Google+: No.2 Social Network, Ghost Town Or Key Driver Of Local Search?

Google+ launched in June of 2011 to such an overwhelming response that it had to shut down to handle the demand. At the end of its first year, Google+ had 90 million users and now boasts 359 million active users. This past March, Forrester Research compared its popularity to Twitter and said every marketer should use it. But this is widely debated, with the New York Times pronouncing it a ghost town and Forbes suggesting that it was dead

Google+ sits at the center of local search

We can speculate all day about the future of Google+, but we know for sure that it’s ingrained in local search. Even Google agrees.

Unfortunately, local search is incredibly complicated, having to address both Google Places and Google+ Local. Then there’s the Google Local Carousel, an image- and photo-driven knowledge graph, with Google+ as its biggest ranking driver

There’s a lot going on with local search and several factors at play. But let’s tackle the role that Google+ plays.

Four Steps for making the most of Google+ Local

1)     Create a Google+ Business account and verify ownership. To get started with Google+ Local, you first must create a Google+ Business account. Then you’ll need to claim your listing or create a new one, and verify that you’re the owner. Verification involves receiving a four digit PIN and entering it in your account dashboard. You receive a PIN in one of two ways:

a.     By phone – automated call from Google (note: this does not work if you use an automated answering system or phone bank)

b.     By postcard – It is not uncommon to have to ask to have these re-sent, as they can be easily overlooked or thrown away

Once your business account is verified, you can start enhancing your Google+ Brand page content and creating Google+ Local Pages. Remember, your Business Page is tied to your brand. Google+ Local Pages displays the address, hours of operations and contact information.

2)     Create Google+ Local Pages for each of your locations. Once your page is verified, you essentially create a Local Page by listing the important contact details for your business. Go to “Contact Information” on the “About Page,” and provide your business details (name, address, phone number, URL, description, etc.). You can also include a Services/Product description and provide keywords linked back to your website. Your Google+ Local Page is a key piece for local search.

NOTE: Google recently introduced a single interface to update both Google Places and Google+ information called Google My Business, which will update search and maps listings.

3)     Enhance the content on your Google+ Brand Page. Now you can start sharing content with customers on your Business Page. There are many examples of how to do this, including Google’s poster child, Dandelion Chocolate. You can add a custom cover photo, create posts, add photos and even videos. This is similar to how you’d create Facebook posts. After 30 days, verification and 10+ followers, you can get a custom Google+ URL. The good news: you get a keyword-based URL. The bad news: Google determines what it is. To fully integrate, Google+ Brands recommends you also add a Google+ badge to your company website and link your YouTube channel to your Google+ channel.

4)     Use reporting insights to understand performance and improve over time. As part of your Google+ dashboard, you can see Insights on your Brand and Local Pages for the past 30+ days. This shows page views, clicks, new followers, actions on posts, etc. If you have at least 200 followers, you can see a breakdown of demographics. If you’re actively managing your content, this data will help you determine what type of posts (content and approach) were the most successful and lead your future efforts.

You don’t have to look any further than the Dandelion example (which only has 263 followers) to see that the jury is still out on Google+ as a social network. But there is no doubt that much can be gained by tapping into the local search benefits of this new resource, as demonstrated by the 540k+ page views.

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