It’s been a long haul for Google in its attempt to hit the jackpot with social media. After gutting or eliminating many of its properties — Wave, Buzz, and Reader, to name a few — the latest one to bite the dust is Google Places.

However, it has a replacement for Google Places that it rolled out in May. The new property is Google+ Local, and it allows members to search for businesses in the area, just as they could under the old system.

The feature takes advantage of Google’s acquisition of Zagat by incorporating those ratings into the search results. While in theory this shouldn’t mean a major problem for businesses, some technical complications mean you’ll want to confirm how your business is appearing. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to evaluating your Google+ Local presence.

A New Approach to Ratings

On paper, not much has changed with the switch to Google+ Local. The integration of Zagat gives the platform a similar vibe to Yelp. All the basic information about a business is presented, along with plenty of user reviews and comments. Instead of a five-star system, ratings are based on users’ zero to three point score, then averaged and multiplied by 10 for Zagat’s 30-point scores.

A company’s scores and comments factor in to its search rankings on Google, too. Changes to a brand’s presence on Google+ Local could translate to changes in how quickly that brand can be found in search.

Technical Problems Skewing Scores

Unfortunately, the transition to Local is still causing consternation for small business owners because not all reviews from Google Places have been transferred. The new property does not include reviews from third-party websites, reviews flagged as spam, or ones that were simply lost in compiling the local pages. Google addressed some of the concerns in a post on its forum, but the time needed to troubleshoot a listing that appears incorrect or incomplete can mean lost business.

The Zagat approach seems most favorable for restaurants, since there are sub-ratings for service and decor in that scoring system. However, many other industries have no additional details to include beyond a single review — with no ratings, numbers, and no way for shoppers to compare services. Again, that could decrease web traffic for a business, as well as frustrating potential customers.

Another major problem is incorrect search engine optimization for small and local businesses. This can happen when the businesses are not placed in the appropriate categories for Google, and thus do not appear in search results. In fact, your company may be showing up for searches that you don’t expect. For example, a search on Google+ Local for “tech support” in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago yields hits for two beauty salons, a dressmaker, and a video game store. If Google+ Local does take off, it will require more of an investment in keeping SEO information accurate and complete so that potential customers can find you.

What Should You Do?

First of all, if you weren’t on Google+ before, you’ll probably want to at least throw up a bare-bones Business page so that you can explore the platform. Local and Business pages are not linked in most cases, but having a Business page means you’ll be able to share positive reviews and posts on the Local page with your Business followers.

But one of the major downsides is apparent just in describing that situation: local businesses have two pages to maintain for a full presence on Google+, which will inevitably cause confusion.

You’ll want to make sure any information about your company is up to date, and check in with your SEO management platform to double-check that your categorization is correct. Then, do some test runs. Try out a few searches and get a sense for what your customers are seeing. That will help you to find and fix any of the most visible problems in how your company is appearing.

Google+ Local may not end up being a serious competitor for the established local review platforms, such as Yelp. The recent departure of Marissa Mayer, the Google exec in charge of local, maps, and location services, to take over as CEO of Yahoo does not instill confidence in what Google is offering. It’s possible that once the technical problems are resolved, this will be a change for the better. But at this juncture, just be sure that your company is appearing accurately and then focus on growing once the basics are covered.

How has the migration to Google+ Local impacted your business? Let us know in the comments!

[Image credits: Thomas BenköThird Eye, Anssi Koskinen, Victor1558]