When Google begun a staged upgrade of its local business search tool from Google Places to Google+ Local centered around a new dashboard, the online world has been buzzing with chatter and feedback ever since.
It is perhaps too early to conclude whether these changes have been for the better or worse. Users have reported while some changes focus on the cosmetic and aesthetic appeal that reinforce the Google brand in terms of a unified look and feel, other improvements such as speed of updates to local listings was seen as a significant benefit worthy of the upgrade alone.
Not all quirks and annoyances have been ironed out completely though, such as the cumbersome verification process for listings remaining the same. Google also admits some of the changes are very much version 1.0, which means it is still work in progress, and there is plenty more to come in the months ahead.
Here, then, is our definitive guide to the new dashboard, highlighting the transition from Google Places to Google+ Local, detailing the changes that have occurred and commenting on whether it was for better or worse.
First, lets begin with the improvements:
1. New Google+ design with unified look and feel across all products
The new dashboard has a design that is more consistent with the updated look and feel common across all its products. In fact if you’re a regular user of Google+ you’ll feel right at home, with navigation options in the left-hand column, separate tabs for managing listing information, a specific Google+ Local page, AdWords Express ads and Offers.
2. Better and more integration with other Google products
The new dashboard will also give local business owners a way to access the social features of Google+, such as sharing photos, videos or posts. It will only apply to local business owners with a Google+ account though; those that don’t have it will be missing this navigation tab in their dashboard.
3. Faster updates on Google Maps and other services
Here’s what Google says about the new improvements in update speeds with the new dashboard.
“Most edits made via the upgraded user interface now appear on Google Maps and our suite of other services within 48 hours. As before, we may continue to moderate changes to ensure the highest quality local experience.”
4. New helpful interface guides users
As well as the aesthetic changes to the interface and look and feel, bringing the new dashboard into alignment with other current generation Google products and services, the new interface also implements new contextual, inline, tips and advice on how best to go about filling in the various fields. Compared to the old dashboard, there are now less fields to complete, which must be an improvement for most users, but may mean less customization options for local SEO so not everyone will be pleased with the changes. Google does at least provide lots of help and advice now with the new interface, making it much clearer how SMBs should go about completing the various fields without breaking rules detrimental to listing effectiveness.
5. Google+ Local app for iPhone
Together with the new Google Places Dashboard, Google have also released an app available as a free download on the iTunes app store. This is a new tool that allows local business owners to manage their Google Places for Business listing on the iPhone and iPod Touch.
“Business owners can use the app to: – Verify your business listing directly from your phone – Update your business information: hours, address, contact information, and description – Post beautiful pictures of your business on your local Google+ page – Track web traffic going to your listing – Manage multiple business locations from one app”
Now we list the little annoyances that should have been fixed but weren’t, and changes that may not have been better than before:
1. Verification process still cumbersome
If you thought all of the improvements above meant we now also have a newly streamlined verification process for listings, I’m afraid you’re in for a disappointment! As before, businesses will still need to get a PIN via email, SMS or by a phone call and verify using the PIN to take control of their listing before they can make any changes.
2. No more custom categories for local SEOs
When businesses decide what categories to list themselves in, the new dashboard allows more predefined categories than before; up to 10, chosen from a list. The downside to the changes is that they won’t be able to create custom categories anymore, but to appease existing users any older listings with custom categories will remain as they are.
And finally changes that are much needed which Google needs to do better on:
1. Terrible analytics remain
Although the interface for reporting looks like it has improved, the underlying data reported on hasn’t changed, which is a real shame and something Google should prioritize and improve upon. Like before, you’ll be able to get approximate views, clicks and call-to-action, and that’s about it. Google certainly has the capabilities to boost reporting features, but for some reason is lacking the will to do so. We hope Google address this aspect of the new dashboard soon.