Welcome Google My Business! Our Take on the Big News in Local Search

On Wednesday of his week, Google announced Google My Business--the answer, we hope, to the cluster**** that has surrounded Google Places, Google+ Local, Google Local, and Google+ Business. For the uninitiated, this is the system in which local businesses list their companies and, as we've discussed ad nauseam, how home performance companies rank in local search results. Ironically, at the time of the announcement, I was in front of a jammed room of efficiency contractors at the ACI Chesapeake Conference talking about this very issue: how to claim or fix your listing, how to optimize for rankings, what are the best strategies for using it, and how to grow your Google+ reviews. 

As is always the case before I have a chance to explain it, everyone in the room is confused about Google Local, which is no wonder given the way Google has managed this over the last 3 years. 

So what's it all mean and is Google My Business the answer to our prayers? Here's how we see it.

Apparently Our Squawking Got Google's Attention

The Local Search community around the world, where Energy Circle is very active on behalf of the home performance community, has been screaming for years for an improvement to the Google Local train wreck (hat tip to local search guru Mike Blumenthal). If there is anything to take away from this news, it's that Google is both listening and apparently quite serious about the local business market. Any Google update that happens simultaneously in 236 countries and 65 languages is something they're taking seriously. (Apparently the technical side of this was quite a feat.)

Unfortunately, the Brand Confusion is Only Partially Resolved

A big part of why this has been such a mess is the confusion over what to call it. We repeatedly and constantly remind contractors to take control of their __________ listing (insert Google Places, Google+ Local, etc.) Google My Business has resolved where we go to manage our pages, which is great, but apparently there is no change to the consumer-facing brand. On a Hangout with the Google Local product team, they couldn't say what the proper external name was. Oy. (For our part, like other leaders in local search, we're sticking with Google+ Local.) 6/14/14 Update: Darren Shaw at Whitespark points out that the official Google My Business Documentation calls them "Local Google+ Pages." So I think we'll let this settle a bit and see if a consensus emerges within the local search community. 

The Best Part: A Really Great Admin Interface

Our take is that this is the real news. The things you can control and the data about your page hasn't really changed, but the interface for accessing all of it is much improved. From the dashboard, which is both desktop and mobile (Android only for now), you can make a post, and respond to a review. Not earth shattering, but nice. Actual data has been renamed Insights and is useful, though the general consensus is that the data is substantially overstated. The Reviews Dashboard hasn't really changed, but has always been one of the best aspects of this--a single place to see all your reviews from across the web, not just within Google. 

The Best is Yet to Come?

While Google My Business provides SMB owners with a convenient and centralized tool for managing their company's reviews, analytics data, and make changes to their Google++ info, I think the more exciting news is probably in the "coming soon" category. What really happened on Wednesday is that Google fixed a massive infrastructure issue, and everyone in the local search community is confident that new features and products are in the works. Mike Blumenthal has started the wish list discussion. This provides yet another reason to engage now, so you can beat your competitors to whatever new tools they throw at us. 

What Didn't Get Fixed

Sadly, the issues that so many home performance companies have with duplicate or old listings have not been resolved. There still is no easy way to fix them within the Dashboard, so the manual help approach will continue to be the solution. (Kudos to Google's timely responsiveness on this, though.) Photo controls, particularly over the Cover Image, aren't any better. There is a pretty cool way to add a Google Business View (360 walk-around) but this is obviously only relevant to home performance companies that have showrooms. 

What Should Home Performance Companies Do Now?

Our guidance here hasn't changed. Go to Google My Business, find your pages, get them verified, and start giving them some love. Take particular effort to get your categories right, and be thoughtful about which category is your primary one (the first.) Most importantly, create a process to assure a steady, even stream of reviews. Upload a couple good photos and make sure your data is all perfectly accurate.

We will continue to keep you updated on the latest changes coming down the pike from Google. This is an exciting space, and we're optimistic it's moving in the direction of easier management and more control over your presence on the increasingly important arena of local search.

So, go forth and start managing your pages on Google My Business! What features do you like? What's on your wish list for improvements? Speak up, Google is apparently listening. 

(Below is a quick tour of the new Google My Business interface, courtesy of Myles Anderson at Bright Local.)

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