Google has long understood the relevance of a business’s location to commercially motivated searches, which is largely what prompted them to create the Places service. Google Places is effectively a business directory that has been integrated with the company’s popular Maps service.
In comparison to search engine optimisation, creating a Google Places search listing for your business is relatively simple, and doesn’t require much technical expertise. Unlike organic search, it is entirely dedicated to connecting consumers with nearby businesses, meaning that those listed on it don’t have to compete with non-commercial pages for relevance. Also, Places is distinct from search marketing services like AdWords in one very significant respect – it’s free.
Stake a claim
The first step in getting your business on Google Places is to simply go and claim its location.
“The quickest win, and I guess the easiest one for businesses to do themselves, would be to actually claim all their Google Places listings,” Brendan Tully, principle consultant at The Search Engine Shop.
Before claiming a listing, it’s a good idea to cast your eye over Google’s Places guidelines.
“Do not create multiple Google Places listings with the same information,” warns Nick Grinberg, co-director of Maps Gurus. “If you’ve got multiple locations, that’s fine, but if you’ve got one address, only register a single listing.”
A business specialising in a number of different areas, for example, would be ill-advised to create listings for each of its products or services, as doing so is against the Places guidelines. By the same token, it’s essential to only use contact information that is relevant to your physical offices or stores. For example, Google won’t place any value in a PO Box, so put your real address.
Given that Google draws information from third party sources like the Yellow Pages, your business may already have unclaimed, ‘place-holder’ listings on Places. For this reason, it’s wise to search Maps for variations on your business name and your own name, so that you can claim any pre-existing listings.
“Unclaimed listings can struggle to rank high in results,” claims Tully. “Often the act of just claiming a listing can double website traffic overnight.”
Once all relevant listings have been claimed and consolidated, it helps to have a clear idea of the kind of keywords the business wants to be ranked for.
“When you’re claiming a Google Places listing, it’s really important to know exactly what kind of key phrases you’d want it to come up for, and cater the listing around those phrases,” continues Tully. “It’s really important to do keyword research using tools such as the Google Adwords keyword research tool or Market Samurai.”
It’s also important to make sure the keywords you use on your website match, or at least are similar to, those you’re targeting with Places listings.
“Whenever you do a Google search, you’re actually clicking on titles on websites. It’s very important to Google that your titles have the correct keywords in them,” says Andrew Clacy, marketing manager at Canvas Marketing. “If you’ve got a website, Google wants you to be uniform with the keywords. To get a higher ranking, you should have your Google Places words matching the keywords in the title of the website.”
Tell them everything
The next step is to fill the listing with information about the business. Google’s main objective is to present searchers with the most relevant results. The more content you fill your Places listing with, the more likely it is to be deemed relevant to a query.
“There’s roughly 30 or 40 different fields that you can fill out about your business inside Google Places; things like payment methods, opening hours, the locations you serve, and even fax numbers and email addresses,” says Tully. “All things equal, if you have filled out all the fields in your listing, and a competitor hasn’t, you will generally be ranked higher than them in Google Places.”
The content that a listing can accommodate extends well beyond your standard business information to include pictures, videos and testimonials. Tully notes that reviews are a particularly important component of a listing.
“Set up a business process to get regular customer reviews on your Places listing,” he suggests. “Reviews can mean the difference between not appearing and appearing in the number one spot. After you have five or more reviews, your listing will stand out amongst competitors, as Google shows review ratings next to your business listing.”
Canvas Marketing’s Clacy also makes note of a recently introduced feature that allows businesses to frame offers as a ‘coupon’ within their Places listing.
“That also helps your Google Places ranking, because you’re using more of the functions inside Google Places,” he says.
One of the most significant factors affecting organic search rankings is the number of incoming links a site receives. Google has identified this as a reasonable measure of how many people found that particular page relevant enough to share. The more links a page receives, the higher it ranks in search.
In place of incoming links, Google Places tends to favour businesses that have their contact details listed in the greatest volume on different sites throughout the internet.
“Google looks at the number of places on the web that are naming your business, address and phone number, and they’re called citations,” says Tully. “The more citations your business has, generally the higher ranked your Google Places listing will be.”
Citations are part of the reason Google places so much value in data from third party directories like the Yellow Pages. For the purposes of an improved Places ranking, it’s worthwhile for businesses to investigate being listed in review directories like Urban Spoon, True Local or Dentist.com.au, depending on what your business specialises in.
Given that it’s based on the most widely used global positioning service in the world, the potential reach of Places is considerably greater than a simple mobile search query. In the same way that the service collects information about businesses from third-party directories, many apps draw on the information collected in Places.
“There’s a lot of third party apps and directories that pull their data directly from Google,” notes Tully. “By getting a listing in Google Places, potentially, you could be showing up on tens or hundreds of different iPhone apps and directory-based search systems. It’s definitely something worth doing.”