Google Plus Unveils Business Pages

This week, Google unveiled the biggest change to its fast-growing social network since its launch. Google+ users can now start building pages for their businesses. Many companies have been waiting for this feature for months.

Danny Sullivan covered the story over on Search Engine Land. Initially, when Google+ launched, it seemed as if anyone could own a page. In July, however, Google started deleting pages that clearly belonged to businesses. Some companies, such as Ford, kept their pages as beta testers. Google knew that businesses – and other non-human entities, such as brands – would bring special needs with them. So the search engine explained that it needed some time to create appropriate formal business pages, and that the final version would be worth the wait.

Now, if you already have a Google+ profile, you can go to the Create a Page tool to add a Google account for your business. You can choose from five different categories: Local Business or Place; Product or Brand; Company, Institution or Organization; Arts, Entertainment or Sports; and Other. Hovering over each category provides examples to give you an idea of what kinds of entities belong under each one. Interestingly, a visitor looking at your page typically won’t see any indication as to which category you chose. They will see an icon next to the name of your page that indicates it’s a page rather than a profile (the kind of pages reserved for humans).

If you’re a local business, you will definitely want to choose that category, as Google+ offers options unavailable otherwise. You can include a map of your business’s physical location, an address, phone number, and your hours of operation. Sullivan notes that if you’ve already claimed your business in Google Places, you’ll still need to build a Google+ Page from scratch; the two are not currently connected. So you’ll have to enter that information all over again. The two kinds of pages serve different purposes. A Google Places page exists to help searchers find a business easily in Google, while a Google+ Page “provides business owners with additional ways to engage, build relationships, and interact directly with customers.”

Google also makes you select an age restriction for your business – which could be very helpful for places like bars and nightclubs, for example, in addition to adult entertainment places. Google explains that “When you set up your page and choose an age category, interactive features that require the user to be logged in will be limited to users that are that minimum age or older. Keep in mind that all pages are public and using the age selector does not affect visibility of the page or content. Make sure that you choose a minimum age category selection that’s appropriate for your page.”

Here’s another key point to keep in mind as you create your Google+ Page: whoever creates the page becomes its administrator. This role cannot be transferred, and new page administrators cannot be added. Google plans to change this in the near future, but until it does, Sullivan recommends that your company’s Google+ Page be created by whoever manages your social media.

Once you’ve set up your company’s Google+ page, what exactly can you do with it? You’ll be pleased to hear that you can do most of the same you can do as a normal person, though there are certain important differences. You can, for example, share photos, share videos, share links, and conduct Hangouts; in fact, not long after Google+ began offering business pages, The Muppets ran a Hangout promoting their new movie, due in theaters November 23. They reposted the full Hangout (just under 18 minutes) as a video on their page.

When Google+ enabled anyone to create business pages, they also restricted certain capabilities of those pages, probably for greater privacy and to make them less potentially annoying. For example, as a business page, you can’t follow someone unless they follow you first. As a business page, while you have a +1 button (more about that in a bit), you can’t +1 other pages or stuff on the web. Also, as a business page, you can’t play games. Your default privacy setting as a business page is public.

On the other hand, as a business, you can do certain things that ordinary profiles can’t. A business can maintain multiple Google+ pages. So if you’re a filmmaker, you can create a different page for each of your films, in addition to your main one for your company. If you decide to hold a special event, like a touring film festival, you could even create a special page for that. Sullivan thinks that you should consider taking this approach, if you have good reasons for each entity to have its own page. It maximizes the chances of visitors and searchers finding you.

Now, you may remember that I mentioned your business page will have a +1 button. Your website probably has a +1 button as well. Guess what? They’re not connected. If a Google+ user clicks the +1 button on your website, they’re not automatically following your page on Google+; they actually have to add the page to one of their Google+ circles. Hitting the +1 on your business page on Google+ won’t automatically add it to someone’s circle, either. On the other hand, your business page will display a +1 counter, showing how many people have +1′ed your pages. It’s supposed to cover all of your pages – so if you have five business pages and each one has been +1′ed a hundred times, each page will display the message “500 people have +1′ed this.”

Another nice thing about a Google+ business page is that Google searchers can now look for it directly. They need only type the name of the page, preceded by a plus sign. Google will even give them the option to follow the page directly from the search results. This explains why Google removed the old functionality of the plus sign in its search box recently. This is called Google Direct Connect; it’s not available to everyone, though. It only works with pages that have been verified (more on this below).

Finally, you’re probably wondering what would happen if someone that isn’t you creates a page for your business. Google believes it has that covered. They have been verifying pages, especially for big brands – sort of like they’ve been verifying profiles for celebrities. To verify your page, you start by linking it to your website. Google also provides more complete instructions for confirming ownership of a site. By following the right procedures, you get a check mark next to your page’s title that shows you’ve been verified. You’re also eligible for Direct Connect, and you can put up icons and badges.

If you run a business and already maintain a Google+ profile as a person, I’d strongly suggest getting a business page. You can reach out to your customers in many ways (just think of the potential of Hangouts) that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Good luck!

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