Does your business show up on the first page of a Google search for your firm’s general category/service? If not, you’re in the same boat as many other local businesses and you’re probably missing revenue opportunities as a result. The good news is that even the smallest firms now have a free, easy-to-use tool to help them solve this problem.
It’s important to remember that only a minority of your potential customers actually search for vendors – roughly 4 customers go to ‘known’ firms for every 1 that uses a search engine to find one – but now you have a better chance than ever to compete for these searchers without a large investment in your own website and the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that is needed to get it found today.
The free tool, called Google Local Business Center (LBC) is designed to help consumers find nearby businesses. When a consumer types in a common category search term (like “bakery,” “tree service,” “pediatrician,” etc), the results now include an interactive Google Map at the top of the search page. This valuable real estate is set aside just for local firms, marking the location of about 7 nearby local businesses that best fit the search query. This feature cuts through the clutter of regular Google search results (which are often irrelevant to consumers who are looking for nearby services) and gives smaller firms, many who don’t even have websites, a great chance to be found.
Getting started is a snap. Just go to Google’s Local Business Center (LBC) and register your business. After Google has confirmed that you are who you say you are, which usually takes a day or two, the information that you submit, including phone, address, websites, and even coupons, will start being found by local consumers (more on this shortly).
For an overview on how the system works (a lot more features than we mention here), watch this video from Google:
There are a lot of things that you can do to improve your showing in local searches, and we’ll highlight many of them in later posts. Regardless of how far you want to take this effort, the decision to take the first step and register is a no-brainer. If nothing else, it will put your business on the Google index and give you the power to control what Google knows about you. We recommend that you do it today.
Why is this control so important? The answer has to do with how Google generates its local search results.
Whether you register or not, there may be information on the web that has allowed Google’s automated web-crawlers to connect your business name to an address (the two minimal requirements to show up). This info may come from online yellow pages, local consumer directories and review sites, government data, and even personal web pages. Once that connection is made, and your business shows up in a search, consumers see what Google thinks is accurate information about your business, including phone numbers (sometimes old), addresses (also sometimes inaccurate) and reviews (by fans or even nasty competitors). Registration is your key to making sure that your information is complete and accurate.
The Importance Of Citations in Google Map Results
Since there are usually only about 7 listing for each map, who shows up when there are more than 7 local businesses in that category? Google never tells us exactly how their system works, but studies and experts generally agree that the number of other “important” websites that “cite” your business are probably the single most important factor. These sites can include online directories (Superpages, Yellowpages, Citysearch, Cityvoter, Yelp, Kudzu, Yahoo Local, AOL, etc), trusted local sites (such as online University directories) and user-generated content ranging from Facebook to Google’s own “My Profile” tools.
Whereas Google’s organic search results key in on “links” to websites to determine search relevance, the LBC does not rely on links to local businesses because many do not even have meaningful websites. A citation is simply a mention of your business/location, regardless of whether it is linked to or not.
No doubt, this can get complicated for those of us who don’t make a living trying to win the Google algorithm game. Don’t sweat it. Just get started. See how your business shows up in the next week or so before you worry about what to do next. This technology will control what people know about you, unless you control it! So set aside a little time each week to find more ways to get your business exposed on relevant directories (some free, some not), and always keep an eye on your reviews!
And to help, we’ll distill more of the essentials in later posts to help you navigate this arcane world. In the meantime, you can visit these blogs where the local search game is explored in varying levels of detail (local search ranking factors, local vs traditional search, what is a citation?).