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November 7, 2010

14

Guide To Google Places and Local Listings

by Anthony Verre

Your Business is HereIt’s been some time here on The Milwaukee SEO since I’ve done just a straight up guide to anything. So, with all the chatter and talk about the new geo-local SERPs on Google, I thought what better topic to put a guide out on.

This guide is intended for the small business owner or business owner to help them efficiently and effectively set-up a local listing in Google, with a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years. I’ll be going step by step through a setting up a local listing in Google. After we’ve set up a local listing, we’ll be discussing Google Places Tags: what it’s all about and what to focus on.  Let’s get local.

If you’re not interested in the guide and just want to read what Google has to say, here are links to get you going:

Getting Started With Google Places/Local

I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this, you’ve already got a Google Account for yourself or your business. If you don’t, that’s your official first step. And here’s the link to get that done: Create a Google Account. If you’ve already got that done, then let’s start with going through buffing your listing.

Claim Your Google Places ListingClaiming/Verifying Your Google Places Listing

But, hold on a second you say, I already see my listing in the results page? Understood. And, if this is the case, open up a new tab now and claim your listing. There is no better way to produce trust with Google than claim your business. Effectively, what your are saying by claiming/verifying your business are two things:

  1. I am the owner of this business and it is legitimate and operational
  2. I have the most up-to-date information on this business

The real advantage to claiming your listing is you have CONTROL over the listing. Prior to you claiming, Google can do what they like with the listing; show information you may or may not want shown. When you claim your listing, you dictate the information shown to the public and you get to optimize your listing to give your company the best advantage for being found.

Just the Basic Facts

The basic information section is the absolute bare-bones that any Google Places listing is required to have in order to have a chance to be shown in the map-pack on the SERPs (search engine results page). Here are the categories a listing must have per Google:

  • Country
  • Company Name
  • Address
  • City, State, and Zip Code
  • Primary/Main Phone
  • Categories

You don’t have to fill out your email address, website, or business description, but I would HIGHLY recommend you do. The more information you provide, the more complete your listing is, there is a greater likelihood of your listing being more “trusted” by Google.

Tips for the Basic Information

Within the mandatory listing information, there are few things you can do to boost the relevance of a listing. Within the phone numbers section, use a local area code as your primary number. In my opinion there is a higher degree of relevance to a listing that does not use a 1-800 number and can be associated to the targeted area. Additionally, I would add an alternative number to your listing (a great place to use your 1-800 number).

Within your category selection, you have to have one category that meets Google’s pre-defined categories. However, if you know what types of services or products people in your area are looking for, the categories section is the perfect place to put these keyword-driven services/products into your listing information.

Service Area and Location Settings

This section has changed in the last year to include the option to define your service area. Normally I’d recommend fully defining your service area; however, based on the testing I’ve done on my own listing, it seems the best action at the moment is to let Google define where you should be shown based on the centroid (i.e. the “thumbtack”).

After fully defining Silver Arc Search Marketing’s service area by zip code, I did see a significant drop in local map-pack position. The same was true of the Radius of Service Area feature. In my opinion, at this time, I would suggest allowing Google to show your business where they believe it is relevant. Unless of course, your business serves a very small segment of the population. In this case it would make sense to define that area and stick to it.

Hours of Operation and Payment Options

Fill it out. Google will, if they feel it is important for consumers to know, pull this information from your website and apply it the listing. Better to be in control of that information than let Google do it for you. Pretty simple on this one.

Payment options. Again, this is one that you should fill out, even if it is only one of the payment methods listed. It lends itself toward completeness of your listing profile, building trust and relevance.

Images/Photos

This is one that I would most certainly suggest be included in every listing. Not having any images or photos will not necessarily effect a listing negatively, but having them certainly seems to be a positive indicator of trust and relevance of a listing. Also the order of photos uploaded is important. Put your “most important” image/photo first.

What kind of Photos Should I put in my Listing?

Depends on the type of business. You only get 10 images to upload, so choose wisely. Things that I would include are:

  • Business Logo
  • Images of your top products
  • Images of employees performing your services
  • Image of your business location

Videos

While not having direct experience uploading videos to a Google Local Listing, my instinct is to say this can only help a listing in achieving greater profile completeness and being seen as more trustworthy or relevant.

What kind of Videos Should I put in my Listing?

  • Television Ads
  • How To Videos

Additional Details

This section would seem like the perfect place to keyword stuff core business-centric products and services. Let me caution you against that action. If you are going to use this section, which I would, I would use it exactly as it was meant for: additional details.

Look at the examples that Google provides; parking available and brands carried. These are the types of details that I would include in this section and would certainly not “keyword stuff” location data or product/service data. If you haven’t been able to place your valuable keywords through the description and categories, then you need to go back to those sections, reconfigure, and get them in there.

