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Guide to Using Google Plus Local Places to Market Your Small Business

As an SEO consultant, I receive many questions on how to use Google Plus Local Places as an effective online marketing tool. To help small businesses make the most of Google Places, I’ve put together this step-by-step guide. Google Places benefits small businesses by:

  • Enhancing natural search rankings.
  • Increasing local search visibility.
  • Attracting and managing online reviews.

Google Places gives your business a free Place Page with a map and other features, including a website link, company description, categories, photos, video links, reviews, and more. Claiming and optimizing your Place Page on Google helps your business and your website rank higher in natural search results and maps searches.

You can use Google Places even if you don’t have your own website.

Update June 29, 2012: Google Places to Google Plus Local Places Conversion

Google is in the process of merging Google Places into Google+ Local. For now, you’ll still use Google Places for Business to claim, verify, and enter information about your business. Your business listing will appear on Google Maps and Google+ Local.

For more information, see this article from Google: What happened to Google Places?

On the Google Places home page, Google mentions that more changes are coming in the next few months. I plan to monitor the changes and update this guide when the conversion to Google+ Local is further along. — Thanks, Mary Gammel

Table of Contents

Because this post is quite long, please use the following links to visit the sections you are most interested in.

1 – Sign up for a Google Account

Before you can claim a Google Places page for your business or review another company on Google, you’ll need a Google account. This account is used for all your activities on Google (Analytics, Gmail, AdWords, YouTube, etc).

You may want to have separate accounts for personal and business use. If you already have an account that you use with Google for your business, then skip this step.

Here’s how to sign up for an account to use with Google Places:

  1. Open your browser and go to: http://www.google.com/places/
  2. Click the Get started button.
  3. Click the SIGN UP button to create a new account.
  4. Enter the requested information. You do not  need a Gmail account. You can use your main business email address so that it is easy to remember.
  5. Click the Create my account button.
  6. Follow any instructions you receive to confirm or verify your account.

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2 – Claim the Place Page for your business

Even if you haven’t claimed your Google Places Page yet, there may be one listed already for your business because sometimes this information is pulled from marketing databases and other sources.

Repeat the following steps for all physical locations of your business. Each location must have a valid physical mailing address; PO boxes are not acceptable. When entering your listing information, you have an option to hide your mailing address and show just the city and state where your business is located.

TIP: It’s best to wait until after you’ve verified your listing once before you change your business name, phone, or address. Changing these items before verification usually causes the verification process to take longer or to get hung up because Google doesn’t recognize your business.

  1. Open your web browser and go to: http://www.google.com/places.
  2. Click on the Get started button.
  3. Log in using your Google Account if prompted.
  4. Add your business by searching for it. If it is not found, you will need to add a new business listing. If it is found, you want to claim the appropriate business listing.
  5. Fill out the information about your business:
    1. Complete as much information as possible.
    2. For categories, you need to choose one category from Google’s list. Then you can add up to four more categories by using the provided list or entering a new category. For best results, enter broad categories that match your product or service offerings. Do not use geographic terms in categories.
    3. Upload your logo first and then any photos or images.
    4. Link to any videos you have on YouTube.
    5. Review the listing preview on the right side of the screen for accuracy.
    6. Save your listing.

You can find more detailed instructions from Google at Add a listing for your local business.

Google also has rules about Google Places listings that you can read here: Google Places quality guidelines. It is best to follow these guidelines to the letter. If you don’t, your listing will be flagged and removed from verified status (if already verified).

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3 – Verify your Place Page ownership

After you claim your business Place Page and enter the information, you must verify ownership of the business. Changes you made when claiming your Place Page will not appear until you complete the verification process.

It is wise to be patient with this process and do it the right way. Problems with verification often occur when the address or the phone number do not match the listing on file with Google or when too many businesses have been verified with the same phone number or same address.

In general, you may choose from these two verification methods:

  1. Phone verification – If this option is available and you choose it, Google will call the phone number associated with your business listing right away, and you should have your PIN in seconds. However, this option will only work if a person answers the phone and records the PIN. If you have automated call answering or a very busy office, it might be easier to verify via US mail.
  2. Verification by postcard – Google will send a postcard with your PIN to the mailing address of your business. This generally takes a week or so to arrive. If you change your business phone number, address, or company name, you will need to verify via postcard.

When you receive your PIN, log into to Google Places again and enter the value provided. Once verified, listings generally appear in Google Maps within a week.

Remember, if you change your business name, phone, or address, you must re-verify with Google Places.

For more information, please visit the Google Places for Business About verification page.

