A Google places listing is an essential piece of kit for the small business venturing online. Setting up a Places profile is the work of minutes – simply add basic business information such as store opening hours, address, contact number- and then verify via SMS, phone or postcard. You can also add a few key words, upload an image or two and even attach a video to your listing. The majority of local business listings will stop at that and simply hope that they gain enough exposure to drive traffic to their website or calls to the work phone.
For something that is so easy to set up, few consider the optimization opportunities or take the time to really better their listings which is a shame when you consider that Google must give quite a lot of importance on their Places tool. Consider the prime real estate it occupies at the top of the organic search results and the fact that often, a block of as many as seven local business listings will run alongside a map, taking up a significant chunk of the coveted top of page position.
A Places listing is made up of a number of factors, not just the information the web site owner inputs into the local business listing form. Google pulls data from sources such as Yellow Pages and other third party providers, although it does give the majority weighting to the Places info provided by the page owner. So, an easy first step to making sure your Places listing is really pulling its weight and working to drive relevant traffic is to keep any other local business listings up to date.
Google has recently introduced an ‘areas served’ option to its Places portfolio. This allows you to specific whether all clients come to you at your location or, if you provide services at the client’s location. If services can be provided outside of your business address, it’s also possible to specify how far outside of your verified address you’re willing to travel and which areas in particular the service applies to. So if you’re based in Manhattan but can provide a service to clients throughout New York State, you may want to specify places such as Buffalo or give a list of relevant Zip Codes. Or, if you work within a strict mile / km radius, you can now specify the limit of that area, through distance from your location.
This new feature is great for businesses (particular service businesses) trying to extend the scale of their reach. By specifying the locales to which your Places pages is relevant, you increase coverage prospects because you’re not fixed to the area around your Zip or store address as was previously the case. This new tool is also a lot quicker and more efficient that trying to optimize your web site to appear for keyword + name of town in all locations within the desired coverage radius.
The more information you provide in your listing, the more likely is it to rank higher. As with any kind of optimization implementation, the greater the data the search engine has to sift through, the better its understanding of how and when to rank you. If you’re guilty of completing only the required fields when setting up your listing, go back and complete all fields. Particularly useful are the brands carried field as this lends itself well to the use of keyword rich text, at least one video and a selection of relevant images.
The Coupons tab takes just a few minutes to use yet can actively encourage new business. Even small incentives such as 10% off or buy one get one half price can draw attention and clicks. Simply input a one or two line description and within a few hours, coupons for your company will start to appear.
The Post tool works in much the same way as the Coupons tab but is even quicker to implement. Again, this is a great place to get some keyword rich text in to the listing without appearing spammy. The Post option is almost like a diary or calendar when used correctly, in that you can quickly update your Places page with events, dates to remember or special offers. You may want to tell visitors that there is a book signing at your St Louis bookstore at 7.00pm for example or that anyone visiting your Boston electrical store before Sunday will receive a free travel adapter with their purchase.
Of course, you can also ask your existing clients to help you win new business through the Places interface. The stars displayed with your Maps listing are based on average ratings from independent reviews – that means you need to get in to the habit of asking clients to review your service or product either directly on your listing review link or, through a respected and relevant site. If you’re a hotel that may be via a site like Trip Advisor or, if you offer a service a site like Citysearch. Of course no one likes to get bad reviews but, if you tackle them productively by attempting to resolve the dispute personally and professionally, you may find a second more positive review is added by that same client.
Finally, don’t forget to refresh your Places page as often as is needed. If you have new stills taken of your office or store front, log back in and add the best image. If your company logo changes, log back in and add the new logo. If you have a video from an event, log back in and upload. The more often you add information and content, the more likely your listing is to be seen within the first block of local business listings on Google.