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.)
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.
- 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
- Enter Your Business Information
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Enjoy a Cold Drink and Wait for Our Next Checklist!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Quality Guidelines for Place Pages – Google
- Local Search Ranking Factors – Various Contributors
- 8 Steps to Building an Optimized Local Business Listing – Dev Basu
This is the 3rd article in a series of three. The first two are worth reading as well and linked-to from the top of this article.
- One Dead Simple Tactic for Better Rankings In Google Local – Rand Fishkin
- Local vs Traditional SEO: Why Citation Is the New Link – David Mihm
- Optimizing Your Business Listing for Local Search Supremacy – Dave Cosper
[note: this article was updated on 1/17/2011 to reflect changes in Google's treatment of local listings]