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Google Plus Local Optimization. Tips for Google Places, Google Plus, Map Maker & More.

With all the changes happening in the local ‘Google sphere’ there’s been more than a few SEO’ers, business owners and I’m sure Google tech’s up in arms as of late. What should a business owner, or even a local SEO’er, use to make changes? How many, and what types of categories should you use? Should edits be made in Google Places dashboard or in Google+ Local – oh the humanity?! There HAS be to a better way?

Google Plus Local Optimization

Well to be frank, there isn’t. Unfortunately there is no one clear answer, or in many circumstances, several right answers. Upon writing this, I’m sure Google has changed policies and updated the Places guidelines book a few hundred times (kidding of course).

Anyway, frustrated as ever – I’ve had to delve deep into the Local SEO world. Staying up late at nights researching the inner bowels of the Map Maker forum, bothering Local SEO guru’s Linda, Mike and Nyagolsav, every waking moment trying to squeeze every ounce of local SEO juice from their soul. Each forum had great bits of advice, and I’d interject with advice whenever I could, however to be honest, it was usually followed with a few hundred of my own questions 😛

In the end I decided I’d have an ‘evening with Nyagoslav’ from NGS Marketing – Local SEO’er to the stars! I compiled a list of Map Maker / Places / Google+ Local questions that have been bugging me. I apologize if these in some shape or form have already been answered in some deep dark corner of the internet I’ve yet to uncover.

Apology withstanding, here’s a transcription (or the best I could remember) from our conversation.

Categories for Local

Q. How many categories should a business use?

The best is if you use as many as possible (5), because each category gives you additional potential to show up in more search results.

Q. Upon creating a new business in Google+ Local, how many categories can be selected?

Up to 5.

Q. Should I use Custom Categories?

If it makes sense, yes. The database of categories Google has is pretty limited and in some cases they might not even have any category that describes accurately what the business is. Additionally, some of the suggested by Google categories are against their own guidelines (the category should depicts what the business is, not what it does, or what it sells), for example: “Carpet Cleaning Service” (here is an article on this topic btw)

Here are Google’s suggestions regarding categories: http://support.google.com/places/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=148047

Q. Should I use Default Categories?

You are obliged to use at least 1 of these. It is up to you if you would use others and up to if any other category matches closely, or broadly, what the business is. (here is a great article on choosing best categories)

Q. What if my category information differs in the Places Dashboard, Google+ Local and Map Maker? Which should be used as the authority?

Google places priority on the recentness of its data as such Google displays the most recent information in general, Map Maker displays ALL information usually.

Note – I made a category edit to a client of ours whose category was displayed wrong in their Google+ public listing (but had correct listing information in the Places dashboard AND Map Maker). The edit was accepted, and we opted in for follow up messages. This is the message we got from Google.

Please note that CLIENT NAME is an owner-verified listing, the business owner may revert or update the listing information at any time. (If you’re the owner of this business, and did not use your Google Places account to make this change, you may notice that your account and the listing as it appears on Google Maps aren’t synchronized. For additional help in resolving incorrect listing information, please visit our troubleshooter: http://www.google.com/support/places/bin/static.py?page=ts.cs&ts=1386120

Google Map Maker

Q. How often do you (Nyagoslav) use Map Maker?

Not too often, mostly for referencing and sometimes for editing purposes.

Q. When people refer to Map Maker technicians making adjustments, who are they referring to, and how long do issues take to get resolved.

I am not sure. You will have to provide me the source where you read/heard this. In general, the technical staff behind MapMaker is the engineers at Google that are responsible for the Maps projects in the company. However, judging from your question, I’d assume you are rather talking about the moderators. These are people that moderate what edits users make and they usually also verify them based on publicly available information online, or by directly calling the business. Unfortunately, Google outsources its moderators and their understanding of the reality in overseas countries is… let’s say “limited”. (here’s an article related to this topic.)

Q. Is Map Maker the closest representation as to what the ‘Google Techs’ or ‘Google Bots’ see your listing as? Namely, is this better to use then Places Dash or Google+ for authorities sake?

