Today Google announced its new “Google Places” program – which is a new name, and several new aspects, for its Local Business Center. While many things will remain the same, there are some important new additions being rolled out gradually. These could have quite an impact on businesses – especially smaller lodging properties.
A few weeks ago Google signaled the beginning of this change, by calling the Local Business Center listing a Place Page. Now we are seeing the next phase in this rollout.
Things that remain the same
Just as with the Local Business Center, you must claim your (free) listing to be able to edit it, and participate in the other benefits of the program. This allows you to post photos, videos, descriptions, etc., about your property, as well as timely specials, coupons, and more. It also allows you to validate the location and the listing.
Google will continue to display reviews and other information it finds about your property from across the internet, including related (and possibly competing) businesses, maps, etc.
Favorite Places, a program started nearly a year ago, continues, with Google making QR codes (a custom bar code, readable by smart phones with bar code scanning apps) available.
- Paid advertising. Yep. We’ve heard it was in the works, so it is no surprise that Google will now be following the lead of TripAdvisor in charging for an enhanced listing. Currently paid listings will be rolled out in certain larger US cities. If the plan works out well (i.e., makes money), look for it to become available elsewhere, too.
- Business photos by Google. Google will send their photographer to photograph the inside of your business, and post the photos on the Place page. Google will own the photos, but you can request they replace any you don’t like with others you supply. Again, this will only be available in major US cities, along with a few Australian and Japanese cities, but in this case they want you to request the photos, even if you’re not in one of the selected locations. Apparently, when there is enough demand, they’ll send a photographer.
- Custom Bar Codes. In addition to the bar code on a Favorite Place emblem, Google Place owners can download a custom QR barcode to place on literature for scanning by mobile device users.
- Service areas. While not necessarily valuable to lodging properties, those who provide services to a geographic area can define their area of service.
Thoughts about this program?
First and probably foremost, this program again points up the need to claim your listing on Google. If you haven’t done this, or aren’t sure, go to maps.Google.com, and type in your property name and location. If you’re on the regular Google page, click the map. If there is a little “bubble” of info about your property, you’re in the right place. Next click on “more info”, then on the next page look in the pale blue bar just above the map and to the left of it. If it says “Verified listing” your listing has been claimed. If it says “Business owner?” you can click there to claim your listing. Be sure you are near the business phone, as you will need to answer that number to receive a PIN code. Once claimed, you can complete all the information for your business, upload photos and videos, etc.
The prospect of more paid advertising is always a concern for small businesses, but this seems like one that almost everyone will feel they must participate in. On Local Business Listings Google has had a difficult time avoiding erroneous duplicate listings, wrong locations, etc. We hope that people paying for the listing will get better treatment in these areas.
The photo shoots are another concern. You don’t own the pictures, and you can’t control the photographer, except as to which areas of the property are public or private. Google seems to be trying to be sensitive to business owners’ concerns, but, if the photos don’t look any better than their street view photos, they will not be flattering to the business.
Finally, the bar code seems like a simple way to help mobile users go directly to your information, and we encourage properties to take advantage of this.
What are your thoughts on this Google Places program?