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Will Google+ Local Be A Ghost Town?

June 1st, 2012
25 Comments



There has been a lot of hub-bub since the Google+ Local hit.  I pretty much agree with what Mike, David, Greg & Chris have had to say on the matter.  And I pretty much agree with what I had to say on the matter about one year ago.

While I have been pondering what this means for SEO, I have found myself more interested in what this means strategically for Google and Google+.  I was a big user of Google+ in the early days – I mean check out my Google Plus Tips post. It’s insane.  But over the past few months I have found myself spending my social media time elsewhere (aka Facebook & Twitter) despite it being clearly in my interest to dive deeply into G+.

Now I’m not saying that my data point of one is an indication of any global trends – there are plenty of people spending lots of time on Google+, but more and more I am thinking that G+ is in fact California City, except they have a great happy hour that pulls you in every time you see that red signal.

To me, the Google+/Places merger was a way to change all that.  If people were not flocking to Google+ naturally, well then they need some kind of incentive, right?  If Google+ activity has a serious effect on the SERPs, then businesses have a serious incentive both to get active on G+ and to pull their customers in (say hello to Google Offers).  Once inside G+, I imagine Google hopes that people discover how awesome Hangouts are – and they are pretty awesome – or how easy it is to add text to your photos and make a meme-like thing (not so awesome I guess), or perhaps how the cool-looking G+ app automatically uploads your entire iPhone photo library into your G+ account and drains your battery without even asking permission first (#uberawesome).

It all sounds like a great strategy except for two things – 1) it’s unnatural for people (as in “we already have a place to do our social stuff – Facebook”) and 2) I suspect it’s unnatural for businesses (as in “we already have a place to do our social business stuff – Facebook”).

When I take a constitutional down Pleasanton’s Main Street, most shops have a “like us on Facebook” sign up and when you’re at the register, there’s typically some kind of “like us and get a cup of coffee” type promotion.  I don’t see a ton of Google Places stickers.

Just like I can’t seem to find the motivation to get all Plussy, even though it’s in my economic interest to do so, I wonder if businesses will have the same experience with Google+ Local? Are they all going to change their signs to say “Like us and/or +1 us”? And if businesses don’t get on board, it’s going to be even harder for non-businesses (aka “people” Mitt) to get into G+. The Zagats reviews and the Places reviews should prove another big lure, and should create a lot of valuable local search inventory to monetize, but generating a lot of local reviews is not the same thing as creating a thriving social network at the scale G+ is trying to achieve. Yelp is not Facebook, right? Update: @MattMcGee rightly points out that the requirement to have a G+ account and use a real identity could hamper review growth

What do you think of G+ Local? Ghost town or…


Tags: Google+ Local

25 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sahid Fawaz // Jun 1, 2012 at 10:45 am

    I’m in the ghost town camp too. I signed up for G+ but my account just kinda sits there because after using Twitter and FB for a few minutes, I don’t feel a need to venture to G+ for anything, though the rel author thing is great.

    My hunch is that the role of educator/motivator on the part of SEO professionals just got bigger as they now probably have to get their clients to become all “Plussy” as you put it.

  • 2 Alan Bleiweiss // Jun 1, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Buzz, Wave, blah blah blah… Someone in the Google hierarchy apparently got all indignant about how they had to find a way to break their social ineptitude mold, and someone beneath them in the food chain probably realized “if we can’t entice them, why don’t we just force them”.

    Personally I hope Google chokes on their arrogance. It’s hard enough to get enough businesses to participate in social as it is already. Their time and resources are already stretched to the bare bones capacity.

    I mean think about it – there were already so many Google Places pages not taken control of by business owners. Trying to convince them that now they not only need to take ownership, they need to participate in Google+? Yeah. That’s a brilliant strategy.

  • 3 Andrew Shotland // Jun 1, 2012 at 10:52 am

    I think there’s a huge audience for G+. There are already some great communities happening inside the thing, but I am not so sure it will grow to Facebook proportions in terms of usage. Perhaps the best analogy is Facebook is HBO and Google+ is Showtime. And that’s the way it’s going to be.

  • 4 David Mihm // Jun 1, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Andrew, in all honesty, I think there are two reasons you don’t see many G Places stickers:

    #1 Business owners in the bay area have been inundated with digital presence services from the beginning
    #2 Google probably doesn’t have a feet-on-the-street team in Pleasanton?

    Here in Portland literally every third business in NW and SW Portland has a big red Place sticker. Google has done an amazing job carpeting the high-foot-traffic areas with these things. I think it’s a matter of time before Plus becomes as important to a business owner as Facebook. Does Google need to create a thriving social network in order for business owners to incentivize / exhort customers to +1 them? No. They just need to make it plainly clear that if you want to rank as a business, you have to play on G+.

  • 5 Andrew Shotland // Jun 1, 2012 at 10:55 am

    And they are relying on Social/SEO sages like yourself to pull these guys along. The strategy seems well thought-out from a number of angles, but they need to figure out that magical thing that suddenly makes everyone feel like they want to be on it. Right now, from a marketer POV, all I feel is the need to be on it. I want the want.

