Getting the most from your website isn’t just about climbing Google rankings nationally — local rankings and reviews can make or break your business. Emma Allen looks at how Google Places can maximise your SEO (search engine optimisation) so you don’t miss out on customers on your doorstep
As many as one in five online searches are local, according to Google, so one of the best ways to boost sales is to get your business seen by those living or working nearby to you.
One essential tool to achieve this is Google Places, according to James Gurd, freelance e-commerce and marketing consultant, who says a Google Places listing is “free, easy to use and a must for any small firm wishing to promote its services to a local market.”
So what is Google Places and how does it work? “Basically, it’s a local search tool that organises results around specific locations. Business owners submit a profile and when a potential customer looks for, say, a plumber in their area, a list of local businesses comes up,” he explains.
Businesses must have a free Google account to register, but once a profile is submitted and verified, a listing is typically up and running within a few days.
The key, stresses Gurd, is putting together an effective description of your business. Just like a normal website, a Google Places listing is subject to Google’s own search engine “spiders”, so it’s important to create a relevant, SEO-friendly profile of your company using appropriate keywords and tags.
“It’s all about knowing how your customers will search for you,” he says. “For instance, if you’re a high-end London jewellery retailer, you might want to include the words designer, or boutique, to make your profile more specific. There are no rules — you simply need to think about how your potential customers would try and find you.”
Is it possible to boost your ranking once you’ve submitted your Google Places profile? Rankings in local listings will depend largely on two factors — one, how close your firm is to the area specified in the search and how close your business is to the person searching — but crucially, user interaction with your profile will help make your listing more prominent.
“The aim is to get as many customers as possible clicking on your link as Google sees this as relevance and will organise results accordingly. In other words, your position on the results page should improve,” he explains.
Customer reviews also have a big impact. “The more reviews the better — good ones of course — so always encourage buyers to leave their comments on Google Places about your service or product,” points out Gurd.
Another way to influence rankings is to register with other reliable local online directories such as Qype, Yahoo Local or Scoot. “Google will look at other trusted sites for mentions of your business name and its details to assess the quality and relevance of your firm to a search,” Gurd explains.
Lastly, updating your business profile is important in order to make sure that content stays relevant. “Over time, tastes and trends change, so you need to make sure that your keywords remain accurate and relevant,” he advises. “Check your profile at least every quarter, and preferably once a month, to keep on top of things.”
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