Posted by Gio Palatucci
Last Wednesday, Google announced the launch of a brand new service called Google+ Local. The platform helps users “share and discover great local places,” everything from restaurants and hotels to dry cleaners and supermarkets. With the launch of Google+ Local the search engine giant has now integrated its business directories and user reviews into one seamless web experience-- Local is housed within Google Plus and reviews can also be found via Google maps and search. Plus, the addition of Zagat ratings (the two companies announced their partnership last fall) brings a higher degree of authority to reviews than say, Yelp or Foursquare.
So what does Google+ Local mean for travelers and travel bloggers who may currently rely on other review sites to conduct trip planning research? I was invited to the Google offices in DC last week for a soft-launch event. Here’s what I discovered:
Google+ Local's hotel pages make it easy to search availability and book right from Google.
Google+ Local: Great for Travelers
Google+ Local has many features that are great for travelers who are researching a trip.
Search: Google is the king of search and the niche search function of Google+ Local may be its best feature. Two separate search boxes allow travelers to type in something like “ice cream” in the first box and their location, say, “Portland, Oregon,” in the second box, producing hyper-focused search results.
Reliable Ratings: In addition to niche search, another benefit to travelers is the integrated Zagat rating system. Zagat's famous 1-25 rating is a bit easier to interpret than the old 1-5 rating system employed by Google Places. Zagat's name brings authority and trust to Google+ Local, and, another bonus, Open Table integration lets you make a reservation right from the restaurant's Google+ page.
Hotels: Travelers will love the hotel booking feature that is a part of Google+ Local. Depending on the hotel chain/brand, travelers can find price comparisons (from sites like Booking.com and Travelocity) and links to book a room displayed right from the Google+ Local page.
Despite its many positive features, there are a few drawbacks to Google+ Local. Although getting place recommendations from people in your Google+ circles is meant to be an asset of the new service, it is not always reliable. The section comes up blank if none of your friends have written a review-- which unfortunately happens often and will continue to happen until Google+ gains more widespread popularity.
Another downside is the absence of a bookmarking feature or another way to save listings for a later date. If I'm planning a future trip, this would come in handy. And finally, the last thing missing is an app for iPhone (currently Google+ Local is only available on Android).
The not-so-good-looking Google+ Local review on my Google+ profile.
Google+ Local: Tough on Bloggers
With so many social networks and review sites popping up, it's difficult for travel bloggers to stay current on these platforms without spreading their content too thin. This is why bloggers will like the integration of Google+ Local with Google+ profiles. All reviews you write are attributed to your Google+ Profile which means less content for bloggers to maintain.
Despite the link, I'm not a fan of how Google+ Local reviews post directly to your Google+ feed. If you’re control freak like me, about your social profile appearance and how content is displayed, you won't like the design of Google+ Local integration with your Google+ Profile. The postings look sloppy and don't include your photo uploads. It would be nice to have a "Local" tab on your profile page-- similar to "Photos" or "+1s" where all your reviews could be housed, organized, and managed.
Google+ Local is still in beta, but it's off to a good start. With a few tweaks I think it can grow a strong user base and be a great tool for travelers and travel bloggers alike.
What do you think? Will you be using Google+ Local to write reviews or research a trip?
Writing/sharing/tweeting from the crossroads of social media, travel, & tech. Read more about me, here.
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