Nov 17, 2013 • Jessica Jones
When we’re asked for basic strategies to improve SEO, one of the first suggestions we make is to claim and optimize your local listings with the top three search engines - most importantly Google.
What does this mean? Choose a thriving local business, then go to Google and search for them. As well as your search results you may also see a listing for that business at the top right of the page - much like the one shown here for the Stock & Barrel. The listing may have a picture or a logo, a map, business hours, possibly even reviews.
Those listings are informative, well laid out, and displayed prominently on the world’s most heavily used search engine. They’re also free. If you aren’t taking advantage of this, you’re missing out on an easy opportunity to boost your local SEO.
Get started at google.com/places/. You can sign in with any Google account - you may choose to use your personal account or you may decide to create a separate account for Google services associated with your business. (Watch this space for articles about taking advantage of other useful - and often free - Google services!)
Once you’ve signed in you’ll be asked to enter your business’s address. Unless your location is new or off the beaten path, it is likely that Google already has a listing for your business and its address - but the existing listing has nothing but the most basic information. Through this process Google is giving you the opportunity to verify that you have the authority to take this listing over and edit it to promote your business.
After you’ve confirmed the location that you are attempting to claim, Google will require a verification. If they already have a phone number associated with the listing you will be able to choose to verify by either phone or postcard. If their existing listing did not include a phone number - or if they did not have a listing and your entry will generate a new one - postcard will be your only option. Verification by phone is much quicker - you will receive an automated phone call to the number Google has on file for your location. The phone call will give you a PIN that you will enter in for verification. The postcard process is similar but, of course, not as fast - Google will mail you a postcard with the PIN. The postcards generally arrive in about a week.
Once you have entered in the PIN that you obtained either by phone or postcard, your authority to edit the listing will be verified and the listing will be under your control. You will then have the ability to fill in pictures, details, hours - and your customers will be able to leave reviews and ratings.
This information, and these ratings, don’t only show up when someone searches for your business specifically. For certain searches Google will display a horizontal strip over the usual list of results, featuring condensed listings of businesses that fit the criteria and that are physically close to the user, as seen in the example below.
Many search engines - with Google at the head of the pack - are putting increasing emphasis on a user’s location when displaying search results, and Google draws heavily from Google Places listings to provide users with information on businesses in their vicinity. So if you own a laundromat, claiming your Google Places listing will give your business a chance to appear in this lineup when a user near you searches for laundromats.
Not only does your Google Places listing show up on Google searches, it may show up across a variety of Google sites and services - Google Maps, Google Plus, etc. Claiming and optimizing this listing gives you the opportunity to put your business’s information in front of local users in multiple formats - for free.
Although Google has significantly more users than any other search engine, there is really no reason not to take the small amount of time required to also claim and optimize your listings with Bing and Yahoo’s equivalents, Bing Places and Yahoo Local. The processes are very similar to Google’s. Yahoo will attempt to convince you to purchase a subscription for an enhanced listing, but they do have a free basic listing available.
While these listings will not have as high a potential for impressions as your Google Places listing, a free listing that could potentially be viewed by what is still a significant amount of users is something you should want to take advantage of.
Along with choosing one or more appropriate inbound marketing techniques to focus on, claiming these free listings would be one of our highest recommendations for starting to build your SEO. Helping you to claim and optimize your listings with all three major search engines is one of the elements of our SEO package because it’s such an important, effective step to take, and one that gives great potential benefit for very little time commitment.
Claim your listings and let your location work for you!