For many small business owners, online marketing is a vital component of the marketing mix, and thankfully in my experience; this is something that most small business owners will know very well. And while there are a lot of ways to get noticed on the internet, the best way to get online attention has always been Google. Because of Google’s ever-reaching virtual arm, a business owner would be advised take advantage of the local-business focused Google Places.
Google Places is a great tool for any locally focused business, and it’s also free and easy to set up. This post is going to show you exactly how to get your business listed on Google Places and it’s going to take you through the all-important task of getting ranked.
Setting Up Your Account and Getting Listed
Before we get to optimisation, I’m going to take you step by step through getting your business actually listed on Google Places. This process is fairly straightforward and the initial setup should take no more than an hour.
Step 1 – Create a Google Account for Your Business
To start with the very basics, you are going to need a google account for your business. You probably already have a personal google account, but it is advisable to make one specifically for your business. The reason for this is that there is a chance that an employee will manage your listing at some point, and you probably won’t want them on your personal account. This is also convenient if your business does ever switch hands in the future. It’s best to keep your business account easy to remember, and most people will simply put their business name @gmail.com.
Step 2 – Claim Your Business as Yours
If your business Gmail account is good to go then you can now claim your business and get it listed. Now you’ll need to go to the Google Places homepage and click Get Started. Click “Get your business found on Google” and now you’re off to the races. Since this is your first time listing a business under your business account you will have to search for the business by your country and phone number. It is important that you use the businesses landline for this search or google won’t recognise the business (this is because of the integration with google maps).
When you search for your business Google will either find your business and show you basic information (usually pulled from directory sources such as Yell) or it will take you to the next step that we’ll cover. If it does have you listed already then still don’t worry because you will be able to edit and add more information about your business. At this point your business is being claimed as yours and you will now move on to the biggest part of this guide.
Step 3 – Edit Your Listing
Now you are in control of your listing and you can get started on entering all of the details of your business. Google will want you to be very specific and you should prepare yourself because there is quite a lot of information to be entered now. We’re going to touch on each area now and give you a good idea of how to efficiently do each section.
Basic Information is where you’ll input all of the, you guessed it, basics of your business. This section is fairly easy to understand, but it is also very important for your listing. These are the categories that your listing must have, straight from Google:
- Company Name
- City, County, Postcode
- Main Phone Number
While the fields are pretty self-explanatory it is important to note that consistency is key here. Google wants to trust your business and it wants to make things simple for the consumer, so it is very important that you enter everything here consistently with how you’ve used it in the past. Look at other websites that your business is on, such as FreeIndex or Qype, and make sure that every detail is identical. It really helps to nitpick here because even minute things like using St. instead of Street can make a difference to Google.
The business description in Basic Information is also a very important part of your listing. This is your time to shine and make your business look good (all in 200 characters or less), so you should think of it as something that you would feature on your own business website. Use keywords here and make sure to target the description to your ideal consumers.
Service Areas and Location Settings Areas
In this area you will be asked if your business is in one location or if it is in multiple locations. If your business doesn’t do deliveries or outside business of any kind then select that option and you’re done. If your business does operate in multiple locations then you will have to determine an area of service. For this option you can either provide a distance from your location or list the cities/areas that you want to be listed in. Both options have their advantages and it will really depend on your type of business.
Hours of Operation and Payment Options
This section is again pretty straightforward. Google will pull the information from your company website if you don’t enter it, but it is best to be in control of the information and avoid any errors. Completely filling everything out will also help to build on your reputation with Google and make you look more trustworthy.
Photos are a very important part of your listing and they should definitely be included. Pictures will make your business look more attractive to potential customers and it will also make you look more professional and trustworthy to Google. There is a limit of 10 pictures so be sure to use the best pictures possible with you limited slots. It’s also a very good idea to use your most important pictures first, so that customers see the good ones even if they don’t look through all of them. The pictures that you should use include:
- Company logo
- Images of your employees at your business
- Pictures of your products
- Pictures of the business itself
Videos aren’t exactly necessary in your listing, but they definitely won’t hurt. Every little thing still builds credibility and makes you look more trustworthy.
