Local SEO with Google+

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It’s not exactly surprising that Google recently made the widely-expected announcement that it plans to convert all existing Google Places pages into Google+ Local pages.  So instead of boring you with further details on this transition, I want to jump into the meat of the issue: how this shift affects local SEO best practices.

But first, I want to make a few clarifications since some of the terminology surrounding this change can be confusing.

In the past, you had two options for promoting your business through Google:

  • A Google Places page, which was essentially a directory style listing that showcased your basic business information, pictures, and reviews as part of the “Places” listings.  These pages weren’t typically included in the traditional SERPs.
  • A Google+ Page, which was a separate web property that could be set up within the Google+ social network.  Although most businesses opted to use the “Local Business or Place” category, Google+ Pages are available for several different categories, including “Product or Brand,” “Company, Institution or Organization,” and “Arts, Entertainment or Sports”. Google+ Pages have always made social integrations like Google+ circles and hangouts available to page owners.

The recent rollout of Google+ Local pages only affects the first of these two types by replacing the former Google Places listings.  As a result, it is currently possible to have both a Google+ Local page and a Google+ Page for your business, thanks to Google’s nonsensical, product rollout schedule and its confusing naming conventions.

Currently, Google Places has been replaced by Google+ Local pages, although there’s still no way to combine your existing Google+ Local page with your Google+ Page.  Google has stated that integration options will be available in the future, but there hasn’t yet been any word on when that might occur.

To get a feel for what the merged pages will look like, Google has made the following “early release” pages available for review:

How will Google+ Local pages affect SEO?

Essentially, the following changes have occurred as a result of the Google Places/Google+ Local pages transition:

  • Google Places pages have become Google+ Local pages.
  • A “Local” tab has been added to Google+ to provide users with personalized and social recommendations for specific Google+ Local pages.
  • Zagat review data has replaced Google’s old five-star system, and the site’s former paywall has been eliminated.
  • Google+ Local pages are being integrated to Google Search, Google Maps, and Google Mobile.

These modifications have had a few, subtle impacts on Local SEO.  The first is that the new Google+ Local pages will be indexed, in contrast to the older Google Places pages.  For the local businesses that take advantage of this effect by creating new Google+ pages, this may result in an increased presence in the natural blended SERPs.

The second expected impact of this transition will be the benefit of future social functionality that will be made available via the Google+ network.  In terms of SEO, social signals tracked on future Google+ Local pages could be relayed to traditional search users via local annotations in the SERPs, as well as featured recommendation positions within Google+ Local internal searches.

However, it is worth noting that many of the social perks promised to local businesses on the Google+ network are currently only available on Google+ Pages.  Until the full integration of Google+ Pages and Google+ Local pages occurs, they won’t be available on Google+ Local pages.

Interestingly enough, the transition to Google+ Local pages doesn’t appear to be having a tremendous effect on the organization of the natural SERPs. That is sites won’t necessarily jump in the rankings based on the presence or absence of their Google+ Local pages.  In nearly all cases documented so far, the order of the results listings displayed in the traditional SERPs appears to closely mimic the organization of pages within former “Places” SERPs.

What actions do you need to take?

If you already had a verified Google Places page:

According to Google, if you already had a verified Google Places page, you’ll need to keep up with the maintenance of this page in the Google Places for Business dashboard:

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.”

In addition, if you already had an established Google+ Page for your business, you’ll need to keep up with this page separately until Google provides the opportunity to move your former Google Places (now Google+ Local) page and your Google+ Page.

If you haven’t yet taken advantage of this feature, now’s the time to create one.  Just be careful to set up your Google+ Page using the same email address you used to create your former Google Places page.  Doing so will make the transition process easier in the future.

