Google My Business: A Guide to the Latest Change in Local Search
When I was a kid, I had a regular schedule of television programming that I would follow (remember the days when we were slaves to that concept?), and I always looked forward to knowing that when I got home from school or woke up on the weekends, a new episode of Pokémon or whatever my obsession at the time was would be ready for me to watch.
You can imagine the injustice I felt, then, when that schedule suddenly changed without warning, and something new and unfamiliar had taken the place of my regular programming. Where was my daily insight into the lives of my favorite fictional characters? Why was I forced to watch this drivel instead? Who can I write about this?!
It's been over a decade since this ritual came to an end (and years since I've been forced to follow a television station's schedule), but I still get the same feeling of stress, confusion and befuddlement when I see that our good friend Google has made yet another change to one of their many services.
Google's changed something again, have they? OK, what is it this time?
The change in question this time relates to their local business listings, which have gone through a good deal of reformulations over the past few years. The latest involves some pretty big adjustments, as well as a new name: Google My Business.
Despite my initial, knee-jerk, "what-is-this-another-bloody-change-come-on-guys-we-can't-keep-up-with-this-all-the-time-cut-it-out-and-keep-it-consistent" reaction, I've found that this is probably the most significant and useful change Google has made to one of their services. Let's take a look at why.
OK, so what's new about Google My Business?
Other than the name change (the service was formerly known as Google+ Local, and before that it was Google Places), the key focus here seems to be on integration: an all-in-one place for you to offer customers as much information as possible about your business.
From Google themselves:
"Google My Business connects you directly with customers, whether they're looking for you on Search, Maps or Google+."
This article on Search Engine Land from last month offers a little more insight:
The core idea is to make it "easier than ever to update business information across Google Search, Maps and Google+." Think of it as a kind of rudimentary CRM platform for small businesses (SMBs).
Google is trying to streamline and make more coherent the process of managing local business data, reviews and social interactions across its many sites. Google calls it "a free and easy way to find and connect with your people, wherever you are".
What's the bottom line? Is Google My Business really that different? What will my customers find?
The core concept of Google My Business remains the same as that of Google+ Local and Google Places: you register your business, fill out information relevant to customers, and get a code either by phone or mail to prove you own it and get the profile verified, giving you authenticity and trust in the eyes of any customers that come across it. From there, you've got a listing that's rife with relevant information.
But the emphasis on integration and an all-in-one profile seems to have made it easier than ever for businesses to offer customers information about what they do, where they are, how they can be contacted and what's new – all in one easy-to-access, easy-to-read location. The main reason for this is that other than having the ability to display the following standard items:
- Business name, address and phone number
- Business hours
- Photos and videos
- Customer reviews
Companies can also connect their Google+ pages with their business listing, allowing them to share all of the above items on their Google+ page as well.
That's probably the most significant change, but there are others that both businesses and customers will find useful, such as:
- Status updates for any news or events they want to share (Google Places did have this, but it wasn't as prominent).
- Insights ("statistical information on how users interact with your verified business information on Google", AKA tons of metrics on how customers are engaging with your profile)
- Hangouts with customers
Businesses can also add descriptions and tags to videos, and follow other businesses or profiles in which they may have an interest, or with whom they have something in common.
But perhaps the coolest, most interesting and useful addition is...
Business view gives users a full, 360º tour of the inside of your business. This feature pre-dates the update to Google My Business, but with this latest change to local search, companies can now display a virtual tour for interested customers looking at their profile. If there was anything missing from local listings, this was probably it – the closest we had was photos and videos, but those don't compare to this kind of technology.
A big change, but with plenty of useful upgrades
Overall, Google My Business may be a bit befuddling for those of us who are weary of the search giant's constant changes to their services. While I may have started out with those familiar feelings of, "What have you done and why is this different?!", reminiscent of the days when I didn't get the memo on Pokémon's new date and time, I'm pretty impressed with what Google is offering here.
The focus on integration, the ability to connect with Google+ pages and addition of elements like business view (seriously, how cool is that? I can't get over it), makes it quite a significant update, and one worth switching to as soon as possible if you want to offer your customers an all-in-one look at who and where you are and what you do.
You can sign up for Google My Business here. Still confused? Check out Search Engine Land's guide and get a step-by-step guide to how to get started.