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4 – Change information about your business

After you have a claimed and verified the Place Page for your business, you can log in to Google Places anytime to modify the listing to add or change things such as photos, video links, special offers, business description, and categories. Re-verification is needed if you change your business name, phone, or address.

You can even add additional locations for your business here. Each new location requires verification.

In general, changes you make will show up on Google Maps in about a week.

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5 – Get a link to your Google Places Page

Once you have a Google Places Page for your business, you’ll want to let people know about it so that they have an easy map reference to your location and so that they can review/rate your business. Add a link to your Place Page to your website and email signature.

Here’s how to get a direct link to your Place Page:

  1. Open your web browser and go to: http://maps.google.com/. This is the main Google Maps website.
  2. Search for your business name and location or phone number.
  3. In the list of businesses that appear, click your business name. Your business information will pop up on the map or you’ll go directly to your Place Page.
  4. If needed, click your business name again in the map popup to display your Place Page.
  5. On your Place Page, click the word Link near the upper right corner.
  6. Check the Short URL box.
  7. Copy the link provided and Paste into a document or email for safekeeping.

Here’s an example of the Link dialog box that appears:

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6 – Ask people to review and rate your business on Google Maps

It helps your business when you get some traction going with reviews on your Google Places listing. The best strategy for this is to ask customers to review your business. After you complete a sale or a project, send a follow-up email or postcard asking for a review. You can also remind people to review/rate you when you send out invoices or thank-you cards.

Keep in mind that in order to review your business on Google, the reviewer must have a Google account and must log in to leave a review. Not everyone is comfortable with this, but the requirement cuts down on extraneous, spam-filled reviews.

When you ask people for reviews, provide them with a direct link to your Place Page. If you are using printed postcards or thank-you notes, you can provide a QR code that links people directly to your Place Page.

You may also want to give your customers some helpful hints on how to write a review. Include both technical instructions (see next section) and a few guidelines as well. Guidelines for reviews help create richer, more meaningful testimonials.

For example, a review that reads, “Great product. Would buy from again,” does not provide much substance. Some good guidelines would be to ask people to identify the product or service they purchased, what they liked about the experience/product, and what benefits they received from it.

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7 – How to write reviews on Google Maps

Here are some instructions for writing reviews. To simplify step #1, I suggest always providing your customers with a direct link to your Google Places Page.

  1. Find the business on Google Maps:
    1. Go to the direct link provided for the business. Proceed to #2 below.
    2. OR go to http://maps.google.com and search for the business you want to review. Then click the business name in the left sidebar to pop up the business information on the map. Then click more to show the option to write a review.
  2. Click Write a review.
  3. If you are not logged in to Google, you will be prompted to log into your Google account or create a Google account if you don’t have one.
  4. Once logged in, you can write the review as follows:
    1. Select the star rating by clicking the stars next to Your rating.
    2. Type in the text for your review in the big box.
    3. Click Publish to save your review.

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8 – How to respond to negative reviews

When you start asking for reviews, you may get a few negative ones mixed in. There may be spam reviews from people you don’t even know, or there may be inappropriate reviews that need to be removed. You may even want to thank some customers for their positive reviews. Responding to the people who give you feedback shows you care about your customers and what they think.

The good news is that Google has built a way for verified Google Places business owners to respond via Google to reviews posted on their Places listing. Your response is public, so, it will appear on your listing for everyone to see. Google has posted helpful guidelines to responding to reviews for Google Places users.

While it may be hard to respond to a clearly negative review, take a few breaths and craft a response in a word processor first. Think about what you write in your response. Be nice and be positive to show that you care.

There are two ways to handle review responses on Google Places:

  1. Respond publicly as the owner:
    1. Log in to Google Places and view your listing.
    2. Scroll down to the review you want to respond to.
    3. Click Respond publicly as the owner underneath that review.
    4. Type your response in the box provided.
    5. Click Publish to post your response.
  2. Flag a review as inappropriate:
    1. Log in to Google Places and view your listing.
    2. Scroll down to the review you want to flag.
    3. Click Flag as inappropriate underneath that review.
    4. The Report a policy violation page will appear.
    5. Follow the instructions on the page.
    6. Click Submit to send your request to Google.
    7. Wait for Google to respond. This can take a while because a person needs to review your claim. If you are concerned about the review being on your listing, you can always post a public response to it for users to see while you are waiting.

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9 – How to report problems with Google Places listings

Sometimes, there are problems with Google Places listings that you need help resolving. The problems may include incorrect information in your listing, spam, duplicate listings, verification issues, and so on.

Remember for verification of your listing, that you may need to wait a few weeks for the postcard and then another week for your listing to appear. If you haven’t received a postcard after three weeks, you can request another. If you’ve entered your PIN and your listing does not appear after a week or two, then you can report a problem to Google.

