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April 22, 2010

Google Places (Formerly Local Business Center)

In the early 1990s, when I was first online, very few businesses had a website. Gradually companies started coming online, but most of them were those that served a national or global market. While many local directories also came online, it was rare to see a strictly local company with a website. There were some exceptions, like those with professional practices such as dentists, doctors and lawyers. In fact, professional practice websites were some of my earliest SEO clients, although they weren’t in my local area. But even in the mid-2000s, the typical hair salon, plumber or chiropractor were very rare to find online.

About 10 years ago I remember looking for a chiropractor in my area online and could only find one with a website, and it wasn’t even one in my town. Much to my dismay, I ended up using the old-fashioned telephone book to make sure that I found all the nearby chiropractors.

Things are different today. While there are still a surprising number of small local businesses without websites, they are easily online thanks to Google’s local search results. Did you know that, according to Google, one in every five searches is related to location in some way? It’s no wonder that Google has put a lot of effort into enhancing their local search listings.

This week I learned through Search Engine Land that Google had changed this feature’s name from Google Local Business Center to the simpler Google Places. In addition, they’ve added even more cool things you can do with your GooglePage, once you’ve claimed your listing. For instance, if you’re located in certain cities, you can purchase an enhanced listing, which they now call “tags,” for $25 per month.

And if you operate a hotel, restaurant or local store, you can even apply to have Google photographers come and do a free photo shoot of the interior of your business!

They’ve also added “QR code,” which you can have printed on business cards or anywhere else. The code enables those with QR readers in their phones or other devices to go directly to your website.

More useful to the average business owner, however, is the new ability to post messages to your Place Page. This is great if you have an event coming up or just any special thing you want to tell people about. It can be up to 160 characters and it will show for 30 days unless you delete it sooner. You can post URLs that will become clickable links, but you can’t use HTML code (I tried!). For our Place Page, I added the date to our upcoming
SEO Class with a link to the class page. I think it’s a nice touch.

If you claimed your company’s local listing a long time ago and haven’t checked it out in a while, you should definitely log on and revisit your page. And if you’ve never claimed your Place Page, there’s no better time than the present!

Here’s how to find your Place Page in Google: Head over to Google Maps and search for your company by name. When you find it, click the “more info” link. That should take you straight to your Place Page. If you haven’t claimed your Place Page yet, click the link that says “Business Owner” and then click the “Edit my business information” button on the next page. Now you can fill in all the information on the form.

You might be concerned at this point that someone else could go in and change your information or edit it incorrectly… but don’t worry. Once you’ve filled out the form, nothing will go live until you verify that you are the true owner of the Place Page. They do this by sending you a postcard via snail mail that has a verification code on it that you have to go back later to enter.

Be sure to do a thorough job filling out the description field for your website. This is where you want to add your main keyword phrases where they make sense to do so. Don’t try to add keywords to your company name, however. The spammers and scammers have already killed that little trick and it will only get you in trouble with Google rather than helping.

You can and should add the maximum 5 categories to your listing because what you choose there can help your site show up when people are searching using similar words. Note that you don’t have to stick with the categories Google recommends; you can make up your own. I suggest doing some Google Maps searches using the types of phrases you’d want to show up for, and seeing what some of the sites that are currently showing up are doing.

I also highly recommend that you add photos and videos to your Place Page if you have them. Be sure that one of the pictures is your company logo! You can take a look at what we’ve done with our ‘High Rankings Place Page’ if you’d like some ideas.

One place we’re lacking at our site is reviews. We’ve been meaning to solicit some from clients, class attendees, forum users and newsletter subscribers, but haven’t gotten around to it. Come to think of it, while I have your attention and while you’re visiting our Place Page anyway, please feel free to write a review! Under “Photos & Video,” you’ll see a section for reviews and a link to write one of your own.

Even if your company is national in scope and doesn’t do much local business, I strongly suggest claiming and enhancing your Google Place Page. These local listings are showing in more and varied ways in the Google search results, well beyond just Google Maps. I expect them to gain even more prominence, given all the effort Google has been putting into them lately.

Jill Whalen, CEO of High Rankings and co-founder of SEMNE, has been performing SEO services since 1995. Jill is the host of the High Rankings Advisor newsletter and the High Rankings SEO forum.