have some Pollyanna thoughts or experiences with + Local, share them in the comments!
Faith Jones – EVG Project Manager