Google Places – Best Practices for Local Search Engine Optimization

Last October, Google rolled out Google Place Search, a new user interface for local search that organizes information around location. These changes merged the Google Map listings and organic results in a new way that makes it critical to pay attention to your online presence. Gone are the pack of 7 or 3 results at the top with a map, replaced by blended results that incorporate pieces of your website, your Google places listing, citations about your business from other sources and reviews from sites such as CitySearch, Yelp, Yahoo, Merchant Circle, InsiderPages and other Internet Yellow Pages sites and directories. The major objective of the change is to cluster search results around specific locations so you can more easily compare results and select the business that best meets your needs.

Google Places Blended Results

Google Places Blended Results

After 3 months, the effects of this change has become very apparent. In some ways this change created new challenges for those of us who succeed in getting our client’s websites on the first page of Google’s organic search results. Prior to this update, those organic results would be very visible below the Google Map and associated businesses. Now, to be listed prominently, you need to create a quality Places page that provides greater information to those who are interested in what you have to offer and continue to work your website SEO for organic results. Those businesses that do both very well will reap the benefits of this change.

How to achieve prominence on the “Map”

There are a few important factors for ranking well in Google Places.

The number of citations (mentions of your business name and address) for your business on business directories, news blogs or a social networking sites

To Google, citations are a vote of confidence in your listing and those from authoritative sites, such as your local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau, carry more weight. Citations have a positive effect on your Google Places ranking and should be considered an important element of a local Search engine marketing campaign. However, your citations must be consistent and contain the same information. Use the same business name, address and telephone number across all. Having your business listed as ABC Plumbing and Heating on one site and ABC Plumbing for another could result in them being considered different businesses. Search for your company name and see where it shows up. If you can claim and edit the listing to make it consistent, do so.

The number of quality reviews for your company on Google other review sites

It is important that businesses get customers to provide reviews through review sites in order to move their local listing up in the results pages. After you have created listings for your company on all those that are relevant to your industry, provide links to these profiles via your website. Put these links on your testimonials page so when you ask a customer for a review and point them to that page, they see what others have said and will be encouraged to do the same. Make sure your reviews are spread out across different sites for the best effect so encourage your customers to write a review on their preferred site.

A well written, optimized Google Places page

After you claim your page, attend to the details to create a quality Google Places page. Review Google Place’s Quality Guidelines to ensure you stay within their criteria and stay visible.

  1. Accurately provide your name, address and local phone number. Don’t put your phone number or town in your business name. Although there are still some listings out there with them in the names, shortly those may be banned or buried in the results.
  2. Provide an email account on your own domain.
  3. Use a local phone number, not an 800 number.
  4. Use all five categories available starting with relevant standard categories that Google provides and then create others using your important keywords.
  5. Display your address if at all possible. If you list a service area, keep your address visible. PO Boxes are not allowed.
  6. Add links to the “Additional Details” area of your listing to give people the opportunity to contact you. Any page that has a contact form is a good candidate.

This is just an overview of what you need to do to create a quality online presence that helps your business stand out.  Once you have your online properties established, you need to work on getting reviews and keep your information up-to-date. What have I missed that is an important item for ranking well locally?

Other items of interest:


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21 Responses to Google Places – Best Practices for Local Search Engine Optimization

  1. Nick February 14, 2011 at 4:30 am #

    This makes me think about how important location is for searching online. Not only physical location, but web visibility, so that customers can easily engage via the web.

    • Debra February 14, 2011 at 10:31 am #

      Absolutely Nick. People today use the web to locate businesses. Being visible on the web strengthens your brand and makes you more likely to be contacted.

  2. Marvin Chapman February 14, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    So one should pay equal attention to places and organic to have any chance of making it onto page 1, or is there one that carries more weight?

    • Debra February 14, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

      Hello Marvin,

      It appears that if you pay attention to both organic SEO and Google Places equally, you will be more likely to rank on page 1 of local search results. However, given that Places pages come up for businesses with no website, I would say that in a local search, your Google Places page AND the citations from around the web, including reviews, carry more weight.

      Great question. Thanks for asking!

  3. Brian February 25, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    What do you recommend for businesses without a physical storefront for customers to visit? I know you say no PO Boxes, but is there something else the business could use? Would a shared office space work (even if there are other businesses in the same office that also use Places)?

