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?
The 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.
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
— 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.