google places optimization
Image: Google.com/places

For small businesses, local search is becoming increasingly important to the bottom line. In 2009, 82% of consumers were using search engines to find information about local companies. Two years later, that statistic has grown to 86%, due in large part to the increasing prevalence of mobile search. All those searches can lead to quite a few dollars. For every dollar American consumers spend online, five or six go to offline purchases fueled by online research.

Many small business owners seem to get this. In a recent survey, 60% of small business owners said they knew online local business listings were important. Yet only 15% of small businesses have claimed a listing on Google Places. One reason for this may be that many don’t know how to optimize their listing in Google Places. If you’re a business owner and you’re not included in that 15%, you could be missing out on exposure andrevenue. Here are some tips to create and optimize your Google Places page.

How To Optimize Your Google Places Page

1.Claim Your Listing

Even if you’ve never set up a Google Places page, you may find one already started for your business. Do a quick search for your business name to see if one exists. If you find one, go to the page, click on “business owner?” and follow the directions to claim it. If one does not exist, create one.

2.Create Your Listing

Sign into the Google account you’ll want associated with your business. If you don’t have one, you can create one for free. Google Places will then ask you to fill in your business phone number to see if Google Maps already has information on your business. Next, you’ll be taken to the page where you can fill out all information associated with your business. Be sure to fully fill out every part of this page.

3. Verify Your Listing

Once you’ve created your listing, the next and crucial step is to verify it. Google wants to make sure you’re the true business owner and won’t include your listing in their search results until you verify it. Google may give you an option to verify your listing by phone, but you’ll mostly likely have to wait a few weeks for them to send you a postcard in the mail. Once it’s verified, you can begin optimizing it.

4. Optimize Your Listing

Before diving into the listing itself, take some time to do a little keyword research. Because this listing will affect search engine rankings, you want to get the most bang for your buck by targeting the right search terms. Use Google’s Keyword Tool to help you figure out the most searched-for keywords relating to your business.

Once you’ve determined which keywords to target, optimize the title of your Google Places page by including keywords that may help it rank. For example, if you owned a grocery store named Trader Bob’s, you could list the title as “Trader Bob’s Grocery Store” to optimize your listing for the keyword “grocery.” If you’re only the Cambridge location in a chain of Trader Bob stores, you could also make the title “Trader Bob’s Cambridge,” or “Trader Bob’s Grocery Store Cambridge.”

Next,create a short description of your business and what it does. Try to include one or two keywords from the research you did using Google’s Keyword Tool. If you were Trader Bob’s, you would want to include “supermarket” and “groceries” in your description since they are the most relevant and highly searched keywords relating to that business.

Remember that relevance is just as important as search popularity, so choose keywords that fit your business practices. The same advice can be applied to choosing the categories your listing will be included in. You can choose up to five of them, so make sure they’re all relevant to what your business does.

The last important part of optimizing your listing is rounding it out with any videos, photos, links to social media accounts, and any other extras that will help engage the people who visit your Google Places page.

Ranking Optimization and Networking Tips

Because Google is a search engine, some of the factors of standard search engine optimization (SEO) apply to Google Places. Links and reviews will be important factors that will help your listing rank, and the more reviews you have, the more likely Google will consider your listing to be favorable. Any links and mentions of your business name that you can get on other sites will also help in getting the listing to rank well. Below are some tips on how to gain some of that exposure.

  • Create listings for your business on popular local directories such as Yelp, CitySearch, Merchant Circle, and others.
  • Network, get involved and keep up with trends on a business networking site. This is also a great way to find out what other small business owners are doing to gain exposure and reach more customers.
  • Offer coupons to the customers who visit your listings and website. You can offer these directly from your Google Places page. This may encourage regular customers to keep coming back, and help you gain new customers, all of whom may be more likely to leave positive reviews of your business.

Optimizing your Google Places page will increase your business’s exposure in local search. Before long, you should notice a widened customer base, which means an increase in revenue can’t be far behind.

About the author: Niall Devitt is the Community Manager at BizSugar, an online community of small business people.