Google’s attempts to go social took another twist this month – with the launch of Google Plus Local.

The new service – which will see public reviews and views hosted alongside normal search results – replaced Google Places at the end of May.

The change is likely to add to the workload of Internet marketing companies: Google Plus Local results will take up valuable space at the top of the search results page, much like Google Places results do now. It could also be that it’s no longer enough to get a website listed on the first page of the search results – those same sites could need good public reviews to attract clicks.

Google has used its considerable spending power to help bolster its search services, acquiring review site Zagat in September 2011. Zagat’s data is now being used to populate the reviews shown alongside results – including information and ratings on the food, decor, service and price. Google hopes the change will help to improve its social offerings.

It launched network Google Plus last year as a rival to current social doyenne, Facebook – but has only attracted 100m users so far, compared to Facebook’s 900m.

Users of Google Plus Local can add their friends, family or acquaintances from Google Plus, via Circles, to see their views and reviews of websites in the search results.

Google knows its core product – the world’s most popular search engine – remains crucial to the future of the web. However, standalone sites like Facebook are adding more and more features, transforming into a sort of portal, where users can access all sorts of content from within their Facebook account.

With sign-ups to Google Plus on the go-slow, adding social functions to its popular core product is a sensible move from Google. Bing is already using Facebook and Twitter to colour its results – providing links to photo albums, status updates or ‘likes’ from friends’ Facebook profiles directly on the results page itself.

Google’s tumultuous relationship with Facebook and Twitter has resulted in the engine being unable to properly index results from both sites – so its own social offerings are currently limited, strictly, to Google Plus and YouTube.

To counter this, Google has launched an aggressive social strategy – which could eventually require users to log in to Google accounts to access its services, such as search. As Facebook doesn’t have a similar product to offer, this could be Google’s best way to steal the social thunder.

Google Plus Local results are already available to view via the search engine – with reviews for restaurants, hotels and resorts already helping potential customers decide whether to click, or go elsewhere.

Google product manager Avni Shah explained the change on Google’s official blog, stating: “Finding the best places to go is an essential part of our lives, as are the people and resources that help us make those decisions.

“In fact, the opinions of friends, family or other trusted sources are often the first we seek when looking for the perfect restaurant for date night or the cafe that makes the best latte ever.”

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