Have you noticed changes in the search results as displayed in Google lately? Like videos and images and local search results all mixed in with the “regular” listings. It’s called “Universal Search,” and it’s the wave of the future with Google and the other search engines. Ask.com is doing something similar and calling it 3D search.
It’s not in place everywhere. For instance, a search for pizza restaurant raleigh doesn’t show anything but the standard “ten blue links.” But a search for pizza restauarant charlotte brings up a big block of local search results, right up there at the top of the page.
So, how can you maximize the chances your local business will show up in those prime top-of-page listings?
Stake Your Claim
The first thing to do is, of course, to get into Google Local to start with. Google pulls listings from a number of sources, including SuperPages, yellow page directory sites and their own discovery. If you’re a local-oriented business, make sure your website mentions your address (including ZIP code and local telephone number with area code). I’ve found it helpful for a number of reasons to include the address information in the page footer for local sites I’ve worked with.
It’s likely Google may have already included your business. To find out if they have, first log in to your Google Account. Then go to Google Maps and click the Find Businesses link near the top of the page. Enter your business name in the What box and your location in the Where box, and see if you’re listed.
If you’re listed, click on the more info link beside your business name in the column on the right to display your business location on the map at the left. In that box you’ll see a link to add or edit your business.
If you’re not listed, click the more info link beside any of the business names in the column on the right so as to display the add or edit your business link.
This will bring up a page where you can choose:
- Edit your business information
- Suspend your listing
- This isn’t my listing
If the listing is for your business, choose Edit your business information. If the listing is for another business, choose This isn’t my listing, which will allow you to enter your business information as a new listing.
Note that any of these options will require you to validate yourself as someone who’s associated with that business in order for the changes to be activated. More on that in a bit.
Make the Most of Your Opportunity
Okay, so now you’re in listing edit mode. What can you do here to get the most bang out of your listing?
- Pay attention to your business name/title. You don’t have to use your “official” business name, especially if you can use a common name that contains a good key phrase. For instance, in my hometown, there’s a drive-through burger joint whose official name is “Edna’s #3.” They could enter their business name as “Edna’s Carry Out Burgers” or “Edna’s Drive In.” Use a name that your prospective customers are likely to use when trying to find you.
- When it domes to your address, accuracy counts! Spell out words like “boulevard,” “drive” and “street.” Spell out directional words instead of using indicators such as S, N, E or W. Check the location marker to make sure it’s accurately placed. If it’s not, use the Fix incorrect marker location to put it where it belongs.
- Hey, this is the web, after all! Google gives you a space to enter your business web address. Use it!
- Call me! List all the applicable phone numbers. If you have a local number and a toll free number, list them both. If you have multiple local numbers for various purposes (such as a restaurant with one line for reservations and another for take-out orders), list them all. Make it easy for customers to get in touch.
- Choose your categories wisely. Check out the available categories and choose those that best fit your business — and, more importantly, correspond to the way your prospective customers are likely to categorize your business. Depending on what kind of business you have, you may need to experiment a bit with these to find the best performing categories for you.
- A picture could be worth 1,000 words. Google allows you to enter up to ten photos, so take advantage of the opportunity. They don’t allow generic logos, but you can enter photos of your products or your storefront. Enter a picture of of your building or storefront to help people find you. If you’re a restaurant, you could submit photos of your signature dishes. If you sell merchandise, upload pictures of your most popular items. Use your imagination!
- Make use of the other fields, tool. If applicable, list your hours of business and payment methods, for instance. Google also allows you to enter custom fields, which you can use for such things as how long you’ve been in business, menu specialties and anything else you think would be useful for your prospective customers.
Once you’ve finished updating your listing, you’ll be given some options of how to validate yourself. You need to demonstrate to Google that you are associated with that business so they can make sure you’re not some random person off the street, or a competitor trying to mess up your listing.
Your options are:
- Validate by phone: This is the quickest, as Google will simply generate an automated call to your business. However, if your business is like some and instead of a human operator your outgoing greeting is an automated voice routing message (“Press one to speak to sales, press two to speak to customer service…”), this option won’t work for you. There’s no way for Google’s automated system to press the right button or enter your extension number, and no way for you to know the system is calling calling until it does.
- Validate by postcard: This option takes longer (about two to three weeks), but if you can’t validate by phone, this may be your best option. Google will send you a letter with a PIN that you can use to validate your account. By entering the PIN, you demonstrate to them you work at the business address to which they sent the letter.
- Validate by SMX: If you have a business cell phone number associated with your listing, you may also be able to get your PIN via text message.
Once you get your PIN and validate your authorization to make the changes, your listing will be updated. Easy-peasy!
An important aspect of how well your local listing ranks is the presence of customer reviews. So, encourage your happy customers to leave reviews.
So how best to do that?
Well, a good start would be to simply ask for them. For some reason, people often seem to be afraid to just ask — and it can be surprisingly effective.
You can also offer your customers incentives for leaving reviews: discounts, coupons, free stuff. It’s up to you. There’s nothing wrong or unethical about rewarding those who take the time to help you out.
It’s really not that hard, and the rewards can be great. So, go out there and get local!
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Copyright © Diane M. Aull, an online consultant for small and mid-sized businesses. For more information about her services, visit NineYards.com or BootstrapSEO. For resources and tools for home based workers, visit Torka's Home for Wayward Girls.
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