Analysis: Google Places for Business – Upgrade or G+ Pages Lite?

The upgrade to the Places for Business is an upgrade that is hard to get terribly excited about although it does give hope for the future and there are some plumbing issues that have finally been put to rest. The dashboard seems more focused on commerce than content and offers little in the way of allowing an SMB to really explain who they are and what they do.

Given that Google has had 7 (or is it 8 years?) to come up with a dashboard replacement it is hard to accept a replacement that contains fewer input fields than the broken dashboard that it is replacing. I have such high hopes for local and Google’s role in it that it is hard for me to find much excitement in the late arrival of such a limited product.

What is wrong, missing or otherwise lame with the update?

Categories: The removal of custom categories, while understandable from a taxonomic point of view, leaves a lot to be desired. Google’s limited range of categories leaves many businesses without adequate choices. This has always been more true overseas but applies to a large extent in the US as well. Google will now allow 10 categories and they are noting that they gather this information elsewhere on the internet. That however will put very small SMBs that can’t afford adequate SEO at a distinct disadvantage if Gooogle doesn’t expand the list of categories.

 

Hours: Updated 4/13 Google’s treatment of hours has long been inadequate. Is not an upgrade the time to finally enhance them so that they deal with split hours and other common variations with more elegance? This has long been a feature request and one that I am sure that Google is aware. There are still situations that are not addressed like the 24 hour towing service that needs to only show themselves open from 9-5 because that is when their office is staffed but generally they cover most situations.

Enhanced Data: Before they were disabled, the dashboard offered the option of including enhanced data for many years. Consumers need to know whether a business has a parking lot, carries a specific brand or has unusual capabilities. While that can now be included in a longer description it makes sense that Google, who seems intent on standardizing categories, should have a similar capacity in this arena. They don’t.

Videos: Video upload, long broken in the current dashboard is totally missing from this product. The only way that an SMB can get the option of uploading videos is to create a G+ profile, add a G+ Local Page and be forced to learn a totally new interface. Hello? I thought this was supposed to be simple.

Photos: The data pipeline, while improved, is still veeeery slow. We don’t know exactly how long a photo will take but initially it might be several weeks. Its still quicker to add a photo as an end user. And that just should not be.

Analytics: Argh. The feature and reporting set is mostly the same but one feature, custom ranges, has been removed. No inkling of any of the incredible mobile data that Google has, no integration with full analytics, no click to call data. In December, 2010 Google released, albeit for a very short time, improved analytics that actually included valuable information. We hope that the underlying reliability of the product has been fixed but the limits of the previous product are all too evident. SMBs deserve more and better information as to how visible they are and what people are doing once they see the listing.

Branding: The Places for Business Dashboard name will remain but it is becoming a business only input interface and it appears that the name Places is likely to be less highlighted as a consumer product. Given the phased roll in of the product SMB confusion is likely to remain. Even after the complete deployment it appears that there will be two slightly different ways to verify a listing, from the Dashboard and from the Plus page interface. Perhaps that distinction will go away over time but it will continue to confuse.

What’s Good about the Upgrade:

Rich Text Editor: Finally, the silly 200 character limit has been removed and you can actually add bolding and lists to your description. There is the ability to add links to your description but that is a feature that has worked erratically at best on merged G+ Local pages.

Hours: Updated 4/13 Perhaps the UI does not make the features as obvious as it should but Google’s treatment of hours is vastly improved. A business can have as many split hours on as many different days of the week as they desire.

Better Integration with G+: Google’s interfaces have been fragmented and impossible for mere mortals to understand. This creates a common editing environment that is consistent between the + Page for Local and the Dashboard. Although having more than one entry point is and will remain confusing, it is an improvement.

Better UI & User Feedback: The contextual feedback is well done. What the SMB still needs to do is clear and the goals, however limited, are articulated. Hopefully, the many bugs in the existing Places Dashboard in the input of field data have been quashed as well.

Improved integration with the backend: Early last year, with the rollout of the knowledge graph, Google shifted the underlying data structure of the business listing cluster from a web result to the more structured knowledge graph approach. This required all new data pipelines. MapMaker was the first product to get a direct input into the new system so edits in MM went live almost as soon as they were approved. The merged G+ Local Pages were the second to get the almost instant updating achieved by the improved pipeline.

The Places for Business Dashboard will now have access to the same pipeline and edits will move to the final listing with much greater speed. Edits that took several weeks should move through in hours or at worst days (photos are an exception). Many edits will still require moderation and that will vary by field as to how long they will take but, as is the case with merged G+ Local Pages, it will occur much, much faster. And the new Dashboard push speeds will eliminate the heavy reliance over the past year on MapMaker for needed edits.

