September 07, 2012

Google is certainly one of the most important hubs for information about local businesses. With more than 80 million businesses listed on its Google Maps platform worldwide, an eyecare practice can benefit from this platform. However, what you may not know is that your practice’s Google Places Profile is now a Google+ Local Profile.

By incorporating a new design and functionality, Google is attempting to combine your practice’s profile with Google’s social network, Google+. What’s happening is that Google+ Local Profiles are being integrated with all things “Google”—search, maps, mobile, and so on. Chances are that your practice’s Google+ Local Profile is attached to your listing in search results for local optometrists in your city. That means that the richer your content is on your Google+ Local Profile, the better visibility your practice will have on the web.

What are the differences?

Don’t worry, your valuable Google Reviews and practice information haven’t vanished, they’ve just been converted. Google moved any reviews you might have over to your new profile, but if the patient that wrote the review hasn’t gone through the verification system Google has in place, their name will show up as “A Google User”. The big difference between your Google Places Profile and your new Google+ Local Profile is the scoring system: your patients no longer give your practice a 5-star rating; instead, they assign your practice a score out of 30. This is the Zagat scoring system, designed to be a better way to evaluate local businesses, according to Google.

How should you respond?

If you’re not already managing your practice’s Google+ Local Page, now is a great time to start. To claim the page as the business owner, you should log in to your Gmail account and click the “Manage This Page” button on your practice’s profile. Once the claiming process is complete, you should follow these steps to optimize your practice’s profile and increase your local search rankings:

  • Add photos, business information, a professional description, keywords, doctors’ names, correct location, and hyperlinks to the profile
  • Rename your profile title to be consistent with your official practice name
  • Publically respond to patient reviews thoughtfully and promptly (especially negative ones)
  • Run a Google Offer to drive more traffic to the profile

Once you’ve done those things, be sure to monitor the profile on a weekly basis. Use the Google Places Dashboard to understand your profile’s reach and think about ways you can improve it.

Google+ Local Profile and Google+ Business Pages: Merge them together!

You already know you have a Google+ Local Profile, which is basically your practice’s most important online directory listing and hub for patient reviews. If you’re ready to take the next step and start interacting with your patients in a meaningful way, you should consider creating a Google+ Business Page. This type of profile is inherently social (it’s been compared to the Facebook Business Page): you can share all types of content such as photos, articles, and statuses, as well as follow patients, employees, and brands. The best part about having a Google+ Business Page is that you will be able to merge it with your Google+ Local Profile, giving you a more uniform presence on the Google platform. Just make sure that the pages are listed under the same category—a local business rather than a brand. Once the profiles are merged, all of your social interactions, shared content, reviews, business info, and photos will be combined in one place, where you will be able to manage it all on your Google+ Page admin dashboard.

In the eyecare field, it’s very important for practices to take advantage of the free online tools available to help their practices grow. Google+ Local may be the most critical tool for your practice to market itself locally, with the possible exception of Yelp. Start managing your profile on Google+ Local and make it your goal to gain as many positive patient reviews as possible. Your practice’s web visibility and online reputation depend on it.