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SEO Website Audit

Google Places (Formerly Local Business Center)

April 21, 2010
In the early 1990s, when I was first online, very few businesses had a website. Gradually companies started coming online, but most of them were those that served a national or global market. While many local directories also came online, it was rare to see a strictly local company with a website. There were some exceptions, like those with professional practices such as dentists, doctors and lawyers. In fact, professional practice websites were some of my earliest SEO clients, although they weren't in my local area. But even in the mid-2000s, the typical hair salon, plumber or chiropractor were very rare to find online.

About 10 years ago I remember looking for a chiropractor in my area online and could only find one with a website, and it wasn't even one in my town. Much to my dismay, I ended up using the old-fashioned telephone book to make sure that I found all the nearby chiropractors.

Things are different today. While there are still a surprising number of small local businesses without websites, they are easily online thanks to Google's local search results. Did you know that, according to Google, one in every five searches is related to location in some way? It's no wonder that Google has put a lot of effort into enhancing their local search listings.

This week I learned through Search Engine Land that Google had changed this feature's name from Google Local Business Center to the simpler Google Places. In addition, they've added even more cool things you can do with your Google Page, once you've claimed your listing. For instance, if you're located in certain cities, you can purchase an enhanced listing, which they now call "tags," for $25 per month.

And if you operate a hotel, restaurant or local store, you can even apply to have Google photographers come and do a free photo shoot of the interior of your business! 

They've also added "QR code," which you can have printed on business cards or anywhere else. The code enables those with QR readers in their phones or other devices to go directly to your website. 

More useful to the average business owner, however, is the new ability to post messages to your Place Page. This is great if you have an event coming up or just any special thing you want to tell people about. It can be up to 160 characters and it will show for 30 days unless you delete it sooner. You can post URLs that will become clickable links, but you can't use HTML code (I tried!). For our Place Page, I added the date to our upcoming SEO Class with a link to the class page. I think it's a nice touch.

If you claimed your company's local listing a long time ago and haven't checked it out in a while, you should definitely log on and revisit your page. And if you've never claimed your Place Page, there's no better time than the present!

Here's how to find your Place Page in Google: Head over to Google Maps and search for your company by name. When you find it, click the "more info" link. That should take you straight to your Place Page. If you haven't claimed your Place Page yet, click the link that says "Business Owner" and then click the "Edit my business information" button on the next page. Now you can fill in all the information on the form.

You might be concerned at this point that someone else could go in and change your information or edit it incorrectly…but don't worry. Once you've filled out the form, nothing will go live until you verify that you are the true owner of the Place Page. They do this by sending you a postcard via snail mail that has a verification code on it that you have to go back later to enter.

Be sure to do a thorough job filling out the description field for your website. This is where you want to add your main keyword phrases where they make sense to do so. Don't try to add keywords to your company name, however. The spammers and scammers have already killed that little trick and it will only get you in trouble with Google rather than helping.

You can and should add the maximum 5 categories to your listing because what you choose there can help your site show up when people are searching using similar words. Note that you don't have to stick with the categories Google recommends, but make up your own. I suggest doing some Google Maps searches using the types of phrases you'd want to show up for, and seeing what some of the sites that are currently showing up are doing.

I also highly recommend that you add photos and videos to your Place Page if you have them. Be sure that one of the pictures is your company logo! You can take a look at what we've done with our High Rankings Place Page if you'd like some ideas.

One place we're lacking at our site is reviews. We've been meaning to solicit some from clients, class attendees, forum users and newsletter subscribers, but haven't gotten around to it. Come to think of it, while I have your attention and while you're visiting our Place Page anyway, please feel free to write a review! Under "Photos & Video," you'll see a section for reviews and a link to write one of your own.

Even if your company is national in scope and doesn't do much local business, I strongly suggest claiming and enhancing your Google Place Page. These local listings are showing in more and varied ways in the Google search results, well beyond just Google Maps. I expect them to gain even more prominence, given all the effort Google has been putting into them lately.

Jill
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Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Consulting Agency.

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Post Comment

 FMJohnson said:
Hi,

We've had tremendous difficulty with Google Places (nee Google LBC) since we first started showing up in their local listings a few weeks ago.

We did not create the Google Places listing; they created one for us, unbeknowst to us. Their information for us (category, description, etc.) was wildly inaccurate. It appears they harvested their bad information about us from a listing about us on Superpages.com, which (again) we had nothing to do with creating.

We had to "claim" our Superpages listing in order to correct it, then had to "claim" our Google Places listing in order to verify and then delete it. (We would prefer not to come up in local listings.)

We have jumped through all the hoops required to claim and delete our listing, but Google Places has yet to confirm our verification. We did the verification routine you described, we got the postcard with the PIN, but they still haven't verified us as the rightful owner (which needs to happen in order to delete our listing). Even if we did want a local listing, some of the information they have for us is still wrong, and we cannot change it until they verify us.

