Google+ Local: It Really is a Game Changer

Google's Canary In a Coal MineThe conversion of Google Places pages to Google+ Local pages earlier this month was a game changer. Yes, it seems like Google comes out with something shiny and new every other day that can be termed a “game changer,” but this one actually is. Especially for small business owners whose profitability depends on the prominence of their position in a local Google search conducted by potential customers. And more changes are on the way. Big changes.

The Story

In short, what happened on June 1 was Google began the process of converting the business places pages that used to serve as a company’s primary presence in the Google search universe. Those Places pages, when verified by the owner and properly optimized with accurate information about the company, began to dominate many search results about two summers ago.

Google + Local

Now, instead of a Google Places page, companies will have a new Google+ Local page. Much of the same information will be included, but the presentation will be cleaner and – in theory – provide more social functionality for consumers. The five-star rating system Google used for customer comments has been replaced by a 1 through 30 Zagat rating system (think restaurant reviews, only for all types of businesses).

ZagatWhy You Should Care?

Why is it important for business owners to know this? Because this is more than a simple renaming of a product by Google. This is the proverbial canary in the social coal mine, and what happens next could very well shift our whole way of thinking about how we use the Internet for commerce. Google’s commitment to all things social kicked into full gear last year, with the introduction of the Google+ social network. Google+ for business followed, and now comes Google+ Local.

Google+ was greeted with relative indifference. Compared to the nearly 1 billion users on Facebook and 500 million on Twitter, the 90 million Google+ users barely register as a ripple. Business hasn’t ignored it as a way to interact with consumers, certainly, but any social media strategy inevitably begins with Facebook and Twitter (and, increasingly, Path, Pinterest and Instagram).

So, how might the introduction of Google+ Local change that for companies that rely on search position to create conversions and sales (in other words, just about every small business in existence)?

Unlike Google Places pages, Google+ Local pages will be indexed by search engines. This means a well-optimized Google+ Local page is now critical. You might have gotten away with setting up your Google Places page and then ignoring it, as long as your company’s website was optimized and filled with fresh, engaging content on a regular basis. You won’t be able to do that with a Google+ Local page, because this thing is going to show up in the search result. Although no one can predict just how prominent they will become in search results, especially in the ever-shifting world of mobile search, there’s every reason to believe a Google+ Local page might take precedence over your company’s own website. And even if that doesn’t become the case, it would still be foolhardy to ignore your Google+ Local page, because there’s another factor that is steaming our way.

The Longer Term Impact

That factor goes right back to Google’s very public commitment to social. Soon – Google isn’t saying when, exactly – the Google+ Local page will be directly tied to your company’s Google+ business page. As of now, the back end dashboard for the Google+ Local page will be the same as you used for your Google Places page. But that will change when the two become integrated, and there’s another social-related reason for that, as well.

Google Sign InGoogle wants people to sign in under their Google user names when they conduct Internet searches. The most important corporate asset Google has is the user data it collects as people use its products. In the past, people used to be able to interact with businesses on Google Places pages without being signed into a Google+ account. Now, if someone wants to make a comment on a business on a Google+ Local page, they must be signed into their Google+ account. This will eliminate the dreaded anonymous review, which seems great. But that cuts both ways, because people in their Google+ network will immediately know exactly what they think of the business, and potentially make buying decisions based on that opinion. A bad review written with an actual name attached carries much more weight than an anonymous shot that could have been written by a malicious competitor or disgruntled former employee.

The Facebook Threat

The tie-in between Google+ and Google+ Local reveals the real crux of it – Google isn’t trying to become the next Facebook. By tying Google+ personal accounts to Google+ Local reviews, and by tying Google+ Local to your company’s Google+ business page, Google is trying to become all things to all people.

And since Google is still the 800-pound gorilla of search, you need to pay attention to this inexorable shift to social. It matters to the bottom line now, and it’s going to matter a great deal more in the future.

Do you have a different take on this move by Google? Let me hear from you.

Put Those Shorts Away!

URL Shortener Inbound LinkBe careful when you choose your URL shorteners as they may amputate your inbound links accidentally.

If you’re like me you use URL shorteners a lot!  Like most people I started using them thanks to Twitter’s 140 character limit.   Then when tools like TweetDeck started auto-shortening my URLs I really started to get used to them.  Now I find myself using them regularly outside of Twitter.

Why Use URL Shorteners?

While some folks think they’re ugly or even suspicious and spammy-looking, but they do serve a greater purpose:

  • If your link/URL is really long then including them in press releases or text emails can really intimidate and overwhelm the reader.
  • Also some press release tools have their own character limits that can get eaten up by full link paths.  URL shortener conserve that precious character limit.
  • If you want to hide or not overtly publish link parameters you’re passing through, then a shortener is a great way to accomplish that.  Though I’m not saying this is an ideal method of link cloaking (a more sophisticated way of passing parameters), because it’s not.

The Kicker

If you’re creating content that could one day end up on another site, those inbound links could be very valuable to you.

But if you use a URL shortener, are you losing that inbound link love?  Maybe!

It depends on your shortener service.  Most of the major services like bit.ly perform 301 redirects allowing your inbound link love to be preserved.  If you’re in doubt, run the shortener URL through an HTTP header analyzer and confirm a 301 response (and not 302) is received.

Do You Care About URL Shortener and Inbound Links?

  • What other features of URL shorteners do you consider important?
  • Which ones are more important to you than preserving the inbound link?

New Google Analytics Tag – Faster, Better, Stronger

Google AnalyticsYesterday, Google announced their new Google Analytics tag to speed up page loads that will become the default code snippet provided for profiles.  This is right in line with Google’s new obsession with page speed.

Google Analytics New Asynchronous Code Snippet

While the new Google Analytics tag is very light, if you start to add a lot of scripts to a site like I do, they start to add up.  Allowing for the asynchronous loading (separate processing) of the tag your webpages will load that much faster and therefore the code snippet will not penalize your site speed nor your visitor’s experience.

I recommend you go back to all of your Google Analytics-tagged pages and change them out to this new snippet.  Likewise, you really need to look into the load times of your webpages.  It could be hurting your rankings.

3 Lessons Learned From A Blogging Virgin

This week I helped a good friend lose his blogging virginity by setting him up on WordPress and the Thesis Theme for WordPress (affiliate link). If you’re interested take a look at some of the great work he’s done already.

As a designer, his content is primarily images so far. His goal for the blog’s look and feel is very visually appealing. It’s refreshing to see his approach. There are some key lessons to learn or at least be reminded of:

  • Blog as though the world is reading. Each post will live forever and eventually the world may get around to reading each of them. So even though you may have no readers, you will one day and those first posts will still be there. So they need to be written for today’s and tomorrow’s audiences. Your content does not go out with the recycling.
  • My friend knows nearly nothing about SEO and it shows. But that’s OK. Today he needs to create content and lots of it. For his readers and the search engines. Getting hung up on the details of SEO will slow down that natural creation process. Pick it up later and work it into the process. The search engines are looking for relevant content. Give it to them.
  • He’s found his voice. Many folks, myself included, start off not knowing our voice, our message and goal. While it’s better to start and change than to not start at all, it’s important to remember that you need to eventually find your voice and target it. Your readers will reward you for that by returning and spreading the word. You will become more than your person when you can create a new persona online that reaches people consistently.

Keep up the good work, Mike. And thanks for the lessons, accidental or not.