Internet giant dumps Google Places, shifts users to Google+

Google continues to ramp up its social side, announcing plans to integrate Google Places data with the Google+ social network along with ratings and reviews from restaurant review site Zagat – and search engine optimisation experts say SMEs need to get up to speed quickly with the new changes.

While Zagat reviews only apply to restaurants, social media veterans are saying all businesses need to pay attention as Google Places data will now be replaced by this new system, which Google calls “Google+ Local”.

This comes just a week after Google launched the Zagat system in Australia.

When users search for places as they usually do through the normal search page or through maps, Google+ Local data will appear, incorporating Zagat reviews, when applicable, along with the normal information already contained in existing Google Places profiles, such as phone numbers and contact details.

This is yet another attempt on Google’s part to merge its existing platforms with the Google+ network, creating a type of social layer across its entire network.

StewArt Media chief Jim Stewart says it’s a huge wake-up call for businesses which don’t already have those profiles.

“You really need to start putting in profile information now; it’s just critical. This is just a huge call for businesses which don’t have their information already set up,” he says.

Google Places, as it exists today, will be disbanded over time, replaced by the Google+ Local interface, but for now businesses can still use the same page to update their details.

Google said in a blog post yesterday the Zagat reviews will now be incorporated alongside these search results. Reviews will be rated using the Zagat 30-point scale, which judges a restaurant based on a few different metrics rather than an overall score.

Zagat was started in 1979 by Tim and Nina Zagat as a survey review of New York restaurants and has become one of America’s biggest restaurant review publications.

Media experts have been touting the importance of online reviews for years – research suggests restaurant goers take into account online reviews before they make a booking. Integrating those reviews alongside search pages makes this change incredibly important from an SEO perspective, Stewart says.

“The other thing I would expect to see is more social network-related stuff with regard to results. So, for instance, Google will probably introduce a social element telling you which of your friends have gone to that restaurant, for instance.”

Stewart is talking about the Google+ infrastructure. If you have a Google+ profile, Google looks at what your friends have searched for and then incorporates that into your results, telling you if a friend has reviewed the restaurant you’re looking at.

In fact, that’s exactly what Google said in its blog post:

“If you search for [tacos] on Google+ Local, your results might include a friend’s rave review of the Baja-style taco stand in your neighbourhood.”

“And if you’re searching on Google or Google Maps for a great place to buy a gift for that same friend, your results might include a review from her about a boutique she shops at all the time.”

This all comes back to SEO. The more your links are shared, the better your rankings are. And as Google points out, you have plenty of options to update your profile as well, with photos and videos and so on.

“These reviews and photos will help your friends when they’re checking out a place, and are also integrated into the aggregate score that other people see. The more you contribute, the more helpful Google+ Local will be for your friends, family and everyone else.”

As Stewart says, this is a push on Google’s part to emphasise businesses which give more to their customers.

“This is a big call. If you are doing more in this area, then you’re going to see better results in search.”

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