Google changed the optimization game when they moved Places into the top organic positions. Google Places is an index organized by function and location much like the Yellow Pages of old. These are free listings, but the competition for them is fierce. The optimization comes from many sources but the key ones are citations and reviews. Below is an example search showing how the Places listing and the map flags interact and relate. The small circles on the map are other listings that are eligible for the Places listing that just did not make it to the page. You will want your business to be a flag not a circle.
Step 1 – Claim Your Listing
To start you need to claim your listing and get the information on it as accurate as possible but this only gets you into the game. The hard part is getting your site on the highly coveted top first page listing and this means citations and reviews. You do not want to promote a site that you have not claimed and never let someone outside your business own the listing.
Citations are other sites that point to your site that include your physical address. The best examples of this would be your listing on the Best Business Bureau or your Local Chamber of Commerce. While these are the common ones they are far from the only ones you should be concerned with. If you belong to a trade group that links to its members make sure your data is up to date and includes your address. Almost every community has directory sites and you want to make sure your business is in these and that they have your correct physical address. If you carry specific brands make sure you are on the manufacturers’ dealer locator as these are high value citations. Plumbers might think that their physical address is no big deal after all no customer is going to show up at your office with their plumbing for you to fix. But being local is hugely important and Google uses citations as votes for your Places listing and your Places listing is a big deal.
Citations: Trust & Authority
Not all citations are created equal and the value of the citation is relative to the trust and authority of the site that is pointing to yours. The higher the profile of the website the more juice it gives to the citation and this is the same as the SEO process of simple back links. Google is pretty good at knowing what sites to trust and you will find that most of the time these are the same places people trust offline. The BBB and Chambers are examples of this in that they are worth much more because they are high trust sites.
The Most Important Citation
Your website is the first, simplest, and most important citation. We have reviewed thousands of plumbing websites and it amazes us the number of times we find the primary website missing the physical address. This is the site that is connected to the Places listing so it makes perfect sense that Google would look for support for the map listing on that site. Your address should be in text format on the bottom of every page along with your phone number.
Reviews count and you need to ask for them. When you have completed a job and the customer is happy with the results give them your card and ask them to provide a review of your work. On your business card make sure you include instructions on how to enter a review. There are thousands of places on the web to leave reviews but we recommend that you focus on just a few; Google and Yelp. Reviews are powerful but power can swing both ways so the reviews can and will go negative. When they go negative you need to be ready to deal with this. The first rule is to keep your cool and respond to the negative review. If you know who posted the negative review call them and resolve the problem. If you do not know who it is post a public response offering to make it right. Never respond in anger and never get into a fight in a review site. There are times when the best advice is to just turn the other cheek.
It only takes the typical plumber a few minutes to realize that they want to appear in cities that they do not have physical offices in and that is one of the great challenges. If your business serves more than one city then you will want to appear in all of those cities. The problem with this is that these positions are competitive and the plumbers in those cities typically take up all the available slots on the first page. You can, and should, define your service area in Places but that will not get you into those competitive slots. The problem here is that the more you are about one place the less you are about others so you have to decide what your primary city is and compete for that.
Gaming the System
Our advice on this is that you should only try to game Google if your programming staff is smarter than theirs. The trick of the day might create a win for a short period of time but Google is pretty brutal when they find someone gaming the system. The normal response from Google on this is to rip the entire site out of the index or put it into penalty status. If you think that they will not do this to you – you are mistaken. They have done this to very high profile accounts including little businesses like BMW, JC Penny, and even Google! One trick that Google is very aware of is the creation of ghost offices in other cities. The game is to find an address to use in that location and claim it as your office. We can guarantee you that you will get caught at this. Google will call and mail to the location to validate it and your competitor is likely to complain creating an investigation by Google.
Your business has to be on the first page of Google and that means competing in both Google Places and Google AdWords. Use Places when you can get it and AdWords when you cannot. Think of these as the defense and offensive teams in the game of Internet Marketing. You would not play football with just one and you should not do your marketing with just one either.