Brace yourselves, car dealers - things are about to get interesting...
Local search has become increasingly vital to success in the auto industry, and today, Google made a huge change that will change the way that every auto dealer optimizes for local search. Say goodbye to Google Places... And say hello to Google+ Local.
Google Places has been the go-to destination for local search dominance, and now Google is replacing them entirely with Google+ Local pages. As of this morning, approximately 80 million Google Place pages were automatically converted to Google+ Local pages. Apparently, this isn't a typical staggered rollout either - all of the Places pages will be converted to Google+ Local pages within a matter of days.
As of this morning (Thursday, May 31st), it looks like Google has rolled out the changes across all of its properties.
If you're an auto dealer who's been relying heavily on Google Places and Google Reviews, you'll need to update your strategy ASAP. If you haven't gotten into local optimization yet, there's never been a better time to start.
Here are the most important changes that have been made:
Here are a few screen captures that show mow much the page layout has changed. The first image is the old Google Places page, and the second image is the new Google+ Local layout.
Notice that Google has gone back to the two-box approach for searches. You'll enter what you're looking for in the first box, and then enter the city you're searching in the second box.
Check out this before and after shot of what the search results look like. The top shot is the old Places layout, and the bottom shot is the new results with the Zagat rating system.
According to Google, the Zagat rating system can provide a much more nuanced differentiation between establishments. Instead of a simple 5-star scale, auto dealers will be rated from 0-3 in three different categories: Quality, Appeal, and Service. Each section is then multiplied by 10 and every review is averaged for your overall score.
The conversion to Google+ Local pages is happening whether your Places page is claimed or not. If you've already claimed your Places page, you'll continue to manage your information and reviews through Google Places for Business - so your back end won't change. We mentioned it above, but in case you missed it - Google+ Local pages will be indexed. That means your Google+ Local page can show up in search results in local searches. It's more important than ever to get on Google and claim your listing - your listing could potentially show up on Page One, so you should claim it and control it. There's HUGE potential for SEO benefits from this update - you'll want to be sure that you get up to speed with Google+ as soon as possible.
Google provided a few examples of businesses that were invited to enhance their Google+ Local pages before the rollout. Check out Mio Restaurant to see what you'll soon be able to do with your dealership. It looks like you'll be able to merge your Google+ Business Page with your Google+ Local page, so your customers can follow your dealership and subscribe to your posts. Think of it like your dealership's Facebook page, but on steroids. You get a social hub where customers can interact with you, read reviews, leave reviews, and more - and it's all going to be indexed by Google.
This is a pretty major change, and nobody really knows where the dust will settle. The big benefit is that your page will be much more user-friendly and easier to find. The expanded Zagat review system will be much more useful to potential customers, and the expanded scoring system will help the dealers who are doing it right stand out from the crowd. Customers won't have to be logged into Google+ to access your information, but if they are logged in, the experience will be even more engaging.
Obviously, Google is hoping that their forced play to get millions of local businesses to jump into Google+ Local pages will bring more of the masses to Google+. They haven't had much success yet, but considering how important Google Places was to local search, we're guessing that a lot of businesses are going to be jumping in to Google+. We'll have to see how things go.
While customers will have a fairly seamless transition, it's going to be more difficult for dealers. Most dealers have been ignoring Google+ so far, due to lack of customer engagement, but now every dealer will be pretty much forced to integrate Google+ into their business strategy. This isn't like Facebook Business pages, where you can choose to ignore it and still get by... If you want to succeed in local search, you're going to HAVE TO start using Google+.
One big head-scratcher - Google still doesn't give API access to any of the common Social Media Management tools (like Hootsuite). Instead of being able to easily integrate Google+ into their marketing routine, dealers are going to have to log directly into Google+ to post updates. This will be a headache for individual stores, at the very least - and a nightmare for dealer groups who have to juggle multiple locations.
Stay tuned - we're going to follow the situation closely, and we'll keep you updated.