There has been quite a bit of commotion concerning the changes taking place in Google Places. The biggest bit of news being that third party reviews are no longer showing on Places pages. Other major changes include a shiny new “Write a Review” button, the removal of the “More About This Place” section that was commonly used to find citations, and the missing “Additional Info” section that is still included in the dashboard for business owners.
The disappearance of the additional info has upset many business owners who include that information to further optimize their page and let customers know what to expect. Google still encourages businesses to fill in all possible fields in their account, but users wonder why if it won’t show up on their places page.
The disappearance of third party reviews and the appearance of the new button have been a long time coming. Google is constantly in a war with review sites such as Yelp over their right to show reviews in Google Places. Google has launched services like HotPot, which was soon merged into Google Places, in order to compete with Yelp and build their own review base from Google users.
The interface change is only a foreshadowing of possible algorithm changes and shift in the overall feel of Google Places. The goal is for Google Places to become its own self-sustaining service, like Yelp, instead of a local data aggregation engine. Right now the algorithm seems unaffected, reviews from third party sources still aid a listings rankings even though they don’t appear, but I highly doubt it will stay that way.
It is still too soon to decide if local search engine optimization needs a strategy shift or not. Other local listings sites still have the ability to drive traffic to your store and still deserve business owners attention. As far as Google Places is concerned, however, the only change I would make is pushing for more customers to review you on Google in addition to everywhere else.