To-Do List: Creating a Fabulous Google Place Page

Here is a paraphrase of conversations I’ve had with several local businesses recently:

Them: “How do I get on the first page of Google?”

Me: “Show up in the local business results.”

In each case, these businesses have no real hope of cracking the first page of Google’s web results. They are relatively small, local businesses that sell products that are also sold by large national or international companies. These large companies have a much better shot at ranking well in Google web results and likely have significant search engine optimization (SEO) budgets as well. But in each case, Google is also including local listings along with web results for queries relevant to the businesses I’m talking to. Below is an example of the results I get from Google.com when I search for “plumber denver”. You can see that in this case local listings show up before the web results. Google shows local listings when it thinks I may be interested in finding something locally, and uses my IP address and other indicators to determine what “local” means to me. Sometimes, local listings show up at the top, and sometimes they show up further down the page. While Google has had local listings for a while, they have been putting more emphasis on these listings in the last couple of years, and this trend is likely to continue. This is fantastic news for local business. (And kudos to Google for supporting local businesses in this way.)

Google Place Page Results

It can take a bit of work to show up in the local listings. Depending on the search term and other variables, Google may only show a few local results. Assuming you are not the only business of your type in your area, the tasks below will help your listing to be among those top results.

Before getting to the list, there is one dynamic you should understand about Google local business listings. With local listings, Google seeks to establish external verification of the content that appears on a business listing page (also known as a “Place Page”). Google uses public records of business data for verification, as well as business listings on yellow pages and other local sites. This verification process helps to prevent non-local or questionable businesses from showing up in the results, but it also means that you should be consistent in how you represent your name, address and other information about your business. For example, if your business name is ACME Plumbing, but you write it as “ACME Plumbing and Free Beer” in Google Place Pages, Google may not be able to verify your business name elsewhere, which could hurt your ranking and may result in a penalty.

I have organized the work in to a to-do list format, with explanations pertaining to each to-do list item. I also created a simple PDF to-do list for printing, without all of the explanations.

  1. Claim your listing: if your business has been around for a while, Google probably already has a listing with basic information. If your business is relatively new, they may not. In either case, you need to claim your listing to be able to edit most of the elements described here. Here is a post I did a few months back describing the basics of claiming a listing: Adding a Google Local Business Center Listing
  2. Enter Your Business Information
    1. Enter an Address – you probably don’t have much choice about this, but you will be better off if you can specify an address in the largest town or city in your area. Google favors listings that are in the city a user searches, versus towns and cities nearby. This factor is so important that it may be worth considering opening an office or somehow establishing a central address if you are near-to but not in a big city. But don’t be deceptive, Google is on the lookout for businesses that falsify locations with P.O. boxes and such. It is also important that the address you specify is reinforced by mentions of your business on other sites. For more on this, see Citations below. Google also allows you specify service areas for your business, but at the time of this writing doing so is more likely to cause harm than good. Also make sure your address is unique to your business, as multiple businesses at the same address can cause all kinds of headaches in Google Maps.
    2. Pick Categories – the categorization of your business listing is very important. Google uses categories to associate product and service search terms with your listing, even if those keywords don’t occur in your description or elsewhere. Google allows you to come up with your own custom categories, but it’s best to stick with standard categories as much as possible. As you are typing in category keywords, Google will suggest categories that relate to the keywords. These are the categories Google recognizes, and are likely to match to a wide variety of search terms. If you do feel that your business merits its own category, only do so if the category you create is a phrase people are likely to search. And don’t choose or create categories that are not directly relevant to your business. If the categories you choose do not relate to your web site or descriptions of your business on other sites, Google may penalize your listing.
    3. Pick a Business Name – you should stick with your registered business name or a registered DBA, but keywords here do matter. For example, if you offer physical therapy but your business name is just “John Smith”, you could consider getting a DBA of “John Smith Physical Therapy” and specifying that as your business name.
    4. Write a Description – the description can have a lot to do with whether or not your business gets a visit or a phone call, so above all else it should describe what you do in an accurate and compelling way. Try to introduce relevant keywords that are not in your business name or category selections, and avoid repeating category keywords unnecessarily.
    5. Pick a Phone Number – it is better to have a local phone number than a 1-800 number in your listing. And it helps if the number you specify is consistent with your business listing on other sites. It is also good if the number is unique to your business, so if you operate more than one business get more than one phone number.
    6. Add a Website Link – it is best if the link you specify points to a page that includes your business address. A “contact us” page is often a good choice, or if you have multiple locations you should create landing pages for each location and point to those with the corresponding Place Pages for those locations.
    7. Add Additional Details – Google allows you to add “additional details” to your listing such as brands carried or specific services. This is a great place to add lists of services offered or products carried, but don’t use this feature to repeat keywords you’ve already used in your categories or description, and don’t use it to stuff a bunch of new keywords in the listing. Additional details appear to have negligible impact on ranking, so limit these to information that will be useful to people visiting the page.
  3. Add photos: the completeness of a listing has an impact on ranking, and photos are an important part of being complete. As far as the ranking algorithm goes, the photos don’t have to be particularly good or interesting, but your goal is not just to rank, it is to have people visit or contact you. Many business owners upload poorly composed photos taken with a phone or similar low-fi device. It is worth making a little effort to get photographs that stand out. Google Place Pages are not very attractive on their own; good photos can help your listing convert visitors in to customers.
  4. Add a Coupon: adding a coupon won’t do a lot for your ranking (it will do a little), but it gives visitors to your page a reason to take action, and helps turn comparison shoppers into buyers.
  5. Check for Completeness: as mentioned above, one of the metrics Google looks at when ranking listings is overall completeness. Make sure that you have filled out all of the information fields that are relevant to your business, and added additional content where possible.
  6. Ask Your Friends to Review Your Listing: Google’s Place Pages UI feels like it is designed by robots and for robots. It is easy to get caught up in their drab world and forget that your goal is to share the excitement of your business with prospects. Have your friends look over your listing to make sure you are capturing what makes your business great.
  7. Enjoy a Cold Drink and Wait for Our Next Checklist!

