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If you follow the local search space, you’ve likely heard by now that Google Places will soon fully be rolled into Google+ and known as Google+ Local. Those of us who regularly work with Google Places are not strangers to frequent and abrupt changes with their local search product but this recent change is probably the biggest one in the history of Google’s local search. And if history has taught us anything, we’re in for a bumpy ride as Google fully makes the transition to Google+ Local.

Example of the new Google+ Local listing for Camera Shy in Utah County

Here are some of our initial notes on the changes, new features and strategies to consider as this change fully rolls out.

Where Do I Start? What Do I HAVE To Do?

In most cases, your business listing from Google Places should already be showing up on Google+.

  1. Go to Google Plus.
  2. Click on the new Local tab on the left hand navigation
  3. Enter your business name in the first search box at the top
  4. Enter your city in the 2nd box and search

If you already claimed and optimized your listing on Google Places, you should see everything on your new Google+ Local listing. Pictures, descriptions, reviews, etc. should all be present.

If you haven’t claimed your business listing, what are you waiting for? Click the “Manage this page” button on the right side which will take you to Google Places where you can claim, optimize and verify your listing.

If you have claimed your listing and see the “manage this page” button on the right, don’t get too nervous. Google is still working that out.

What About Rankings? Did They Change?

At this point in time, it doesn’t appear that much as changed in terms of ranking strategy, mostly the user interface. For most searches, the rankings of businesses have stayed in tact. With Google aggressively trying to combine Local and Social, we don’t expect this to stay this way forever.

In the mean time, make sure your listing is claimed, accurate and optimized. Keep creating new citations and ensureing existing citations are consistent with your new Google+ listing. Even though Google is making it harder for people to leave reviews, keep encouraging your customers to review your business and become a fan on your social networks.

What’s Different About Google+ Local?

At this point, you still manage all of your business information through Google Places. However, it’s expected that Google will soon be moving everything to Google+ Local.

Reviews – One major difference is how Google now handles reviews. In the past, any Google user could leave a review and also utilize a nickname in the process.

With Google+ Local, users now must have a Google+ account and use their real name to leave a review. While this does feel like another attempt for Google to strong arm the general public into using Google+, it also raises the barrier to entry to get reviews from your customers.

Zagat Rating System ­– In some cases, you’ll also see the new Zagat rating system on some page. This is based on a 30-point scoring system. Your Google+ user reviews rates the business between 0 and 3. The scores are averaged and multiplied by 10 to show your potential score, up to a maximum of 30.

What Do I Do About That Google+ Business Page That I Created?

Keep managing them separately for now. A Google representative has acknowledged that it isn’t ideal but they are working to consolidate Google+ Business Pages with your new Google+ Local listings.

You can use this form to find out when your pages are combined – http://goo.gl/8apbo

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