OK, this is a complicated question. There are many Google Bots (see this article)  as well as many business databases within Google. Each bot has specific function, and each database features different information. MapMaker is supposed to be a compilation of all this information, and in this sense it is the most authoritative source for verifying what Google knows about a business. Some of this information might not show up publicly for a variety of reasons, which are beyond this question and are not really so relevant.

Q. Under what circumstances should Google Map Maker be used for edits? (i.e changing business name, address, categories, business hours, payment methods etc.)

It entirely depends on the situation. If you have your listing merged and if you already have the Google+ dashboard available, then I’d definitely recommend you use this one. Edits via MapMaker usually prompt calls by Google representatives to the business, and if these don’t get answered or get answered vaguely/incorrectly, this might result in the listing disappearing, edits getting rejected, etc. You will have to give me some very concrete situations here, because there is no general case.

Q. What should be listed as a customer’s primary category within Map Maker?

It doesn’t seem to matter in terms of SEO. Point of interest is a default category in MapMaker for a newly created business entity, and it aims to differentiate it from the other entities available on MapMaker – buildings, roads, other structures.

Google Plus & Google+ Local

Q. For new businesses who do not already have an old ‘Claimed Places Page’ should the creation of such a page start with Google Local? (i.e do a search for a businesses phone number and go from there.)

Use Google Places to create a new listing (via here: http://www.google.com/local/add). This is the recommended way until Google fixes all the problems with the “new” Plus Local pages.)

Q. If a business isn’t listed at all in Local (phone number doesn’t bring up any results), should you start with creating the listing within Map Maker?

No, it is recommended that you create a new listing via Google Places and get it verified. (Although it is not against any guidelines if you start via Map Maker, either, of course)

Q. If a Google+ Local page IS NOT verified, where should business edits such as description, categories, location and phone number take place

It is the best if you verify the page and make the edits via the Google+ dashboard. This way you would have better control over what shows up publicly plus, making changes in dashboard may result in you needing to re-verify your Google Places listing.

Q. If a Google+ Local page IS verified, where should business edits such as description, categories, location and phone number take place

In most of the cases, via the Google + dashboard.

Q. What about editing categories? Currently editing categories in the Google+ Local dashboard is unavailable.

I’d like to follow up with Google on that one.

** Update March 2013 – You can now select categories within Google+ Local if you’ve made the merge from Google Places into Google+ Local

Q. Typically how long does it take for edits to go live within Google+ Local.

There is no typical period. Different “sections” of the listing go live at different times (which is ridiculous). If you make an edit to the business name, address, or phone number, you will most probably be prompted to re-verify your ownership over the listing, which might take up to 2 weeks (if it’s by postcard). If you make edits to the website, description, or working hours, they should mostly go live within the same day. If you make edits to the photos, these usually take quite some time (like more than a week). (here’s an article regarding the update times for edits: http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!category-topic/business/vnJlxMRr87o)

Google Places Dashboard

Q. In what regard should the old places dashboard be used for at this stage. Considering the information within Dashboard doesn’t sync with Map Maker and Google+ Local information – which should be deemed correct?

It depends if the listing is merged, i.e. if you can use the Google+ dashboard or not. If you cannot use the Google+ dashboard, make the chances via the Places dashboard (again, in the majority of the cases). If you can use the Google+ dashboard, always make the changes through there (with the exception of categories)

General Questions

Q. Duplicate listing and other issues. Should this be done in ‘report a problem’ on Google+ Local listing or in Google Map Maker etc. ?

It’s the best if it is done via the troubleshooter: http://support.google.com/places/bin/static.py?hl=en&ts=1386120&page=ts.cs

Conclusion –

While nothing is for certain at this point in time, one can only wait and wonder what Google has up its sleeves. Was this a failed experiment at Google? Did someone forget to eat their wheaties one morning? Only time will tell, what we can do however, is unite as a community, share what’s worked, and what doesn’t work. Think of it as a never ending camping trip with Google as our whacky burnt out tour guide – don’t worry though, I’ll bring the smores!

Edit – Just after writing this, Mike Blumenthal wrote a nice blog piece on the train-wreck that has been the places to Google Local merge. Read up on it here.