Have you claimed a Google Places page for your business? If you have a Google Places page, is it showing up at or near the top of local business listings in search results?
If you answered "no" to either question, keep reading. We've got 10 tips for optimizing your small business Google Places page. Many of these local SEO tips also apply to Bing Local Listings and Yahoo Local Listings, which offer free business listing services, too.
But first, here's a little background for anyone not familiar with Google Places, and why it's a good addition to your small business marketing strategy.
Google Places for Local Search
A Google Places page is a free Web marketing service that businesses can use to describe their products and services and list their hours of operation, business address, phone number, email address, and website URL. You can (and should) add photos and videos to your Places page, too, and customers can add reviews.
Google Places pages often appear at or near the top of search results for a localized search query, such as "San Francisco career counselor" or "physical therapist Somerville, Ma." This is where you want your business to show up in a local search -- at or near the top of Google Places pages results for your category and location.
Google Places pages shown in search results are accompanied by a red push pin that shows the business's location on a corresponding map. From the search results page, Google users can click to go right to a business's website, access reviews of the business, or read its Places page.
In some cases, the search results will also show the address and phone number for a Google Places page listing, along with snippets of reviews posted directly to Google or sites such as Yelp and CitySearch. On many mobile phone web browsers, you can even click the phone number to call a business directly from the search result page that displays the business's Google Places listing; now, on to the tips.
10 Tips to Improve Your Google Places Page
1. Creating a Google Places page listing helps you rank higher in local search results.
Google emphasizes Places pages in its localized search results, both on computer and mobile browsers. If you don't have a Places page, you're hurting your chances of rising to the top of the first page of search results, which is prime real estate. It only takes a few minutes to set up a Google Places page, so there's really no reason not to do it if your business serves local customers.
2. Add keywords to your business description.
A Google Places page lets you describe your business in up to 200 characters. Make sure you use your most important keywords -- but don't just stuff keywords in. Write a useful, compelling description that will appeal to readers first and to Google second.
3. Have multiple locations? Create a Google Places page for each one.
For each Places page, list each location's local phone number and address, rather than a corporate headquarters address or toll-free phone number. Using a post office box can cause Google to remove your Places page. If your business services many locations but has only one physical address, it's best to simply create one Places page for your actual location and then add the areas you service to your listing.
4. Use standard categories when possible to describe your business.
When building your Google Places page, you can list up to five different categories to describe the products or services you offer. Using standard category descriptions, such as "Internet Marketing Service" rather than custom descriptions, such as "Social Media Marketing," will help your Places page rank better in search results.
5. Don't add a keyword to your Google Places page's business name if it's not actually part of your business's name.
For example, your business is physical therapy but your business name is, say, Joe Schmoe Pain Management. If you list your business name as Joe Schmoe Physical Therapy on your Google Places page, Google might actually push your listing down in relevancy. (Google is smart and always on the look-out for people trying to game the system.)
6. Encourage satisfied customers to add reviews to your Google Places page.
It's easy for them to do, and it helps flesh out your Google Places listing. Even better, ask customers to rave about you on Yelp, CitySearch, and similar review sites on which you're listed. If you own a B&B, for instance, ask happy customers to post a review on TripAdvisor. The reason: Many SEO experts believe having citations from trusted sources like Yelp, CitySearch, and TripAdvisor can help boost your Google Places page's ranking in local search results.
Bottom line: Try to get as many positive -- and legitimate -- reviews posted to your Google Places, Yelp, CitySearch and other listings. The Local SEO Guide blog has compiled a list of the top 10 reviews sites for improving Google Places page rankings.
7. Space out reviews as much as possible.
It's best to get a steady stream of reviews, rather than having a bunch appear all at once. Again, the search engines are always on the lookout for spam, hoaxes, and frauds and may see a sudden surge of reviews as suspicious. At worst, this might cause Google to push your Place page down in search results.
8. Get your business listed in appropriate online business directories.
Listings of your business in directories such as Local.com, Yellowpages.com, your local city's chamber of commerce, or a directory affiliated with your profession can help boost your Place page's ranking.
9. Add images and videos to your Places page.
You can add up to 10 photos and up to five videos for free. SEO experts don't uniformly agree that adding photos and videos per se helps boost your Places page ranking. But some believe geo-tagged photos and videos in particular may give you a bump. At a minimum, photos and videos can make your Places page more appealing to potential customers.
10. Monitor your Places page analytics.
Make it a point every so often to log in to your Places page account. You can learn the top search queries that caused users to see your listing and how many clicks occurred to your website over the past week or month. The information isn't nearly as comprehensive as what you get with Google Analytics, but it's helpful nonetheless. You can have analytics automatically emailed to you as well.
James A. Martin is a San Francisco-based SEO copywriter and consultant, and he is the author of an SEO and social media marketing blog. Follow him on Twitter.
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