There are a few ways to report problems to Google regarding Google Places listings:

  1. If you are working with your own listing, then log in to Google Places and go to your Dashboard. Near the upper right corner, click the Help link. Read through the articles in the Fix a Problem section. If those don’t help, then use the links for Listing Issues and Verification Issues on the left side of the screen in the “Contact Us” section.
  2. If you find a problem with another listing that you want to report, you can use the Report a problem form. To access this form, use Google Maps to view the Place listing with the problem. Then scroll to the very bottom of the page and click Report a problem. Follow the instructions on the window that pops up.

In both cases, a person will investigate your claim and get back to you. This may take a week or two. Verify that the problem still exists before you report the same issue over again.

Google Places offers online support only via the above methods. There is no telephone or email support available.

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10 – Enter special offers and post updates

Google Places has several additional features for promoting your business—you can enter special offers (online coupons) with expiration dates and also post updates about special events at your business. These features are free to verified Google Places business owners.

To take advantage of special offers and updates, log in to Google Places and go to the dashboard for one of your locations.

To share an update, just type a brief message into the Share an update on your Place page box and click Share to post your message. Updates are great for promoting special events and news about your business. For example, if you have a different special or event each weekend, post your update on Mondays so people will see it all week. You can post new updates as many times as you  wish. If you leave an update active, it will automatically be removed in 30 days.

To enter a special offer, click the Offers tab from the Google Places Dashboard. A screen appears that shows your current offers, if any. Here, you can edit or remove existing offers as well as add a new offer. When you add a new offer, you must specify a discount or dollar amount as well as the terms of the offer, including an expiration date. A preview of the offer appears on the right side of the screen. When you are done entering the details of your offer, click Publish to save it. You can have several offers active at the same time.

It’s a good idea to keep your Google Places offers and updates fresh and relevant for each of your locations.

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11 – Promote your Google Places Page with advertising

So far all of the above features I’ve mentioned are free to verified Google Places business owners. But if you want to add extra exposure to your Google Places listing, you can create a pay-per-click advertisement that links people directly to your business’ Place Page. Google calls this AdWords Express.

An ad from AdWords Express is tied to one of the business categories that you chose for your listing. You can create an ad for each category that is not a custom category. That is, the category is in Google’s list of categories, not one that you typed in yourself.

For this type of advertising, you set up a monthly budget that gets you a certain number of clicks per month. The minimum budget is $150. The actual number of clicks you receive per month varies depending on your budget, your category, and the cost-per-click amount assigned by Google.

There is usually a link to AdWords Express on your Google Places dashboard, but you can also access it here: http://adwords.google.com/express. For more information, visit the AdWords Express help page.

Using AdWords Express for Google Places is optional. If you do decide to try it, I suggest a 90- day trial period. And remember to use meaningful keywords in your headline and ad copy. It helps to specify your location or service area in the ad to reduce the number of clicks from outside your area.

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12 – Monitor the performance of your Google Places page

Once you have your Google Places listing and reviews are coming in, you should periodically monitor your account. You can request that Google email you monthly performance updates and other information by checking boxes on the Google Places settings screen.

You can also log in to Google Places and view the dashboard for each location to see current statistics such as:

  • How many times your Place Page was viewed (impressions)
  • How many times people clicked for more information or to visit your website (actions)
  • Top search queries
  • Where requests for driving directions originate

If you are asking people to review your business on Google Places, then you must check at least weekly for reviews. Respond to these reviews as needed.

Periodically, check the map position of your Google Place Page for your categories and geographic location. For example, go to Google Maps and type in “seo wheaton il” or “carpentry glen ellyn il” or whatever describes your category, city, and state. Try all categories and keep track of what page and position you show up on. This last step is important as sometimes Google changes its algorithm or new businesses appear, and your Place Page ranking may go down. By monitoring this regularly, you can identify problems quickly and adjust your Place Page if necessary.

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13 – Optimization tips for Google Places

You will find many tips available on the web about optimizing your Google Places listing. In fact, an online marketing company, Bizible, has performed a study of the best optimization practices for Google Places. The links to this study as well as a few other optimization tips are below:

The best tips for optimization are to use categories that describe your product/service, to get at least five reviews on your listing, and to follow Google’s guidelines for Place Pages.

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14 – Get additional help with Google Places

To get help with Google Places, click the Help link in the Google Places dashboard or visit: http://support.google.com/places.

For more information, you can search the internet for articles on Google Places and Google Places reviews.

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Because Google periodically changes how things work, I plan to update this guide occasionally. If you have any other tips or ideas, please share them in the comments section below.

 

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