Local search is changing rapidly. Thanks to Google’s use of IP addresses, user-logins and Geo-targeting software, the search engine is able to anticipate what their users want by determining where they are.
This means that, in some cases, users don’t have to use location-specific searches. They can simply search for what they want, say, “ice cream” and get results specific to their location (rather than, say, the Wikipedia entry on the history of ice cream).
For local searches, where the competition is fierce, Google is integrating content from Google+ Local pages and delivering it via carousel:
This makes for a great user experience – you not only get images from places near you, but reviews of those places. Users can click through for typical “places” fare – an address, phone number and map – as well as additional Search Engine Page Results for the place they clicked through to:
That makes having an optimized Google+ Local Page a pretty powerful tool when it comes to winning the local search game.
To win though, you’ve got to have the type of content that users click through to. Namely, images and reviews.
Even if you’ve never taken the initiative to build a Google+ Local page, you likely have one. Last year, Google+ converted existing Google Places pages into Google+ Local pages, pulling in content from Zagat, UrbanSpoon, and other sites from around the web.
This is mostly user-generated content, but you don’t want to leave it up to the users of third-party sites to populate your Google+ Local page. And you don’t have to. Simply verify your page to begin managing it – uploading photos, linking to your website or connecting your Google+ Local page to your Google+ Social page (if you have one.)
Then, you can encourage the fans you already have to leave reviews on your Google+ local page. The best way to do this is simply ask. Send a note to your fans via Twitter and Facebook with a link to your Google+ Local page. Most people are happy to share news of an excellent place, product or service, and need no other encouragement.
You don’t have to have a Google+ social page to participate in Google+ Local. But, if you do have a Google+ social page, you can pull your social stream onto your Google+ Local page – taking even more control of what users see, and how their impressions of your business are formed.
Google+, Google+ Local and Google’s Search Engine Result Pages change all the time. In the near-future, there will likely be additional opportunities to optimize your Google+ Local page. So, don’t set-it-and-forget it. Check back to see how your business’ digital life is going, and what new opportunities may exist.