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Google+ has changed: what does it mean for you?

If there’s one thing that Google is big on, it’s change. Their controversial logo rebrand of September was headline news, and the changes to both local search and Webmaster Tools / Search Console made big waves in internet marketing communities.

The imminent death of Google+ has been talked about in SEO circles for almost a year. But one month on from the November 2015 update to Google’s ailing social network, it seems that the reports of the platform’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

That’s why we decided to look at what the changes mean for small businesses like yours. So, get ready to consider a positive spin on the new Google+. (“Positive”, +, get it?)

What’s up with Google+?

Well, there’s a few things. Firstly, they have revamped the interface, which will replace the “Classic Google+” display in the near future. It is now mobile friendly and arguably a lot more simplified. Secondly, they have shifted the focus of the product onto four main areas:

  • Collections
  • Communities
  • Profile
  • People

New Google+ Interface

Thirdly, and most interestingly for both small businesses and internet marketers, Google have finally cut most of the business functionality off completely, to be found instead on other apps and platforms.

So essentially, the new-look Google+ is a place for interests, rather than the Google equivalent of a Facebook Business page. So, what does this mean for you (and us)?

Use Google+ for connections and content

You can still use Google+ to promote your business, but purely in a content marketing and networking sense. By cleaving the business information away from Google+, and essentially killing the platform’s connection with local search, Google has shifted the focus largely on to social sharing.

This means there can still be utility in using Google+ for your business, but only if you are willing to engage with the platform. Your two main options are Collections or Communities.

Google+ Collections

Sharing with Google+ Collections

Using Collections can help spread the name of your business, but probably only if you have a dedicated online content strategy, a massive brand, or a tendency to create or use shareable content as part of your everyday work. By this, we particularly mean visual businesses such as:

  • Photographers
  • Designers
  • Fashion retailers

Edinburgh Photography Collection

Like the above Edinburgh photography example, Collections are quite heavily image and video-driven, so if you utilise imagery on Instagram or Pinterest as part of your marketing, you could start your own Collection that people can follow and share. The end goal is to get your business name in people’s minds, and either build rapport or showcase your work.

Networking with Google+ Communities

The somewhat underused Communities feature of Google+ remains much the same as it was before the latest change. It can be a very good place to meet customers and businesses with similar interests. You can also start your own Community and try to engage people on your own specialist topics.

Google+ Communities

For example, Trendzer started the above Community called "Edinburgh Businesses", where companies can meet, network, or discuss local issues. You could start your own Community based around your area of expertise, offering anything from consumer tips to industry news or advice.

Google My Business is the place to manage your business

While Google+ has been exiled from local search relevance, you can and should still optimise your presence online - only using Google My Business (or GMB) instead. The information that you provide and verify in GMB will appear in a variety of areas of your online search footprint, including:

  • Google search
  • Google knowledge boxes (see below)
  • Google Maps
  • Mobile search

Knowledge Box

Managing your Google presence online is now perhaps a little clearer, as the GMB interface now features the Photos of your business, where before it was attached to both Google+ and Maps. And those all-important reviews are on the next tab along.

Google My Business Menu

Which brings us to one of the more significant changes made of late. It became common practice for SEOs to recommend that small businesses should link their Google+ Reviews page to and from their website to encourage customer reviews. Now that Google+ and the Reviews feature have been unceremoniously separated, the most straightforward source of customer reviews is gone.

A lot of local SEO experts (and quite a few small business owners) are quite upset. But there’s no need for concern quite just yet...

Use Google Maps to encourage customer reviews

You can still prove your professionalism to the British public by encouraging customers to leave reviews of your services. Instead of the old method, which was to link to your Google+ About page and the Reviews section, you just need to redirect them to your Map listing instead!

Simply Google your business by name, and then look for the knowledge box on the right of the search results, which should hopefully contain a map. Clicking through on the little map should take you through to your Maps listing.

Finding Your Google Map Link

Try it out yourself just now. If you can’t see a display like the above, you probably need to make sure that your business is properly set up and verified on Google My Business as a matter of urgency!

Finally, to create your link, just add some text to your pages, like “Review us on Google”, and then link from that text to the URL for your Map footprint. Just copy the browser address and paste it into the link destination field.

Map Footprint

As we’ve noted in previous blog posts, encouraging customer reviews is a good way that you can improve your (local) search rankings, and it doesn’t require technical expertise or money. Don’t just take it from us, take it from this lovely graph from BrightLocal, which shows the increasing importance of reviews over just four years. 88% of customers in 2014 checked reviews, and the number was rising:

Importance of Reviews BrighLocal Graphic

Takeaways until next time

That’s all for now until our next blog article. If you take anything away from this, we’d like it to be these three points:

  1. Google+ still has value for sharing content via Collections and Communities
  2. Google My Business is where you should manage your local search presence, knowledge box, and business information
  3. Google Maps and the knowledge box are where you should encourage customer reviews

If you have any questions or queries, feel free to give us a shout on social media. Otherwise, bookmark our page, and come back soon!

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