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February 8, 2011

Quick Tips for Optimizing Your Google Places Page

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For brick-and-mortar businesses, optimizing for local search is becoming increasingly important to reinforcing your presence online. Google has been and will continue to place importance on local search.

The best part about claiming your Google Places business listing is that it’s free and gives you a chance to rank on a search engine results page — even if you don’t have a website or your site is not ranking high.

So, with a little time and attention invested, you could be on your way to attracting more clients for your business.

In recent months, we’ve seen local businesses outrank the “organic” results we’re used to seeing in the search engine results pages (SERP).

I put the word organic in quotes because the local results are still organically served up, they’ve just been moving from their prior location in the middle of the SERP, underneath the top-ranking websites, to above those sites.

That means, for some businesses, optimizing a Places page can put your business in top rankings on a search engine results page even if you don’t have a website.

Google Maps

First things first: Go to the Google Places home page to claim your listing if you haven’t already.

You might just have a listing that you don’t know about. This is because anyone can add information about your business unless it’s already been verified by you, the administrator.

Once you’ve claimed your page, only you will be able to edit details about your business.

A little research at Bruce Clay, Inc. has revealed basic components that need to be on your Places page. At the very minimum, you need to have the following:

Correct Contact Information

Complete and accurate information about where your business is located is obviously a very important step, and one that can sometimes be incorrect if someone else entered the data. This is so Google can link your business to a physical location on Google Maps.

If your business is moving locations, you want to be mindful to begin the process of updating your Places page ahead of time. You don’t want multiple Places pages for your business, and deleting old Places pages can be difficult.

For now, only one website can be included in the Places page. So for brands with multiple websites, the main corporate website should be the site that’s included in the listing.

In the local SERPs, Google will typically show businesses within a 25 to 30 mile radius of the location a user is searching in. Remember, Google now sets your location for you from wherever you’re at.

However, research shows in some cases that the set location doesn’t matter for the results if the query uses a well-known city name.

For example, a search for “restaurants in Lebanon,” when the location is set to Lebanon, Ohio, returns results for the country Lebanon.

But if you were just to search for “restaurants” while the location is set for Lebanon, Ohio, the results come back correctly. This is a glitch that will likely be fixed by Google.

Business Category Set with Important Keywords

Bruce Clay, Inc. research shows the category section on the Places page is a critical component to local SERPs ranking. This is where you’ll include important keywords for what your business does.

We found that some businesses without any keywords in their category weren’t ranking at all. By simply adding in one keyword phrase, those businesses were immediately ranking in the local SERP.

In some cases, we’ve found local business Places pages outranking major websites for the same keywords.

For those who have spent a fair amount of time optimizing their sites for the search engines, it doesn’t seem quite fair that local businesses that simply enter a keyword into their category on Places page would outrank them.

But, Google is likely to continue to make tweaks to the algorithm that serves up the results, so we may see this changing.

For more tips on how to optimize your Places page, visit the Google Places help for business owners page.

Other Ways to Make Your Business Stand out in the Local SERP

There are other ways you can promote your business on a local SERP. Having reviews of your business is a great start, as Google not only lists its own but also aggregates reviews from sites like Yelp.

And don’t forget that Google Places with Hotpot is another review service that allows users to find your local business based on customized suggestions.

You may also want to consider using the Google Tags feature to offer coupons or promote other features of your business that will make it stand out.

In a blog post I wrote earlier this year on boosting in-house Internet marketing for 2011, I aggregated several posts written on local search developments in the past several months. Those posts can help you to gain more insight on the impact local search is having.

You can also check out an SEO Newsletter article from September of last year, talking about the three-prong approach to local SEO.

If you’re interested in ways you can help your local business rank outside of the Google Places page, look into our LocalPack™ service.

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33 responses to “Quick Tips for Optimizing Your Google Places Page”

  1. Charlie writes:

    Good tips, but what if our country is not listed on the Google Place drop down menu? Any tips? Thanks.

  2. Jim Farnsworth writes:

    It looks like Google Places just made a major change. I can no longer see maps for non-brick n mortar businesses. Example: I was able to pull a map and Places listings for the term ‘internet’…that’s gone. ‘akron internet consultant’ is gone. ‘elder law’ is gone. Also, 7-Packs are missing…now reduced to 2-3 packs. Any comments?

  3. Vlad Rascanu writes:

    There’s still A LOT of issues with Google Places and the fact that they are shown ahead of the organic searches really bothers me.

    On another note, I agree with you Jessica. I think all businesses should create a Google Places for their business as it is becoming more and more competitive and it’s important for them to get listed early.

  4. Zunaira Karim writes:

    Hi Jessica, great tips but dont’ forget that citations also help in ranking a maps listing. I know it’s not a ‘quick fix’ as some citations take awhile to show up in a Places listing, but it’s important to continually build them as the number of citations a listing has can also play a huge role in ranking.

  5. dhiraj writes:

    Really quite informative tips. putting place name with keyword would be an another advantage.

