Small Business and Google+: Opportunity for Better Local Search Results

In May of 2012,  Google replaced its Google Places with Google+ Local. At first glance it seems to be nothing more than a rebranding of Google Places where local businesses show up on a Google local search on a map with a pin in it locating a business. Small business owners could write a few words to promote their business and link to their web page. Google users could also give ratings about the business without having to sign in to Google Places.

The interface that users encounter on Google+ Local provides a more complete helping of business data. In addition to the more granular Zagat ratings there are new features such as suggestions for nearby businesses. Google believes that these enhancements make for a far better consumer experience.

By replacing Google Places with Google+ Local the functionality is pretty much the same. However, Google has partnered with Zagat to provide ratings. This may seem like a small change, but it is actually a major difference. On the one hand, it is a positive change as users have to sign in to their Zagat account to review a business on Google+ Local. This additional step may reduce frivolous bad reviews. But, at the same time it worries business owners who had a difficult time getting positive reviews from satisfied customers who now have an added impediment to writing a review.According to Google one of every 4 searches on Google is estimated to be a local search, and customer reviews are extremely important. Besides the Zagat ratings, Google+ users can “+” a business. This is similar to ‘Liking” a business page on Facebook.

Businesses that already claimed their Google Places spot have been automatically rolled into Google+ Local. The new service remains free and allows businesses to add photographs and links.

Many may think this is a “soft” attempt to get businesses to buy Google Ad Words. While it very well may be part of Google’s strategy, it is more likely that it is an attempt to parlay Google+, which is Google’s social media into a more robust Internet destination for users. While Google+ Local has much fewer subscribers than Facebook they claimed in an unusual announcement in September 2012 that they had 400 million individuals signed up for Google+, and 100 million users actively checking in to business pages.

What is a bit strange is that businesses that want to manage their Google+ Local page have to go to the Google Places for Business page. There does not seem to be a home page for Google+ Local for businesses.

Google+ Local is easy for consumers to use and is accessible from standard computers, netbooks, tablets and Smartphones running Android OS. It seems as if Google has finally found a social media platform that will work for them, especially since they are the mega-giant search provider. Small business owners need to pay attention to how Google+ Local evolves. It would be wise to setup a Google+ page, if you don’t already have one, learn how to monitor it and make sure that the Google+ Local experience is maximized for both your business and consumers.

7 Tips for Local Search Optimization

Local search optimization doesn’t have to be hard. If you can afford a consultant, great, but you don’t need one to make an impact on the local marketplace. Here are a few tips for improving your local search marketing efforts:

1. Be Easy to Find

A newspaper or classified ad seen by thousands of people in your town doesn’t do you much good if you don’t include your phone number, official website URL, product listings and other details. With things like QR codes, it’s easier than ever to let people find you on the web through local print ads, and of course, you shouldn’t even be wasting time on online local marketing without putting your information out there.

2. Focus on the Important Keywords

Keyword stuffing looks bad and it looks desperate. Give people what they’re looking for with sharp SEO for hyper local marketing, but don’t overwhelm them with keyword stuffing. Focus on important keywords.

3. Establish a Visual Presence

Your corporate logo, pictures of your store and videos can all be a tremendous help in establishing your brand. The web makes it easy to advertise with multimedia, don’t ignore the opportunity. Use the appropriate social media channels to expand your reach and communicate with your customers.

4. Check for False Listings

Browse the local phone book and search listing sites to make sure that your information is correct. Check to make sure that you don’t have the same name as some other store in town, and try to establish a distinctive identity in the local community.

5. Keep People Up to Date

Verify all of your listings and keep them up to date. Your Facebook account is doing you no favors if it still lists your old address and website URL.

6. Coupons and Sales Still Work

Many small business owners get so obsessed with web marketing and new developments in local marketing that they forget that the old tricks are still, sometimes, the best. Don’t neglect coupons, and use the web to get them into more people’s hands.

7. Study Your Analytics

And don’t just study them, do something about them. Pursue the marketing channels that are working, fix or drop the ones that aren’t. Analytics aren’t just there as a status symbol for businesses, they are there to let you know what works and what doesn’t. If you’re not adjusting for the data that analytics produce, then why use them at all? Track, study, research and adjust based on the numbers you’re getting.