  • 6 Andrew Shotland // Jun 1, 2012 at 11:04 am

    +David,

    I think therein lies the rub. G’s strategy feels more business-centric v. people-centric. I don’t doubt G+ will be/is huge and important. I don’t doubt they won’t have a ton of reviews and businesses doing stuff. I still think two years from now the HBO/Showtime analogy will still apply. And maybe that’s ok. Unless Facebook cracks the monetization thing and out RPMs GOOG, having a lot of local search traffic is probably far more profitable than having a lot of local social traffic.

    BTW Facebook has zero feet-on-da-street here too. I think it’s safe to say that if your feet are on the street in Pton, you may need to rethink your model, and potentially your entire life.

  • 7 Rob // Jun 1, 2012 at 11:04 am

    A+ for the hat tip to The Specials video. Love it.

    As for G+Local I agree I think it will a tough road to hoe even though, as you pointed out, G+ has some nice and compelling features. Getting mindshare from small businesses on this will be hard.

  • 8 Andrew Shotland // Jun 1, 2012 at 11:06 am

    +Rob I wanted to put up Gangsters, but I’ll leave that for a post on G’s new paid inclusion shopping thing.

  • 9 Mike Blumenthal // Jun 1, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Growth of any new product or service is rarely like lightning (Pinterest excluded). It is usually a series of small incremental steps that happen as a product or service provides significant value to additional niches.

    Think digital camera. Introduced to retail as early as 1984 it took 10 years to reach commercial success and 15 to reach widespread consumer adoption. Then film sales collapsed over night.

    Adding local to Google+ is one of those incremental value adds that brings another user group into the fold and has the potential to bring more.

    The real change here those isn’t just that the Place page has moved from Places to Plus. The real change is the fact that Google has doubled down on reviews, made them more honest, granular AND social.

    Again, the process won’t be over night nor earth shattering but some folks will become Top Reviewers (another active niche) and a percentage of those will use Google+ to position themselves as not just Top Reviewers but Top Foodies in a given market.

    I don’t think a product less than 12 months old can be compared to one that is 10 years old. Google+ can’t be judged a success or failure on that benchmark for another 5 years.

    But it can be judged a success on different metrics.

    I see these new changes as long time planned, incremental changes that add value to the network and increases content.

  • 10 Mike Blumenthal // Jun 1, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Oh and Google Places was a ghost town already. It had little traffic and no significant engagement. Google+Local can’t be any worse than that.

  • 11 Scott // Jun 1, 2012 at 11:15 am

    I’ll back David up – We’re blanketed in Portland with Plus stickers – and I agree with @Alans comment that someone at G probably suggested “…if we can’t entice them, why don’t we just force them?” and that was the catalyst for the current evolution.

    It really bugs me that they’ve created these brand new Plus Local pages pulling the data from Places, and I “want the want too” but we’re all just beta testers…

    This morning I manually created a new Google Plus page for my own local business. I used my same exact name and phone number, thinking it MIGHT tie them together, but instead, I ended up creating what amounts to a duplicate. Bummer…

  • 12 Andrew Shotland // Jun 1, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Now you’re just making me feel like a meanie +Mike.

    So agreed, Paul Masson will serve no wine before its time.

    And I do think this thing gets pretty big and important. It already is.

    But I am still not sure it becomes #1.

  • 13 Andrew Shotland // Jun 1, 2012 at 11:20 am

    +Scott, that’s likely temporary growing pains.

    The Portland thing was pre-Zagat right? I wonder how Z changes the go-to-market strategy.

  • 14 Andrew Shotland // Jun 1, 2012 at 11:31 am

    +Mike I wish I had a +1 button on the comment

  • 15 James Svoboda // Jun 1, 2012 at 11:39 am

    “Just like I can’t seem to find the motivation to get all Plussy, even though it’s in my economic interest to do so”

    Very glad you said that Andrew so that I don’t feel so alone. It might be the fact that I feel I “have to” that makes me not want to. I’d probably spend more time there if it was enjoyable and not so much a requirement to do better in Google:(

  • 16 Andrew Shotland // Jun 1, 2012 at 11:42 am

    +James, the thing is I do find it enjoyable. I actually like G+ better than Facebook. But the people I interact with on G+ are more business-related and strangers v. Facebook which is more of a mix of my entire life. I wonder how many people outside of business users want to handle multiple social media accounts? Who knows, maybe a lot of people do it that way?

  • 17 Dave // Jun 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    Very interesting conversations above. Especially interesting to hear the perspectives from Portland where Google invested significantly in people, time and energy to create an environment very different from what you experience in Pleasonton and what I generally see in the DC area.

    We have different types of businesses in this market and in other metro areas. They are not the types to easily garner reviews. They are totally different types of businesses focused on totally different types of people, but they aren’t restaurants or bars, and they don’t generate a community feeling unless we work on it overtime. And even then we don’t get it.

