It’s Finally Here: Chronicling the Plus-Places Merge
I’ll be posting my thoughts as I poke around on the new interfaces throughout the day. “Check back frequently,” as they say.
Management, at least for now, will still be at Google Places for Business
From Google’s official announcement: “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.”
Primarily a User-Oriented Interface Update (not a Ranking Update…yet?)
Remember all the fuss last summer when Google updated its Place Page interface & demoted third-party review sites (among other things)? What REALLY changed algorithmically as a result of that update? Other than perhaps a minor shift towards the weight of native Google Places reviews, I’d argue not much.
Well, don’t get carried away in all the PR hyperbole today that this is all that different.
Read the message that Google is now displaying in the Places Dashboard carefully:
Read that again. “We hope to make it easier for our users to discover your business and share it…” NOT “we hope to make it easier for you, the business owner, to interact with your customers” or anything along those lines.
And what happens when you, the business owner, click that link to “Read More About the Changes” in the support forum? You’re taken to this screen–which repeats the same line from Google’s announcement above about continuing to use Google Places to manage your listing.
The rest of the help content talks all about reviews from a USER’S perspective:
And apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so. From Mike’s post today: “But it is not a change that will fundamentally change (at least initially) how a business is ranked in the main search results nor how listings are created and assembled.”
***UPDATE*** Google Maps Is xxxStillxxx NO LONGER Showing Traditional Place Pages
I tweeted this to Greg Sterling earlier, but even from Google’s “Poster Children” (the businesses listed at the bottom of their announcement whom they’ve given special attention for these new Local+ Pages) there are still clickthroughs available to traditional Place Pages (just click the map prominently displayed in Mio’s righthand sidebar)
This xxxmight just bexxx WAS temporary, though, because via Greg, according to Marissa Mayer:
“Users will be able to discover the new Google+ Local pages in several ways: through a search on Google.com or Google Maps, in mobile apps or through a search on Google+”
Hmm. Looking forward to seeing that, if and when it happens.
The +Local Review Ecosystem (aka Another Finger in Yelp’s Eye)
As I suggested in my column a couple weeks ago, I really think Google is going to use businesses as a way to get more users on Google Plus, rather than the other way around. As Mike pointed out earlier today:
“Thus old reviews apparently will NOT migrate to the new Google+Local Business page and the business owner must either ask previous reviewers to migrate or start afresh. (I need to confirm this.)”
You’re going to start to see the active (former) Places users (for whom I think the Venn diagram with active Plus users is reasonably divergent) all migrating over to Plus now, and Google’s clearly hoping that they’ll start to treat it as a second Facebook and actually “hang out” as they become more familiar with its features.
Also, take a look at how much further down the page the links to reviews from additional third-party sites (like UrbanSpoon, OpenTable, etc) are than they used to be on the old Place Pages.
Frankly, a better review mechanism than Yelp.
Check out the new review boxes (via SearchEngineLand and the help forums). +Local is going to allow reviews to get much more granular with their reviews as they’re now integrated into Zagat’s. (Greg also pointed this out earlier).
Google has already been featuring these types of people for years on the Places blog, but now it looks like the program has been institutionalized.
Hmmm…sounds an awful lot like the Yelp Elite program, eh?
Built-in Review Spam Mechanism
The flip side of this Top Reviewer program is a the built-in review spam mechanism that is baked into Plus, which will probably function like a supercharged–but more democratic–version of Yelp’s reviled filter. Google will now be able to pick out shill reviewers awfully easily–those who have no followers or who are not following anyone themselves–since all reviews will now have to be left through the Plus interface. By tying reviews to a vast network where the whole point is to be connected to other people–rather than the act of leaving reviews itself–Google is going to open up the rating process to about as broad a segment of society as exists on the interent. Not saying it’ll happen immediately, but eventually…
Google hasn’t made things any easier for itself with business owners here. Why not just stick with Places or +Places? There’s a good infographic here somewhere for an enterprising young graphic artist, not to mention a Harvard Business School case study…
The Ownership Question
The new Local+ Pages definitely give business owners more control–and opportunity for creativity–than they had previously. And I haven’t seen any adverts on the pages just yet.
Additionally, they ARE going to be indexed, so unlike Place Pages, they’ll probably be worth throwing at least a little bit of link juice to.
However, there’s still a much-too-easy-for-my-taste ability for users to edit information on these pages just by mousing over the NAP information, let alone post inappropriate photos, and more. One wonders if/hopes Google will get better about notifying business owners of these changes if they start to be abused by the much wider network that will now have access to these pages.
Related to the branding question above, what will happen to the Places app? So far, the interface on it is exactly the same on my iPhone, and I haven’t been asked to download a new +Local app yet…
OK, I’m done for now. Looking forward to your comments.