It is no secret that we have become a "search society." Whether through a laptop, smart phone or tablet, we can search for information and find answers to our questions in seconds. Morever, when people search, the engine they most often rely on is Google.

What some people may not know, however, is that Google's results can provide 'local' results-a feature that offers great potential for businesses of all types, including advisors.

"Local search has always been important for advisors as the prospects who use local search terms are often buy-ready prospects, looking for an advisor in their area," says Brien Shanahan, founder of SEO4Advisors, which specializes in providing search engine optimization services to advisors. "If, as an advisor, you can get your firm to the top of those local rankings, you can have a new client almost handed to you from search engines."

Advisors can generate new business by setting up Google Places or Bing Local profiles, he said, noting that local search rankings are independent of a web site's overall search rankings.

"Google's local search rankings have always been partially determined by the number of reviews a business has and if they are favorable," Shanahan says. "Say you are an advisor based in Massachusetts and your client writes a review on your Google Places page. If a friend of your client who is connected to him on Google+ does a search for 'financial advisor Massachusetts' they will see that their friend wrote a review for your firm and your firm's entry will rank ahead of others for that search. That's huge."

Google Enhancements
Google Places has been fully integrated with Google+, the Google social network that competes with Facebook. The new pages have similar information, but now have an improved look and feel, with integrated reviews from both Google and Zagat users. The changes make it easier for individuals to discover, learn and share information about businesses.

A Google spokesperson described some of the highlights:

    A new 'Local' tab in Google+ is designed to make it easier for users to share their favorite local places.
    Integration with Zagat reviews.
    Reviews from friends and people you trust in the Google+ community.

Regulatory Changes Needed
The reasons we have friends is that we have likes and interests in common. Over time, we trust each other, learn from each other and share valuable information. When it comes to financial services, however, the SEC is telling investors they cannot share their experiences with advisors with friends on a public site. The SEC considers that a testimonial.

Patrick J. Burns Jr., managing attorney at The Law Offices of Patrick J. Burns, Jr. P.C., said, "Any advisor recommendations listed [on Google+ Local] would likely be deemed to be prohibited testimonials. With technology changing so quickly these days, I think the question needs to be asked, 'Why can't advisors have truthful and non-misleading testimonials?' As long as testimonials do not inaccurately take quotes out of context, etc., I think an update to the Advisers Act may be in order. The SEC should concentrate on fraudulent statements, not truthful and accurate [and in context] testimonials."

As you might have guessed, the SEC declined to comment on testimonials. The question becomes, will the regulators stick with outdated rules while the world advances?

Note: As always, check with your compliance department for its specific guidelines on what your organization will allow you to do with social networks. It is strongly recommended you hire an archiving service to capture all social media communications.

Mike Byrnes founded Byrnes Consulting to provide consulting services to help advisors become even more successful. His expertise is in business planning, marketing strategy, business development, client service and management effectiveness, along with several other areas. Read more at