If you don’t already have a Google Places page:

On the other hand, if you haven’t yet set up your business listing with Google, you’ll still be able to do so by visiting www.google.com/places and clicking “Get started now” to claim your company via business phone number.  As you create this page, you’ll want to keep a number of standard local SEO best practices in mind:

  • Use a phone number in your Google+ Local listing that contains the area code of the city you’re in, as proximity is a major factor used in the local ranking algorithms.
  • Minimize keyword usage in your business title, as extra words here can result in data center mismatches between your business name and keyword-optimized title.
  • Use your “Contact” or “Location” page in the “Website” field, as these particular landing pages tend to have stronger geographic signals.
  • Incorporate target keywords into the “Description” and “Category” fields of your listing, while still clearly articulating your business’s objective for readers.
  • Upload as many pictures as possible in order to make your profile as appealing as possible to new visitors.

Once this is set up, you’ll want to create your separate Google+ Page under the “Local Business or Place” category. Be sure to select this specific category to assist with future integration to Google+ Local.

Then, once you have the proper Google business pages created, it’s a good idea to start beefing up your presence on this site.  As social signals are likely to play at least some role in local SEO and the performance of your Google+ properties, consider taking any or all of the following actions:

  • Build out your personal Google+ profile and begin forming connections via Google+ circles in order to develop your individual authority beyond your Google+ Page and Google+ Local page.
  • Get in the habit of posting updates and connecting with followers on your Google+ Page.
  • Encourage customers at your local business to leave reviews on your new Google+ Local page, although they’ll need to have active Google accounts to leave feedback.
  • Email all of your newsletter subscribers who signed up with Gmail accounts and ask that they “+1” your Google+ properties and leave reviews on your pages.

Beyond taking these actions, stay tuned.  As the integrations between Google+ Pages and Google+ Local pages begin to roll out, we’ll undoubtedly see more changes in terms of the best practices small businesses need to undertake in order to maximize their local SEO.

Have you set up your Google+ pages yet?  If so, share your thoughts on the process with others in the comments section below!

Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel has over 12 years of digital marketing experience and has helped hundreds of clients increase web traffic, boost user acquisition, and grow their... Read Full Bio
Sujan Patel
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  • Nick Stamoulis

    I wonder if Google made Google Places into Google+ Local in order to boost business usage of Google+. If they HAVE to do it to manage their local Google profiles then they will. If more businesses use Google+ maybe more consumers will to…I can see that being the train of thought over at Google.

  • Linda Buquet

    Hi Guys, I’m a Google Top Contributor at the Google and Your Business forum and helps lot of folks with problems and advice – especially around the new update. I have some advice that differs a little from that expressed above.

    “Once this is set up, you’ll want to create your separate Google+ Pageunder the “Local Business or Place” category.”

    BEST PRACTICE RIGHT NOW – If you DON’T have a Google+ Business page yet – best advice is do not set one up right now. Wait instead and Google will upgrade your Place page/G+ Local page soon.

    I checked with upper management at Google on this and they agree. If you don’t have a G+ page yet, don’t rush to get one. It will be an easier transition I think if you just wait for the upgrade. (My assumption is if you are a techy geek or early adopter, you’d already have one, but if you don’t have one yet, then it won’t hurt to wait and you may not have to wait all that long.)

    If you already have both set up it’s fine, you will get instructions about how to merge the 2 when the time comes.

    Hang on to your seats, should be an interesting ride! 😉

    • Gyi Tsakalakis

      Thanks Linda, very helpful indeed.

      One might think that Google would be more sympathetic (or at least sensitive) to local business owners whose livelihoods are on this roller coaster… But one would be mistaken…

  • Chris

    Nice pragmatic layout of options, great article.

    @Nick – looks like it, put the onus on us…er, them…uh, SMBs. Forced adoption! (insert smiley face here)

    @Linda – thanks for sharing!! Going thru that right now…wait & see approach can’t hurt. Here’s to hoping Google connects the primary listing and not a dupe.

  • Jonathan Goudy

    If Google plus gets bigger it’s going to change the google web search algorithm completely. I can tell that Google might start testing out multiple algorithms for different industries and google plus is going to play a huge roll in the tests. They want to determine popularity using other sources besides link building.

