Small and medium business owners know the importance of making it as easy as possible for customers to find them on Google and other search engines. In addition to strengthening their rankings for relevant search terms, they want to readily appear on location-based searches such as Google Maps. But many business owners are unaware of a related but separate Google service that also contains business listings, and they are missing out on opportunities for client acquisition and outreach.
Know the products.
The way Google organizes business listings has changed a lot in the past year, and the existence of two separate places within the Google universe for business listings – which contain some overlapping information – has been a source of confusion. Here are the specific products involved:
Google Places for Business (or simply “Places”) is the site for business owners to manage their listings within the Google universe. The “dashboard” within Places for Business controls information presented in Google Search, Google Maps and, in a new feature the company is currently rolling out, Google+.
Upon visiting the site, a new user is asked to search for their business to see whether Google is already aware of it – an established business will usually have a listing regardless of whether the owner manages it. If the listing already exists, the business owner can claim it. This is done by requesting a verification PIN by phone call or postal mail to the phone number or address of record. If the listing does not exist, the user is asked to create it by providing the business name, address, and phone number.
Google+ (pronounced and sometimes written “Google Plus”) is Google’s social networking service and answer to Facebook. As with Facebook, users of Google+ – both individuals and businesses – can create connections with people and companies, share information with the public or within their network, and engage in any general outreach and marketing they wish.
Google+ Local is the section of Google+ containing information on businesses and other places. As with Google Search and Google Maps, a business may very well have a listing on Google+ that is Google-created, not user-created. And as with those other services, owners may claim those listings through a postcard verification process so that they may manage the information therein. After they do so, they may engage in the social networking features of Google+.
When a person uses a single Google account to claim (or create) both a Places for Business listing and a Google+ Local page, the management of both of them will be combined under the Places for Business dashboard. This is a feature that Google began rolling out this year, and some users may find that they are not immediately able to manage their Google+ page from their Places dashboard.
Google+ also contains its own dashboard for individuals to manage their Local listings and other pages. However, its design and user-friendliness leave much to be desired. Use the Places dashboard whenever possible. Only use the Google+ dashboard to change Google+ Local information that is not manageable from your Places dashboard.
Control your information.
Even if everything in your Places listing is correct, you can significantly add to its usefulness by claiming it, controlling it, and doing the same with your Google+ page. If your firm’s contact information changes, you want to be able to update it immediately.
The information in your Places listing is among the most readily accessible information about your firm on the entire web. It directs the people who are looking for your website and attracts the attention of people who are deciding on an attorney.
Make the most of your online presence.
Explore the features of your dashboard. Remember that this information is highly user-accessible. Fill out all fields unless they are totally irrelevant to your firm. Some fields allow you to enter any text you may wish. You might fill in anything from your mission statement to how to find parking near your office. Be creative and informative.
Link your listings to your website, and link your website to your Google+ page. Get a single high-resolution image – preferably square -- of your logo and upload it to all of your online listings.
Google your firm name and location from your computer. A restrictive search like this should not only return your website as the top result, but should also return information from your Places listing right next to the web search results. Does that information present accurately and aesthetically? Does it feature your logo, or did Google automatically grab some other image from your site?
Another recently-added feature that may be available to you is assigning managers. You may designate by email address a manager who is allowed to edit both your Places listing and your Google+ page. That way, an employee, associate, or SEO professional can manage the information through their dashboard as if it were their own, changing listing information or posting updates to the Google+ page.
As the internet generation comes of age, more and more of your potential client base are using web search and social networking to decide who gets their business. To neglect to claim and control your online information is increasingly seen as lazy or sloppy. And a firm that maintains even the most basic social networking presence sticks out from those that do not. Distinguish yourself from the competition by taking advantage of these important services.
Create/claim and verify a Places for Business listing and a Google+ Local listing
1. Visit Google Places for Business at places.google.com. If you have more than one account with Google under different email addresses, be sure you are logged in under the account related to your business. Click ‘Get started for free’, search for your firm by name, then claim your Places listing (or create it) and request a verification PIN by phone or postcard.
2. Familiarize yourself with the Places dashboard. Verify existing information and add any additional information you wish.
3. On the dashboard, you may see an option to create a Google+ page. If so, click it. This will create a Google+ Local page for your firm with all information auto-populated from your Places dashboard, and you will be automatically verified. If this feature is available to you, this completes the process; skip the remaining steps. Otherwise, continue.
4. Visit Google+ at plus.google.com. Under the top-left "Home" menu, click "Pages." Click "Create a page," then select the ‘Local Business’ category.
5. Enter the same phone number associated with your Places listing. Select your firm if it is listed. If it is not shown, or you cannot receive mail at the listed address, click "Add your business to Google" and then follow the prompts to create your page.
6. Visit your Google+ dashboard at plus.google.com/dashboard. Click "Manage this page" on your business page. Choose the option to verify your business and request a postcard.
Google has phone support available for those who have trouble verifying their listings. Visit support.google.com/places and select the appropriate issue for instructions.