Sunday, 24 June 2012

Google Places Pages Are No More

  Today Google announced the integration of business pages with Google + and the demise of their Google Place page. This is a change that has long been anticipated and one that simultaneously gives a business more control over their page AND dramatically enhances the review environment. Greg Sterling has a good overview of how specific details will change. Effectively Google + has become a destination for local search and a shared local experience. And tasks that were accomplished on the Place Page like reviews will happen on Plus instead. This explains the missing review buttons on mobile and the desktop. According to Greg Sterling “Not unlike some similar functionality offered in Foursquare, users will be able to sort and filter search results by several criteria, including “your circles,” which will reveal places “touched” by friends. Currently this means reviews and posts, but could extend to check-ins later.” But while the display of the page has changed, many other parts of the local ecosystem at Google have remained the same. Google Places is composed of three parts; the business listing display, a backend management tool and a ranking system. This change essentially moves the location of the business listing display, gives a business more control over the visuals and allows for more segmented social activity around reviews. However the current backend, the Places Dashboard will remain the primary location for input. Here is what I posted at David Mihm’s recent article about the coming Place – Plus merger: There is no doubt that Google is integrating (slowly) Places with the social backbone and the single login logic of their update. There has also been a trend away from highlighting the stand alone Place page… For example Google has pushed the Places result out the front page with the rollover option and made the Places page difficult to get to from Maps… So when thinking about what is coming I segment Places into three components 1)The display (search result or otherwise) 2)The SMB management interface 3)The back end architecture that assembles Places listings, dedupes the list, attaches reviews to a listing (or not :) ) Lets look at #3 first. This might be upgraded but it appears that the technology to automatically generate a business directory world wide will continue to persist and will survive any changes. Google is actively investing in the architecture with recent changes and tools & staff to fix the artifacts of its workings. #1 – Certainly Google is interested in displaying search results where ever and when ever they make sense and can generate ad revenue. While Place Pages are perhaps being directly displayed less on the desktop they might still make sense in mobile. They most certainly would make sense in the context of Plus in the many ways that you point out. #2 the Dashboard – It is likely that an SMB dashboard will continue to exist in some form or another. It will likely undergo a radical redesign so as to be able to provide a simple self service interface to Adwords, Analytics, Offers, Punchd etc. It makes all kinds of sense to add Plus to that mix for all the reasons that you point out. There certainly needs to be more reasons for SMBS to return to it but it seems unlikely that the primary interface for SMBS with Google will go away. Essentially this has transpired. The Dashboard is still awaiting an update but Google has confirmed that it will remain the point of contact for creating a business listing. The algo, while it will evolve to include more social signals, is still the algo and it will still rank businesses. It has been evolving right along but Google rarely throws away ranking algos rather they add and change the important elements. As for the backend that assembles the listings, dedupes the list, merges similar businesses that too will stay. It is being improved and enhanced but over the past year signficant investments in this technology has been made and it will not disappear. Google is still rolling out the change so the details of how all this will work are not yet clear. But they note “If you don’t yet have a Google+ Page for your business, we encourage you to create one now. And if you do already have one, hold tight for news on how to get it linked to your local listing.” So while some has changed, and the change is important, it is incremental change and not revolutionary change. It is a change that will hopefully engage more businesses in claiming and keeping their “place” current and one that will hopefully engage more customers with the business. 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.

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