Early last week, there was an important video announcement from one of the Google+ developers about Google+ Business Profiles. Originally they were going to keep G+ Business Profiles to a limited group, similar to how they have the trial period for current users. However they changed their mind and they are just going to allow everyone in (without a trial period) as soon as they are ready.
They are rushing, but they are not starting from scratch.
As we expected, Google is making huge strides forward to integrate Google Places and Google+. As of June 22, 2011 the appearance of all Google Places listings (i.e. your store's listing on Google Maps) now matches the fancy gray, red and black design that you see in Google+ and on google.com search.
The update to Google Places is definitely a step toward the Google+ integrations.
As of now your Google Places account no longer shows reviews from other review websites. Previously it would show your average star rating from other review websites, but now it simply provides a link to other websites that have your reviews.
Google is working hard to institute new user profile policies and user verifications. With this in mind they will only show reviews from verified Google user accounts. This will prevent, or maybe even eliminate, review spam from your Places account.
Now that they eliminated reviews from other sites, many places have to start all over again requesting reviews from customers. But this time you have to specifically request customers to go to your Google Places website.
Once a user finds searches and finds your Google Places listing, they will see very prominent red buttons with a call-to-action: "Write a review." Writing a review requires no extra steps as long as the user is logged in to Google.
Previously you were the only one allowed to upload photos of your store to your Places account. Now anyone is allowed to upload a photo. Uploaded photos are magically connected to your Place, to the Google user who uploaded the photo and to Google+. Again, this is an interesting step forward in Google+ integration.
And one final change we found (this one is undocumented so far) is that they have changed the name of the Places advertising feature. Last year Google introduced "Tags" which were supposed to be little single word ads that appeared next to your SERP listing. From our point of view, the Tags were a failure. They've replaced the Tags functionality with "AdWords Express Ads" which make it very easy for you to create a paid ad for yourself without any experience.
That's if for the functionality changes we've found. In tomorrow's Daily Golden Nugget, we'll review and update some of our previous Google Places training.