For many small- to medium-sized businesses, the Internet is game changing. In the past, you might have won or lost customers based on the size of your Yellow Pages ads, but now given the increasing prevalence of the Internet, even the smallest shops can compete against the largest of companies.
So ensuring a company’s information in Google is correct and prominently ranked is of vital importance.
In mid-2010, Google significantly changed the way local results are displayed on its pages, merging organic listings, which appear because of their relevance to the search terms, as opposed to being an advertisement, with local listings.
You can recognize local listings as they display a business’s name, address and phone number. The local listing also has a link to that business’s Google Places page that contains reviews by other Google users, photos, hours of operation and a company description.
Google has created a control panel where you can manage the information displayed in your local listing called Google Places: google.com/places.
If you don’t manage your Google Places page, you run the risk your business information may be out of date or incorrect. For example, a New York Times story cited several examples of businesses that were inadvertently marked as closed. By not being proactive and claiming and/or monitoring their listing, those companies lost thousands of dollars.
Ready to claim your Google Places listing? It’s easy; just follow these steps:
1. Go to google.com/places. Find “Get Your Business Found on Google” and click its “Get Started” button. On the next page, you’ll be asked to login with a Google account. For most people, this is a Gmail account, though the best practice is to create an account for your company as you may need to give the log-in information to a service provider, and the last thing you want is for them to be able to read your personal e-mail.
2. Once logged in, Google will ask for your primary business phone number. Enter the number, and Google will do a search for your company. If you’re lucky, your company’s information will be pre-populated. Check and edit this information for accuracy. You need a physical address and not a P.O. box for this to work. If you work from home, use your home address, which you can hide from public view later.
3. Google allows you 200 words to describe your business in the description field. Make sure you are as descriptive as possible. Mention the major cities or areas you serve in addition to the types of landscaping you do. In the field that says “Category,” use broad categories as well as using custom categories like “eco-friendly landscapes” or “green-grass experts.” You can have up to five.
4. Next, upload photos. The ideal series of images is your logo, photos of past jobs and of your employees or office. This is to humanize your Places page. The best image size for this is 220 by 155 pixels. You also have the option to upload videos, which is highly advised.
5. Double-check all fields and click “Submit.” This will take you to a screen where you’ll be asked to verify your listing. In most cases, you’ll be given two options: Google calling you or Google sending you a postcard. It is always preferable to have Google call you as the verification process only takes a few seconds while the postcard can take weeks and frequently gets lost. In some instances, Google will only give you the option of receiving a postcard, in which case, keep a sharp eye out for it.
While verifying your listing ensures your information is correct, it does not ensure a prominent ranking in Google or Google’s local section. Optimizing and improving your rankings starts with consistency and completeness. Claim your listing and provide all of the items for which Google is looking, such as business description, photos and videos within your Places account.
The next step to improve your placement is to ensure consistency of your business’s name, address and phone number with the dozens of places around the web that have your company’s name, address and phone number listed on it (think of service and review directories like yelp.com, Yahoo Local, superpages.com, etc). The reason for this is that Google doesn’t trust the information it has about your company. When Google scans these sites and notices a consistent name, address and phone number, it will rank you higher within the local listings. You’ll want to make sure you update these listings with a consistent name, address and phone number.
Also, positive reviews by satisfied customers can help leverage your placement.
By Lee Gientke, who is the managing partner of Webmix Marketing (webmixmarketing.com), which specializes in helping home-services companies grow though online marketing.