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.