July Changes To Google Places Page
by Jo Shaer, on August 3, 2011
The last week or so has seen some major changes to the appearance and information contained within the Google Places Pages. These are the free websites which allow small local businesses to get ahead of their global competitors on the front page of Google plus have a red balloon highlighting that listing.
Whereas previously, the advice would be to enter your business in as many of the local listing directories as possible and wait for Google to scrape your details into a Places Page - hopefully along with a couple of reviews - the removal of those third party citations means that things are a little less clear. This strategy gave your listing some authority because it came with ready-made confirmations of your value and relevance to that search term in the form of an entry on a third party listing, along with testimonials from happy customers.
However, that's not to say that this advice is no longer a good strategy because it would never be wise to place all your eggs in one basket and rely solely on Google reviews - even if the big red 'Write a Review' button does make it so much easier for people with gmail accounts and/or the Google Places mobile app to leave positive/negative comments. Especially as, in the past, technology has conspired to allow some information to go missing from some business listings.
August update - Instead of the actual review itself, for some Places Pages categories, entries in the seven pack and branded one box are now showing the basic details of third party local citations reviews under the listing with a hyperlink to the name of the directory plus the number of reviews in blue.
Some experts have postulated that the removal of the third party citations is due to issues about Google scraping content that does not actually belong to them. My own feeling is that this is essentially what Google does to everyone in return for additional exposure.
The real reason must surely be linked to the sudden explosion of gmail accounts due to the publicity surrounding the Google+ button. With a whole raft of additional gmail members, it has suddenly become so much easier not only to leave reviews but also for business owners to claim their pages.
If you have customers ready and waiting to give you reviews on Google, you can create and claim your account and, once you have received the postcard which Google send to your listed address with a security PIN number to prove that you are the business owner, you can go ahead and get them to upload their comments.
Having said that, it is still a good idea to get your business listed in as many of the local directories as possible, complete with some positive reviews so that Google can still get repeated confirmation of your trustworthiness.
Another point that has been mentioned is that, although the third party citations are no longer included in the number of reviews showing for any business, that does not mean that they are not taken into account in the ranking of that business.
Google have also made it a lot easier to upload photographs - both for the business owner and for its customers. A process which makes their inclusion in an entry really stand out on the page listings.
The Description and Working Hours has also disappeared from the online version of the listings but you should still ensure that this section is fully completed when you fill out your entry - as it is not beyond the realms of possibility that these may return at some point. August update - The Opening hours did return briefly but now they have gone again. For SEO purposes, it is certainly sad to see the demise of the discreet links.
I was quite disappointed to hear theories that inclusion of keyword phrases within the title of a Google Places Page listing is now no longer forbidden - especially as I had just removed the offending words from my own, in order to comply. The experts seem to be divided on whether it is now acceptable, although Google's own rules still seem to be fairly clear that keywords should not form part of the title unless they are actually in the company's name.
From my own point of view, I am still fascinated by the blending of the Google Places Page with the business website entry which seems to be occurring for some location-based keywords.
Some do not trigger the Places Pages at all, whilst some show the top seven above the ten organics and others mix blended versions into the ten. Still more show only ten blended listings. It will be interesting to see how this eventually pans out or whether it will continue to remain a lottery.
I guess the most frustrating problem is listings that appear and then disappear or which are showing in their dashboard as 100 percent complete but still don't show.
All you can really do is keep plugging away - a comment on the Google Places forum often helps if you really can't make it happen. Some people do get lucky and receive a response. There are also the blogs of the lovely Mike Blumenthal and Linda Buquet, who provide invaluable help for any of those really tricky questions as they often seem to be able to find the answers to many problems.