  • Andy Kuiper

    A very informative article, thanks 🙂 Even though this whole Google Place/Google+ Page/Google+ Local Page shebang is somewhat confusing, you’ve managed to break it down nicely. I’m still waiting for the ‘merge’.

  • Erik Rostad

    I’m curious if anyone has any insight into where these new “merged” pages will be administered, whether in the traditional Places area or the new Plus area. My guess (and hope) is that everything will be able to be managed within one Google + account in order to access all individual & business Google + and Google + Local pages together. Any thoughts?

  • Joe Rahall

    A great article clarifies a confusing Google direction. Thanks for the great tips.

  • Marty Russell

    Just registered with Google + for my Web Design/Internet Marketing business. Thanks for the Info it helped a lot.

  • Computerz101

    Thank you very much for the information regarding the current and upcoming switch from google places for local search to google+ local search. I have personally noticed when searching my clients rankings in google that have google local and google + that is has been switching between both over the past couple weeks like Google is testing things in different categories to see how things are functioning. Thanks for the detailed advice.

  • Jason Spiegel

    Google+ Local/Google Places has been the bane of my existence for some time now. It works relatively well if you’re a small business owner, but when you work for a huge organization with a large, physical campus, verifying the locations with Google isn’t an easy process.

  • Simon

    Does gaining position on Google + local places affect your positioning or remove you from position in the non local seach listings?

  • Craig

    I’m still trying to figure a way to work around the service area issue. If you list a P.O. box as opposed to a physical location, you are limited to only choosing a service area. This does not help for SEO if you provide services regionally. Does it?

  • serg

    Thanks for this post. But it so complicated for beginners in SEO as me.

  • Susan Walsh

    Great article – I meant to post this when it came out, but we were in the midst of checkout our clients G+ Local pages to make sure that all of their Google Places content transfered correctly into their new G+ Local page and rankings remained basically the same. We’ve had some issues with reviews transferring over correctly and then recently disappearing, but that’s for Linda and the Google and Your Business Forum.

    I want it to be clear that all of the examples of “merged pages” in this article are Google+ Business pages that merge with the Google+ Local page. Some people think that their Google+ Local page is going to merge with the Google+ personal page. It is my understanding that you need to create a Google+ Business page and that will be merged with the Google+ Local page.

    I think this is what Linda means when she states ““Once this is set up, you’ll want to create your separate Google+ Pageunder the “Local Business or Place” category.” If you’re reading this Linda, please confirm.

    Thanks for the great article and comments.


  • Mark Redson

    If Google plus gets bigger it’s going to change the google web search algorithm completely.

  • Mark

    Google have been working all Algorithms to be specific on location and to index localisation in a big way. I wonder whether the local ‘Joe Blogs’ who has his business on the High Street will indeed benefit from the changes!


  • Mark Bleasdale

    We see the sense in Google making the changes but we still have to revisit our Google accounts and apply the updates – sometimes I think we are always running to keep up with them

  • Lindsey

    If there is anyone out there who feels as though they are an expert on Google+ Local and the transition from Google Places, please contact me!!! I am desperate to fix an issue we are currently having with our pages not syncing up. Thank you!

  • Keyword Name Removed

    Google+ should not be ignored by companies just because it is not as popular as Facebook and Twitter. Google Plus carries weight because Google owns it, obviously, which makes it very easy for them to track and measure social signals unlike on Twitter and Facebook. Google has given their +1 a big advantage, if you are not adding +1’s to your content you will me missing out on a very precious ranking factor.

  • Darren

    I’m often seeing Google Places taking up most of the 1st page of Google, and leaving only 3 organic positions. So if you’re not on the map, its very hard to be on page 1.

  • An Bui

    I think google+ local is very useful, and also easy for us to do as SEO. Just over one hour, my place is on the top

  • Marty Rogers

    Over a year since this was posted and it’s amazing to see how Local Search has improved and grown since. There’s no option but to spend time perfecting your local approach now in order to reap rewards for local search terms.