The first task of every new business owner is to establish their company’s identity and reputation, both online and in the real world. Search engine optimization offers many ways for small businesses to grow their brand, and to establish themselves online. However, the world of SEO can be a confusing one, and for small business owners who may not yet have the resources to hire a dedicated SEO consultant it can be difficult to really know where to start.
Google Places allows small business owners the opportunity to dip their toe into the world of SEO, and to secure their company’s online identity. With Google Places, companies can begin to reach out to customers and clients, by ensuring that they appear in the coveted Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for local businesses.
The Importance of Google Places and Local Search
More people are searching online for local goods and services than every before, and for a small business to succeed it is essential that they make their mark on the world wide web. With the rise of mobile in the last few years, local searches have become an increasingly large part of search engine queries. With Google being the #1 search engine and their latest Hummingbird algorithm, it’s very important for small businesses to make their Google Places for Business listings top priority. To reach new customers and clients, you must be seen where they are looking.
Step One – Creating a Google Places Account
Creating a Google Places account for your business is easy and, more importantly, free. The Google Places for Business website is easy to navigate, and the online instructions will guide you through all of the steps. When you create an account for your business you will need to input the following:
- Your Business Name – This must be the name of your business as it appears in the real world. Do not attempt to add any keywords or marketing tag-lines, or you will fall foul of Google’s Quality Guidelines.
- Your Business Address – Again, do not add any extraneous information. Use your business’ actual street address, even if you receive mail at a P.O. Box. Google Places for Business does not consider a P.O.Box to be sufficient information for their purposes. If your business operates out of many locations, or if it is a mobile business, you must still supply a physical address.
- Phone Number – This should be a local land line. Do not use an 800 number here.
Once this information is submitted, Google will give you the option for a post card to the address you have provided. This card will supply you with a PIN number which you will use to activate your account, after which your listing will begin to appear in local search results. In some cases, verification might also be done right on the spot with a phone call and PIN to get your listing live right away.
Describing Your Business
Google Places for Business also allows you to upload photos and a brief description of your business. The description can be no more than 4200 characters, and should include your hours of operation and relevant background on your goods and services. Within the limited space, you can employ any keywords or phrases that you want your business to rank for in local searches. Make sure to also select categories for your business.
Google gives you the opportunity to create a 360 degree virtual tour of your business through Business Photos. This service is free to participate in, however you will be required to hire, and pay, a photographer that has been approved by Google. Adding the virtual tour options will really make your business stand out, and makes a lot of sense if you have foot traffic of customers.
Search Page Results
Once your Google Places for Business listing is activated, it will begun to show up in local search results, typically in what is called a Local 7-Pack. This is a list of the seven most relevant search results for a local business search. As the online user mouses over the results, the rest of your listing’s information will be displayed to the right of the screen.
Recently, Google has debuted the Display Carousel for local search results, though this has so far been reserved for hotels, bars, and restaurants. With a Display Carousel, a stream of images associated with each business is scrolled across the top of the screen. Again, mousing over any picture will take the user to the appropriate Google Places for Business listing.
Extending your Google Places Profile
Once you’ve created the basics of your Google Places page, you have some options to further extend your new local search profile. Google+ has been around for a while now, and publishing a Google+ Local page is one click away after your Google Places page has been established. This is free and will give your business increased visibility on Google+ and it’s users.
Another option is to leverage Google AdWords Express. This is a simplified version of Google AdWords. Instead of managing your keywords and ads, which can be an overwhelming task, you just choose a budget and main category in AdWords Express. Google will then choose your keywords that match you category, and you’ll be on your way to much more increased exposure for your business.
Creating a Google Places for Business account is the first (and necessary) step in SEO to optimizing your business for online searches. For small local businesses, particularly start-ups, it is an invaluable resource for gaining brand recognition both online and in the real world. If you have yet to create a Google Places listing for your business, it’s time to take advantage of this low cost feature to get you noticed online.