Extra Credit

  1. Create a Video: while video belongs as part of a complete listing, I put it under Extra Credit because video takes effort to produce and plenty of listings do very well without video. Having video does not have a big impact on ranking, but video content can make your listing much more personal and it may be easier to create than you think. Production values are much less important than sincerity in a context like this. Below is an example of a small business video that has been wildly successful, with over 200,000 views. It is a bit over the top, but I also think there is a good lesson to be learned. Let your passion show and people will respond. You probably don’t need to swear as much as the man in the video, but he does make me believe he loves printing and I would give him my business if he was in my area.
  2. Get Citations: It will also have a big impact if you get more listings and mentions of your business online. Being listed on the major directory sites and local sites such as Chambers of Commerce and local guides will help your Google Place Page ranking. If you have not done so already, create listings on the sites included in our article Top 10 Free Places to List Your Business. Also have a look at the David Mihm, Dave Cosper and Rand Fishkin articles below for more ideas on how to get mentions of your business.
  3. Get Reviews: When you ask customers for feedback about your business, point them to an online review site such as Yelp or Superpages.com or your Google Place Page and ask them to provide feedback there. Google crawls many sources for reviews, so reviews almost anywhere can benefit your Place Page ranking. Some businesses are nervous about online reviews because a bad review can just sit out there forever-and-ever. If you are one of those, get over it. By encouraging your customers to review your business, the sum of feedback will provide a fair portrayal of how you are doing and you will appeal to a new generation of shopper that values reviews above all else. For more on soliciting reviews, see our article To-do List: Encouraging Reviews of Your Business.

Click Here for the Printer-Friendly PDF To-Do List

Additional Resources:

[note: this article was updated on 1/17/2011 to reflect changes in Google’s treatment of local listings]

This post is part of

Two Octobers’ Local

Online Marketing Guide.

Adding a Google Local Business Center Listing

A couple of weeks ago I posted a list of the Top 10 Free Places To List Your Business. This post is the first in a series describing my experiences adding a business to each of these sites.

