Houston Small Business Guide to Google Places

In the past when someone wanted to find a business they reached for the phone book.  Today that is no longer the case.  In fact, a recent survey done by the website Yelp.com indicated that 89% of people polled used the phone book only once a month or not at all.  So where are people going to find businesses instead?  For most people, the answer is Google.

Google is the world’s largest search engine with billions of search queries processed each day.  According to Google, over 25% of those search terms are local in nature, meaning that every day Google processes 3 billion searches each month for local businesses and other topics of regional interest.

It should be noted that as internet-enabled mobile phones become more popular, local search is increasing.  People are using their phone to find out information about a particular spot while on site.  For example, it’s not uncommon these days for a couple to be walking down a street and decide they want to eat out at a restaurant.  All they need to do to find a restaurant is pull out their phone and perform a search for the term, “restaurant”.  Google will present them with several restaurant options nearby.  Local mobile search is a trend that is here to stay.  By the year 2014, it is expected that more people around the world will access the Internet by phone than by computer.  With that change, you should expect an increasing dependency on local search.

Searching for local businesses is such a popular activity on Google that they decided to make a section of their search engine dedicated just to local businesses.  That section is called Google Places.  Google Places seeks to replace traditional phone books with dynamic business listings that include more information about a business and more localized results.

While the phone book usually lists businesses in a variety of cities, Google Places localizes results to one particular city or even a particular neighborhood.  When someone searches for a term like “auto mechanics” on Google, the search engine automatically recognizes where the searcher is located and at the top of the search engine results page presents the searcher with customized search results based on their location.  So if the searcher Googled “auto mechanics” while on a computer in Houston, the first natural or non-paid ad results, would only contain auto mechanics located in Houston.

Google Places Houston Business Local Search Results

Unlike the phone book though, Google Places does not list businesses in alphabetical order.  Instead, Google tries to determine the most relevant results to a searcher’s query.  Google Places listings with all the appropriate information filled out and optimized are more likely to be listed on the first page of Google than listings that are not appropriately optimized.

Let me be very clear about what that means.  If your business listing with Google Places is not filled out at all or is filled out incorrectly, it will probably not appear on the first page of results for Google Places.  As you may know from personal experience, relatively few people take the time to look beyond the first page of Google.  If your Google Places listing is not in the first few results for your business type, it is likely that most Google searchers will miss the listing all together.  In fact, it’s estimated that only about 8% of searchers continue their search onto the second page.  If you want local customers to find you on Google, being on the first page of Google Places is an absolute must.

What Types of Businesses Can Be Listed in Google Places?

Nearly any type of business can be part of Google Places.  It does not matter if you’re a B2B business or a B2C business.  Google Places allows businesses with storefronts to be listed, as well as service businesses that service customers at their homes or offices.  If you’re a business with multiple locations, each of your locations may be listed on Google Places as a separate “place”.

There are three main types of businesses that can not use Google Places:

  • Businesses that are not open yet to the public
  • Vacation homes and apartment rentals
  • Any business that does not have direct in-person contact with customers.

Checking to See If Your Business Has a Places Listing

Chances are, unless your business just opened, you have a Google Places listing already.  Google uses information from directories around the Internet to find out details about a particular business and then uses that information to create an initial Google Places listing.  If you go to https://www.google.com/local/add you can check your business’ phone number against Google’s records.  If your listing is already available, you will be able to edit your Google Places profile to correct any mistakes in the listing.  If your business is not yet in Google Places, it will prompt you to add your business.

What Information Does a Google Places Profile Contain

A good Google Places profile goes beyond just listing a business name, phone number, and address.  Google Places gives you the chance to truly showcase your business.  Your Google Places profile can include:

  • Your contact information
  • Operating hours
  • Types of payment accepted
  • Pictures of your business (up to 10)
  • Videos of your business (up to 5)
  • Reviews from Google users
  • Coupons and specials
  • Information on how to access your business from public transportation (if you’re in a physical location)

There is also a dynamic option to include other information about your business that isn’t part of a standard Google Places listing.  For example, if you’re a restaurant, you might want to add information about your menu.  If you’re a plumber, you may want to add more information about your services and so on.

How Do I Get My Google Places Profile on the First Page of Google?

As mentioned before, if you want to be on the first page of Google, it is very important that you fill out your Google Places listing correctly.  Google has many rules about the formatting and presentation of your Google Places profile and one misstep could blow your ranking or, worse yet, get your Places profile suspended.  Google is not trying to make it difficult to fill out your listing, but they do want to make sure that your profile meets a certain standards and is not fraudulent in anyway.  For example, if most directories, like the phone book’s website, have your address listed as 123 Main Street #1 Anytown NY normally and on Google Places you list your address as 123 Main St Suite #1 Anytown NY, Google Places may get confused and eliminate your profile since the address information doesn’t appear consistent.  It’s very important to read through Google’s Quality Guidelines before making any changes to your profile.

Another important factor for getting on the first page of Google is “citations”.  Citations are other places on the Internet the reference your businesses name, address, and phone number.  Having many citations is important because they help prove to Google that your business is relevant for a particular search.  Remember, as I pointed out at the beginning of this report, Google wants to show searchers the most relevant information for their query.  If Google has no proof that you’re a relevant listing for a particular search, it will not rank you highly.  It is critically important that your business information be listed in as many online directories and websites as possible.  You want to provide ample proof to Google that your business exists and that it is relevant to certain keywords in your local area.

A third factor Google considers is how many reviews your business has.  If your business has many reviews and overall the reviews are positive, then you will probably rank highly.  On the other hand if your site has no reviews or is rated very poorly, you may be penalized by Google.  Make it a priority to get many positive reviews as possible.  That being said, it is important to keep in mind that you should never write reviews for your own business or write negative reviews about a competing business.  Google has a sophisticated way of telling whether reviews are legitimate or not and if Google suspects you’re somehow trying to game the system, your Places Page may be suspended.  Believe me when I say that trying to cheat the system is not worth it.  Instead, you should work towards getting real reviews from real customers.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with Google Places, don’t be.  Big Splash specialize in helping businesses obtain top Google Places rankings and can help you manage a sensible strategy for getting your business ranked at the very top of Google.  All you need to do is call 281-816-6932 to speak with one of our marketing specialists.  We look forward to working with you.

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