  6. Zunaira Karim writes:

    Hi Jim,

    You’ll notice a lot of changes within maps and Google organic ever since Integrated Listings came around late October / November 2010. With Google algorithms constantly evolving to provide users with more relevant search results, I think it’s safe to say that in order for you to rank for your given keywords, it’s important to work on both your maps and site SEO. In regards to 7-packs changing into 3-packs, I believe this to be a result of that algorithm change. Same with not finding map results for the keyword ‘internet’ and ‘elder law’.

  7. Jim Ryan writes:

    My understanding is Google guidelines stated, do not add keywords or descriptives to the category fields in place pages. What’s your take?

  8. Vlad Rascanu writes:

    Don’t do that dhiraj. Google will take down your listing if you include keywords in your place name.

  9. Jessica Lee writes:

    Thank you, Zunaira, for your helpful comment! We appreciate that.

  10. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi, Vlad! Yes, it’s caused a stir. And I think Google Places is only one part of a larger-scale local ranking plan. Bruce recently predicted that Google will be primarily a local search engine within three years. Thanks for joining the conversation!

  11. Jessica Lee writes:

    Vlad, thank you for reaching out to another reader!

  12. Maryann Robbins writes:

    Jim,

    The Categories and other information on your Google Places page needs to accurately describe your business.

    We are seeing instances of spamming in Google Places, and Google is going to hopefully take steps to stop it.

    For instance, if you google “Hotels in Simi Valley”, the #8 result is Sport Court of Southern California. This is not a hotel in Simi Valley, CA. It’s a business that placed “hotels” inaccurately in it’s Category tags.

    We’ve also seen taxi services putting “Airport” into their Google Places categories so they appear in Google Places results for Google SERPs for geotargeted airport related queries.

    On the other hand, we’ve seen cases where hotels were not listed in Google Places results because the word “hotel” was not included in the category, and instead another category was being used (like restaurant). This is a case where “keywords” need to be added to help Google understand what the business is.

    You also need to help Google understand what category a business is. If the restaurant is an Italian restaurant, placing “Italian Restaurant” in the category is appropriate.

    If you put words into your Google Places page to rank for things that do not fit your business (e.g. hotel, airport), then it’s spamming.

    You should also place words that describe what your business is and not what services it may provide or other keywords (for example, hotel rather than vacations or travel). And do not try to stuff in keywords like “los angeles cheap hotel” or “los angeles vacations”.

  13. Jessica Lee writes:

    I just looked at the guidelines found here:

    http://www.google.com/support/places/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=107528

    It looks like Google says not to try to manipulate the search results by adding any extraneous keywords (those that aren’t pertinent). Google also tells us not to use a city name in the category.

    You need to describe what your business is, so if you are an SEO company, then “search engine optimization company” might be one of the strains you add into your category. This may also be a “keyword” of yours.

    It’s acceptable to have one or more descriptions of what your business is (not what it does or sells).

    As long as you aren’t keyword stuffing or trying to do anything other than give the most relevant information about your business, you should be fine.

    Does anyone else have anything to add to this?

  14. Jessica Lee writes:

    Thanks for joining the conversation, Dhiraj!

  15. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi, Charlie! You can’t physically enter an entire location? I just went to a random restaurant listing in a local search and looks like the location can be manually entered in its entirety. I may be wrong. I just did a little research and found a link that might be helpful to you:

    http://www.google.com/support/places/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=168339

  16. Jessica Lee writes:

    Thanks, Zunaira! Do you have any helpful articles on this to share with readers?

  17. Zunaira Karim writes:

    Honestly, this is one of the best resources I’ve seen so far. If you’re trying Local SEO for the first time, I definitely suggest this link:

    http://www.davidmihm.com/local-search-ranking-factors.shtml

    Cheers, Jessica! Truly enjoying the topics you write about, keep it up.

  18. Jessica Lee writes:

    Thank you!

  19. Jim Ryan writes:

    I think your clarification is a question of semantics herein and that’s where I was confused. When you speak of the use of “keywords” you mean as a means of better defining the category. Because a keyword for a product or service would be considered spam, which is what is stated in the guidelines. And then of course, category stuffing is a whole separate spam issue. Thanks.

  20. Jim Ryan writes:

    So if you’re a massage therapist, don’t add Thai Message or Hot Stone Massage because those are not categories. Those are extended services.

  21. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi, Jim — Why couldn’t a category description and a keyword be the same thing? As long as it’s within the guidelines. If you had a list of keywords for your business that included what your business is, personally I don’t see the problem using one of those, but I welcome everyone else’s feedback.

  22. Jessica Lee writes:

    My understanding is that “Massage Therapist,” not the services you provide, would be appropriate. Unless you’re solely a “Hot Stone Massage Therapist”.

  23. Jim Ryan writes:

    the problem there is that you have to use at least one of Google’s category presets and Thai Message isn’t one. So Thai Massage would be an extra category. So does its use constitute a violation of guidelines the way they are written? To me, it’s certainly a gray area because on the user end it adds to relevancy and not “spam” intended. But it also qualifies as a violation. But then again, welcome to Google’s world.

  24. Jessica Lee writes:

    I see your point. Google is giving guidelines, but the way Places is operating right now clearly needs help.

