Google+, Maps, and Local See Big Changes

Google+, Maps, and Local See Big Changes

Google’s much neglected local space is finally seeing a major overhaul that could make the future for the platform clearer. For a while it looked like Google Places was being replaced by Google+ Local, but the interface has been left in a state of disrepair and it was unclear where the future was headed. These new updates seem to clarify that Places is being absorbed into Google+ Local and Google Maps and gradually being faded out.


Google+ Changes

  • A new navigation bar at the left that makes it easy to get to your profile, people, photos, communities, and so on. Just point the cursor at the top left button to pop it up.
  • A “Hangouts” button has been added to the top right to make it more accessible.
  • The photos section gets new Instagram-style features and tools to keep them organized and backed up.
  • A “timeline” style layout.

If you hate the new interface you can change it back by going to the home page, clicking “More” up top, scrolling all the way down, and choosing the icon on the left. Then you can go to Settings>>Accessibility and choose Change the presentation of some pages to work better with screen readers and other accessibility tools.

Google Maps Changes

A new version of Google Maps is coming out that could have a pretty dramatic effect on local digital marketing. The new version is currently only available by invite only, but some of the changes include:

Google Maps Itself

  • The search bar is now at the top left and the map fills the entire screen.
  • Much less clutter on the screen
  • Search results can be sorted by top reviewers, Google+ social circles, or top results
  • Below the info window is a very prominent ad unit that could potentially be much more effective than in the previous incarnation of Google Maps
  • A search for a specific business reveals detailed info including ratings, contact info, and info from your Google+ network
  • More emphasis on discovery could make Google Maps a formidable opponent of Foursquare and Facebook’s local features.

Search Results

  • A more aesthetic and modern “Places” (no word yet on what it’s going to be called) search result page.
  • A box that highlights a search result when moused over.
  • A single, relatively large photo next to each search result.
  • A call to action to “See photos” when the result is moused over.
  • A single red pin highlights your location in the Map when your result is moused over.
  • A call to action under the map to see the full map that says “Back to map for [search term]”

Best of all, no more crappy Zagat rating system. The ratings now use the familiar five star system. The rating value is also displayed in a large, eye-grabbing font. With the rating system intelligible once again, we can expect it to play a more important part in consumer first impressions.

What Does it Mean for Marketers

The overall message is that Google Places is being replaced by a gradual integration between Google Maps and Google+ Local. By pushing Google+ Local into Google Maps and vice versa, we are also seeing the “socialization” of Google’s local experience.

While they clearly still place tremendous emphasis on search, there is more emphasis on what your contacts are saying and what influential people might be saying. This presents small businesses with an opportunity to grow by serendipitous discovery, not just targeted actions.

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