In general, this change encompasses the following:
All Google Places pages will be transitioned to Google+ Local pages
Integration of a new “Local” tab within Google+
Google+ Local pages will become available across Google search, mobile and Maps
More dynamic layout and social features
Generally speaking, the integration between the two platforms creates a more personalized user experience. A major benefit is that these new pages are much more versatile and social in nature, due mainly to the fact that they will be tied in directly with user’s “circles”, or online network of connections. This will allow you to gain new followers and then deliver content to their circles and the followers of those circles, essentially expanding your reach. The new pages are also much more dynamic and allow for the presentation of more types of content. Most importantly, Google+ Local Pages will be indexed in search results, making them an extremely valuable tool for marketers, including veterinary practices.
Another noteworthy aspect of this integration is the promotion of more recommendations and reviews. With Google+ Local Pages, users can filter results in a variety of ways, one of which is through their own Google+ circles. Anyone in a consumer’s circles who has reviewed or posted on one of these places will be indexed accordingly. This functionality is being compared to some of the social filters available on Foursquare. Users will essentially be able to sort and filter their search results by their circles, which will identify places that have been visited, reviewed or recommended by their friends. What this means for your practice is the chance to receive more visibility within the networks of your existing clients, which could potentially lead to more new prospects.
Unfortunately, one of the major downsides to the new Google+ Local Pages is that they contain a much more graphic-intensive layout. Some users feel that this effectively reduces the visibility of other important business information on their page. Of course, others welcome the change and find it creates a more dynamic experience for web visitors.
So, what does this mean for practices currently using Google Places? The good news is that while the display of the page has changed, most other aspects have remained the same. Google Places is made up of three components: a business listing display, a backend management tool, and a ranking system. This shift to Google+ Local Pages essentially moves the location of the business listing display and provides businesses with increased control over their visuals. It also allows for more segmented social activity regarding reviews. The current backend management tool, the Places Dashboard, will remain the same in terms of input of information or modifications. Practices who are currently using Google Places should continue to use the same interface to claim and update their business information.
In summary, while some features and functionality has changed, this new the social/local convergence of Google Places to Google+ Local Pages will hopefully lead to more enhanced social engagement, which means increased visibility, better search ranking, and more prospective clients for your practice.