    • Debra February 25, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

      Hi Brian,

      Google Places allows you to not display the address in your Places Page, so you can use whichever address for your business makes the most sense. If you work out of a shared office space (or any commercial building with multiple tenants), use that address but put your suite number on it to distinguish you from other businesses at the same location. Put your home address if that’s where you work, but don’t display it and be sure to indicate that you have a service area (i.e. you go to your clients).

  4. Joe Pankow May 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    We’ve been tinkering around with our Google Place page since we registered it a couple years ago. No matter what we do there seems to be no way of getting into the top 3 or 4. The ones that are have blatant fake reviews. I hope google comes out with something to fix this….
    Joe Pankow recently posted…Solar Energy Phoenix- AZMy Profile

    • Debra May 20, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

      Joe, I agree with you. Unfortunately there are many who want to scam the system and I spend a lot of time helping my clients avoid them. All we can do is continue marketing our businesses ethically. Keep tinkering with your page, however, there are many things you can do to optimize it and help your become more visible.

  5. Robert W June 30, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    Hi, I love the article, and I was looking for a very specific answer to a question. I work for a medical practice with 4 doctors. Is it better to use the same phone number for all doctors or should I use a different phone number for each. What would be the best SEO for this?

    Thanks!

    • Debra September 25, 2011 at 9:14 am #

      Robert, I apologize I somehow missed your question.

      Google’s advice from their quality guidelines: “Businesses with multiple specializations, such as law firms and doctors, should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties. You may create one listing per practitioner, and one listing for the office.”

  6. Mike Munter September 23, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    Hi Robert,

    I’m pretty sure Google Places only allows 1 listing per physical address, so you’d be doing just 1 phone #. As Debra says, stay consistent, with whatever you do across the web.

    Debra – i have a question, I also do SEO work and here differing opinions on whether or not we should build backlinks to our Google Place page. Have you seen hard proof of anyone ever getting penalized for doing this?

    Thanks
    Mike
    Mike Munter recently posted…SEO Case Study: Not All SEO News is RosyMy Profile

    • Debra September 25, 2011 at 9:22 am #

      Mike, see my response to Robert regarding doctors and lawyers – they are allowed to have one listing for the office and one listing for each practitioner.

      As for backlinks to our Google Places page – I haven’t really heard much about this. My view is it is better to build visibility for your Website since you own the site and its content. Google shuts your Places page down, you have nothing. So other than optimizing the Google Places page for keywords and getting reviews to raise you in the local listing, I wouldn’t spend a lot of time trying to build backlinks to the page. However, I do include links to the website from my Places pages in the Additional Details area.

      Thanks for pointing out the comment I missed with your response!

  7. Jerry Davis January 21, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    Google Places is key for local seo. Personally, for local ranking, I think Google Places is more important that search position one in the Google organic search list. I’ve not come across any stats on Places yet, but people tend to click the first link, and as long as Google puts Places at the top, Places will dominate local search.

    Jerry

  8. Charlie February 8, 2012 at 1:15 am #

    We have more than one location for our business. Is it OK to have multiple Google Places listings?

    • Debra Murphy February 8, 2012 at 11:04 am #

      Hi Charlie,

      Yes, each business location with a different phone number can have multiple Google Places listings. You might want to create separate landing pages on your website for each Places page to point to so you can differentiate each location if necessary.

  9. Kristen Hicks October 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    I know I’m very late to this conversation, but this information about optimizing Google Places entries is still really important and I’m surprised I haven’t found more resources focused on it.

    I’m working with a client with several distinctive issues that make the case complicated, I’m wondering if you have any insight on how having a Google + business page helps, and if it does, how to best handle using Google + for a business with multiple locations – is it best to create one account to cover all locations, or create and maintain (groan) separate accounts for each?

    • Debra Murphy October 9, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

      Hi Kristen,

      There is a lot of confusion around Google+ business pages, Google+ local pages and Google Places pages. When you claim a Google+ Local business, they take you to the Google Places dashboard. According to what I’ve read on the Google forums, there is no way to create one Google+ page that lists all the locations. And if at some point you want a Google+ Local listing for each branch, they have recommended that you create a separate business page for each location. Personally I would wait until all the issues sort themselves out, but in the meantime, setting up a Google+ Business page for the main location would not hurt.

      You may want to subscribe to http://blumenthals.com/blog/ – he covers Google Places and local search and has been a resource for Google+ local and some of the issues.

      Sorry I can’t be of more help but Google+ Local / Places has frustrated me recently as well!

      Debra

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