Two months ago, Google replaced its Google Places feature with Google+ Local. The change caught the attention of business owners across the world—to say nothing of reputation management professionals. What it seemed to promise was the perfect combination of search (particularly local search) with social media (Google+ integration)—an obvious point of interest for those who work in reputation management.
Now, two months later, it’s a good time to take stock of Google+ Local. What many have said is that the thing sounds great in theory, but in actual practice it leaves something to be desired. For the reputation management professional, understanding the pros and cons of Google+ Local is crucial.
What Google+ Local Gets Right
There are a few areas in which we must administer praise—though, sadly, many of these areas have to do with the theory, rather than the execution.
- Google+ Local makes use of Zagat reviews, which are—in the long run—better for businesses. Zagat combines scores from an extended period of time, so, unlike with a site like Yelp, businesses are not penalized too heavily for a single negative review. Additionally, the Zagat 30-point scale offers some nuance, which makes these reviews less problematic for businesses of all kinds.
- The new Google+ Local pages are very aesthetically pleasing—and what’s more, their layout allows companies to put their graphics and information before reviews, allowing them to leave a strong first impression.
- The new pages are indexed and searchable. What’s more, they make social media integration much easier for businesses. Again, any reputation management pro can see that this is the perfect marriage of social and search—in theory.
Where Google+ Local Goes Wrong
In actual practice, a few significant drawbacks stand out:
- The Zagat scale, with its nuanced 30-point approach, is great in theory. In execution, however, it is not very intuitive. Many users simply aren’t used to this kind of scale, when all other sites seem to employ 5-star rating systems.
- Additionally, the Zagat system is clearly designed for restaurants—but with rating categories like “Service,” how useful is it for other kinds of products and goods?
- Google+ Local is very aggressive in pushing Google+ on users. If you try to visit a Google+ Local page, and you don’t have an account, you’ll see what we mean. For non-users, content access is limited to the point of real annoyance.
- A lot of third-party reviews no longer show up in Google+ Local, where they once did in Google Places—including a lot of external review that were hard-won by businesses.
What’s the Verdict?
At the end of the day, reputation management pros might agree that Google+ Local is a long way from perfect. At the same time, however, it does offer some real benefits, particularly to local businesses. Using this new search-meets-social technology is likely going to be important for long-term reputation management success, though it’s recommended that those who use it keep its considerable drawbacks in mind at all times.