Everyone seems to believe that Google is the Big Kahuna of local search engine optimization (local SEO) and being on the first page of Google is like owning a license to print money. All of that may be true, although Google placement is not the only way to get traffic to your site.
Let's look at how Google Places actually works for local SEO and why it might not be enough for you.
First came Google Maps and the 10-box. That was the map that displayed sometimes when you searched for something and showed up to 10 local businesses. You could click and see more businesses, but, in general, people only looked at what was showing.
Google gives preference to businesses located in the exact geographic center of a city and works outward. If there were 10 business that had Google Maps entries and were located in the exact center of town, that was it. The 10-box was filled. It got a little tougher as time went on. The 10-box became a 7-box.
Now the maximum number of local businesses displayed when someone did a search was 7. The geographic center of the city still had preference. Well guess what? The new, improved Google Places incorporates the Google Maps listings in with the organic listings, but now there are only 5 items in the list. You can see the preference for the city center by looking in the Google Maps map area. You'll see that the pins tend to be grouped in the center of the city.
Competition for ranking in the local area is far less than competing for ranking with every business in the country using your same keyword. However, there is a huge catch involved in how easy it will be for you to rank high in Google Places in your area.
If you are in a local business with enormous competition, like carpet cleaners or lawn care, then it may be difficult to get into the top 5. Difficult, but not impossible.
Here are some tips:
Fill out your Google Places listing completely. That means add photos and videos if you can, and fill up the slots. Let Google force you to choose your first keyword category and then add your own Unless you are primarily a walk-in business, like a dentist, tell Google Places that you go to your customers and select a geographic radius that you do business in. You won't appear in Google Maps outside your city, but it helps to promote you to people who look at your Google Places listing. Check everything over carefully, make sure there is something in every field and that the information is correct. Save your work.
Google Places is not instant. Far from it. It can take several days for your listing to show up. After 3 days, go into any Google Places listing and search for your domain name. If it comes up, note the URL you have. Save it because you are going to need that URL.
In the event of tough competition for Google Places spots, the tie-breaker is often favorable reviews from your customers. Give them the URL and ask them to write a positive review for you.
Be sure to tell them not to forget to rate your service by clicking a star at the top left. 5 stars is always better than 1 star.
WARNING: Google is very smart. Do not try to fool Mother Google by entering 5 or 6 really great reviews from one computer. Google knows where you are, and if it sees 5 reviews from different people all coming from the same computer, it deletes all of them.
OK, you have it all figured out, your in a small city and you're ready to do Google Places and dominate local SEO. What's the downside?
The same thing that makes it great. It's only good for one city. If that city is New York, no problem, although you might have a really tough time getting in the top 5 Google Place entries. Let's take a business that is in the suburbs of a large city. They do business in their surrounding towns also, and may even get customers from the big city. Google Places can't help you there. One listing, one city. If you want to have Google Places listings for other cities, you must have an address in that city and a telephone number that can receive the call that Google uses to give you your activation PIN number.
So, Google Places is great if:
You operate in a single city, and are very close to the geographic center of the city. You are not in a business that has stiff competition in your city You can get 5 or 6 customers to write favorable reviews for you.
If any of the above is not true, you may not have great local SEO success with Google Places.