Yesterday Google announced changes to Google Places Pages. I posted a quick note in my Around The Web section at the time, but would like to dive into it a bit deeper and provide some analysis as well.
What’s Changed On Google Places
The Place Pages
We’ll start at the top (orange edits are mine):
A few things you’ll notice:
- Overall this is a simpler, more open look, fitting with changes to Gmail, Maps, and the general feel of Google+.
- There are a couple really big buttons near the top of the screen, where you can submit reviews or photos. Google is continuing to push for more user-generated content.
- They have added the somewhat-controversial descriptive terms underneath the star rating.
- There is a skinny little gray scrollbar, which has also been seen in Google Maps. I think they’re trying to align Google Maps/Places with the stylings of mobile devices, where saving screenspace like this makes sense. This only seems to work on Webkit browsers (basically Chrome and Safari).
A look at reviews:
This is the biggest change. There are no 3rd party review snippets. All displayed reviews (and the link to “More reviews”) are from Google’s own body of reviews. For companies such as this one, which has a tremendous number of non-Google reviews, that will be disappointing (more commentary below).
And the bottom of the page:
The bottom of the page continues to contain “Related places” – not a favorite feature of most businesses, but useful for users.
Google has eliminated, however, the “More about this place” section, which listed citations from around the web. This isn’t too surprising, as it seemed useless for the average viewer, and was used primarily by local SEO’s to find why certain sites ranked well. Google never likes giving out that type of information, and had not included complete info in the section anyway.
The Local Search Results
This page looks much like it did a few days ago, except for one big change. On the main review count, underneath the star rating, only Google reviews are shown. This dentist would have had over 200 reviews before this change, and now has 11. The 3rd-party review counts are still displayed underneath the listing.
What Should Businesses Do Differently?
For companies that have been doing a good job encouraging reviews across a variety of sites, these changes shouldn’t be a big issue. Although Google clearly plans on highlighting and encouraging reviews on Places, consumers will continue to use different sites and you will want reviews on all of them. It is also very possible that Google will continue to view reviews all over the web as a positive signal for ranking. You might naturally pickup more reviews on Google as the company continues to push users to make reviews.
The businesses that will be hurt by this change are those that rely on one (non-Google) site for all their reviews. I wrote an article last year questioning the use of DemandForce (mainly by dentists) for accumulating huge numbers of reviews. That article has proved to be fairly prescient, as 3rd party reviews have been de-emphasized, just as the article speculated may happen. Companies pursuing this strategy need to take a serious look at diversifying their review locations.
What’s Next For Google Places?
The most enlightening piece of Google’s announcement, in my mind, was their description of a “long-term vision” for local:
- Bringing you more personalized results when you search for local places — because we understand that information from the people you know is most meaningful;
- Integrating some of the great information that’s been buried on Place pages into your web search experience across all Google platforms;
- Giving you more ways to rate, discover and share places you love faster and easier than ever, wherever you are, and on whichever device you choose.
To take these bullets one at a time:
- The meaning of the first bullet seems very clear – as conjectured in my Google+ article, there’s no question that Google will be attempting to determine who your friends are, and highlight the businesses that they like.
- It’s hard to say exactly what type of integration Google envisions in the second bullet, but it indicates that having a complete Google Places page will be even more important (get some good pictures, videos, and reviews if you don’t have them)!
- And the third just indicates that they’re going to continue updating both desktop and mobile, while further encouraging user-generated content. I’m sure that as services such as Google Offers and Wallet become widespread, Google will push people who they know have actually purchased from a business to review the business. Maybe they’ll even highlight those as some type of verified review.
Google continues to emphasize local, obviously seeing local commerce as a big part of its future. With these new updates, Google is shifting from being an aggregator of other’s content to a true source in its own right. Hopefully the company can get those fake reviews under control, because its influence over local businesses looks likely to continue to grow.
This news has been thoroughly covered in other local sites. To read more:
- Techcrunch, with an emphasis on Google’s antitrust cases and how this may play into dropping 3rd party review snippets.
- Mike Blumenthal, with the news and analysis
- Nyagoslav @Optilocal, with a nice look at hotel Place Pages, including the new awards section