When Google recently decided to make Google Places a larger part of search engine results, local businesses took notice. Considering that 80% of people online find local businesses through Google, you can accurately assume that most potential new customers will be affected by either your Google places listing or your competitors. Want proof? Google any business and city phrase and see just how many of the top results are listings on Google Places (e.g. Dallas movers, Dallas lawyers, etc.). If your business is like most, the results will be overwhelming.
Now that I have established the significance of Google Places with today’s consumers, let’s talk about how to get more leads from Google Places by building your listing’s credibility.
1. Create a complete account using the Google Places Quality Guidelines found here:http://support.google.com/places/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=107528 . Don’t be fooled into thinking you can game the system to get around these guidelines, as the results could be disastrous. It only takes 30 minutes to read through the guidelines and any competent local internet marketer can walk you through the process to make sure your account is properly setup. Make sure to complete your business profile as much as you can (yes, this includes the optional fields such as uploading pictures) and add the appropriate categories for your target market.
2. Use a consistent, Google Places friendly NAP (name, address, phone number) on your listing, website, and other online citations (see Tip 3). Google automates everything so even a minor variation in your business name, address, or phone number between your Google Places account and other sources can cause your listing to drop in credibility. Another good practice is to make sure the exact address from your listing is displayed prominently in text format on your website’s homepage (i.e. not as an image). Using a P.O. box as your address is considered spammy by Google but you may consider registering a virtual office (around $50/month) if you don’t want to show your address publicly. As far as phone numbers go, the best option is to use a local landline for your listing. A VOIP or forwarding local number is less ideal, while call center or 1-800 numbers are highly frowned upon.
3. Citations for your listing serve as votes of confidence to Google about your listing’s credibility. You gain citations by listing your business in as many credible online directories as possible. The process of doing this manually can be time consuming, but the results are worth it. Here is a starter list of business directories to consider: Axciom.com, InfoUSA.com, yellowikis.wikia.com, merchantcircle.com, cityslick.net, citysquares.com, facebook.com, google.com/profiles, superpages.com, hotfrog.com, ezlocal.com, surveylocal.com, getfave.com, local.yahoo.com, kudzu.com, manta.com, yellowpages.lycos.com, bbb.org, citysearch.com, insiderpages.com, yelp.com, and many, many more.
4. Online reviews have recently exploded in importance not only in gaining credibility with Google but also potential customers. There are 2 methods to obtaining these reviews: wait for them to appear naturally (not ideal), or encourage your satisfied customers to post them regularly. The key benefit of the second method is an obvious advantage in review quality and control. You will want to have positive reviews on multiple review websites to gain maximum Google credibly for your listing. How to best obtain these reviews is a delicate matter that should at least coincide with each review website’s quality guidelines. Because of the importance and complexity regarding obtaining online reviews, we have created an online review generating tool to simplify the process for business owners called Survey Local.
5. If you do not supply photos for your listing, chances are Google will supply them for you which is not always to your benefit. Adding videos and photos to your listing is part of completing your profile and is one of the easiest ways to draw attention to your listing. One exciting new option is Google Business Photo’s which uses 3D photography just like the street view on Google maps to give customers a virtual tour of your business. If you are near Dallas, we can recommend a photographer that is certified by Google to utilize this new technology for you.
6. Unlike Groupon or other emerging coupon sites, Google Places gives you a free platform to promote coupons for your business on the internet. Once your listing is verified, you can add or remove coupons at your discretion.
7. Lastly, I’ll address the all important topics of website optimization and SEO. A highly credible and optimized company website will pass significant influence to your Google Places listing. The benefits of using SEO for your main website are already huge, and knowing that it directly affects your listings is just another reason to get it started.