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Google leverages local, social to boost mobile offerings with Google + Local

In a move to make local mobile search more relevant and appealing to advertisers, Google is replacing its local search offering Google Places with Google + Local and integrating business listings across search, mobile, Maps and Google+.

The enhanced listings for local businesses such as restaurants and retail stores will also include reviews from Zagat. The move points to how companies such as Google are trying to leverage the convergence of mobile, social and local.

?There have been a lot of attempts at this ? LevelUp, Facebook, Twitter, Google +, but nobody has quite cracked it yet,? said Carl Howe, vice president of consumer research at Yankee Group, Boston.

?I don?t think it is a given that social is the primary intent in all cases,? he said.

?It is hard to point out a huge success story in local so far. It is potentially going to be more lucrative but it hasn?t been demonstrated yet.?

Local intent
The Zagat integration in particular could play well in mobile for Google.

Google acquired Zagat last summer and is making its reviews available for free for the first time with this move.

?The Zagat incorporation will shine in mobile, due to their ability to assist and influence the high percentage Google mobile searches that have local intent ? 40 percent according to Google,? said Michael Boland, senior analyst and program director at BIA/Kelsey, Chantilly, VA.

Mobile use is growing rapidly for Google and other Internet companies. For example, Google is reportedly seeing 50 percent of Google map use coming from mobile phones.

While mobile advertising is quickly growing for Google, the company is facing some challenges in monetizing mobile through advertising.

Google has recently seen the average cost-per-click paid by marketers drop in part because paid search budgets are increasingly shifting from desktop to less-expensive mobile search ads.

The move to more closely align mobile and local could be attractive to advertisers and help Google boost its mobile advertising.

?This should give advertisers more reach,? Yankee Group?s Mr. Howe said. ?It is going to expose anybody who participates in Google Places to a lot more eyeballs coming from different mobile properties and that is a good thing.

?It is absolutely critical for this to be available on mobile for it to have any traction,? he said.

iOS uncertainties
While the moves are an important step forward in mobile local search, the changes are not present in Google?s apps on iOS.

With Apple possibly launching its own default native mapping app soon, this could have implications for Google and the significance of these moves.

?The changes will have lots of interesting implications and improvements for mobile local search ? especially for Android users which are a sizeable chunk of the market,? BIA/Kelsey?s Mr. Boland said. ?But it should be said that the overall reach and impact of this announcement, at least within mobile, hinges at least a little on these uncertainties in the iOS environment.?

Google will roll out the new format in the coming months. The listings have been redesigned with a bigger focus on photos and reviews.

AdWords Express ads will continue to work the same and will automatically redirect users to the current listing.

A handful of merchants have already upgraded their listings, including The Meatball Shop, Delfina Restaurant, Oh! Sushi, North Bowl and Pomegranate Café

While business owners will still manage their information through Google Places for Business, these listings will now surface across a variety of Google platforms, including mobile and Google +.

The moves point to how Google is trying to adjust to the realities of advertising on mobile, where traditional display ads are at a disadvantage because of the small screen size and where consumers are driven much more by an immediate need.

?Mobile advertising is not the same as desktop advertising,? Mr. Howe said.

?A little link off to the side isn?t going to do it on mobile,? he said. ?The screen is too small and the person on mobile could be standing on a street corner looking for a place to eat.

?They don?t have a lot of time for irrelevant ads but they do want help finding what they want.?