It might be tempting to put keywords and extra marketing in this section, but that would be a very bad idea. The best use of this area is to put additional details only, things similar to the examples that Google offers (brands carried, parking). You can use your keywords in the other sections, but reserve this area only for important details that didn’t fit in the other areas.
Step 4 – Verify Your Google Places Listing
You are almost done now, but you still to verify with google that you do actually own your business before you can take full control of your listing. There are two options for verifying your listing, and these options are phone verification and mail verification. Mail verification can take 2-3 weeks so as long as the option is available to you (which it will be in 99% of cases), you’ll want to use the phone option. Immediately after you choose the phone option your business line will receive an automated call from Google which will give you the 5 digit verification pin. Enter the pin and you will finally be ready to go on your listing.
Optimising Your Google Places Listing
Now you and your business are all set up and verified on Google Places, but there are still some things that you can do to get the highest ranking possible on your listing. Being listed is all well and good, but this isn’t the same thing as being found.
A lot of the little tricks have been mentioned above, but I’m going to go through a few more good practices that will help to get your rankings up.
Maintain Your Google Places Listing
This might seem a bit obvious, but you will definitely want to keep up with your page and change any details if anything in your business changes. It’s also a good idea to check the analytics on your website and play with your listing until you get the optimum traffic from it.
Market Your Google Places Listing
It might seem redundant to market a marketing tool, but giving your listing some love really will make a big difference in the long run. To ensure that your Google Places listing gets the most attention possible you might want to consider these steps:
- Encourage your customers to review your listing – use transactional emails and mailing lists for this.
- Post updates on your Google Places page with things like coupons and discounts
- Build up business reviews on other reviews services
- Optimise your business website for Google
Utilise Citations to Improve Your Google Ranking
The last thing that we’re going to touch on which will really help your ranking is the all important tool of citations. Google loves to see you being mentioned on other websites, and having a good list of third party citations is one of the best things that you can do to improve your local ranking. There are countless services that list local businesses, and getting yours on just a few of these (but especially the right ones) will endlessly help you in your pursuit of getting noticed by customers. LocalVisibilitySystem is a great starting point to see the types of websites that you should be getting your business listed on.
I have also put-together a useful list of the top local citation sources that are used by Google.
The Excel Spreadsheet can be downloaded from here
The above tips will all help your business not only get listed on Google Places, but will also help you actually be seen. If you follow these steps and always keep your Google listing in mind then you will start to find that it is an excellent source of well-targeted local customers.
LASTLY – you can of course ask your SEO agency to do ensure you have your Local SEO done right. Please see how Datadial can help you by clicking here.
September 22nd, 2008.
Being based in the UK I find that SEOs on this side of the pond have to get very familiar with website geo-location factors. It’s an unfortunate quirk of search engines that one of the main criteria that search engines use to determine a websites location is the location of its webhost.
If you’re looking to target a specific locality, then it’s vital that your site is recognised by search engines as being from that territory. Local websites are featured more prominently in local versions of the search engines, there are also surfers are given the option to see only pages from their location excluding foreign based sites.
Up until fairly recently UK hosting tended to be fairly expensive in comparison to our US cousins. For this reason many UK based sites found themselves running into problems when they tried to save costs by hosting their sites in the USA.
Don’t take it for granted that by hosting with a UK based company that their servers will also be based in the UK. Many UK hosting companies locate their servers overseas including one very well known host that bases their servers in Germany. I’m sure this is the case the world over. When signing up for hosting contracts, if location is an issue for you, always check that the servers are located geographically where you would expect them to be.
