Google is rebranding its Google Maps listing service for local businesses as it continues to try to organize--as well as sell ads against--a seemingly inexhaustible supply of local search results.
Google's Local Business Center will henceforth be known as Google Places, the search giant plans to announce late Monday. All in all, it's mostly just a name change, although Google plans to roll out a few new features for local merchants that have claimed their "place page" on Google Maps.
Google Maps is littered with small links to pages with information about local businesses, from pizza parlors to dry cleaners. Business owners can claim their listing page through the former Local Business Center and add information, photos, menus, and the like.
That won't change with the switch to Google Places, which will only be seen by businesses that log into a dashboard that's somewhat similar to the system Google advertisers use with AdWords. But within that dashboard, they'll now be able to specify things like the geographic area they serve (for mobile businesses like plumbers or pizza delivery), obtain a custom QR code that mobile phone users can scan for a link to their place page, and (this being Google) a new advertising format.
Businesses in Austin, Texas, Atlanta, Houston, San Jose, Calif., and Washington, D.C., can add "tags" to their Google Maps search result listing that allows them to highlight certain aspects of their business in yellow, as opposed to the red place markers that signal their location. These ads cost $25 a month, and Google has been experimenting with them in Houston and San Jose up until this point.
Local search and listings is an important area for Google, which is building out its own services after failing to acquire local reviews powerhouse Yelp late last year. An awful lot of searches have local intent, part of the reason why Google recently switched its Google Suggest feature to produce unique suggestions based on geographic location.
The new Google Places center is expected to go live Monday night.