**UPDATE: June 2014 - Google launches 'Google My Business', merging Google+ Local and Map Accounts.**
Many local businesses will have been advised to set up a Google Places page. (If you haven't, you should definitely do this now!) You added your business to the map and some details about your business. Google would then send a postcard with an activation code and a URL to visit. Once you'd verified your listing, your details would be reviewed and then go live.
Google+ (Plus) is the search engine giant's answer to Facebook. Google had tried in the past to launch a social network without much success, but Google+ looks set to stay around. With the usual 'Profile' page where you can add personal details, photo and video upload facilities and a timeline of updates from people in your 'circles', there are many similarities to Facebook.
In the first half of 2012, Google began phasing out Places pages and replacing them with Google+ Local. It was an obvious progression but one which has caused some confusion. You can still access your places page dashboard at google.co.uk/places (as of time of writing), but your listing in the search results will display your Google+ page (plus.google.com/1234567890...).
How does it work?
If you have a Google account of any kind, whether it's a Gmail account, YouTube account, or Google Analytics account, you'll be able to set up a Google+ profile where you see the '+You' link across the top of your screen.
On your Google+ profile, you'll see various icons down the left hand side from Home and Profile, right down to Games and Hangouts (a great alternative to Skype BTW).
If you select the 'Local' icon and search for a restaurant, for example, you be shown the equivalent Places pages for restaurants in your area.
How does this help my business?
If you serve local markets, it's going to be hugely beneficial to you to have an up-to-date Google+ profile.
Google+ isn't as big as Facebook yet, and the facility to search local Google+ pages from within a Google+ account may not be well known, however, your Google+ Local page will still be displayed in Google's search results with a pointer on the map for people searching for services in a particular area. You'll also get a rating based on reviews that people leave for your company and have the ability to let your fans upload images they have taken of your premises or products for others to see. So, ultimately, driving more visitors to your website.
For more information, check out: http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/local/