Google just announced in its product forums that they have started the process of migrating existing Dashboard users to the new Places for Business Dashboard. For now, the new dashboard is only available to new signups, but it will be gradually rolling out to all existing Places (aka Google+ Local) users soon.
Google has provided a very good explanation of the new Places dashboard on their local business blog, and Mike Blumenthal has a very nice visual round-up featuring screenshots of all the new features in his blog post.
What has improved?
1. New Design and Layout with a cleaner, easier to use interface. As with most of the other products, Google has given the Dashboard a “Google+” ish look.
2. Better integration with other Google products. The Dashboard now includes a tab to allow business owners to manage their Google+ Local pages making it easier for owners to gain access to the social features of Google+, such as sharing posts, photos and videos. If you do not have a Google account, you will not see the Google+ Local page tab on your Google Places Dashboard.
3. Faster Updating. Edits will now be approved and go live quicker. Google is promising faster data updates in most cases.
4. Service Area Businesses can now hide their physical address, and specify whether they serve customers at a storefront or if they visit their customers. We feel this is a big improvement.
5. A slicker photo upload functionality. Photo uploads now use the improved Google+ photo upload interface and allow for drag and drop uploads.
6. The business description editor allows you to add rich text and URLs. This will make sure that you can link to your website straight from your business description. The 200 character limit in the description field has also been removed. However, the more rich text you add, the more likely that it will require longer moderation and thus the delay in getting your listing up.
As with improvements, there are also a few concerns associated with the new Dashboard.
1. No Custom Business Categories - While Google now allows you to choose up to 10 categories for your business, they have removed the ability to create Custom Business Categories. This can be a problem especially for very niche businesses. The custom categories you submitted in the old dashboard will be removed. According to Google, Business owners should try to select an “auto-filled” category that most closely describes their business.
Missing Reviews & Ratings – Another possibility during the transfer could be reviews and ratings going missing during the transition. We have had this incident a few days ago. Since users look upon reviews about a particular local business before making a choice, such mishaps could prove costly.
Changing the business name could also trigger this issue. Here is one such instance.
3. We have also found reports of phone numbers, websites, or descriptions going missing in Google Places. Go through this link on Google Forums where people are complaining about the same.
4. Cannot Add Videos Anymore – Videos will not appear publicly, and the previous data will not be transferred onto the new dashboard. The “Videos” field no longer appears in the dashboard. If you wish to post videos on the listing for your business, you need to upgrade to a local Google+ page.
5. No Improvement In Verification System – The verification process for listings is still the same. Businesses still need to get a PIN via mail, SMS or phone call and enter this into their listings so they can take control of their listing.
6. No More Enhanced Data - Often customers want to know if a business has a parking lot, carries multiple brands, has special accommodations, etc. The feature that once allowed us to add this information will no longer be available.
7. No Improvement in Analytics – The Data reported on your Google+ listing has still not improved. You still get approximate views, clicks and call-to-action as usual.
8. Apart from this, Mike Blumenthal in his blog post listed a catalog of current bugs in Google Places and the Google Places Dashboard.
Even though with all these improvements, Google still advises that you do NOT merge any of your existing Google Local Listing with new Google+ Local Page yet. They already made it clear that there still are some errors & the process will take some time.