What Every Franchise Should Know About Google+ Local Pages
Let’s start by telling you what you already know: today consumers are leveraging the Internet above any other source to find local businesses. Being found on search engines, particularly Google, which holds the lion’s share of the search market, is therefore a central pillar of virtually all franchises’ marketing and lead generation plan. Consequently, many franchisors have already invested significant time and resources to help franchisees rank as high as possible on search engine results pages for the search queries that matter to their business.
So in May, when Google announced that Google Places pages, arguably the most popular local online marketing tool, were being replaced by new “Google+ Local” pages (in an integration with the Google+ social network, but currently separate from Google+ Business pages), many franchises were left wondering what the impact on their businesses would be and whether they had to reconfigure their online marketing approach. The answer is no and yes. But before getting further into what a franchise should do given Google’s changes, let’s first dive a little deeper into what the changes are and why Google made them.
What’s different and what’s the same?
With the introduction of Google+ Local, Google has effectively started a phased approach to make Google+ an important destination for local searches. When a link for a pinned listing in a Google search engine results page is clicked, consumers are now taken to the Google+ Local page instead of Google Places. Since it’s estimated that one in four searches on the Internet are “local searches,” Google+ is suddenly a big deal for franchise organizations.
Google+ Local pages contain much of the same functionality as Google Places pages, albeit with a more robust user interface and richer data, including Zagat ratings (Google acquired Zagat last year) and curated overviews for many businesses. One potentially frustrating aspect of the change for businesses is that consumers now have to join Google+ to leave a review on a business’s Google+ Local page. While this may actually result in higher quality reviews by decreasing the volume of malicious or fictitious reviews and can also increase the likelihood of a franchisee being found in search engines by other people in a reviewer’s circles, this new dynamic also creates potential challenges. It is, after all, already difficult enough (albeit incredibly important) to request and then secure reviews from happy customers without having to worry about additional barriers.
Minor changes aside, our data suggests that in the short term, this phase of the migration to Google+ Local pages is more of a rebrand for Google Places than an overhaul of the way in which it operates and ranks businesses. Assuming you’ve already invested heavily in getting your business(es) to show up prominently in the Maps section of the search engines, this is good news, for now. It seems likely though that the “social signal” will become increasingly important in search rankings and that businesses will therefore need to spend more time in establishing a true social presence on Google+ by regularly providing rich content and posting updates.
Google is Hungry for a Piece of the Social Media Pie
Google’s motivation for wanting to integrate their products and promote their social network is quite transparent and smart.
For the past several years, Google has watched media consumption patterns rapidly change to where today consumers spend as much as one-third of their time online on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. After several less than fruitful attempts at creating a successful social networking site, in June of 2011, Google released Google+ and, for the first time, seemed to be getting some traction in social media. Google recently announced more than 250 million registered users, a considerable increase over the 10 million that was reported only a year earlier. Still, despite the impressive user growth, Google+ seems to be lagging in engagement when compared with Facebook.
There is anecdotal evidence that having a Google+ Business page positively impacts a Google+ Local ranking.
Enter Google+ Local. By replacing Google Places with a page that integrates Google’s social network, Google+ effectively becomes a meaningful customer acquisition channel for local businesses, including franchisees. In the long run, as consumers get exposed to Google+ pages through their frequent local searches and their engagement with local businesses, they eventually become heavier Google+ users themselves. That equation should at last result in social media success for Google.
So now for the important part: what does this mean for franchises and what should they do to respond to these changes?
Claim a Place on Google. It clearly remains very important for a franchisee to claim his business listing on Google if he hasn’t already done so. As confusing as it may sound, taking this step actually still involves registering at the old Google Places URL–www.google.com/places. It’s also applicable to follow the same search engine optimization best practices when inputting the profile information. For example, franchisees should take measures such as inserting target keywords in the “description” and “category” fields, including their local area phone code, and incorporating photos in their profile.
Maintain a Place on Google. There’s obviously less work involved for those franchisees that have already established a Google Places page. They essentially need to focus on the upkeep of the content in the same way they would have done so before Google implemented these changes.
Create a Google+ Business Page. It’s important for all franchisees to create their own separate Google+ Business Page at www.google.com/+/business/if they don’t already have one. Again, this is a little confusing, but these Google+ Business pages that we briefly touched on earlier are different from the Google+ Local pages that we’ve been otherwise focusing on. Google+ Business pages are beneficial in that franchises can leverage them to target and publish information to select circles of people who have “plussed” them. Other Google+ Business features such as Huddle that enables real-time group texting and chats and Hangouts for phone and video broadcasts can also be used to connect with specific circles. Maintaining another social media page may sound like arduous work, but there is anecdotal evidence that having a Google+ Business page positively impacts a Google+ Local ranking and it is clearly important to start forming connections via Google+ circles to increase credibility and authority on Google.
Secure Customer Reviews on Google. Getting a high volume of quality customer reviews on Google has always been important to improve rankings in the search results, but Google has just upped the ante. On account of consumers having to join Google+ to provide reviews, both they and their connections on Google+ will see their recommendations on Google when they’re logged into Google and are conducting a search that brings up the franchisee name. Don’t gloss over the importance of still securing reviews on the likes of Yelp or CitySearch, but Google really should be the priority now.
When Google first announced all these changes, Avni Shah, Google’s director of product management, stated: “Today is just the first step, and you’ll see many more updates in the coming months.” What’s clear is that franchisors and franchisees alike will need to continue to stay on their toes to make sure that they’re doing everything they can to maintain or increase their search engine ranking in what’s becoming an increasingly complicated world of online searches where social signals are more and more crucial for SEO performance.
Louis Gagnon is chief product and marketing officer for Yodle, which helps franchisors, franchisees and local businesses market their services online, connecting them to consumers simply and cost-effectively. Gagnon can be reached at or 212-542-5426 or firstname.lastname@example.org.