Hot off the Google press is another big change affecting local SEO and Google+. What this means for you? It is time to pay attention to Google+.
How We Got Here ...
It has been called a lot of things throughout the years, "Google Local Listings", and "Google Places Pages", but it has always meant one all important thing, this is what gets your business showing up on the 'map' section of Google.
You have almost certainly seen these local 'map' results in Google. In the past few months, Google has changed the branding and interface of this Google map profile once again, now making it a part of the Google+ world.
Here is a look at the old Google places pages:
And here is a look at the new Google Local pages:
Aside from small changes, like changing over to the Zagat inspired rating system rather than a five star review system, Google took the cards away from their chest long enough to show us what everybody already assumed ... Google is pushing into the social space with Google+, and hard.
Where We Are Today ...
Although Google+ had swallowed up your local business profile pages, those profile pages still remained segmented from other Google+ products. To my surprise for example, when I created a Google+ page for Maderas Golf Club, these two profiles were still separate.
However, as of this week, Google has announced that it is allowing existing Google+ pages to be merged with Google map listing profiles. Now, instead of promoting two different pages on Google+, you can potentially use just one.
It makes a lot of sense. It surprised me to see that these were segmented at all. Now, when people add your business to their Google+ circle, they are following not just a "business page", but that data is being counted toward your map listing. Also, when people give you a +1 for some great post on your Google+ page, that is also being attributed to your map listing.
Where This is Going ...
Where this is going is a world where everything is connected and everything is counted. While Google relied in the past on a fairly limited set of data to determine how to rank your business through the maps, it has now clearly shown, that it wants to and even encourages social interaction and activity to play a big part in who ranks on the maps.
To say it another way, if all other ranking factors were even, if business A merges their Google+ page (given that it was up to date with content) with their local places page, while business B does not, business A would outrank them in local search results.
In my mind, this is a blatant endorsement of the validity of social data, even for local businesses.
To make good on my promise, what every local business ought to do with Google+ is begin to use it. Not only use it, but merge it with your physical location.
Don't have a Google+ business page yet? You can learn about setting one up here.
Already have both setup and want to merge them? Here is a step by step guide to merging your Google+ business and local pages.