How to Establish a Local Presence on Google Search – and Why

Back in May 2011, Google shared some statistics that showed 20% of searches are local, and that for mobile search the number climbs to 40%.

Google Search for Mobile has certainly helped bump up those figures, especially with helpful features such as “near me now” that complement its Local Search for Mobile. Then last year the struggling Yellow Pages Association had a makeover and rebranded as the Local Search Association. Given those facts, it’s time once again to stress the importance of local search, particularly for brick and mortar companies that rely on walk-in business. If a potential customer is in your neighborhood  hunting for a product that you sell, you want to pop up on their “near me now” search with a useful, informative listing. GPS and Atlas

Does having a presence on local search really help?

Try this simple experiment using Google: search for “Vancouver restaurants”. You’ll see a map with red balloons that represent the many restaurants near the city’s downtown core. You’ll also see that some of the restaurants shown on the map pop to the top of the list. This is based on their proximity to Google’s reference location for “Vancouver”, number of reviews, and other factors. If you click on one of the balloons, the address, phone number, and reviews for that restaurant come up. Other search providers, including Yahoo, Bing, and Yelp, also have this type of feature. Small businesses are the ones that need the most help when it comes to search marketing, yet many neglect the simple step of creating a local presence on Google. Don’t wait any longer. You may not have the time or expertise to do everything you need for local search, but you certainly should take those first, simple (and free!) steps.

What is “Local Search”?

Google already performs a level of local search. If you live in Vancouver and search for a retirement planning consultant, Google will bring up a list of local financial advisors. The search engine knows your location and assumes you are less interested in dealing with businesses farther away. If you type “retirement planning consultant near Boundary and Lougheed Highway” Your goal is to build a strong presence on local search, to increase the odds that when someone searches for your type of business, your business location will pop up on Google Maps alongside the local search results.

Fill Out Your Google Place Page

The way to do this is through Google Places for business. It’s a very simple sign up page and absolutely free. The result is a free ad page which Google calls your Place Page. Google provides helpful guidelines for the information you enter, but here are a few tips for where you need to put some extra effort:

Categories and keywords

Make sure you select all categories relevant to your business and add all related keywords for your company’s products or services. This helps Google determine when to display your listing on Google Maps. In less competitive markets (with few and unique keywords), just doing this can help you rank higher in local searches when a user searches for one of your keywords.

Business description with keywords

Boost your ranking a little more when you write a business description that uses some of your keywords, including location (city or region you serve)  – but make sure it makes sense. Avoid sacrificing a well-written business description for the sake of search ranking alone. You do want potential customers to understand what you provide.

Photos. Lots of them.

The limit is ten, so upload ten high-quality pictures. You can use photos of your store, your products, the location and storefront. Google likes it and more importantly, potential customers like it. Visuals are friendlier and your click-through rate will improve with better digital “curb appeal. In fact, if you have a product or company video on YouTube, enter the URL. It all helps.

Reviews. Time to cash in those customer relationships

Ask your customers to write honest, helpful reviews of your products or services. Google tries to serve up the most relevant listings, and more reviews show that your business is legitimate and has been rated by customers. Believe it or not, Google doesn’t distinguish between positive and negative reviews. It just cares about the number of reviews. It’s a different matter for customers of course! What reviews say affect their buying decisions more than Google rankings.

Off-page citations

Citations are mentions of your business in reputable directories, consumer review sites, or professional listings. Think YellowPages, Yelp, the website for your industry’s professional association. Many trade publications offer online listings for businesses in their industry. Off-page citations bump up your credibility with Google – and with users. For a list of sites, visit our blog post A Canadian Guide to Google Local Business Citations. Once your business is on the Google map with its own Place Page, your website can take advantage of local pay-per-click (PPC) and social media campaigns. You can target local keywords, which typically cost less than generic terms in Google Adwords because there is less competition. Since local keywords are more targeted, you’ll get a higher click-through rate, which also helps raise your quality score in Adwords.