In their never-ending quest to keep the world of SEO on their toes, (or so it seems) Google have made some major changes to Google + pages.
Google + (Google Plus) has always been a bit of a minefield, but the main reason businesses used it was to ensure their place in local search results.
Your Google Local profile gave you the ability to add crucial information about any bricks and mortar business, such as the correct address, telephone number and company information. The fact that you also got a dedicated Google+ page, a sort of “Facebook light” profile page was a bonus.
But now it's all change again at Google+...
Ever clicked through to a Google+ page?
If you were searching for a local business by name, contact information would be shown as a pop-out on the right hand side of the search (on desktops). This often gave you the info you were looking for, such as the address or telephone number, with an option to go to the Google Plus page for that business if you wanted.
To be honest, we’re not sure many actually did - and Google apparently thinks that too. After all, the G+ page simply expanded on the information you’d already seen back on the SERPS page. This is probably why Google have stripped away 80% of the company information on the new look Google+ page, so it now looks much more like a social media feed, and less like a business listing. (See below: old style on left, new style on right.)
7-Pack REDUCED to 3-Pack
What you see in local search results for geographic terms such as “Ingersoll plumber” is the new ‘3 pack’ (3 businesses listed under the map), instead of the former 7 listings. This is apparently because it's better for mobiles to display. A 3 pack listing gives you direct access to a link to their website, directions to their premises, plus a short location (usually street), telephone number and “open until” hours. You do NOT get a link to their Google + page.
If you search for a local business by name, and you’ll get a side box with full address, phone, opening hours, etc, as before. However, there is no link here to the G+ page here either. (See below: 3 pack on left, listing on right.)
Where has the G+ Page gone?
It's still there, just hidden. To even see a company G+ page, you need to search from within G+ itself, which will reveal the page. If you want the business info, it’s still there, buried under the teeny-tiny ‘i’ symbol bottom right of the image. Click on this and some of that old business information appears as a pop-up window.
Why have Google done this?
It looks as if Google are trying to convert your Google+ experience into a more social one. In the new interface it's much easier to join Communities of like-minded businesses and people, and get info on niche subjects through Collections. These changes doesn’t so much alter your business info as just makes it a little harder to get to.
That’s why every business needs to check they have a new Google My Business account. If you signed up for Google Local/Places G+ a while back, you should have been automatically upgraded. A Google My Business account lets you edit all your business information as before, and get your address verified.
Why is Google My Business important?
The reason it’s important to ensure you have a Google My Business (GMB) account is that Google uses signals from GMB to rank your webpage in results. Up to 15% of the total signals (triggers) for ranking come from GMB, which is huge.
Once you have a Google My Business (GMB) account, you can manage business information just as you always did, which is great. You can amend info, add and manage multiple locations, as well as create new brand pages, add photos, and view your stats.
You can also relax a little, as the information in your GMB business profile is that used across Google when showing information about your business.
OK, so what do I need to do?
At Akira, we’ve always suggested clients post onto Google+ if they were posting on other social media channels anyway, as this kept the Google+ page active. If you continue to do this, you’ll be using your Google+ page for what Google wants you to use it for, posting and being 'social', which must be a good thing.
Equally, so long as you keep your business details up to date, everything should work well for both desktop and mobile searches in terms of your business showing up on local search results.
Your cover photo for your G+ page will probably not show properly now (changing header image sizes is the curse of our existence with social media platforms). You might need to resize it, redesign it or alter its dimensions.
Overall, the changes are not too major. Don’t sweat it. If you have time, deal with it. If not, call us, or frankly, don’t worry about it until 2016.
Reviews: your secret weapon?
The question remains, how can you get your business into the 3 pack listing under the map? We have a sneaky suspicion that despite their removal from the new G+ page layout, reviews are still pretty important, and certainly will contribute to that almost 15% of ranking signals from GMB.
However, getting reviews from customer onto G+ depends on the customer having their own G+ account, and being willing to negotiate Google to actually review you. It's a hassle and a half, but we still think its worthwhile. (We’ll cover how to do this in a future blog.)
Here’s our simple action plan for G+
1. If you’ve posted here in the past, carry on. if you’re new to it, definitely post something every fortnight if possible.
2. Keep your business information up to date, especially opening hours.
3. If you have not verified your physical business address through Google My Business, do so, pronto. Google verification postcards are taking up to six weeks to arrive at present.
4. Chill out and enjoy Christmas!