Lately, local search seems to have become all consumed with the Google Places Local Business Directory. The reason being, Google lists their Places results at the top of the page ahead of the traditional organic search listings. This has created a dynamic shift in the way Internet marketers and local business owners use the Internet for community based customer acquisition. Many local businesses have come to find themselves struggling in a stagnate economy, and know they have to look beyond the phonebook for new customers.
Google Places is such an attractive marketing channel because of its absence of cost and the tremendous potential ROI the platform can offer local business. Within the past few years, Google has been working extremely hard to identify “search intent”. This is the process of understanding the meaning (or “intent”) behind a keyword search as well as the search engine users motivation for performing the search. So in other words, if a New York based searcher enters the keyword phrase “dentists”, Google understands that they are not looking for a dental practitioners based out of L.A. , and serves their results accordingly. So instead competing for search engine positions on a national scale, these local business owners are now vying for position amongst only their regional competition. This has leveled the playing for businesses that before felt it was impossible to compete on such a national scale.
One of the most important factors in increasing your local visibility is the development and posting of citations. I’ve had quite a few customers ask me why their “more complete” Google Places profile ranks lower then a competitor. A quick look at the “More About This Place” section of their Places profile often reveals the culprit. “More complete” profiles are often viewed as lees relevant than others simply because they have more web citation. By examining these citations and creating profiles on the same sites, you can effectively negate the difference between the two profiles. Just as backlinks are vital to traditional search listings, citations are essential for competitive placement of the Places profile.
So what is a citation? It’s simply a mention of your business name, address, phone number and website on the Internet. Internet based directories Best of Web Local, Brownbook and Merchant Circle offer opportunities for businesses to list their information in their directories. Google indexes and populates the Places profile with these citations it finds as it scourers the web. The citation creation process can be quite a time consuming task, but services such as Universal Business Listing can help ease this process by distributing the citations to nearly 100 directories. This by no means covers all of them, but can give you a good head start.
It is extremely important to make note of the importance of maintaining the accuracy of these web citations. They must appear exactly the way they do in your Places profile. Inaccuracy or even a slight deviation can cause the citation not to be counted.
Even if you’ve completed your profile and built citations, these changes can take weeks and even months to be reflected in Google Places. For whatever reason, it takes an extremely long time to have the citations populate the profile. Eventually they will, but in the mean time it can put marketers and business owners in a holding pattern, waiting for results.
Once these citations populate and your listing reaches the “top seven box”, it can literally transform a business. One of our clients is a New York City Auto Repair Shop, which literally gets over half their business by means of their Google Places Profile. In ranking for some really competitive keywords, the shop attracts the majority of their new customers from the web. This provides the business with a steady stream of new customers , vital for their day to day survival.
The shift in importance in local search and web based marketing is clear. Traditional print publications such as YellowPages have attempted to reinvent themselves by offering inferior Internet Marketing services such as their YP.com.
So should a local business Internet marketing campaign be consumed with ranking well in Google Places? Well it’s a big part, but not the whole equation. Local natural search listings are still pertinent and important to the local business’s Internet presence. Many have reported seeing strange anomalies on Google where the Google Places listings have been moved from their current position, to the right-hand side of the page (currently where Adwords is). This shifts the natural listings back into prime position on Google Search Heat Map. Reportedly, this is Google split testing new positions for their maps results. This could be disastrous to a company that relies on Google Places alone for their web traffic. The fact is, Google is a third party provider. What they do and how they do it is up to them. Having a more diversified spread out Internet strategy is defiantly in the best interest of the customer.