Google April 20 sought to make its local search offering more transparent for local businesses by renaming its Local Business Center Google Places and offering new tools to help connect consumers with nearby shops.
Google's Place Pages surface more than 50 million places around the world when users search for destinations on Google Maps.
Users searching for information about restaurants, hotels, museums, schools and parks can click on a location on a Google Map and be whisked to the Place Page to see details, pictures and reviews of that location.
More than 4 million local businesses stepped up to grab their Place Pages through Google's Local Business Center. Businesses provide information such as their hours of operation, photos, videos, coupons and product offerings.
Users can find these businesses on Google Maps from their desktops and from Google Maps for Mobile on smartphones such as Apple's iPhone or Google's Nexus One or the Motorola Droid.
John Hanke, vice president for Google Maps, Earth and Local Places, said Google Places will continue to offer these tools and more.
"Millions of people use Google every day to find places in the real world, and we want to better connect Place Pages-the way that businesses are being found today-with the tool that enables business owners to manage their presence on Google," Hanke said.
Renaming Local Business Center Google Places cuts through any confusion local businesses may have had about the relationship between Place Pages and the LBC.
Google Places is also getting several new features for local businesses. For $25 per month, businesses in some cities can procure Tags to make their listings stand out on Google.com and Google Maps.
The company is offering Tags to businesses in Austin, Texas, Atlanta and Washington in addition to the existing availability in Houston and San Jose, Calif. Google will soon add Tags in Chicago, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, and Boulder, Colo.
Businesses in some cities can also now request a free photo shoot of their interiors, which Google will offer along with exterior photos on Place Pages.
Now U.S. businesses can download a unique, custom QR code from their Places dashboard. These codes can be placed on business cards or other marketing materials. Customers can scan them with an iPhone or Android smartphone to view the mobile version of the Place Page for that business.
Along those lines, Google said it is sending another 50,000 window decals with QR codes as part of its Favorite Places program. Again, these decals can be scanned with a smartphone to view the mobile Place Page for the business to learn more about their great offerings.
What will be interesting to see is whether Google begins to rack up more local business customers for Google Places after failing to acquire local search rival Yelp late in 2009.
At the least, it should help Google better serve the 20 percent of location-based searches it sees.