Google Places provided an e-mail address on the PIN postcard and said they would be "happy to answer any other questions you might have." We e-mailed them twice and got no response. As with other Google products, they offer no other contact information.

None of our competitors (major or minor) have "Google Places" listings. You search for them by name and their main listings come up #1 on the SERP, the way ours used to before the Google Places nightmare started.

We don't know when or why Google chose our company to enter into its local results program, nor why they consider our company name to be a generic search term like "pizza parlor" or "new car dealer." We don't know how or where they got the bad information about us (other than from Superpages.com) and don't know why they won't verify our ownership of our own listing so that we can at least fix the bad information, and ultimately delete the listing.

If Google is going to undertake such a massive program and unilaterally list companies in local listings without their knowledge or consent, then they need to be more responsive to requests to claim the listings -- especially when their information is wrong.
 Jill Whalen said:
When you got the postcard, did you log back into your account and put the pin number in? They don't verify you, you have to verify yourself.

When I did that, I had immediate access if I remember correctly.

If it were me, I would not delete your listing entirely. Why not just edit it to be correct. You don't have to have it have anything to do with your SuperPages listing once you verify and enter your pin the one time.
 FMJohnson said:
"When you got the postcard, did you log back into your account and put the pin number in? They don't verify you, you have to verify yourself."

Yes, I did that. I had immediate access. I confirmed my request to remove our listing. It said the listing should be removed within a few hours. It's three weeks later and it's still there. Hence my attempt to communicate with them using the e-mail address *they provided for that very purpose.*

"If it were me, I would not delete your listing entirely. Why not just edit it to be correct."

The nature of our industry (federal and defense IT contracting) is such is that it looks amateurish or second-rate to appear to be a "local business." As I mentioned in my post, none of our competitors show up in local listings, even though the larger ones have scores of offices and installations all over the world.

In any case, my closing point is the same. If Google is going to create a program like this, without the consent or knowledge of its participants, they need to be more responsive to requests for verification and removal, especially when the information is wrong.
 Jill Whalen said:
I mentioned in my post, none of our competitors show up in local listings, even though the larger ones have scores of offices and installations all over the world.

I still think that gives you an advantage not a disadvantage, but I suppose I'd have to look at your actual example to decide for sure.

I've never tried to delete a listing so I don't know if that's harder or takes longer. But in the meantime, you might try editing it to your satisfaction which might happen sooner than a total removal.
 Alan Bleiweiss said:
I think it's great that there's new features to take advantage of when appropriate. I just wonder how much more Google is going to do here that will require even more time and resources by small business owners in addition to their own site, or how many nightmare scenarios will come about moving forward.

Google is already well known for providing inaccurate information like that described by FMJohnson - Danny Sullivan wrote up an article about it a while back. So site owners really aren't going to have much choice but to at least try and manage it. While that's been true all along, I really get the impression that this is an evolving effort by Google to make individual company listings (places) more relevant than a company web site (at least from a Google perspective).

And if that happens, even if it's only perceived to be true, with all of Google's Ads on those pages, it's going to turn into the 21st century version of Geocities free sites. Which isn't far fetched since so much of what comes out of Google these days is from their in-house crack addicts.
 chandani said:
I am not really good at SEO but I found this article very helpful. I knew and read about google local listing few times but none had instruction on how to do it. Thank you Jill for the post. I followed the instruction and updated our business info lets see how it goes.
 Chandani said:
Hi Jill,
I did the updates on friday and I went to google Maps to check it today. It is still displaying my old business address. Any suggestions what i should do next? Thank you in advance.
 Jill Whalen said:
Chandani are you sure you have been verified as the owner?
 FMJohnson said:
Hi, Jill,

FMJohnson here again. As another data point, this article came up on Sphinn today, and I wanted to pass it along. I have seen a lot of complaints from UK/European Webmasters in particular about Google Places (formerly LBC). This one is pretty comprehensive; many of her experiences echo mine (problems with results, delays in updates, lack of support, etc.), as do the reader comments, this one in particular:

"Google made some very significant changes on or around March 19th of last month. Changes to their Maps algo that has resulted in very significant, multiple and painful technical issues....I will say this from experience and as a caution. Once you begin to make adjustments and believe that you are correcting these issues, you will more than likely begin a slippery slide of cascading events that will compound whatever previous postion you are trying to recover. 'Only Google can fix Google issues'."

Google Local Business Listings – Will it ever be fixed?
http://www.stateofsearch.com/google-local-business-listings-–-will-it-ever-be-fixed/
 Abhinav said:
Hey, I posted my business information on google local business center couple of months back and it was doing good. But recently I updated contact number and it disappeared from the search results. Also I noticed that someone else has created another listing with the same business name as of mine, he has posted 9 fake reviews and other things, I think it can also impact my listing to appear on search results. Please suggest the corrective actions.
 Petra said:
Cool - thanks for the tip. I wondered how those listings got there on the maps before and never realized it was that easy to claim my own listing. So I just tried it and am awaiting the postcard in the mail so I can verify my listing.