At the end of May, Google announced a major change to the local search market. They eradicated their own “Google Places” service, which was functional if rather pedestrian, and converted some 80-million-odd Places pages into Google+ Local pages. The change was telegraphed for some time, but undoubtedly came as a shock to many of the people who owned those Places pages. However, with a little time that shock is going to turn to pleasure, because the Google+ Local landscape is finally showing us what Google has in mind for local search, and it’s pretty cool.
Here’s the high points:
- In addition to the usual tabs on Google+, there’s a new “Local” tab
- Google+ Local pages are now tightly bound into all the Google services – Maps, search, and mobile in particular
- Google’s merger with Zagat resurfaces, with free Zagat review content tied to Local pages
- Reviews by users within your circle are promoted in search – if your friends like a restaurant, it will pop up in your searches
With these changes, a local information infrastructure that always seemed a bit sparse – plenty of business listings with an address and maybe a phone number, but not a lot more than that – is going to fill in fast with rich data. Social networks don’t solve all information problems, but they are very well suited for review-sharing. This is especially true with the inclusion of the Zagat data, and the conversion away from Yelp-style 5-star ratings to the much richer 30-point, multi-category Zagat system.
So from the consumer side of things, the change is useful and I know I will be checking Google’s local content a LOT more than I used to – it’s become a lot more interesting. Even more interesting, though, is the options that the shift opens up for local businesses. I’ll talk more about that in my next entry – there is a lot to explore.