Getting Reviews From Your Customers

The Off-Site Local You Should be Concerned About

Your Google Places listing is not just about the information you provide, it’s about what others say about you too. Local listings are governed by an algorithm as well, and like the organic listings, offsite citations are just as important to local.

Inclusion on Other Local Service Websites

It’s always about links with Google. It’s a vital piece to getting visibility in the local SERPs. To that end, you’ll want to place your business on sites like Yelp!, Yahoo Local, Bing Local Listing Center, YellowBot, and other IYP (internet yellow pages) sites. It’s key to get relevant, local citations from other external websites.

Business Reviews

Reviews are another key piece of the local search visibility puzzle. Whether they come from users submitting reviews on your Google Places page or from a third-party website. I believe it depends a lot on the query, but overall, more reviews, whether positive or negative, mean more visibility in my opinion. Again, this gives an indication of higher trust and relevance to Google.

Beyond just visibility in the local SERPs, reviews go a long way with prospective consumers. Reviews can make the difference between a phone call to you or you local competitor. If your business thrives on local consumerism, then it’s in your best interest to have them fill out reviews on your business and the service(s) they received.

A word of caution here: do NOT get phony/fake reviews. Because other search engine marketers have realized the value of reviews and their impact on trust and visibility on local listings, Google has more than likely decreased the value of this component. Furthermore, it’s ethically and morally suspect as a business owner. It’s still a very important factor, IMO, but due to the overflowing of spam reviews recently, the likelihood is this not as strong an overall factor as it once was.

Optimizing Your On-Page Content

I don’t think this is an absolute necessity, but I would consider it a good move to solidify local indicators to search engines. Ensuring that, at the very least, your contact page has been optimized for local with a full address and phone number in the content, a geo-localized page title tag, etc.

I’m also a big believer in city/state/zip in the footer of your website. Search engines will devalue this content because it runs website-wide in your footer, but it is none the less spidered and indexed.

Google Places Price TagGoogle Places Tags

What are these tags?

These tags function a lot like Internet Yellow Page’s listings function; for a price, you can highlight information about your listing you think is important and set your Google Places listing apart from other listings.

Do These Tags Effect Map Pack Placement?

Per Google, they say these tags do not impact the placement of your listing, nor does it impact the visibility of your listing. That is, by purchasing a tag for your listing, this in no way, shape, or form, will give you better map pack ranking or make your listing more visible.

How Many Tags Can a Listing Use?

A listing can only use a single tag to highlight single piece of information.

What Types of Things Can You Tag/Highlight on Your Listing?

  1. Photos
  2. Videos
  3. Coupons
  4. Menus (if you’re a restaurant)
  5. Reservations/Booking Page
  6. Posts about your business

How Much Does a Tag/Highlight Cost?

The tag costs a flat monthly fee of $25. You can end your tag/highlight at any time during the month and receive a prorated bill. Additionally, on your Google Places listing dashboard, you will receive data on how this tag is performing.

The Bottom Line of Google Places Tags

Google is trying to duplicate the IYP listing features model, without the perks of placement and visibility. The unspoken reality, and my gut feeling, is that if you’re spending the money on your listing, then that listing is likely to, at the very least see a visibility boost. Otherwise, there would be no reason to pay the monthly fee for a listing with a tag that’s never seen.

To me it feels like the Lazy Man’s way to “optimize” a listing without having to optimize the listing. Just buy a tag and let Google do the heavy lifting. In my opinion these tags are just not worth it. If Google says, and they’re pretty adamant about the point, they’re not giving preferential treatment to listings that purchase a tag for their listing, then there’s simply no reason to buy one.

Optimize your listing with the help of this guide and kick the snot of those that don’t want put in the time or the effort to help their business get the visibility it needs.

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14 Comments
  1. Mark
    Nov 7 2010

    You can also link to your Google place page from other authority business listing sites like Yelp, Manta and Linkedin to help the page get even more exposure.

    • Nov 8 2010

      Mark,

      Absolutely, and linking from other business listing sites is something I would recommend. Those types of citations back to your website for a given service category and location area are invaluable. Thanks for the great comment!

  2. Nov 7 2010

    Tony, you did a superb job summarizing the latest changes that have rocked, well, upset the apple cart, for local SEO. Stumbled and so worth it!

    When I was processing the change, researching and trying to keep up with it all, I figured monetization must be a key aspect. Well, as you said, tags are the key. If Google says tags don’t affect ranking, maybe so. However, they will surely affect CTR.

    Thank you, again, for putting this together!

    • Nov 8 2010

      Dana,

      Thank you so much! I try. ;-) I think the tags do stand out amongst other listings and, just to be as thorough as possible, I think I’m going to grab a tag for a month and see if it really does affect CTR on my Google Places page. I’ll plan on posting the data so we can all have a look at the performance. However, since Milwaukee is a smaller market among the “BIG CITIES”, the results might be vastly different from what one might find in Chicago or San Diego. Not to mention that vertical/market place and demand for particular services might also effect performance; but nonetheless, I think that’d be interesting data.