Data Trust and Data Integrity: Over the 14 months or so, whether anybody has noticed or not, the new underlying data structure has lead to many, many fewer merged listings. Once a listing is created in the knowledge graph cluster it becomes trusted data and is less likely to merge. Now the data from the Places for Business Dashboard feeds that structure directly. While the data the SMB provides is less in quantity, it appears that it will be more trusted by Google and less susceptible to erratic updates from who knows where.

Conclusion: Can some of these faults be corrected? Yes and they likely will over the next few months. The architecture of the product appears to allow easy integration of new functionality. The improved plumbing will make life better for all although it is unlikely to be noticed by many. But it appears that the trend of moving the dashboard towards more commerce rather than the SMB provided content will likely continue. Even that wouldn’t be so bad if the analytics were better.

In this iteration of the upgrade the emperor is at best underdressed. A better name for the product might have been G+ Page for Local Lite. I am however hopeful that addtitional updates, now that the plumbing has been fixed, will come with some regularity and not on the 7 (or is it 11) year sun spot cycle.

Related Posts:

Google rolling out new update to Google Places for Business

Visual Guide to the new Places for Business Dashboard

Categories in the new Places for Business Dashboard

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Analysis: Google Places for Business - Upgrade or G+ Pages Lite? by

14 thoughts on “Analysis: Google Places for Business – Upgrade or G+ Pages Lite?”

  1. Mike,
    Just want you to know how much I appreciate the several posts you’ve written today. Your interpretation of the changes is priceless. I’m glad, too, to know that you plan to update your Category tool as soon as you can, and thank you for providing the plain list. It is terrific of you to share so much of your take on the changes. Really valuable!

  2. It’s not shown up in Australia yet. Not via my Places editor or my G+ Page editor.

    Is this update actually merging Places and G+ Pages or are they still separate but mashed concepts?

  3. @Tiggerito
    This update is rolling out first in the US. Even here it is rolling out in waves… It will be available first to users of unclaimed listings and some Dashboard accounts. When an account has been upgraded, the dashboard will automatically redirect to the new interface.

    As it is proven it will roll out to more and more Dashboard accounts in the US. Once the US is done and in the bag the product will roll out to the rest of the world where the Places for Business Dashboard is active.

    Is this update actually merging Places and G+ Pages or are they still separate but mashed concepts?

    A simple way to think of this is a Google Plus Page Lite.

    But the reality is that it, like Pages, Mapmaker, the current dashboard and user edits, is just another interface providing input into the local database.

    Google’s goal, if I may speak for them, is to have two kinds of pages going forward: Claimed and Unclaimed. A claimed page will either have or not have a social component. So really this upgrade allows a business to have a Page but not have to commit to social.

  4. I’m wondering. With the changes in the category list, and the places portal requiring you to choose off the pre-set list, will you still be able to add custom categories through Map Maker? Or will this be a “cake or death” situation?

  5. @Josh
    The only reliable way to add any custom category is the existing Places Dashboard. While you can add some custom categories in MapMaker is a nuanced and somewhat problematic. For a full discussion see this thread(read from here down).

  6. Mike, thank you for all of this information on Google+ Local. Our dashboard has not upgraded to the new one yet. If I were to create a custom category, will it remain after the new dashboard is there? Or, will it be gone. We created custom categories for some of our clients, will they still help the client come up in Google’s search results. For example, we created “boiler repair service” and the client comes up #1 for that category/keyword term.

    Also, what is the best way for a business to claim their Google+ Local page? So that they appear in the 2, 3, 7 or 10 pack? Should they go through Google Search, find their business and then claim or Go through MAPs or Google+?

    Sorry for the questions -but we want to be clear in what we tell our clients.

    Thanks for the list too! We’ve been using your tool since it came out and will continue to use.

    Susan

  7. @Susan
    It is likely that the custom category would stick around after the change over UNLESS Google purges them at that time. So answer: Maybe will be there.

    If they are still there they will help, if Google purges them obviously not.

    Currently it doesn’t matter which Google service you use to locate the listing. If the listing is currently unclaimed then the link to manage the listing will take you to do the dashboard. I use Maps only because it is easier to see if there are dupes… but that is just personal preference.

    As to the use of my tool…. ahem… cough cough… ????

  8. Is there a way to integrate a Google Local listing with a Google+ Page?

  9. Hi, I have become a little paranoid with google places and plus ever since all these changes have started and I have a question.

    I run two businesses from the same IP address. Both have completely different websites and are essentially involved in the same market.

    Will it be possible for me to setup two Google + business pages or will google not allow this since it is on same IP address? I have one already and would like to setup another one for the second business however I am worried it might impact my 1st page :/

    What do you think? Are there guidelines for this?

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