may 20
google-places-local-business-optimization

When users perform local searches in Google, results are divided into 3 chunks:

  • Pay Per Click results
  • Organic results
  • Google Maps results

Your PPC ranking depends obviously on your AdWords campaign. Your organic ranking, instead, depends on your SEO efforts. Your Google Maps ranking, finally, relies completely upon your Google Places Optimization.

Let’s see how to look good in Google Maps, which is fairly easy task that will boost your name up to one of the three sections of Google results.

Also, note that for some businesses Google Maps is the most important place where they want to show up. If you are a Brick & Mortar shop that people need to physically visit to use your service, you must optimize for Google Maps. Examples? Coiffeurs, Restaurants, Clothing Alterations, Laundries, Dentists… Do you want me to continue?

If you’re not convinced yet, you want to know that Google now blends their search results. What does it mean? Even in normal Google searches they show Google Maps results if they feel like users are looking for a specific location. It’s the same principle applying for YouTube videos. If you go to Google search engine and look for a song title, they assume you want to watch the video clip. If you look for “Italian restaurant New York” they assume you are looking to have spaghetti & meatball tonight.

You can assess how much you need a Google Places optimization in a more “scientific” way: find out how people get to your website through your analytic tool. Do they look for your name, or your business category, or your address, or your products? If searches include business name, or address, or category & location, you definitely must optimize your Google Maps presence.

Let’s see few tips to maximise your Google Maps, then.

How to set up your listing

This is the very first thing to do. Good news: it’s completely free!

  1. Go to Google My Business and create your account. You need to provide your business name and address. If your business is already listed, you can claim it (please see below); if not, you have to create it.
  2. Second step is to fill in your details in Google My Business: name, address, phone, and category. Category is somehow overlooked but it is very important, because allows you to show up in searches which do not include your business name. Watch out carefully your business category because it defines in which space you will compete for website traffic or even for phone calls, and also because you need to pick up a category from a pre-defined Google list, you can make up your own category.
  3. Once you’re finished, double check your details in the final screen; confirm Google that you manage the business and continue.
  4. Google will send you a verification code. If you provided a phone number, they will call you instantly, if you didn’t they will send you the verification code by post, that will take around 10 days to be delivered. You have the option to postpone this verification step, but obviously the earlier the better because without verification you are not listed in Google Maps.
  5. After verification, you will be taken to your Google My Business dashboard, where you can control how your business appears in searches across Google Maps, Google+ and obviously Google Search. At this stage you can add a number of details such as your opening hours, your website, a description of the business, pictures, brand, etc.

Claim your business

Is your business showing up already, while typing your name in Google My Business?

This sometimes happens (which means Google ha detected you on the street), but you need to claim and improve your shop anyway.

It’s likely you have just a basic listing (no contact details, for instance). In that case you can easily claim your ownership and add information such as full address, phone number and website.

It is extremely recommended to do so, as with a poor listing your customer will find hard to locate you, and you give an unprofessional and incomplete image of your own shop.

Optimising your Listing

Once you have verified your business and your basic listing is up and running, you want to improve how your business looks like in searches and also maximize your chances to be found.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Photos. You can add your brand, your own headshot, and loads of interior and exterior pictures, and obviously your products. Doo remember that great pictures are way too effective. People love pictures and you can tell how intimate, or modern, or cosy, or lively you restaurant is with 1 picture, without adding any word.
  • Reviews. As any other social platform, the more positive reviews the better. You do not only rank better in searches, but you increase your authority as well. There’s nothing you can do apart from delivering an awesome service to your customers and kindly ask them to review your business. Not a quick-win, but it works. While performing a search in Google Maps, results are now showing in a left window, listing top results ordered by reviews, which means your average review score define your ranking. Also, users have the option to select results scoring from a certain number of stars, which means if you do not score well you don’t even show up.
  • Customer Interaction. Related to reviews is your customer interaction, which is actually the way you collect good reviews. Try to send a thank you note to every review on your site whether it’s positive or negative. If you can make (or afford) it, you can add a promotional gift, like a little discount on next purchase. If getting a question, respond as soon as possible and always offer more help. Make sure to address negative reviews immediately in order to avoid the snowball effect (too easy to share or like bad comments as we all know).
  • Google+. Ok, we know that Google+ is not exactly the most successful social platform out there, but your Google+ profile define how you show up in Google Maps search, so make sure having a complete ad updated profile, at the very least. Also, previous ratings and reviews are collected through Google+, which makes the place Google look for to evaluate your overall rank.

2 final notes

Google Maps is now personalized based on user search history, exactly the way Google search is personalized. You can’t control this, but it means that if you get loyal customers they’re more likely to come back only because Google will present your business higher than others in their searches.

As any other SEO activity, Google Places optimization is a dynamic process. You have to continually keep a fresh presence in Google+ through new content (as little as new pictures) and keep an eye on competition and keywords that bring users to your website.

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