      Thanks again Dana, have a great time at #PubCon! Looking forward to the tweets!

  3. Nov 8 2010

    Great guide, have just tweeted it! I’d also recommend having location keywords in your inbound link anchor text for your main website (off-page SEO) .

    • Nov 8 2010

      Lee,

      You get no argument from me on that. Geo-local anchor-text is definitely something to go after for inbound links. Heck, I might even use some geo-targeted anchor text within some internal linking structure if you can find the right spots and work it in normally. :-) *Every Link Counts*

      Thanks for the great comment.

  4. Nov 8 2010

    I wanted to add that if you do not upload as many photos as you are allowed to that Google will most likely work to pull photos it finds out in cyberspace and use those for your listings. This is very bad as usually they do not find very good or relevant photos, and I have even seen them pull in pornographic photos from Yahoo for a listing!

    So make sure that you give them everything or else they will go out and get it themselves and you may not like what they find and add to your listing.

    About Tags, I feel that Tags is well worth the $25 per month. That tag makes a listing stand out from the other listings like crazy! You can’t tell me that it is not contributing to additional click thrus. And even just a slight increase in CTR can be huge.

    And when Boost rolls out it will add to that by making your location stand out even more on a map. And it seems like Boost will allow sites to show up in Maps even if they do not show up there organically.

    Combine a Tag and a Boost listing and you are going to jump off the page when visitors see you on a map.

    I would love you hear your further thoughts on this.

    • Nov 9 2010

      Miguel,

      I’ve never experienced Google adopting other images from the web and using them in a business profile, but just another great reason to make sure you upload some photos to your listing! ;-)

      I’d tend to agree with both you and Dana that the Google Places Tag, will in all likelihood, help increase click-throughs on a listing. That said, if the tags become more prevalent among listings, then that “jump off the page” factor you want is gone. Now, your listing is back to the status quo. So now might be the time to get a couple tags for your listings and see if they’re really making the difference? It’s something I’m planning on testing out in the next couple days.

      As for Google Boost, I’ll have to do a bit more digging into it before I can comment on it. From what I’ve read thus far, it seems to resemble AdWords local targeting without having to use AdWords. Smart move on Google’s part, as a lot of small business owners find AdWords intimidating. Now you can just tell GOOG where you want your listing to show up on a map, and POOF, there it is.

  5. Nov 8 2010

    Tony,

    Do you have an example of a business + query which utilizes a Google “tag?”

    Best,
    Jey

  6. Jeanette
    Nov 9 2010

    Very good guide Tony. Thank you.

    What’s best practice for a company that offers products / services nationwide or even internationally (e.g. Online Shop)?
    What’s the impact of Google Places etc. for such companies? More often than not the biggest concentration of the customers of these companies is not where the company is based, but at other places, e.g. big cities. What do you suggest as best practice for companies of that kind?

    • Nov 9 2010

      Jeanette,

      Thanks for kind words on the post, I appreciate it. Concerning nationwide companies and local, my advice would be to still get a local listing for headquarters location. That’s not going to do much in the way geo-local search beyond the area your headquarters is located, but it’s another measure to ensure you’re letting Google (and other search engines) know that you are a trusted, relevant source. However, if your company has multiple locations (i.e. storefronts) then Google Places will certainly help.

      For example, if your company has a location in Chicago, Tulsa, Berlin, Germany, and Manchester, England, you can create a unique Google Places page for each of these locations, giving you that local targeting you’re looking for. If you only have one location, and you serve nationwide, I think the best bet for your company would be to utilize Google Base and give your products the best chance to be visible on consumer-driven queries.

      I would also recommend a geo-targeted PPC campaign, targeting those specific areas around a given country that are producing the best conversions. It another great way to get visibility in areas that Google Places will not/wouldn’t associate you with. Hope this helps? Thanks for the great questions!

  7. Jeanette
    Nov 24 2010

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks for your valuable and prompt reply. I took some time to gather more information because I didn’t want to bother you. Yet, I couldn’t find many answers on my questions elsewhere.

    Given a well running online shop that’s located at some countryside, but does well business in big centers in the US as well as overseas. The visitors are acquired by SEO and online advertising – internationally, but focussed on the interesting areas (as you suggested).

    Which are the positive and negative impacts of a presence in e.g. google places in that given case? As far as I understand there are hardly any positive ones (as the area around the headquarter stands for less than 1% of the revenue). My key question although: what about the negative side? Are organic rankings e.g. in New York or London getting worse?

    Would be great if could shed some light on these issues.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. When Local SEO is not Local – The Regional Factor | Search Engine Journal
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