With the recent updates to Google Places, now is a good time for busi­nesses to check their Google Places listing to make sure they’re taking full advan­tage of this free tool for letting consumers find you online. If you haven’t yet claimed your Places page on behalf of your busi­ness, what are you waiting for?

Local Business ListingThe most impor­tant change is the removal of reviews from 3rd party review sites like Yelp and City­search from indi­vid­ual Places pages. These reviews are still easily accessed from Places pages by click­ing the “Reviews from around the web” link that appears below Google user reviews, but this is no longer the first place users will look for reviews since they aren’t avail­able to read right on the page.

So what does this mean for local busi­nesses? Many may shift some of their atten­tion away from 3rd party sites to focus on Google. Now, when users land on your Places page, promi­nent new CTAs at the top of the page (“Write a Review” and “Upload a Photo”) will moti­vate consumers to popu­late your page with content. It’s clear that Google is trying to boost their share of the online reviews space, so it might be a smart move to get on board. No one will be able to deny the impor­tance of opti­mized Places pages once they are inte­grated with Google+, so start build­ing reviews now to get ahead of the curve.

**Action­able idea: **Segment Gmail users from your email list of customers and ask for reviews. While some busi­nesses may see this as opening Pandora’s Box, there have been count­less arti­cles written about the posi­tive aspects of getting nega­tive reviews online, includ­ing adding believ­abil­ity to posi­tive reviews and showing busi­nesses areas where they can improve. Do some research and you’ll see it’s worth it to encour­age honest responses from your customers, both posi­tive and nega­tive.

Another ques­tion raised by the new round of updates is about rank­ings. How did the changes affect list­ings? What can busi­ness owners do to ensure their rank­ings don’t drop? Many busi­nesses reported that their rank­ings had fallen, while others reported getting a boost. While there is no offi­cial answer (to my knowl­edge), here’s a partic­u­larly inter­est­ing [thread](http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Places/thread?fid=40b344934ba3ba190004a8ae9e12106d&hl=en) on Google forums you might want to check out if you have similar ques­tions. The main take­away, however, comes from Google Employee Vanessa, who points out that rank­ings can still be affected by sections that no longer appear on Places pages. The sections include:

- Email address
— Menu
— Reser­va­tions
— Optional attrib­utes / Addi­tional details
— Service area toggle “Show service area”

While it’s unfor­tu­nate that these helpful sections were removed from pages (espe­cially email!), they may still have value behind the scenes.

**Action­able idea:** Make sure to fill in these fields as you’re updat­ing your listing in case they do affect rank­ings. Better to provide too much infor­ma­tion than too little.

This last tip is for those of you who haven’t yet claimed or haven’t spent much time opti­miz­ing your Places pages. Google Places provides a compre­hen­sive one-stop place for consumers search­ing online to learn about your busi­ness. **Make sure you don’t miss an oppor­tu­nity by filling out:**

- **Name, website, address and other basic infor­ma­tion**
— **Cate­gories:** Up to five. Why would you need five cate­gories, you ask? For example, if you’re a car deal­er­ship, you not only sell new cars, but provide vehicle main­te­nance and sell parts. You can include all of these cate­gories to show up for more search queries.
— **Service Areas and Loca­tion Settings:** Make sure to opti­mize this area by includ­ing all the areas you serve. The options include a distance around your address and the more targeted option of select­ing specific areas. Some suggest that enter­ing actual loca­tions will have your listing show up for searches related to those loca­tions, so this may be bene­fi­cial for some busi­nesses. Example: You’re located in Atlanta, but you also serve customers in Mari­etta, so instead of just includ­ing a mileage around your phys­i­cal loca­tion, you enter Mari­etta and other suburbs into your Service Areas.
— **Hours of oper­a­tion:** A no-brainer.
— **Photos and videos:** Users will be much more likely to inter­act with the page if you have rich content already on the page.
— **Addi­tional details:** You can use this section to share the brands you carry, the services you offer, or any other details you want to share with customers. This section no longer appears on Place pages, but it may be worth­while to add this infor­ma­tion and give Google more keywords to asso­ciate with your busi­ness on the back end.

In conclu­sion, it may not be the easiest thing to do, but opti­miz­ing your Google Places page is likely to be worth your time. Every­one is holding their breath to see what the Google+ inte­gra­tion will look like once it’s rolled out, so beat the crowds and make sure your Places listing is ready to go before that happens. You’ll be glad you did.