As social signals become increasingly more important in organic search, it's become critical for us to know what we are working with when it comes to the various social platforms.
Facebook and Twitter, currently the two main social networks, are relatively straightforward. With Facebook you you either create a personal account to catch up with old or new friends, or you can use your personal account to create a Facebook Page, which you can then use to promote your business, interact with other users, and get “likes” for your page.
With Twitter, you know exactly what you are getting when you sign up. It doesn’t matter if you are using it for your business or for personal use, you are going to get the same account either way. It is up to you how you use the platform.
There are some additional complexities when setting up targeted paid campaigns on these platforms, but for pure organic social engagement, Facebook and Twitter have made it easy.
Google+, with it's variety of pages, profiles, and accounts, however, is a totally different animal altogether. It can seem as though there is no clear purpose or distinction between how these various accounts are set up or talk to one another. To top it off, Google has really bad commitment issues and is constantly changing and merging certain types of pages. This has resulted in a large number of questions: “What type of page do I have? What type of page does my business have? Have my pages ‘merged’ like Google says they have?”
Personally, I’m exhausted. I’m tired of reconciling the differences and of wanting to know exactly what I should be doing to properly optimize clients for local search. Fatigued as I am, I’ve finally got this thing figure out. So, I invite you to sit back, relax (maybe grab a beer, because you deserve one at this point), and get ready to finally demystify Google+ for Business.
The Many Faces of Google+
The first step in comprehending Google+ in its entirety is understanding Google’s separate offerings. For the sake of this post, we’re going to delve into three courses: Google+ personal pages, Google+ Local, and Google Places for Business.
Like with all other forms of social media, you will first want to create your own personal Google+ page using your G-Mail account. With a little customization, the final result looks something like this:
This will allow you to engage with your friends that are on Google+, share cool articles you have read, follow your favorite businesses, and interact with a number of growing Google+ communities. The world is at your fingertips now that you have a Google+ page, but tread lightly my friends. As you venture further into this new world, it becomes increasingly more difficult to comprehend.
For example, let’s say that you have just started your own business and want to create a Google+ page for that new business. However, after looking around Google, you don’t know if you want to create a Google+ Local, or a Google Places for Business page. The answer you are looking for is both; you want to create both of those pages for your business.
Having both of these pages will help increase your social metrics, your business’ visibility, and help you control your brand’s image. Most importantly though, it is going to help you with your visibility in organic search results.
Google+ Local vs. Google Places for Business
Google created these two different platforms for two very similar purposes and now have been “merged” together.
Google Places for Business was created for the sole purpose of Google’s search engine. This is where Google pulls your name, address, number, hours, photos, etc. to show in the search results; often called the "local pack". You could edit any of the information that you wanted at any time from your Google Places Dashboard, but you have to go through a verification process so Google knows you are indeed a real business. If you are a business owner, you may have had issues with duplicate Google Places pages in the past (a whole other headache!).
Google+ Local was created with the idea of making social interaction a possibility for businesses. It gave you the chance to engage with your customers and other businesses in your industry. Each page serves the purpose of providing customers with the basic business information: official address, phone number, name, etc.
The issue is that you’re required to simultaneously manage these two different pages for you business. Both of these pages offer things you want for your company, but managing both can be a major headache. Separate from one another, they are like incomplete thoughts. Together they help you get found on Google and allow you to reach your customers on a personal level. Google eventually figured this out, and in the fall of 2013, they officially announced that they were merging Google+ Local and Google Places for Business.
How Can I tell if My Google+ Local is merged with Places for Business?
The process of merging the pages together has taken some time for Google to perfect; after all, they announced the merger in fall 2013. However, it seems like we are finally able to see the fruits of Google's labor.
If your business or a business you are managing has a Google Places page and Google+ Local page and you want to check to see if your pages are now merged, the process is really very simple. You are going to want to start by visiting the Google Places Dashboard and viewing all of your Places for Business listings. If your listings are merged with your Google+ page, you will see a button that says “Google+ page”:
All you need you need to do is click on it, and it should take you to the Google+ page that is affiliated with your Places listing.
If the “Google+ page” button isn’t there, it can be because of one of three things:
- Either your Google+/Places pages are associated with a different email account
- Both pages aren’t properly verified.
- Your Google+ page isn’t listed under the category of a “Local Business or Place”.
If any of the above are true for you, then you will not be able to merge your listings.
Fortunately, now when you create your Google+ Local page for your new business, it automatically creates both Google+ Local and Google Places for Business you. They are still two separate things, but they are managed as one unit and can all be controlled from your Google+ page manager and Places Dashboard.
Clear as mud? Lets create both a Google+ Local page and a Places page, and I will show you how to properly set everything up.
Creating a Google+ Local Page
From your personal Google+ page, go to the “Home” tab in the upper right corner of your browser and click on the option that says “Pages”.
Once you have clicked through, click on the button that says, “Create a page”. From here you will have five options for your page to choose from:
- Local Business or Place
- Product or Brand
- Company, Institution or Organization
- Arts, Entertainment or Sports
Everyone in our office stared at this screen for about 20 minutes trying to figure out the difference between number one and number three. Yes, we are a company/organization that is also a local business/place in Richmond, VA. To Google however, these are two very different things.
