Google has made a significant change to the way that local business listings are managed and presented to search users today by moving all existing Google Places listings over to their social network Google+.
This change means that any listings which were previously associated with Google Places have been made redundant, replaced entirely by new Google+ Local pages.
The move marks the conclusion of many rumours and predictions for such a move that had existed in the search marketing industry for months and has largely been viewed as a positive change for Google's local listings.
Google+ offers users the ability to create business pages and now also offers the functionality to create a 'local' page however at this point in time the two systems are not married together. This lack of integration is more than likely to be resolved in the coming weeks/months however in the short term it will create some extra administration and community management issues for businesses using both aspects of the social network due to the requirement of managing two separate areas.
Google+ Local offers improved engagement
Google Places had many limitations associated with it, especially as it lacked an ability for real engagement with users. This new change however taps in to Google+'s network of users, allowing businesses to better engage, interact and communicate with their local market. This will now be able to be done through a much more visually appealling and interactive system that allows for Google+ feedback, photos, videos, detailed business / product descriptions and other rich data about the business that is listed. It also allows Google+ users to now add these local business to their 'circles'. That is of course if anyone is on Google+ actively using the social network.
The new Google+ Local pages also present a change in the way that reviews are handled through the removal of Google star ratings and the introducion of the Zagat score/review system.
This change by Google means that both verified and unverified business listings will be moved to Google+ Local pages, effectively forcing those businesses to create themselves an active presence on Google+. To date Google+ has been largely viewed and described as a 'ghost town' with a lot of users and accounts created but very little activity and active users. This latest change by Google may force people to reconsider whether or not they use of the social network however as many simply won't be able to afford to ignore the local community that has just been put in front of them.