Why Google+ should matter more to restaurants, bars and cafes

When Google first decided to launch a social media platform of its own back in the summer of 2011, the initial hype seemed to take no time at all to trickle back to a quiet murmur.  Even today, people still say to me, What’s Google+?  Is it important? Is it not just a poor copy of what’s going on over at Facebook?

Well, listen up.  I figure Google+ is a sleeping giant that will soon have us sitting up bolt straight and paying attention big time.   Recently, I watched a talk given by one of the UK’s top Google advocates Thomas Power on the plans Google have for stretching and improving their search engine.  In a nutshell, Google’s aspirations for improving search are hugely ambitious.  They figure they only give us about 3% of the search information they’d potentially like to be able to give us in the future.  Their big driver is to provide search information that second guesses their user’s every whim and need.

It’s not surprising then that Google is continuously rolling out new initiatives to reach this lofty goal.  For example this year PRs and SEO agents have been sent running scared at the latest changes which have emphasised a preference for “high quality and indepth information”, relevant local information, social site and review site scores and sentiment ratings indicating whether someone enjoyed or disliked your service.   Simply put, this means previous attempts by PR and SEO professionals to rig your SEO performance just won’t work anymore.   Anything that is paid for, for example, press releases or back link generation is actually going to count against you and give you minus points in the search engine ratings.  If you replicate an article and post it in several places, that will also score you minus points. The onus is moving to genuine customer ratings and businesses providing more valuable customer-centric information. 

Which leads me on to Google’s next new search innovation.  Earlier this summer, US customers searching for local bars, hotels and restaurants started seeing a carousel of images appearing at the top of their search results window.

As well as an image, the results carousel also shows the venue’s review score and number of scores as awarded by registered Google account holders. The user simply clicks on the image to see all the search results relating to that venue.    Importantly, this new feature emphasises the importance of winning Google+ Local reviews for your venue. (For those who weren't aware, Google Places was renamed Google+ Local a while back and is now integrated in the Google+ website as the place to find out information about local businesses. )  Mostly, the highest rated venues get better billing on the carousel.  It doesn’t seem to be a completely hard and fast rule at the moment, but higher rated businesses on Google+ tend to come first.   The carousel can hold up to 51 images in the examples I’ve seen so far, but I imagine we all want to be listed in the first 7 and available on first sight when the carousel comes on screen.

So what are you doing to prepare for this new feature?  Firstly, I’d suggest you get more active on Google+ Local and claim your business venue profile if you haven’t already done so.  Update it with your best photograph, ideally one that will work well at the carousel thumbnail size.  Then, start thinking of ways to promote your Google+ Local profile in venue and on your website.  Build in strong calls to action to ask for reviews and star ratings on Google+ Local on your website, on your menu and through other points across your marketing collateral.   Customers may not pick up on this straight away but I'm betting this is going to become as important if not more important than Facebook likes etc. in the future.  So start building up reviews now to get ahead of the crowd.

Carousel mexican restaurants nyc.png

Initial tests on the new carousel screen design indicate that nearly half of users immediately started to use the carousel as the principle way to navigate the results.  Results from other social media platforms have shown us that many users are visually orientated and so these results don’t surprise me at all.

If you’re a Zagat listed business, you’ll also be pleased to hear that there is a Zagat version of the carousel which shows their ‘best of’ results in this format.

Zagat Carousel.png

Currently, I’ve not been able to find a live example of the carousel for restaurant searches, but you can try it out by searching for ‘things to do in Birmingham’ or ‘things to do in … other major UK cities.

So, whatever size your venue and whatever your offer, make sure to make the most of this marketing opportunity before everyone starts to realise what’s occurring.

If you’d like to hear me talk more about Google Carousel why not sign up for the Digital Innovation Forum hosted by Restaurant Magazine in central London on 17th September as mentioned in my previous blog.