    Meanwhile if we have 15,000 total customers in a year including young and old, home owners and people who want to learn skills, maybe 8 will want to write a review on their own without some effort from our part. We aren’t in the world’s of natural review writing.

    All of which has left me a bit queasy. I have this sinking feeling we are going to end up doing some of google’s dirty work for them to get people to engage in google+: To sign up and to get engaged with reviews.

    I say that because a wall of reviews with “anonymous google user” is immeasurably weaker than reviews with real people with an id or a name, and a picture.

    Nobody is going to force us to do that but there will be competitive pressures within the market place to do so.

    And probably we reluctantly will. We will pick different of the businesses to test this effort. Not unlike Google testing the impact of having feet on the street in Portland to create significant visibility for google places….now google places+ or whatever it is called.

    One other thing. The google local+ page is still google’s page. Its not ours. It has ads on it. On the bottom of the page it has other related places. Some of those places are showing zagat reviews. Oh that is peachy. Suppose a competitor has a better review score than your business.

    I don’t have to deal with that cr@p on FB’s business page. Frankly on our best pages, on which we struggle and work hard to get likes…when we post something great we get feedback in the sense that some of our “fans” like it…and we get a sense of at least how many of our fans had access to this info on their own fb home pages.

    None of that with google+. Its their page..not ours.

    On the local front…google is somewhat more responsive on fixing things these days…but if you spend time in the forum…one type of issue keeps popping up: The recurring problem that was never solved. In other words, even with improvements over the last year, businesses continue to suffer the same issues, repeatedly.

    Ultimately google isn’t responsive to the smb world. It is unaccountable.

    FB is somewhat accountable. Over time they’ve made changes…and when the user world erupted they pulled back.

    But we do have to live with big google. So we’ll see.

    Rant over!!! :D

  • 18 Matt Cutts // Jun 1, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Google is not a ghost town, by far. Almost every Googler uses it, and so does Scoble.

    Instead of worrying about Google+, worry about the sites we’re nuking with Panda and Penguin as we transition to advertiser only index to improve relevancy.

  • 19 Andrew Shotland // Jun 1, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    +1 +Fake@MattCutts :)

  • 20 Tom Bullock // Jun 1, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    One interesting G+ trend I see is one of my kids and lots of his classmates are exclusively G+. Not sure how widespread this is but could be the beginning of a trend. Love the fake Matt Cutts lol.

  • 21 Kristinn Didriksson // Jun 2, 2012 at 6:02 am

    I don’t think G+ has much traction here in SW Florida. It’s all FB and Twitter. I joined FB because all my friends and family were on FB. Twitter has the cool real-time TV thing and hashtags are like TV channels. They fit a familiar mental pattern.
    G+ is not an innovative product. It is a FB-like clone. I don’t see a great future for it. Using reviews to pressure people into joining may just make other review sites more appealing rather than helping G+ grow. I can already hear clients saying “do I really need to sign up for this one too?”

  • 22 Jim Froling // Jun 2, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    As long as consumers use search engines to find local goods and services and Google is the SE of choice for 2/3′s of them, AND G+ can be a factor in one’s rank in SERPs, then G+ is going to be a big deal.

    I’m no clairvoyant, but when I first saw the G+ interface and the personal to business profile link, it seemed clear to me where that path was leading.

    The next to last thing the world needs now is another social media platform. And personally, I hope my clients say “I don’t want to deal with this, but if it is going to influence my rankings in local search then…damn!”. I’ll tell them, they don’t need to mess with it. I’ll do it, for a reasonable fee of course.

  • 23 Ben // Jun 2, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    People seem to think that by signing up to Google+, you’re also agreeing that you promise to ‘share’ things with circles. You do understand that’s not true, right? You do know that by having a Gmail account, you pretty much already have a G+ account right? Or if you use Maps, or Apps, or Reader or Android or any of the the other million things Google does. Sure, you might have to click the ‘Join’ button and put your first name in but that’s it! Who gives a shit!? How many hundreds of other sites are you members of that ask for this and more that you never use?

    Google+ is Google. You want to use Google stuff you put your name in to your Google account. You don’t want to use it to ‘share’, then don’t! Move the f%#k on!!!

    Google makes their money from ads. They want you using their search engine. Google+ is simply their way of adding unity and coherence to the many, many products you all use for free. Believe me, if you never share anything with anyone on Google+ they still win. So just STFU and move on.

  • 24 Andrew Shotland // Jun 3, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    Not sure who the previous comment is addressed to, but Ben, you may want to take the dosage down a bit.

  • 25 Kevin Alvarez // Jun 5, 2012 at 9:36 am

    I think Ben must be the frustrated Google exec with the idea “if we can’t entice them, we’ll force them.”

    I understand the importance of Google+ from an internet marketer’s perspective and it is my responsibility to share this information with my clients. However, when I feel “forced” to do something, my instinct is turn away and find an alternative.

    Andrew, I think you touched on this in a recent article but businesses need to start thinking more about other forms of local/community marketing. There is no need for a business to be dependent on SERPs. When you start feeling like Google has your business by the balls and you have to comply to their rules, you are already in trouble.

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