Google Places is no more. The search engine giant has replaced it with Google Plus Local (which will interface with Zagat) which expands Google's efforts to encourage interaction on their social network. The change was announced Wednesday.
This is not the first time Google's local search platform has undergone change. This Wednesday, Google Plus Local has officially replaced Google Places.
This is the latest push by the search engine giant to integrate Google Plus with more features which allow users to interact and network.
Launched in 2011, Google Plus initially generated much optimism as a social network threatening to take a bite out of industry leader Facebook (FB). Once broad-scale access to Plus was introduced, usage statistics failed to keep pace with pre-launch hype.
Google Plus reports to have over 100 million users. Yet industry analysts point out that interaction per user falls incredibly short of front-runner Facebook which now boasts over 900 users.
Through integrating local search and reviews, Google Plus aims to allow user interaction in manners which Facebook does not. Google Plus Local will also interface with Zagat (a 2011 Google acquisition), providing a more complete restaurant review platform.
The Google Plus Local website promotes the new interface as a portal to "discover great places through reviews and photos from people in (their network)."
Some industry analysts point out that Plus may be catching up to competitor Facebook. Ingrid Luden of TechCrunch asserts that "what Google still lacks in Google+ is a way of getting different businesses’ networks to interact with each other — meaning, Facebook," yet simultaneously concedes that "Google+, with 100 million active users, still has a long way to go before being anywhere near social network rival Facebook."
It is not the first time those in the SEO industry have witnessed a full-scale makeover of the Google local platform. Many still remember the stark departure in October 2010 from Local Business Center to Places Search. It is debated whether this update echoes Google's ambition to improve it's local platform - or rather as a new strategy to position Plus to take aim at Facebook.
In either case, this is not the first time Google has rolled out new user interfaces, and most likely will not be the last. David Greenberg from SEO firm WebiFusion explains that, "Since the Google local platform was initially rolled out in 2006, it has witnessed a perpetual series of makeovers. I see this being a continuing trend, and with good reason to user acquisition."
Will this be Google's meal ticket to finally penetrate the social media sector as a true contender?