There are several factors that are theorised that effect the location of a site in terms of search engines. This list tends to include,
- The top level domain extension (.co.uk, .fr, .de)
- The location (IP address) of the website host
- The geographic location of the domain registrar
- The language that the site is written in
- The location of incoming links
- On page factors (addresses, telephone numbers)
- Registering with Google Local
Obviously some of these factors hold more importance than others, some I theorise are used marginally, others I believe not at all, or their effect is too minimal to test.
Using The Correct TLD (Top Level Domain)
This is your best case scenario. You have a site that you’re targeting to UK consumers, holding a .co.uk site will pretty much guarantee that you’ll be found in the UK search results, even if you choose to host out of the country. For example the server for whois.co.uk is based in the US, but the site is still returned in the UK only version of a Google search.
Website Host Location
There are of course many instances of websites that are targeted to a specific country but are using a generic top level domain such as a .com or .net. In these cases simply ensuring that your hosts servers are geographically located in your marketplace should ensure that the site is recognised as being local. The Datadial site for example is using a .net TLD, but as its host is located in the UK is still appears for UK only queries. ASP.net which is located in the US does not appear for the equivalent query.
Geographic Location Of The Domain Registrar
I feel this is a factor that is sometimes overlooked by many webmasters, but as Google has access to the geographic location such as the location of the domain registrar it would make sense for them to make use of this as well. This along with other registrar information such as Whois data could well be used as a ‘tie-breaker’ when country-specific TLDs are hosted elsewhere. For example many country specific TLDs such as .fm, .cc, and .tv are now being used because of the brandability of the domain extension. In cases such as these where the TLD extension is indicating one location and the hosting location indicating another then it would be a logical step to make use of the information available from the domain registrar.
Obviously as well as it making sense to make sure your site is written in the language of the search visitors that you’re looking for, it may well be one of the factors that a search engine may use to help determine the location of a site. It certainly isn’t a defining factor though as it’s relatively easy to find foreign language sites within the UK only search results.
Location Of Incoming Links
As above, the idea is that a search engine can use the location of incoming links to determine the site location. Again, I’m sceptical if this is any more than of marginal importance. I have seen lots of sites with low quality link profiles that consist of largely overseas located links and of course news sites with very few links seem to have little problem get geographically placed before backlinks have had a chance to develop.
Site Addresses/Telephone Numbers
Again, it’s just good practice to have local contact details for local markets. There is also speculation that this may be used to place a sites location. Again this is difficult to test but I’m doubtful if this is would be anything more than of marginal importance.
Registering With Google Local
Again, hard to test, but it would make sense for Google to make as much use of all the information that was made available to them. Yahoo and MSN also have similar local services.
Going back to our original list I would place the factors in the following order of importance,
- TLD extension
- Hosting location
- Domain registrar
- Google local registration
- Incoming links
- Site language
- On page addresses/phone numbers
Of course, many of these factors are very difficult to test on their own as it’s difficult to isolate individual factors on their own. Certainly the first three seem to influence the outcome the most.
Site Targeting In Google Webmaster Tools
Last year Google added an option in Webmaster Tools to define a geographic location for a website. Unfortunately this is only an option if you site is already on a non-specific TLD.Â Vanessa Fox wrote on SearchEngineland,
If your domain is a location-specific TLD (such as the .fr example above), Google will show you the country that your site is associated with but won’t let you specify something different. However, if your domain is not country specific (such as a .com or .net), you can indicate the location of the site…
You can provide information at a more granular level than country. For example, if your site is for a pizza restaurant in Seattle, you can specify up to the street address (although you can input any granularity that makes sense for your business such as city or state).
One of the most useful things about this tool is that it lets you specify different locations for each subdomain. This can be extremely helpful for large corporates which could save them from having to purchase domains and/or source hosting in many different localities.
The SEOMoz Geo-detection tool is is a useful way of checking how well a website is targeted to a specific country or market.
Get Elastic – Location Targeting In Google
Webmaster Central Blog – Better Geographic Choices For Webmasters
Search Engine Journal – On Site Geotargeting And SEO
Search Engine Land – SEO And SEM Outside The US