There was a splash in the SEO world a few weeks ago when Google announced the dissolution or integration (depending on how you look at it) of Google Places. By incorporating Google+ into Google Maps and its business listings, users now have Google+ Local instead of Google Places. On the surface, it looks like Google is just continuing the expansion of its social media platform —like it or not, business owners have been forced onto Google+ to manage their Local pages. Why bother implementing this disorienting change? Will it bring real value to both users and business owners?
The quick answer is: yes. By looking at the old Places pages, you can tell Google had intended them to be more social than they really were. Google quit aggregating data from Yelp and other sources to push their own reviewing system. Later, they increased interaction by allowing businesses to post exclusive deals and coupons. But due to the limitations of the Places pages, this social type of usage never really took off. Most Places pages were more like stubs of information rather than go-to hubs of interaction.
Local pages changes all that. They’re like company Facebook pages, but arguably more robust because of integration with Google Maps, Zagat reviews, and Google+ (you can see how your circles interact with the business). Furthermore, Local pages will be indexed by search engines (Places pages were not). These two factors combine to provide great benefits for business owners.
As noted above, Local pages are robust offerings that encourage interaction between users and a business. A strong Local page is one that provides all the pertinent business information and has high user engagement (such as posting responses to reviews, starting hangouts, sharing updates, coupons, etc.). By keeping your Local page fresh and interacting with your customers, you can increase the page’s ranking in local search results.
Verify your listing, fill out your page, and start engaging your customers. When robust content and a high-ranking combine, your Local page could be the first and last place they visit before deciding to convert.
Local search is growing in popularity and Google is showing its support by including more and more local style features in the SERPs. Consumers tend to be drawn to local listings, so you definitely want your business to have a presence in this area. Of course, having a rich, optimized Google Places page is a necessity and should be the first place your start to build up you presence in local searches.
However, the algorithm for standard searches and Google Places or local search are not the same thing — the main difference being the importance of “citations.” A citation is any place where your company information is listed consistently, which helps search engines find and identify your business. Citations are to local search what links are to organic search. Similarly, to increase your presence in local search, you need to increase the citations you have. You also need to make sure they are consistent. For example, if you have “Street” in your address on your Google Places page, make sure it’s “Street”, not “St.”, across all your citations as well.
So what are the best ways to increase your number of citations? Social media, directories and aggregators are good places to start.
Social media elements are becoming very strong ranking factors that consistently appear in search results. Naturally, having complete and consistent information across all of your company’s social media sites — like Foursquare, Facebook, Google+, and others — will go a long way in helping your local search rankings.
Aggregators and directories are not just places to get more citations; they also provide an additional way for people to find your company. There are many of these types of sites you can establish profiles for. Some standard ones to start with include Yelp, City Search, Yellow Pages, and Angie’s List. On top of that, consider setting up a presence on local directories as well. Your city’s chamber of commerce is a good start. You can also search for “your city + your industry” to bring up even more local directories or aggregators.
These types of sites aren’t the only places you can increase your citations, but they make a great start. You should be able to build more citations as you build links and create content for your site — so keep at it!
If you are a local business, ignoring the internet can be a death sentence. With the rise of mobile phone usage, and the reliance of GPS systems, many people are using location based services to find local businesses. If your company is not listed in the local search results, you are overlooking a large pool of potential customers. However, it is not enough to simply “claim your business”, given the increase of social media features built into local business listings.
Social media is becoming a part of our every day lives. Even if you do not participate in social media channels, the effects of social media interaction can play a large role in what you see online. For example, in Google Places a business can be listed with their address, a brief description of their products or services, links to photos, Google Maps, and customer reviews. There is also a section where visitors can “Report a problem” with the listing and one of the options is to report “This place is permanently closed.” If there are enough visitors reporting the business is closed, the business is flagged as “reportedly closed”. Pending a review by Google, the listing may be changed to “permanently closed.” How much of an impact can this be on your business if, even for a few days, your business is incorrectly labeled as “reportedly closed”?
It is naÃ¯ve to think Google Places will list every active business or flag all of the closed businesses accurately. The system is not perfect, but it allows for social media interaction and that’s what attracts many people to provide their feedback. There is undoubtedly room for mischief with the system if one of your competitors decides to take an unethical approach. Google does not divulge how many people must report a problem like “This place is permanently closed.” before it updates the listing to “reportedly closed”. But is it worth the risk to your bottom line to ignore Google Places when so many people are using the internet to find local businesses? As part of your overall business strategy, you need to ensure you are monitoring your business listings after they are initially set up.