Understanding and Unleashing the Power of Google+ for Your Local Business

by Nick Nichols, Search Marketing Expert

In June of 2011, Google launched Google+ (Google Plus) as its entry into the world of social media. But with the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, Google+ met with a lukewarm response from the public.

As a way to gently but firmly convince the world that Google+ was a viable social media platform, at the end of May, 2012, Google began merging its Maps and Places listings into Google+.

This more-or-less forced the world to sit up and take notice. It also caused a bit of confusion for business owners and search marketing consultants alike because the process was not exactly smooth. Now, the dust has settled somewhat and here’s what we know:

By the end of July, 2012, in just over a year, Google+ has grown to more than 250 million users, making it imperative that local business owners learn what it is and how to use it properly.

Google+ Local listings have replaced what was previously known as Google Places. These are the listings that appear below the Google Adwords pay-per-click ads when a local search query is entered into Google’s search box. A local search query is one that includes some kind of geographic modifier, such as a city or ZIP code.

In September 2010, Google acquired restaurant review portal Zagat. At the end of May 2012, Google replaced its familiar review gold stars with a new version of the Zagat Review Quality Score. The Review Quality Score is based on consumer ratings of 0-3. These ratings are averaged and then multiplied by ten to arrive at averaged scores. The score is 0-30 out of 30.

Google+ Local listings are formatted differently than regular organic listings because they utilize two columns. On the left: business name, URL, link to Google reviews (if any) and Review Quality Score (if at least 10 reviews); and the Google Maps balloon marker and address on the right.

Usually, but not always, Google shows seven local listings on the first page of local results. These listings are known as the Google 7-Pack.

Usually, but not always, Google displays 1-3 organic listings above the 7-Pack. These may or may not be the businesses that are displayed in the 7-Pack. Occasionally, a 7-Pack listing may appear directly below the Google Adwords ads, followed by 1-2 organic listings, followed by more 7-Pack listings.

Confused? You’re not alone! Google itself seems to be a bit confused. Inconsistencies among Google staffers in explaining what’s going on haven’t helped clarify the situation.
One important concept hasn’t changed, though. Every local business needs to officially claim, optimize, validate and "credentialize "their Google+ Local listing. These are the four phases of getting in the first-page 7-Pack and moving to the top.

  1. Claiming. This is free and relatively easy.
  2. Optimization. Not difficult and mainly involves making sure your listing is complete.
  3. Validation. Involves making sure your non-Google business listings are widespread and consistent.
  4. Credentialization. Involves getting third-party links, social signals and positive consumer reviews.

You can do all four phases yourself but Phase 3 and especially Phase 4 require advanced knowledge and expertise. Phase 3 can take 4-6 weeks to accomplish and Phase 4 can take 3-6 months. Getting positive consumer reviews is an ongoing process that requires a defined review encouragement program.

If you want to avoid the learning curve and get the best possible results, call Nick Nichols at 214-458-2290.

If you’re able to get your business on the first page of Google – in the top organic listing and/or the 7-Pack – you’ll be exposed to nearly 100% of people looking for business like yours in your area using Google search. This can also lower your customer acquisition costs.