Google+ Pages for Local: An SMB Survival Guide

google-plus-240pxIn the forced march to social, Google has created a number of taxing issues and problems for both small businesses and searchers.

One of the most egregious that deserves attention is Google’s insistence on sending searchers to a business’s empty Post page from a local search. Let me explain.

In August, Google started to automatically upgrade Google+ Pages for local that had been A) newly claimed listings via the new Dashboard, or B) converted from the old Dashboard, to the full social capability of Google+ (whether a business wanted a social stream or not).

link-to-posts-pageDuring roughly the same timeframe, Google started linking to the social “posts” page tab created from this upgrade from the pinned local results that showed in the main Google search results.

On the surface that appears to be a reasonable decision. It provides a high-profile link on the front page of Google to an SMBs social stream.

The problem with the Google decision? There are a couple.

1.) It provides a terrible user experience if the business has just claimed their listing and has not created any significant social presence on Google+.

Google could have chosen to link to the more content-rich “about” page tab where the hours, description and reviews reside, but opted instead to put SMBs on a forced march to social with Google+. Effectively Google is punishing SMBs that choose to not participate in social posting or didn’t realize that they needed to create a social stream on their local page.

default-claimed-page

2.) If a business claimed its listing via the new dashboard instead of via the Google+ Page management dashboard, there is no indication in the UI that there are still tasks left for them to do to make their Post page minimally professional.

For example there is no alert within the the Places Dashboard completion bar that the all critical +Page cover photo needs to be added. Nor any significant indicator that Google really, really wants them to post social content or they run the danger of sending potential clients to a blank page.

But even if Google had alerted SMBS to the need for social content, many small businesses have absolutely no reason to maintain a social presence on Google+ at this point. They have neither the resources, nor the ability or desire to attract followers. And yet searchers are shown a link to their (potentially) empty social posts page. While Google offers the ability to not show the photo or video tabs on the Google+ Page for Local, they require that a posts page show even if it is empty.

Survival Guide

What is to be done at this point if a business finds itself in this situation of having had their Google+ Page for local auto-upgraded to a fully social capability that is butt ugly and sure to send customers elsewhere?

My first choice of taking the folks at Google responsible out to be shot at dawn is not very viable. :)

So here are are the minimum steps that a local business should take to create a page that might just capture a few more customers if they find themselves in this situation AND they couldn’t give two hoots about posting on Google+:

1.) Page Images

Create a great cover photo that tells a compelling story about your business. It should have an aspect ratio of 16 x 9. Any image over 1000 pixels wide will work, but to protect yourself if someone views the image on a very high resolution I would recommend that you make the image at least 1600 x 900 pixels. For additional details about creating the cover image read this post.

Because Google automatically resizes and crops the image for the different mobile and desktop resolutions they might occasional crop the left and right edges of the image by about 10% and/or move your profile photo over the bottom 10% of the image. Thus be sure that whatever is in those areas is not essential.

Adding a cover photo can not yet be done in the new Places Dashboard. To do so requires that you go to the Google+ Dashboard: plus.google.com/dashboard and click on your page. Detailed instructions can be found here.

Then view the page at various browser widths to see how it looks. At lower resolutions be sure that whatever Google has cropped off of your cover photo is acceptable. You also want to be sure that your profile photo looks good when moved from the left panel to the bottom of the image at mobile screen sizes.

As a side note, Google Local has an algorithmic aversion to logos. If you don’t want to be shocked by what image Google chooses to show in the search results select something other than your logo for your profile photo.

2.) Content

Generating social posts is not the right path for many small businesses for a whole host of reasons. Just because Google is effectively forcing you in that direction does not mean you have to follow their ill-conceived lead.

That being said, it doesn’t make sense to waste the space on the social page or to provide your potential clients with a bad user experience even if that seems to be what Google seems to want.

