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Google Local Business Center Gets Makeover

With a new name and new services, Google Places will send a photographer out to take pictures of merchants' stores.
In an effort to enhance its services for local businesses, Google on Tuesday changed the name of its Local Business Center, its Web destination where business owners can manage the Place Pages that represent their businesses in search results lists, to Google Places.

The rebranding brings with it several new features.

These include: the ability for traveling service people to specify the areas they serve on Google Maps; highlighted Tag markers on Google Maps and Google.com for $25 per month; customized QR codes which, when photographed with a QR code-enabled smartphone app, direct users to the appropriate Place Page; further distribution of QR codes through Google's Favorite Places program; and free photo shoots of business interiors to provide potential customers with a visual preview of stores.

Place Pages currently provide information about more than 50 million places around the world, some four million of which have been claimed by local business owners.

"Four million businesses have already claimed their Place Page on Google through the Local Business Center, which enables them to verify and supplement their business information to include hours of operation, photos, videos, coupons, product offerings and more," explained John Hanke, VP of Google Earth, Maps, and Local, in a blog post.

"It also lets them communicate with customers and get insights that help them make smart business decisions," he said.

The renovation of Google Places may bring Google into closer competition with Yelp.com, a site what was previously said to be a potential acquisition target for Google.

According to Hanke, 20% of all searches are related to location.

Other recent updates to Google Places have included real-time postings and coupons, for mobile phones or otherwise.

In January, Google apologized to business owners after several thousand of them received a newsletter that included other people's Local Business Center analytics

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