Google+ Local (formerly Google Local then Google Places and now Google+ Local) has been a constant challenge for many search engine marketers. Not that it isn't a great product. The merging of Google's local listings with natural search engine results has improved click-through rates for many first page ranking websites. For attorneys, showing your firm as a hyper-local option to the user seeking counsel is a great way to attract new clients.
The problem with the local product is its inconsistency and Google's constant meddling. For example, last December Google decided that managers of business data such as Hoovers, InfoUSA and Dunn Bradstreet knew more about businesses than the owner that claimed their Google listing. They matched addresses and phone numbers with third party data and automatically updated listings.
Google's thought process behind the data comparison was probably spam control. In spite of Google's clear guidelines for local listings, many places made spammy titles. For example, instead of the Smith & Smith Law Firm, the firm or their SEO company would title the listing as “Chicago Divorce and Family Law Smith & Smith Law Firm.” By comparing data with a third party like Hoovers, the listing was automatically changed to the actual business name.
Unfortunately, third parties do not always have the most up-to-date information, especially for law firms. As a firm grows, it’s common to move to a larger office or add partners. What was Smith & Smith the last time InfoUSA updated their database could now be Smith Smith Jones & White. This was the case with many lawyers.
I covered a handful of Google glitches in my April 2012 column titled, “The Trouble with Google Places.” However, this month, I am filled with optimism as Google Places turns into Google+ Local. Thus far, the features of Google+ (Google's social networks) has been useful, impressive and not too buggy for a rapidly evolving product. From Google Hangouts to Google+ pages to Search Plus Your World, Google+ has been an impressive accomplishment that provides everyday business users a plethora of handy tools.
Google+ Local is a consumer friendly service that lets people see reviews from other users and people in their Google+ circles and uses data from Google's September of 2011 acquisition of Zagat. But for businesses, this merging of products means a little more control over your local listing.
With Google+, you can and should setup a Google+ page dedicated to your law firm. Post your blog entries, interesting articles and videos to your page and keep it active. You can then connect your Google Local page with your Google+ page and have more control over your content. Plus, you get the Google+ link displayed under your local listing in search results.
Of course, this new addition does not come without casualties. Since unveiling the Google+ Local, many law firms have seen their customer reviews disappear. Random losses of client testimonials is not a new glitch, but if the record for Google+ is any indication of the future, the new relationship between Google Local and Google+ may make those old bugs and irritations a thing of the past.