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Several months ago, change erupted from Google, as it usually does, except this time change did not affect the way Google’s robot crawled pages or how Google’s algorithm handled optimized web pages. No, this change, while appearing subtle, was in fact a major game changer in the way Google Places handled local directory listings and reviews for businesses within cities and suburbs.

Google Places became Google Local.

It appears to be an inconsequential name change, but the change to Google Local means a lot more. Here is a list of changes Google Local will bring to local SEO:

  • Google Places (a.k.a. Local) is now a part of Google+. In fact, there is an icon on the left sidebar of Google+ that says “Local.”
  • Google Local is a combination of Google+ and the restaurant review site Zagat, which Google purchased.
  • Users can now search for information on shops, restaurants and more via the Local button on Google+.
    Google’s star ratings have been replaced by the Zagat 30-point rating scale.
  • All Google Local listings are indexed.

So what does all of this mean for local and organic SEO? In a nutshell, with just one listing, a law firm will be found via Google searches, mobile apps, maps and Google+. In addition, clients are able to review and recommend lawyers with ease. This is a major turn of events, because more than 40 percent of searches occur via mobile devices, and many of those devices are using the Google operating system instead of Apple. The fact that all Google Local listings are indexed for the Google robots and algorithm also means that a law firm can be found that much easier now.

However, there is a negative to this: in order to be ranked to be found via Google’s search engine, the law firm must have reviews, not five star reviews, but reviews that are based on a score of max 30.

In order to get these reviews, law firms must make sure they have plenty of pictures posted, complete the law firm profile 100 percent, post updates to their Google+ page, build circles on Google+ and advertise the Google Local listing on their main website. The payoff is worth the investment in time and effort.

It is fairly obvious that this change to Google was done not only as a way to directly compete with Yelp but also in an attempt to steal customers from Facebook. Facebook has Business Pages, Google has Business Pages. Facebook has Friend Groups, Google has Circles. Facebook has photo sharing, Google has Picasa photos. Facebook had video chats, Google has Hangouts. However, what Facebook does not have over Google+ is the peace of mind that a business can not only be found via a Business Page, but it can be found via Google Local and Google.com searches.

From an Internet marketing point of view, there is no question that the time to act is now. With the new Google Local and the aggressiveness Google is putting behind its social networking platform, the future is looking positive for Google. While Google+ and Local may not completely wipeout Facebook, they will give Facebook some competition and give consumers the luxury of finding a local business easier. In the end, Google Local will benefit all of us.

About Author

Thomas Johnson is a staff contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine and serves on Adviatech's Search Strategy board.

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