Earlier this month, I was standing on an 8,000’ pinnacle of the Sierra mountain range at the precise moment when winter arrived.
A few miles and minutes back down the highway, it had been golden fall with aspens, oaks, and big leaf maples in peak color. Then the sky darkened, showering hail. Right before my eyes, hail turned to snow, wildly whirling, salting the evergreens into obscurity.
Winter had come.
It’s a rare, exhilarating thing to witness patient Nature change in the blink of an eye, but returning to work from my time in the mountains, I met with another sudden change – one that took me by surprise, even if it shouldn’t have: the Google Places API had stopped delivering Google+ Local page URLs and was rendering Maps-based URLs, instead.
If, like me, you’re a Local SEO, you’ve learned what Google is like this in the space we call our work. Overnight, familiar packs change, crazy carousels appear, branding upends, functions disappear.
And you’re the one who has to explain all these shifts to your clients and co-workers.
I’m hoping this article will make it a bit easier for you to do so. With Google+ Local pages all but invisible to the public now, here’s how to describe the features you work with and the value of the work you do.
What’s the Google Places API? What happened to it?
Google describes this API as drawing from the same database as Google Maps and Google+, and it’s part of what powers tools like Moz Local and Michael Cottams’ Google+ My Business Page Finder. Plug in a query and the Places API previously returned direct links to the Google+ Local pages of millions of businesses. These URLs looked like:
Now, the same queries return a Maps-based result instead, the URL of which looks like this:
While this in no way detracts from the usefulness of a tool like Moz Local, it does prove that Google is definitely, absolutely parting Plus from Maps and it means we Local SEOs have to walk a new talk. It just doesn’t work anymore to tell clients that they need a “Google+ Local page.”
This comes as no surprise if you’ve been following the ongoing industry discussion of the gradual removal of visible Google+ links from nearly every Google interface. Likely you’ve already started trying to use new terminology in talking to customers, but if you haven’t, the sudden sea change of the Places API URLs is a clear signal that it’s time to do so.
What do these changes look like?
In the recent past, you were telling your clients that they needed a Google+ Local page, powered by their Google My Business dashboard, and looking something like this:
Because SERPs and tools are no longer returning Google+ Local pages, like the above, clients and users are unlikely to ever see these anymore and may not even know what they are. Instead, right now, they’ll mainly be seeing one of two different interfaces when searching for a local business.
Interface 1: The Local Finder Knowledge Panel
A typical local search — like “sporting goods store Denver” — will bring up a 3-pack like this, with a link at the bottom to click for more places:
If you click that link, you’ll be taken to what is commonly being termed the “Local Finder” view, with a list of businesses on the left and a map on the right. Click on one of the businesses in the list and you’ll get a Local Finder Knowledge Panel result on the right, like this:
Interface 2: The Maps Knowledge Panel
Instead of going through the 3-pack, this is the interface I now see being reached via both branded searches and tools that use the Places API. It’s also the interface you’ll reach if your search starts in Google Maps instead of in the main search display. Let’s look up “Dick’s Sporting Goods Denver” (or set your location to Denver, provided that’s still working for you):
This brings up a branded result with a clickable teardrop icon (note, no link to Google+) on the left and a SERPs-based knowledge panel on the right. Click on the teardrop and you’ll get to the Maps-based knowledge panel:
This interface contains the business name on a blue background, the rest of the NAP below, as well as additional information.
So, in sum, in addition to the now-familiar in-SERPs knowledge panel you get for many branded searches, you now have the Local Finder Knowledge Panel and the Maps-Based Knowledge Panel – at least, this is what I’m calling them, but you might think of something better! And, of course, the panels and packs may have special features for restaurants, hotels, car dealerships, and the like.
Making it as simple as possible for clients
The main thing to convey to clients is that all of these different displays have the majority of their origins in just one place: the Google My Business dashboard. That’s where they need to get their NAP right, add their photos, set themselves as SABs or brick-and-mortars, and all of that other stuff you’ve been doing for years. If the client can get it right there, this data will feed all of the various interfaces.
Signals of claiming?
It used to be easy to tell, at a glance, whether a business listing was claimed or not. The checkmark shield would appear next to the business name on the Google+ Local page. Unless I’m somehow missing it, I am not seeing a checkmark shield on any of the newer interfaces. However, I did come across something in the Maps-Based Knowledge Panel that may be of assistance. There appears to be a “Claim this business” link on some of the panels I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks, and my guess is that this is now our indication that the business hasn’t yet been claimed.
Still want to see a Google+ Local page?
Okay, even if no one else is still seeing these, maybe you’re feeling a bit nostalgic and just want to take a look at a good ‘ol Google+ Local page. Here’s how to do it:
1. Sign into your Google account.
2. Perform a main engine search structured with quotes like this:
“site:plus.google.com” “dicks sporting goods store” “denver” “about”
That will get you to this:
There could be reasons you’d want to do this. Those of you who specialize in duplicate listing detection may already be figuring out how to use these commands to be able to continue surfacing those pesky duplicates — but let’s keep that for another post, written by someone more wizardly than me in that department.
Head hurting over all these changes?
Yeah, I know. I find it helps to take a short hike – maybe up in the mountains nearest you. In the meantime, it can help to remember that, as the Local SEO in your agency, you bring your greatest gifts to both team and clients in being the one who’s on top of all of these shifts. Mike Blumenthal puts it this way:“Google’s rate of change is so many times greater than the rate of adoption that no SMB has a clue what they should [be doing] with Google these days.”
Whether this bodes well for Google’s ultimate future, I won’t comment, but I do know it ensures that Local SEOs will have a vital seat at any marketing agency table for some time to come. So, put on those snow chains and keep churning up this road. Your dedication to research and study will continue to fuel your greatest value.