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Using Google Places and other Local SEO strategies can help you to capture more of your local market in today's marketing climate.

          Over the last 2 years, locational searches have become more prevalent than ever, and Google has adapted to this trend by rewarding local businesses that stay in touch with their consumers online.  Locational search terms are obviously an important factor in terms of pure SEO, but having a location oriented marketing strategy can also help improve your standard over-the-counter business model.  Although the Internet is a great marketing tool, the fact of the matter is that not all people want or appreciate an immersive online experience.  Older generations, and consumers in many fields just want to find out where they need to go to get "real" customer service.  These consumers are an important business demographic, and you don't want to lose any potential customers because they don't have the patience or computer savvy to find your basis contact info online.  That is where Google Places can be an invaluable tool in your online arsenal.

 

          Google Places is a free online marketing service that allows businesses to place their location on the widely used Google Maps function.  Registering a location will make a pin appear on the map, indicating the exact name and location of your business.  Clicking on that pin will then display your contact information, and a further click will take users to your Google Places page listing, where you can post photos, videos, and a short description of what your business does.  Although this seems like a simplistic marketing tactic, it is important not to underestimate the importance of fine tuning your presence on Google Places as time goes by.  According to Google itself, 20% of all search terms include a locational query.  There are 50 million Place Pages and growing, and most Place Pages are poorly optimized for mobile web users.  Here are 5 basic Local SEO tips that will allow you to maximize Google Place Pages as a marketing tool for your business.

 

Stick to the Basics

          Make sure to include all of the most relevant information about your business up front: name, address, phone number, email, and hours of operation.  List your business under its actual name, and do not use highly customized categories to describe your goods and services.  Although this sort of descriptive detail is usually rewarded, doing so on Google Places will actually harm your ranking (e.g. use "italian food" rather than "sicilian food", or "flower shop" rather than "floral boutique").  On your Places Page, you are allowed to give a 200 character description of your business.  Be concise and to the point, and aim for quality content and semantic SEO, because keyword stuffing will be penalized.  Its important to have pictures and videos, but only if they are relevant.  Do not have pictures for pictures' sake.

 

2) Optimize Google Places for the Mobile Visitor

          56% of mobile users run locational searches on their mobile devices.  This makes it the number 1 web browsing activity on the fastest growing field of Internet capable devices in the world. (http://www.comscore.com/Insights/Presentations_and_Whitepapers/2013/Trends_Shaping_Local_Search_in_2013).  Many of these users run locational searches to do pre-shopping research, but despite this, most websites (especially small ones) are not optimized for mobile devices.  Make sure that your responsive web design strategy takes into account how your business will display on Google Maps.  Having your phone number link directly to a call is a nice function that will only encourage users to reach out and make contact.

 

3) List All Your Locations

          If your business has multiple locations, maintain a Google Places Page for every one.  It is a classic mistake to think that listing your headquarters or main location will lead users to your site to discover that there is a location conveniently closer to them.  If your mailing address is a PO Box, do not list it unless you absolutely have to.  Remember, these are localized searches.  If you do not register every relevant location, your business may not even appear on the users search.  On that note, it is also important to go online and claim each of your locations (http://www.google.com/business/placesforbusiness/index.html).  If you are not the verified owner, anyone can edit your information on Google Places.

 

4) Use Schema.Org

          On a more technical note, Schema is a jointly supported protocol that allows web designers to mark up most of their content with special tags written in HTML.  Schema can be used to mark up maps, addresses, pictures, reviews, and pretty much everything else you need to include on a good Google Places Page.  Schema helps define the semantic relationship between these elements, which will help boost your search results, and is treated favorably by its designers: Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

         

5) Encourage and Respond to User Reviews

          Invite your users to post reviews about your business on Google Places.  Respond to these reviews, and keep them coming over time so that Google can verify that you have a legitimate local business.  This will boost your rankings, making your business more visible and relevant to users.  Encourage anyone who posts on your Google Places Page to post similar reviews on websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, YellowPages, and CitySearch.  These external reviews will validate to Google that your business is an important fixture in the community.  But as always, be careful.  Yelp can sink a business as quickly as it can make one, so seek out loyal customers who give positive reviews to keep a consistently high review ranking.  These Local SEO strategies will improve your search rankings, and allow you to take advantage of one of the simplest and most effective marketing avenues out there today.

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