A friend of mine recently lost his architecture job due to the recession. He’s decided to take this as an opportunity to start his own business. His name is Kelton Osborn and his business is QUICK-BEND design. He is a brilliant designer, but I’ll let his pictures speak for themselves. This is his website. Since he’s not in any directories, and he is looking to get exposure for his business, he is a perfect test candidate for my project.

Google is on top of my top 10 list, so I started with them. My first step was to follow the link on my top 10 post to the Google Local Business Center. I clicked on the “Add A New Business” link, and filled out address, phone number and description text – piece of cake. On the next screen, I could add photos and a video. I added some photos from the QUICK-BEND site. Google allows you to point to a picture URL, which makes it very easy. You can get the URL of a web photo by right-clicking and selecting “properties”, or control-clicking and selecting “copy image address” on a Mac. I strongly recommend adding photos to a business listing. Don’t assume people will click through to your web site to see pictures. They might, but you have to capture their interest first, and pictures are a good way to do that. Video is a great idea too, and Google is one of the only places where you can add a video to a listing for free. On most other sites this is a “premium” option that you only get if you pay. Once I finished filling out the business information, I was given the option for how I wanted to validate the listing. The two choices are by phone and by postcard.

I selected “by phone” and got this:

Google called right away. I got the PIN, entered it, and about 10 hours later voila:

And you can see the full Google Local Listing for QUICK-BEND design here. I don’t know about you, but I find that pretty exciting! The whole thing took less than an hour to do, including finding photos and getting the PIN. Next up: Facebook Fan Page.
A couple of related posts: why Google Maps is so important and why it would be good to get some customer reviews on this listing.

Top 10 Free Places to List Your Business

In putting together this list, we looked at a variety of factors, including overall traffic, domain authority, share of local search and depth of listing content in compiling the list. All of these sites also have paid advertising options, but first you should take advantage of what they have to offer for free. Note that in most cases, you will need to be able to verify a phone number and/or a physical address to add your listing. We have included traffic figures for each site, using Compete.com December, 2010 data.

1. Google Places

By adding your business to Google Places, you show up on Google Maps and Google local results. This is one of the most important things a local business can do to get found on the web. Here are a few reasons why:

Compete puts monthly visits for maps.google.com at 58M, but Google.com and mobile are probably the bigger traffic drivers. If we conservatively estimate that 10% of search on www.Google.com is local, that amounts to over 300M locally-oriented visits per month. I don’t know of a good source for usage data for the mobile Google Maps application – please let me know if you do.

To add your listing: Google Places. And while claiming your Place Page is a good start, you should also invest the time in optimizing your page so that you rank well for your categories.  Here’s an article with some pointers on Place Page optimization: To-Do List: Creating a Fabulous Google Place Page

2. Facebook Fan Page

Apart from being the most visited site on the internet, over 1.5 million businesses have created fan pages on the network, and 20 million people become fans of pages every day (source). Facebook is a long way from being the first place where consumers search for businesses, but it has quickly become the most likely place for consumers to connect with local businesses online. According to Compete, Facebook received almost 3.5 billion visits in December, 2010, though little of this constitutes local business search traffic.
To create a page you must be logged in to your personal account. People who follow your page won’t be able to see your private information, FB just doesn’t allow people to anonymously create pages. Also, once you’ve created it, you can add other administrators to the page.  Create a Facebook Page. And here are some suggestions for how to engage with prospects and get people interested in your business: Great Content for Facebook Business Pages

Facebook users can also check in to locations, and Facebook has their own version of place pages as part of this functionality. You need to claim or create a place page in addition to creating a business page, and then link it to your business page. Here are instructions for doing this.

