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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Google+ Business Pages: To Merge Or Not to Merge, That is the Question

The recent rollout of the ability to merge a G+ Business page and a G+ Local page was a significant sign post on Google’s way to integrating local into social. To Google’s credit the product and process were simple and elegant. The design was more than a notch above previous efforts in local and it just worked when you went through the process. That being said it only satisfied a very narrow use case of business listing types.

Was the rollout a signal that your business or clients should make the merge now or was its limited function a tell that you should wait?

Obviously as Google moves towards social local search it is clear that there will be moment when, for most local businesses, it will make sense to commit to fully Google Plus in one way or another.

It is important though to understand this latest move in the context of Google’s longer term plan for integrating listings into the Plus environment and know some of the pitfalls before deciding whether to go ahead with the re-verification process now or to wait.

Local and Plus both have a lot of moving parts. Google’s tactic of “develop early and iterate often” means that we will be living with a more half baked product than usual as these parts are ripped out and rebuilt. The pieces to the pie are becoming visible very slowly and a great deal of functionality is still missing.

We know that a new dashboard with increased functionality is likely on its way and hopefully better social management tools as well. In the meantime, since we are only seeing a corner of the whole picture, it is conceivable to me that a wrong step now might require a business to back up and execute a complete redo down the road if you commit too early.

What the upgrade is and isn’t:

The recent announcement of the ability to to merge via re-verification seems to be appropriate for a very small number of current local claimants: those bricks and mortar businesses with both a dashboard account AND a Google+ Business Page that don’t find re-verification a burden. Thats it, no more no less.

There are a number other use cases that are excluded from this rollout:

-Bulk upload users

-Businesses with multiple locations that find it hard to post card verify

-Service Area at Home Businesses

-Businesses that have no need for social or don’t want the hassle of re-verification.

Known issues:

-The upgrade didn’t completely do away with the need for the Dashboard, it is still necessary to add categories, do bulk uploads, add offers and to see stats.

-If you created the wrong type of +Business page originally it can’t be changed to +Business local page. You will need to create an additional +Business local page before you can proceed and your followers will not come along automatically.

Features that are missing but will be needed by many:

-There is no way for a business with many locations to have a single social stream for multiple locations. It is hard to imagine that company owned chains with thousands of locations will be able to support location level social content with the current limited tool suite.

-The current management interface only supports 50 businesses per + user and thus is limited for larger businesses.

-There is no way to easily distinguish between one of these locations and the next in the +Business page management interface.

-There is no way to indicate a single rel=publisher entity that is associated with the multiple location pages

Google’s Guidance:

From the public and private forums I have gathered the following:

– there will be an automatic verification process for those listings already claimed

– re: home-based businesses – For now, they can still add their location via the Google Places Dashboard and verify it but the new +Business verification process will not work for them.

– re: the Dashboard-  Local information can still be managed from Google Places [dashboard], though we don’t recommend it at all. Edits from +pages should take a few minutes while edits from Places will still take days. However, you’ll need to go back to Places to see dashboard metrics about your business [and to add categories].

I also asked Google for a public comment about the new product transition and a Google spokesperson said:

Our long-term vision is to enable business owners to simply and easily manage their presence across Google, whether they’re posting on a local Google+ page or updating their local listing. We’ve recently enabled verification for business owners who created pages via Google+ Pages for Business, and are working hard on ways to help additional business owners fully upgrade their listings and take advantage of the interactive features of Google+. 

I then posed the following hypothetical current situation to the spokesperson: A multi location business has created a Google+ page for Business (but not in the local category) and has 25 locations. Should they keep the Business page AND claim the 25 locations? Should they get rid of the current Business page and just claim the 25 locations? Should they just wait?

The spokesperson noted:

In the case you outlined, we’d encourage the business owner to hold tight until we enable verification for more and more businesses. 

The upshot:

From where I sit, whether to merge now depends on what type of business you have and the roll of social in your marketing mix. If you are a single or dual location bricks and mortar shop and don’t find the re-verification problematic now is as good of a time as ever.  If you have several locations and find the G+ social tools valuable then go for it. Here is a step by step guide to the process.

But as you add more locations or practitioners to the equation, the decision becomes harder. If you have 3-10 locations I would think twice. More than that would quickly become unmanageable. In this situation I would set up several locations for testing and familiarization purposes only.

If you fall into one of the many other categories of business that are not explicitly supported I would wait until Google provides a solution that meets your needs.