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TECHNOLOGY

Google+ Local: Finding Your Business Just Got More Social
 

The search giant just rolled out a new way for customers to find your company online. Here's what to expect.

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In a move to further integrate its products and entrench users more deeply into its social network, Google has rolled out Google+ Local, replacing Places. Basically, it aims to improve the way people find new businesses and make it easier to share what they find with friends.

So if you had a Google Places page for your business, it will be getting a new photo and review-centric layout and design, if it hasn't already. If you had a Google Places page for your business, Google says you should continue to manage it in the same place as before.

If you're a Google+ user, you'll see a Local tab on the left-hand navigation bar where you can find places people in your circles recommend. And if you review a business,  your ratings will be converted into a 30-point scale developed by Zagat, which Google bought last year. Once you save your comments, Google prompts you to post them to Google+ where you can make them public to everyone, or only share with private circles.

The Aim

"With these updates, we're connecting the millions of people on Google+ to local businesses around the world," engineering VP Jen Fitzpatrick wrote in the company's small business blog. "With one listing, your business can now be found across Google search, maps, mobile, and Google+, and your customers can easily recommend your business to their friends, or tell the world about it with a review."

According to The New York Times, "Google intends to create 'pages for all known places,' Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president for local search and maps, said. That means not only reviews of businesses but also of locations like Yellowstone Park."

The problem with all those pages is keeping them up to date. Although one would think it would be an issue with any online business directory, Eater has blasted Zagat's summaries in Google+ Local's pages for being deeply flawed because many businesses open, close, or change direction which results in inaccurate listings.

Even so, Google is providing users with a highly integrated experience--something the company has been pushing hard since it streamlined its privacy policy earlier this year and said it would use user data across its products.

The Mobile Experience

That goes for mobile as well. Local's red pin icon is already nestled in with the rest of my apps on my Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone and figures out where I'm located, tells me what's nearby and shows me what other Google users are saying about them. When I click on "good food," I can see the Zagat scores of a handful of restaurants within a few miles of where I'm located.

The scores use individual ratings from users on a 0 to 3 scale and multiplies them to get a number as high as a perfect score of 30.

In Fitzpatrick's blog post she highlighted several businesses that have fully upgraded their listings so as to more fully share their brands across search, Maps, and Mobile.

For example, if you're a Google+ user and perform a Google search for Chicago Music Exchange, not only is there a box within the new Knowledge Graph area (to the right of search) where you can instantly follow the company on Google+, if you click on the map also located there you'll see business information, review previews, and more hidden links to its Google+ page.

If you're not a Google+ user and perform the same search, click on the map, then click on a link for more information or for reviews and you're directed to the company's Google+ page where Google asks you if you want to sign up.

Not on Google+ Yet?

If you're wondering whether it's worth it to invest time creating a Google+ presence for your business, you should peruse some of those examples. They show that with a bit of intention, Google+ can be a great platform for promotion.

Plus, Google+ does have pretty awesome features for engaging with customers and fans, such as Hangouts On Air which let you broadcast to the world live hangout video from the Google+ stream, your YouTube channel, or your website. While broadcasting, you can see how many people are watching and once you're finished Google posts a public recording of the event to your YouTube channel and to Google+.

Want to create a Google+ Page for your business and see if you get more traction? Here's a link.

For those who have created a business presence on Google+ already,  I'd love to hear how you're using it and if you feel your time there has been worth the effort.

IMAGE: courtesy of Google
Last updated: Jun 1, 2012

CHRISTINA DESMARAIS is an Inc.com contributor who writes about the tech startup community, covering innovative ideas, news, and trends. Have a tip? Email her at christinadesmarais (at) live (dot) com.
@salubriousdish




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