3. Yellowpages.com/YP.com

AT&T owned Yellowpages.com rebranded as YP.com, and it’s not your parent’s yellow pages any more. Under pressure from the likes of Google and Yelp, YP.com has a fresh look and more social content and features. They also distribute listings to a number of syndication partners. Currently at 29 million visits per month.
Claim your listing

4. Superpages.com

Superpages also went through a significant redesign recently, but doesn’t seem to be keeping up with Yellowpages.com or the others. Their traffic figures indicate same, but they did have a nice uptick last Fall. They get 19 million local search visits a month.
Get your free listing now

5. Yelp

The review site Yelp is the most popular social site focused on local business search. Given its emphasis on social content and interaction, Yelp tends to do better than other directory sites when it comes to attracting younger, more social users. Currently at 18 million visits per month.
To add your listing: Yelp signup page

6. Citysearch

Citysearch.com has been holding steady for a number of years now in terms of on-site traffic, but they have been growing their network of distribution through syndication and the recently announced CityGrid blows their distribution opportunity wide-open. Currently at 9 million visits per month. Citysearch is also a powerhouse when it comes to review syndication.
To add your listing:
add business – note that you must be logged in to a personal Citysearch account to see this page.

7. Yahoo! Local

As with many things Yahoo!, Yahoo! Local is holding steady, but not seeing the growth of Google or even Bing. But they still provide a very popular service, so worth making sure you are listed there. Local.Yahoo.com is currently at 17 million visits per month, and we estimate about 60 million more local search visits at search.Yahoo.com.
To add your listing: add a business page

8. Bing Local

Microsoft has long struggled behind Google and Yahoo! in the world of web search, but the tides have turned of late. Since Microsoft launched Bing.com last year, they have steadily been gaining search share. Bing local and maps operate under the www.Bing.com domain, which gets 654M visits per month. We estimate 65M of that to be local search.
To add your listing: Local Listing Center

9. LinkedIn

LinkedIn isn’t exactly a place where people go to look for local businesses, but it does offer rich business listing functionality, and the domain carries quite a bit of authority. LinkedIn has also been adding many useful features for businesses, such as the ability to announce promotions, share articles and blogs, and list open jobs. LinkedIn is very important for business-to-business exposure, since people will often browse from a personal profile to a business profile. Currently at 48 million visits per month, though very little of this is local search traffic. Add a company to LinkedIn

10. Localeze.com

Localeze is not a local search site itself, it is a back-end data provider to many other local search services. Create an account on Localeze

Honorable Mention – Universal Business Listing

Universal Business Listing’s basic submission service costs $75, but deserves mention here. UBL.org provides an automated submission service that gets your listing into Acxiom and InfoUSA, back-end data providers similar to Localeze. UBL also distributes business information to a number of other sites. All told, submitting to UBL will get your listing on to hundreds of sites and services, definitely worth the $75.

You’ll notice that both Localeze and UBL distribute listing data to some of the sites mentioned here – we still recommend that you claim them and enter all the information you can.

A Couple of Pointers When Creating/Updating Listings

  • Be accurate and consistent. If you have a registered business name, use that as your business name in all cases. Some of these sites will verify your information with public business registration data, and consistency will help your search ranking.
  • Fill out everything you can. More information helps you get found, and makes your listing more useful to searchers – remember, your goal is not just to have your listings show up, you want people to visit your business.

There are many benefits to getting your business listed on other web sites. Four important ones are:

  • Links – links pointing to a web site are major factor in how that site ranks in search engines. I would say the most important factor, but linking is a complex and nuanced topic. Links are not all created equal. Where a link comes from is important. For example, a link from the home pages of nytimes.com is worth a lot more than a link on a page buried deep within a blog like this one. And some web sites put a “nofollow” attribute on links. This attribute is a way of telling search engines not to follow nor associate value with a link. However, there is still some SEO value in a nofollowed link, in particular because user behavior is also a factor in Google ranking. Matt Cutts of Google explains more about the value of nofollowed links here.
  • Web site traffic – this one is kind of obvious, but your listing will include a link to your web site, which will result in more traffic. Many consumers like to visit a web site before visiting a business. If yours isn’t listed, you lose out.
  • In-store traffic – consumers are using the internet more, and print yellow pages less.  According to one study, print accounts for less than a third of local business search. Listing your business on the web is now the best way to get people to walk in to or call your business.
  • Citations – citations are references to your business that include your business name and some sort of geographic identifier, like a phone number or street address. Citations are one of the signals Google uses to determine ranking for local listings.

[note: this post was updated in January, 2011]

This post is part of

Two Octobers Local.