Add two (and only two — depending on screen width either one or two posts will display above the fold) posts to the page. These posts could include a very brief marketing message, links to your site, driving directions, your phone number and perhaps more specific calls to action that effectively give your future client an easy way to get in touch with you. And get them off Google’s landing page and onto yours.

This screen shows every post above the fold on a 1366 x 768 screen. A larger screen would show two posts.

This screen shows every post above the fold on a 1366 x 768 screen. A larger screen would show two posts.

Following these simple steps will give you a professional image on one of the most highly-trafficked sites in the world, and will avoid the hassles of posting to a social environment if you or clients are not yet ready.

10 Responses to “Google+ Pages for Local: An SMB Survival Guide”

  1. Hey Mike,

    Is there any data in regards to the method of posting content to your G+ Page? I use a service that will automatically post a link to the client’s G+ Page when a new blog post is published on their website.

    In other words, does using an automated service (instead of manually posting) to a G+ Page have an adverse effect?

    Chris Ratchford
    • @Chris
      I know of no data that would indicate that. The absence of data is certainly not proof. My sense is that Google is desirous enough of content at this point that there would be no penalty but I can’t be sure… Great question though.

  2. Great guide, Mike.

    I’ve always found it absurd that Google doesn’t have a dedicated space for a photo of your logo. They should let it reside somewhere on your page (even though it’s really theirs). There should be the cover photo, the profile photo, and the logo. Easier than having a whole algorithm to whack business owners.

  3. Very informative guide! To answer about the logo – I find that making a detailed post (phone/directions/etc/et al) and adding my client’s logos to it is a great start to introduce them to the interwebs.

  4. Mike: After reviewing with you some of the results that are turning up via the google gmail field test (of which I’m a participant) and reviewing their language about the field test, which includes a statement stating that these are previews of future search results, it is ominous indeed that current searches may be further changed with ever more highlighted, large, visible information and links that take one to the google + posts page. (for public view I threw an example in my google plus account, here. https://plus.google.com/111190898924390669688/posts/G7BLKsaDfDs

    From google’s perspective…they might create results with very large very eyecatching information to the google plus page. It supplants the answer box. The name of the business is a link to the google plus posts page.

    Regardless of the fact that this link is redundant to what they show on the PAC results, it appears from that test result Google might want EVER MORE traffic to the G + Posts page.

    Ah me. Its their page. Its not owned or controlled by the smb.

    All of which moves me to comment on your advice: Its SPOT ON. and its informative with regard to picture dimensions. Its very helpful and very telling. The difference between 2 different google plus pages: one developed and one left barren is NIGHT and DAY.

    The need for content going back to one’s own website is additionally critical. Its also sad, and ironic. SMB’s have to fight google to get traffic to their own websites. That is a shame.

    Google is turning search into a trip down google’s world as it sees it, it wants you to see it, and affords it the best chances at increasing its revenues and to hell with the consequences.

    Regardless of google’s intentions, your advice is extremely worthwhile. Thanks.

  5. Interesting info, helpful as always, Mike. However, I just checked a few random pages from the local search pack and found only about half of the go to the “Posts” tab, the others go to the “About” tab. Are they just experimenting again?

    • @tony
      That has been the standard front page behavior for quite some time.

      There are three possible states:
      -link to the about page
      — means that the listing has not been claimed in the new dashboard and has no reviews yet. In other words it does not yet have a social page.

      -link to reviews but no link to either the about or posts page.
      —means the same as above but has reviews.

      -link to the post page.
      —means that the page has been upgraded to full social capability. If there are reviews there will be two links.

  6. My camera doesn’t take photos in big enough resolution. At least I don’t think so. Also I was wondering how to claim a Google + page so you can edit it, if it says that someone else owns it. A client of mine has a horrible one and can’t edit it.

    • @Cathie
      Every camera takes images that are big enough… 1600×900 pixels is a 1.5 megapixel image.

      Here are the details of the situations that could cause that messaging and links for resolution.

      Essentially if they don’t control the other account, they need to contact support.

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