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Merge Google+ Local (Places) & Business Listings


This post is rather lengthy because I felt it was worth including some important lessons (e.g. social media/blog commenting for most current information and reading fine print), but stay tuned for a truncated version of this post for people who want to skip straight to starting the merge process.

A lot of business owners were left panicking a few weeks ago when Google made the out of the blue announcement that they would be replacing Places with Google+ Local as it's local directory/search engine. Fortunately, at least in the short-term, the change only impacted the review system and how local business pages appear to users. The entire back-end dashboard was left unchanged for the business owner which meant there wasn't anything new to learn... yet. Given that Google+ is the company's answer to Facebook, it was clear that other changes were still needed to integrate social media features into Plus Local pages (emphasis mine):
With the release of Google+ Local, rolling out today, we are bringing the community of Google+ to local business owners around the world. We aim to improve the way people discover new businesses, rediscover places they love, and share them with their friends across the web. ... We know many of you have already created a Google+ Page for your business, and have been hosting hangouts and sharing photos, videos and posts. We’re excited that we’ll soon extend these social experiences to more local Google+ pages in the weeks and months ahead. ... If you don’t yet have a Google+ Page for your business, we encourage you to create one now. And if you do already have one, hold tight for news on how to get it linked to your local listing. Follow our blog, or our Google+ page, for additional updates.
They're excited that they'll "soon extend these social experiences"? Soon? Ah, Google's vagueness never gets old. Generally when I see "soon", I anticipate we're looking at 6 months or more, but I have to admit that recently, changes have been occurring more rapidly. In fact if you've read any of my other blog posts, you know that the speed with which things can change is one of my biggest pet peeves (second only to the phrase "pet peeve" itself). The issue is that Google rushes things out to make sure they're first, leaving the rest of us to discover and flag bugs for months (and years in the case reviews on local listings) with very little ever getting resolved. Anyway, that last line excerpted about getting your Google+ business page "linked" to your newly converted +Local listing is what's really key for business owners who tried staying ahead of the curve by creating a business page once it became possible last November, although what "linked" actually meant wasn't clear - until now. A few days ago Mike Blumenthal announced that Google had begun merging +Business and +Local pages for those that made early requests. My obvious question was - who was privileged enough to request early merging? Apparently anyone paying close enough attention...

A Lesson in Reading the Fine Print

About a week ago I saw Blumenthal retweet this post which linked to an interview of Blumenthal himself with Benu Aggarwal of Milestone Insights. If you've participated in any SEOMoz webinars, you might remember Benu from the "All About Google Places" event she held earlier this year. The webinar is still available online for SEOMoz pro members and I would recommend it for beginners, but I would caution you that there were a number of inaccuracies and inconsistencies throughout, especially given that now "Places" no longer exists. But I digress... I initially skipped the video and went right to the key items Benu had summarized at the top of her post:
  1. Should I create a Google+ account? Google already created Google+ Local pages for every business (with limited functionality). We recommend waiting for Google to enhance these pages, then get involved. In general, it is a great idea to include Google+ as part of your social strategy.
  2. My Google+ Local page has broken links and a bad user interface. How do I fix it? Google is addressing these issues and fixing them; you should see changes shortly.
  3. I already have a Google+ Business page. How do I merge it with my new Google+ Local page? Make sure you have the same email address registered with your Google+ and your Google for Businesses accounts, then request a merge here.
  4. What if I have created a Google+ Business page and claimed my Google+ Local (Google Places listing) under different email accounts? Transfer ownership of your Google+ Business page to the email used to claim the Google Places listing.
Having not read anything about "requesting a merge" I was stunned by points 3 and 4 I went back and watched the interview, following along with Benu's transcript. But the only part that mentioned any online form was this (emphasis mine):
Mike: That’s right, there was a post called Google+ Local: Q’s and Some A’s that the form addresses.  That, if you do have both pages, you should definitely fill the form to get notified about changes happening. Benu: They can merge it.
It seemed Mike was referring to this form, which promises that Google will, "send you an update when there are important changes to Google Places". The form Benu linked to, on the other hand,  starts out this way:

Upgrade Request

Please fill out the form below to be considered for upgrading your listing early. Because we're still in a testing phase, some things may not work as expected, and we appreciate your patience to help improve the product. In order to be considered you must have your business verified in Google Places for Business and have created a local Google+ page. Once the listing for your business is upgraded, changes to the listing are subject to moderation under the applicable policies.
Call me crazy, but if this form was about "Merging" your existing Google+ business page with your new Google+ local page, wouldn't the headline include the word "merge"? Instead they went with "Upgrade Request" which indicates, to me, that they're talking about that last line I highlighted earlier from Google's own official announcement: "We’re excited that we’ll soon extend these social experiences to more local Google+ pages in the weeks and months ahead." On the "Upgrade Request" form, the closest they got to explaining that this was actually a "merge" request was the line, "In order to be considered you must have your business verified in Google Places for Business and have created a local Google+ page", but it's still pretty ambiguous to say the least. The item that sealed it for me was when I saw the heading on the fourth and final field in the form: Link to your local Google+ Page *. Like the sentence I just got through quoting, there's some ambiguity there, but given that Google just converted Places pages to "Google+ Local pages", It seemed obvious to me that they were looking for the URL of the new Google+ Local page that they would be soon upgrading with social features. In fact I even had a brief exchange on Twitter with Mike where he seemed to confirm that assumption was correct, and that Benu had misunderstood the purpose of that form: After Mike's announcement that the merges had begun this week, it seemed we weren't exactly understanding each other on Twitter so I followed up in the comments on his blog post. If you read through the thread you'll see that Mike refers back to the form I've been discussing in this post as the merge request form. Confused by this I went to take another look and here's the fine print (or in this case, light gray text) I had missed initially:
This is the page that you created via Google+ before we upgraded your Places listing to local Google+ pages. From the Google+ Page you created (with the "Posts" tab), copy and paste the URL that appears in your browser’s address bar.
Two sentences toward the end of that form that actually make clear that this is actually a "merge" request (rather than an "upgrade" as indicated in the form's heading). Or at least clear-ish sentences. As Mike noted, "Google has always been in need of good copy editors." The bottom line is this - The "Upgrade Request" form IS  in fact a "merge request" form, meant to be used by those who already created a Google+ business page before the Google+ Local transition. There's no guarantee how quickly any given business will see any results, but I wold recommend that everyone at least initiate the process. I plan to do so for our listing momentarily and I will post a follow-up if/when anything changes. In the meantime, let's all cross our fingers and hope that things settle down for a bit. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I'll be posting a shorter version in the next few days that will be more digestible for the business owners who simply want to get their merge on. But I hope you've found the level of detail included in this post useful as I think it clearly illustrates how confusing local SEO can get when things are constantly changing and even Google has trouble explaining the changes. This is especially true for business owners who don't spend a lot of time managing their online presence. If that sounds like you, give us a call or contact us online to find out how we might be able to help. Whatever your web needs, from design and development to paid online advertising and local SEO services, we'd like to discuss your options with you today!