BACK TO BASICS: Google Places Optimization Best Practices
Google Places optimization is an important part of location-centric online marketing for any local business, improving search exposure to those looking for a product or service in their area.
Businesses that rely on a customer base making purchases at their brick-and-mortar location can attract visitors by developing a presence online. Local searches rose a staggering 14 percent last year, according to 2010's Local Search Usage Study (pdf).
Search engines and social networks continue to roll out locally focused products and features, and a crop of local deal and check-in services have popped up, indicating recognition that the local space holds the greatest opportunity for growth in marketing opportunities and consumer engagement.
Fueling this growth is widespread adoption by the business community, eager to engage in online marketing channels that introduce businesses to a base of proactive customers. But as always, the earlier you're in the game, the better your chance for exposure and audience penetration. An optimized Google Places Page is the barrier to entry in today's Web-focused media environment.
Why Google Places? Your Off-site Optimization Starting Point
Google talks about Google Places and its advantages for local businesses at http://google.com/placesforbusiness. As the tagline says, Google Places and Place pages act as a hub, "Connecting your business with local customers." While you may be concerned with making the business website rank well for relevant search terms, it's also important to devote time to optimizing the Google Places page since users find aggregating pages, especially those provided by a trusted, prominent info provider like Google. If a Google Place page ends up above a business's website in a search results page, don't be discouraged. It's not surprising that Google may favor its own property above your site in its results. And it doesn't matter if it's your website or a Google Place page that ranks higher if both lead a user down the path to conversion.
Optimization is meant to facilitate users to finding your business when your business provides a product or service that fits their needs. Optimization requires taking full advantage of all available fields and providing as much information on your business as possible in a way that is considered relevant to the intended audience. By optimizing your Google Place page, a business provides consumers with information that can help them decide whether or not that business is what they're looking for. The more information provided, the better your odds of drawing qualified customers to your business through local search.
According to Google, 97% of consumers are looking for local businesses online. Search is the starting point for locating anything online, and Google is the most popular search engine. So to get an idea of how to best present your local business among the search results, let's examine Google's local search experience, featuring Google Places.
A Look at Google Places in Action
Doing a search with local intent on Google yields a results page topped by a list of "Places."
Clicking on that blue link at the top of the page brings the user to the Places search interface, indicated by "Places" turning red in the left-hand navigation. Next to each listed result is a blue link to each business's "Place page."
By clicking through to the Place page for Finish Line (image below) we can see that the page has been claimed by the business, as "Owner verified listing" is checked in the top right corner of the page. In the screen shot below you can see that a Place page contains incredibly useful information for a searcher and potential shopper, including:
Optimizing a Google Place Page
If you've tried a search for your industry in your city, you've probably seen that Google has created a Place page for your business. Google pulls the information it gets from several trusted sources on the Web, including a business's official website (if it has one), Internet Yellow Pages, Yelp, localeze.com, and others.
It's preferable, however, to claim your page and provide custom information that fits the Google Places experience. There are features available with Google Places that add value for both consumers and a business looking to communicate to potential customers. For instance, you can add posts to a Place page, in order to make special announcements for events or sales.
If your business is a service business, it's also very helpful to consumers to provide service areas on your Place page. Enhanced listings allow a business to include a website link, photos, videos or other content right in Google's business listing. These extra features cost a business $25 a month and are only available in a limited number of cities at the moment.
Optimizing your business's presence on Google doesn't end there. Local search has come a long way already and still has a long way to go, thanks in large part to evolving mobile technologies and social media. Social behaviors will influence your customers' online interactions with your brand. Take advantage of new technologies available through platforms like Google Places, and explore how they might contribute to your business's customer communications in the future.
Almost every local business will be providing customers value by including store hours, pictures of the location. These basics are the barrier for entry to be considered by a searcher. When it comes to what other information and media you can provide to make your Place page of use to your customers, think about how the customers you interact with day by day might react to your Place page if they didn't already know you.
As with any online optimization project, the effort must begin with an understanding of what a potential customer would be looking for if they were looking for your business. You know your customer demographics, their common questions and their service expectations. Use this knowledge to get into their head as a searcher and then use that understanding to make your Place page useful to them.
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