    Some people are using these glitches in the Places system as an opportunity to spam; I think it’s different if you’re truly doing the best you can with what Google is giving you.

    Here’s how I’m interpreting this (from the guidelines):

    “Provide at least one category from the suggestions provided in the form as you type.”

    At least one of your categories must come from the Google suggestions and you can add others of your own. So if “Massage Therapist” is one of Google’s, then you can add your own “Thai Massage Therapist,” I would imagine.

  25. Mike Annable writes:

    FYI..Google Boost has made all this stale really fast

    Now you can bid on map placements. Instead of 5 choices they give you thousands of choices..and you set your monthly budget.

    Best thing since sliced bread for me :)

  26. Jim Ryan writes:

    Google also states; “Categories should say what your business is not on what it does.” “Thai massage” might be one thing your business does but its not a what your business is. And this was my original point about your suggestion of adding keyword phrases. Where does one cross the line according to guidelines? More importantly, how might Google enforce what they deem to be a violation? Thanks for allowing a healthy discussion.

  27. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi, Jim! You’re welcome — I love discussions like these!

    So, you’re right about the guidelines: What your business is. I was suggesting you could have “Thai Massage Therapist” or “That Massage Center” versus “Thai Massage” — I know, the semantics are getting confusing to me now, too.

    Like I said before, Google is likely looking for malicious tactics for ranking, not for a business that, on accident, said “Thai Massage Therapy” instead of “Thai Massage Therapist” or whichever it is Google is looking for.

    Then again, I don’t know what the algorithm is, but it’s likely going to go through a lot of changes because Places needs a lot of refining from Google itself.

    People are already spamming the categories of the Places pages with keywords that have nothing to do with their business, and doesn’t look like they are being reprimanded yet.

    Are there other Places pages in your space that are ranking that you can look at to see how they are handling their categories?

  28. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi, Mike — Is that available in all cities now?

  29. MrSmith writes:

    @Jim Farnsworth

    Think it’s a matter of how relevant the results are. If someone makes it abundantly clear their search has local intent. More of the related local place pages will show. Other factors involved too, but google takes relevance and user experience very seriously. Cause those users make google more money than god.

    jmo, … when it comes to this whole user experience drivel the net giants keep spouting about. It’s hard to tell who’s the user … and who’s actually being used, shrugs.

    @Mike Annable

    Again jmo, glad you’re getting some good results with the Big G’s boost. Definitely a much better idea to let google do it for you. Than for someone who has no clue what they’re doing to try paid search themselves.

    misc note though. Someone who really know’s adwords and paid search I’m betting could get you a much higher ROI … Than relying on boost.

    Google isn’t the most honest soul in the way they do business. Though same can be said of all the net god corps. I wouldn’t allow google to manage paid search for me. But then I’ve taken a long time and much effort learning how to do it properly. Boost takes most of the control and potential out of PPC marketing.

    It’s a shadow of what full adwords is. More like a severely dumbed down version of adwords.

    Good choice for a certain demographic though. Have no doubt there’s considerable waste involved and unrealized potential. But hands down better than putting a paid search effort into the hands of someone totally incompetent.

    disclaimer: All contents of this post are just my opinions. I know … I’m probably over opiniated, shrugs. No pets were hurt while I was writing this stuff.

    :D

  30. MrSmith writes:

    More of my opinion follow ( Yeah I know everyone really gives da slightest **** )

    Also see google boost crashing and burning eventually. Even allowing for the no doubt considerable waste already built into it. It’s fine when a minority are using it. Could give them a good ROI, even allowing for waste and under optimized paid search settings.

    But what happens when a bunch of folks jump on the wagon ? The same backend algo representing the interests of multiple people competing for the same niche.

    End result … increase your bid, increase your spend, increase your spend some more. Hello digital grossly overpriced yellowpages of the 21st century.

    Cause you can bet google is going to look out for google ( errrr, I mean there users experience, lol.)

    Also what about when SEO and national advertisers start gaming the boost offering. They’ll push genuine local operators right over a cliff. SEO and paid search marketers do it for a living. They always have been, always will be better than your avg jane/joe.

    So see legit small operators getting hit from all sides with boost. Might be good for awhile though. But then they’re going to either have to really learn online marketing or hire pro’s in the field anyway.

    Which leaves them back at square one. Small and medium local operators aren’t online marketing guru’s. They have businesses to run. Even if they wanted to ( and had the necessary skillset.) Competing with specialized pro’s in the field. Is not going to end pretty for them in overwhelming majority of cases.

  31. article submission writes:

    hey…i like the post….thanks for sharing the information…i want to know that my site is cached by Google, but the rank of my site is still very low..how i can increase my site rank???

  32. R.baylon - Google Places Expert writes:

    If you are targeting the local market then use Google Places optimization methods otherwise use organic SEO methods.

    SEO is a long-term process. You can’t expect to reach the top page in less than a month. You have to focus on both page relevancy and page importance in order to achieve top page placement in major search engine results.

  33. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hey — thank you for responding to this reader. Appreciate that!



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