Local Search - what does it mean?
Did you know that 1 in 3 search queries are about locations and half of those are on mobile devices? That sounds like a significant number, doesn't it?
Google is placing more and more emphasis on local search. This means your web presence needs to focus on where you are, not just what you do. This has come as a result of last year's Venice update. Google does loads of updates to it's algorithm, it names biggies like Panda, Penguin, Venice and Caffeine. Venice aims to give the user more results local to them. Many businesses have a Google Places account where they can be found via a pin on the Google Maps page ours looks like this: Google Maps / Places example. If you've been smart and updated your map listing, then your pin will show contact details and opening times. These static Google Maps pages are being retired and Google claims that very soon business owners will be able to tie them to their more dynamic business listing on the Google+ platform.
What did the Venice update do?
Like all of Google’s updates, they don't release the detail of the technical tinkering they do but here's what we believe has happened in fairly simple terms; Google has merged the traditional search algorithm with its index of local businesses from the listings in Google Places. This gives Google the ability to localise organic search results with much more accuracy. For a while Google has been calculating the user’s location (either because they are logged in with their location set or because they allow access to their location data on mobile phone or tablet) to narrow down the results to show businesses that are local to the search, at that time. This update ensures the user sees better local results.
How do I put my business on Google+ Local?
There's no need to panic. The new Google+ Local dashboard has only been rolled out in the US but you need to be prepared. The creation of Google+ Local aims to help users discover new places and share places they've been and places they like. There's more to it than just having a Google account. You need a well optimised, well used and well reviewed profile to make Google love you.
Here are some things to do:
Create a new Google+ local page
To create a new business page on Google+ you need a Google account. This could you be your personal Gmail account, a personal Google+ page or a Google Analytics account. Go to Google and click the 'Sign In' button at the top right of the screen.
If you can't see that button, you're likely already logged in. In the unlikely event that you don't already have a Google account, you'll need to take off your tin foil hat and sign up first.
Once you are signed in to Google, click on the +"Your Name" link on the top navigation bar. This will take you to your Google+ page. Using the sidebar on the left of the page, click on Pages. Then click on the ‘Create a page’ button and fill in the required fields. When choosing the category, ensure you choose Local business or place. This will give you the correct listing to be found on a local search enquiry.
Enter your main phone number (preferably with a local code, not a mobile or an 0845 number) and click Locate. If you are listed then click to confirm, if not, click ‘Add your business to Google’. Enter your business details, as accurately as possible, to complete your profile. Make sure your details are the same as on your website, keep it consistent.
I already have a google places page
If you have already set up a Google Places page then it should be automatically merged into either a new Google+ page or one you have already, providing it has the same name and company details. You will be sent an email when your account has been transferred so make sure all your business information is up to date and your page is verified. http://www.google.com/business/placesforbusiness/
I work from a home office
If you don’t have an official office/shop location then you probably ticked the ‘don’t show address’ option in your Google Places account. Alternatively you may have set your business up as a company / organisation rather than a local business. This may be because you don’t have the facility (or need) for visitors at your premises. In this case, while Google+ local develops to cope with this set up, leave your Google Places account as it is and we will hopefully have a solution in the next update.
Optimise Your Google+ Page
A well optimised Google+ page can help you out rank your competitors in a local search.
Content on your website and your Google+ page needs to be localised. You need to “tie” your online presence to your physical location. Ensure consistency too. Any details on your website need to be mirrored on your Google+ page (telephone numbers in the same format, addresses spelt correctly). Errors in citations can damage your ranking potential.
If you have multiple locations, we suggest you create unique page on your website for each location and and link to that page from each of your listings in Google+. Add a map to your website and use the pins. Location details can be hard coded into your website using hCard and Schema and if you don't have someone who can write the schema for you, try Schema Creator or, for Wordpress sites, we've found this great new plugin from Yoast.
Links are as important as ever, but not those spammy links SEO's are so fond of. They need to be legitimate and if you can get links from other reliable, honest local businesses, then even better. Try offering to be a guest blogger on another site. Or invite a guest blogger on your site, providing they are...yes, reliable and real! Local press releases, links to local community work, they all help.
This is how you really get found but it's the hardest part. 72% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Imagine if those reviews were from people they know on Google+. Hey presto, you're in! However, be warned, spammy reviews won't get you anywhere and in fact will probably get you caught up in a spam filter and binned. So don't go demanding that all your customers write you a review. You can persuade but make it real. 1000 amazing reviews about you posted in one day as a result of a prize giveaway won't be as good as a trickle of realistic comments from people will be a massive help in your campaign.
If you are in a specialist industry, getting reviews can be even harder. Reviews on Google+ need to be written by someone who will leave their name and be identified so if you are selling exotic underwear, a husband may not want to publicise the fact that your customer service was so great when he was buying a gift for his girlfriend!
You can't transfer reviews from other sites to your Google+ page but you can link to them in the “other reviews” section. Create a form on your website for reviews and link back to it. If you get a good one, then great, if it's not so good, you've not made it so public and can deal with it accordingly.
How you deal with bad reviews is also important. Face it, people can be mean but it's how you deal with it that matters. Respond politely and take it off-line. Your fantastic customer service skills will help you deal with this and you may even get a great follow-up review as a reward.
Keep up the content
It's so important that once you have built your great Google+ profile, you keep it going. Like websites, Google+ doesn't like static, it's all about social. You are building authority and brand, so be honest and consistent.
Google+ Local is what's big this year and as a business you would be mad to ignore it. Functionality is going to improve massively so you need to keep on top of it. Start with these basics and keep an eye out for more updates. Good luck!