Since the launch of Google Plus earlier this year, the site has rapidly grown to over 40 million users, according to company executives. And, the site has been quickly rolling out new features, offering even more opportunities to use the site for local marketing. Here’s a look at some of what’s new.

Google Plus Now Open to the Public – After a few months of being invite only, Google Plus is now open to the general public. If you don’t have an account yet, you can sign up for one today. The company has yet to launch a way for business entities to create profiles or pages, but encourages people to use their personal profile to market their business on the site. Here’s how to use a personal profile for your local business.

Real-Time Native Search – Google Plus launched in field trial without a native search engine on the site. Now, users can search for terms directly within Google Plus, and their search will pull in real-time results. Users can then sort the search results to show posts to Google Plus, users, Sparks, or all results. This means you can now search Google Plus for mentions of your business name, community, or competitors in order to monitor your online reputation on the site.

Share Google Maps – Now you can easily share content from Google Maps to Google Plus through a new integration. From Google Maps, click the “Share” button from the Google Plus bar at the top of your screen, and whatever you are viewing on Google Maps, like a Google Places Page or specific directions to a location will be added to your share box so you can post it directly to Google Plus..,. Now that users can easily share Google Place pages directly into Google Plus, it’s even more  important to claim and optimize your Google Places page so that it’s attractive to local consumers.

Share Your Circles – Google Plus also rolled out the ability for users to share circles, enabling people to curate and share groups based on different topics. You can easily select a circle, click on “share,” add a comment, and then share it through the Google Plus status updates feature. This will only share who was in the circle at the moment in time you choose to share it, and any changes will remain private until you choose to share your circle again. This is a great opportunity to promote other Google Plus users you enjoy following and build relationships with other users.

Hashtags – With the launch of real-time search, Google also improved its support for hashtags, which when clicked, take the user to a search results page for the term. The search results page includes other posts that contain the hashtag, along with general search results for that topic. This new feature not only allows you to follow different topics on Google Plus, but you can also include hashtags that you may already be promoting on a site like Twitter on your Google Plus posts to create campaign consistency.

Google Hangouts Collaboration Enhancements – To offer more collaboration through Google Hangouts, Google Plus has created added enhancements to the feature. You can now share your screen, collaborate on Google Docs, and draw with others in SketchUp via Google Plus Hangouts. This provides a great way to collaborate on projects with other users – whether they’re across the office or across the globe.

As Google Plus continues to grow and develop, it offers more and more opportunities for local online marketing. Which features do you enjoy the most? What do you wish the site would develop? Share your thoughts on the evolution of Google Plus in a comment. And, if you enjoyed this post, please give it a +1, Like or Retweet!