If your business offers a good/service that customers come to your store for, or that you go to your customers to deliver, then you’re a local business or place, e.g. your new business is frozen yogurt shop that has customers who come in and buy your fro-yo.
However, lets say that your new business isn’t one that sells for-yo, but sells the frozen yogurt machines that the stores use. You don’t have a location where people can come in and browse your selection of machines. All you have is an online store, and once the order is placed it is forwarded straight to the distributor and then on to the customer. In this case, you’re a company, institution, or organization.
Although at first they may seem like the same thing, once it is explained it makes a lot more sense.
Remember though, if you choose any option but option number one, then you will have to create an individual Places for Business page.
Next is entering all of the details that pertain to your business. This includes address, proper name, phone number, etc. The last portion of the form that you will fill out is specifying the category in which your business falls into. These categories come from a predetermined list from Google.
Now, you may struggle with choosing the right category. A great tool to assist in the selection of the best possible category for your business is the Google Places for Business Category Tool. This simple tool was created to help make sure that you are selecting the correct category for your business. Just type in the category that you desire to list your business under, select the proper country and language, and then hit search. It will then generate all of the current verified categories with that phrase and related synonyms. This tool brings great simplicity to this step, and allows you to designate your offerings properly.
Once you have chosen the proper category for your business, take extra precaution to make sure you are entering all of your information correctly. This is what your customers will see when they are on your page. In fact, I'd suggest you take an extra minute after completing this setup to ensure that all of your listings across the web are accurate. You can use tools like GetListed (for free) to start.
Creating a Google Places for Business Page
Because of the merger of Google+ Local and Places for business, now when you create your Google+ page, your Places page is automatically created for you as well.
As I mentioned above though, the Places page is only automatically created if you chose “Local Business/Place” when creating your Plus page. Fear not though, if you had to choose another category for your Local page, creating a Places page is extremely simple.
Let’s start at the Places Dashboard. At the bottom of the page, you will see that button that reads:
All you have to do is fill out the same form that you did when you were creating your Google+ Local page. Again, if you are having trouble with selecting the category that best describes your business, use the Google Places for Business Category Tool to your advantage.
The Quickest Way to Verify Your Google+/Places Page
One final, crucial step in your page creation is verification.
Typically, this takes a while to do. Google’s standard verification method goes like this:
- You provide a business address and request verification.
- Google creates a postcard with a unique PIN for your business and puts it in the mail (seems archaic, right?).
- Upon receiving your lovely postcard weeks later, you enter your PIN online and – presto – you’re finally verified.
Google has been rolling out phone verifications and we hope to see that become the primary verification method soon. Of course, a number of complications can arise in any of these steps. Cards get lost in the mail, clients throw them away, etc. Manual verification of a digital entity can’t be the best way to do things.
Fear no more my friends, for I come bearing a gift. Okay not a gift, but a loophole in the verification system. This loophole allows you to have instant verification of your Plus page, or your Places page.
This will require that you know the email that is affiliated with the accounts. Once you have that information, all you need to do is talk to a specialist from Google. Just enter your information in the required fields and a Google specialist will call you within one minute. When you are on the phone with Google, let them know you are having issues getting the business listing verified. Typically I'll say something like:
“I am getting frustrated with this whole verification process, and I was just curious to see if you were able to help me out. Can you verify the account with me over the phone? I’d really just like to get this process over with as soon as possible.”
The specialist will then tell you that they will be happy to help you out today, and then will ask you some simple questions like what’s the email that is affiliated with the account, or what’s the address or phone number of the business you are trying to verify. The process in total takes no more than 7 minutes. This loophole has allowed me to start building a client’s following and engaging with customer so much sooner than having to wait for the verification postcard.
A Quick Review
Google’s social media has the ability to make your head spin and question why you are even using social media in the first place. They've had a lot of kinks to work out, and they've caught a lot of flack for it in the process. That said, Google+ actually has the potential to be awesome, and we can get through the initial setup process together. Let’s review what we have learned:
- Google+ Local is the social platform in which businesses are encouraged to interact and engage with their customers.
- Google Places for Business was created for the purpose of the search engine and for users searching for address and business information from Google. A Google Places page gives you to control over what information Google has and presents to searchers about your business. On your places page, you can add information like a description, images, hours of operation, reviews, and contact information.
- Google+ Local and Google Places for Business have been merged into one account.
- Having these accounts will help your visibility to searches, and with the increasing importance of social metrics in SEO these pages will only benefit you and your brand.
It Pays Off in the End
The process of creating and verifying your Google+ Local and Places for Business can be tedious at times. Once you have everything set up and verified, you can then start to see how much your website and business can really benefit from these tools. You will see your site start to be placed on maps whens people do local search queries, you will have your knowledge graph displayed with your businesses information. It will even allow you to reach out and create relationships and build customer loyalty like you have never done before. Because in the end, what’s really important is that you are gaining new and qualified users to your site that you can build lasting and valuable relationships with.