Google Places turned a year old this week, which is kinda like 10 years in Internet time. And, like many 10-year-olds, Google Places is getting to that stage between being a cute kid and a troublesome teenager. (Apologies to my 13-year-old son.)
It’s been quite a first year for Google Places — a year filled with both hits and misses. I’d love your opinions on the good and bad; first, here are mine.
Before I start, a clarification: I’m referring below to what used to be the Google Local Business Center and its associated Place Pages. The LBC became Google Places on April 19th last year; it wasn’t until October that the wider Places search changes took effect.
Google Places: The Hits
1.) Ratings and reviews via Hotpot
The biggest development in my mind over the past year has been Google’s emphasis and success with making ratings and reviews part of the Places experience. Since Hotpot launched in November, Google’s been promoting it wildly across the US and apparently to great success. Mike Blumenthal’s research suggests that Google now “owns” 20-40% of the reviews in some markets.
2.) Respond to reviews
Related to the above, Google made a nice move when it gave local business owners a tool in Places to respond to reviews.
3.) Monthly email reports
As I’ll point out below, the analytics dashboard in Google Places leaves a lot to be desired. But Google has done a pretty good job of dressing up this ugly duck in the form of a monthly email recapping the business data/activity from the prior move.
4.) Death to community editing
One of the most exasperating things about Google Places listings was that anyone could edit them! Last May, Google killed the community edit free-for-all. Hallelujah.
5.) Photo slideshows
Google has made surprisingly few feature additions/upgrades in the Places experience over the past year. One of the few additions is one that I like: photo slideshows from inside Place Pages.
Google Places: The Misses
1.) Bugs, bugs, and more bugs
Is there a Google product that suffers from more bugs than Google Places? I sure hope not! I just wrote last night about missing analytics data in the dashboard, which has happened before. If you want to see how buggy Places is, browse through Mike Blumenthal’s blog archives. You’ll find more dashboard errors, lost reviews and so much more.
2.) Lack of development
As I mentioned in #5 above, there haven’t been a lot of upgrades and new features added to Google Places over the past year. Log in to your Places dashboard and it looks remarkably similar to how it did a year ago. That’s very un-Googley. And it also means that the competition has been able to get ahead of Google. Bing’s new Local Business Portal offers a number of features that should have Google quite jealous.
3.) Disappearing features
When Places was launched, Google announced five new features/pieces. It’s telling that three of those five are now dead:
- Service areas
Google Tags(ads; recently killed)
- Business photo shoots (I assume this is still happening. Anyone know?)
Custom QR codes(gone) Favorite Places pt. 2(dead)
4.) Analytics still lacking
Almost two years ago, I wrote that the LBC analytics data was borderline useless. It hasn’t gotten any better.
5.) Support still lacking
To Google’s credit, they’ve made some efforts in this space — like the monthly email reports that I mentioned above, along with some improved messaging in the Places system. But it’s still far from even being acceptable. There are few things in the local search space more depressing than visiting the Google Places Help forum to watch local business owners desperately flailing about, trying to find anyone who can answer a question about their Google Places listing.
Your turn: What did I miss here? What are your “hits” and “misses” regarding Google Places / business listings? The floor is open!
(stock images via Shutterstock.com, used with permission)