For a local business, your Google+ Business Page may be your most important internet marketing tool. Depending on your business, (and I can’t believe I’m about to say this) Google+ may even be more important than your webpage.
For example, if I’m in the mood for a cup of coffee or bite to eat, I don’t need to see a high-powered webpage. I want to find a restaurant or coffee shop that is a) close and b) looks appetizing and I need to know how to get there.
Turning to Google, I might search “Annapolis coffee shops” or even just “Coffee Shop.”
Unless I specifically sign out of Google, searching the generic term “coffee shop” brings up a Google Places listing showing a handful of coffee shops near my neighborhood. Google knows my location and determines that I’m looking for a nearby coffee shop. Naturally searching “Annapolis Coffee Shop” brings up a number of coffee shops located in downtown Annapolis, MD.
As you can see in the image below listings are sorted from top to bottom based on a combination of factors including distance from geographic local and number of reviews. Of particular interest are the two column listings or the “Google Places” listings which allow me to quickly view a number of coffee shops.
Although 49 West has many more reviews than City Dock Coffee, it is further from the town center hence the second spot in the listings. It is also interesting to note that there are a number of coffee shops closer to city center than 49 West but they lack reviews or other activity on their Google Places listing.
Although 49 West comes up second, I used the image for 49 West because it was more attractive than the City Dock image which shows a nice photo of the Annapolis waterfront. Nothing wrong with the Annapolis waterfront but the plate of food looks more appetizing and is more appropriate. Here’s where it gets interesting though.
Digging in a little further, it appears that 49 West has not claimed their Google+ page. Neither has City Dock Coffee. 49 West has claimed a profile on Urban Spoon. City Dock has not. The City Dock image comes from Panoramio.com, a Google owned service. Apparently, Google has some sort of relationship with Urban Spoon and is pulling restaurant information into its listings.
Take Control of Your Google+ Business Page (Now!)
None of the businesses that came up in the coffee shop search have claimed their Google+ Page or Places profile. However, visitors to some of the shops have created a great deal of activity by posting reviews and uploading photos to their places listing helping those listings move to the top of the places listing.
When you create a Google+ Business Page you take control of your Google Places listing. Before you can create a Business page though you will need a personal Google+ Profile. Once you’ve created your profile you can start building your Business Page.
When creating your business page, complete all information including address and contact info. Write a descriptive tag line and “about” description that entices customers to further explore your business. Upload a strong profile that captures what your business is about.
Reviews and recommendations can have a big impact on the Google Places listing. As you can see in the example above, 49 West has more than 100 reviews helping it secure a top spot in the returns. Although it might be easier to gain reviews for a coffee shop, don’t be afraid to ask your best clients or customers for a review on Google+. If you get a bad review, reach out to the client if possible and correct the situation. If the review sticks and has the potential to detract from your Places listing, work extra hard to seek positive reviews which will eventually move the negative review down the page.
Capitalize on Photos
As you can see in the example above, a photo can have a big impact on the users decision to take the next step (ie. read reviews, get directions, click through to a website). Set a strong profile image that describes your business. Encourage your customers to upload photos also.
My generic search for “Coffee shop” brought up fewer listings none of which included photos or reviews or anything other than a map to entice me to visit. The local shop that gets the jump on their Google+ page with a nice image and some good reviews will have a big advantage on those that don’t.
Did you know that a potential customer standing outside of your shop can point their smart phone at your store front and pull up your Google Places listing? An active Google Places listing complete with positive reviews and photos of happy customers can make or break their decision to walk through the front door.
Create an active Google+ Business Page
I’ll talk more about the social media aspects of Google+ for Business in a later post but Google+ offers a very rich social media experience that integrates directly with search. The biggest difference is that unlike Facebook which filters information based on the Edgerank algorithm, you have much more control over the reach of your activities on Google+. The integration of events, Hangouts and other aspects of Google+ open a ton of opportunities for the savvy local business marketer.
If I were to recommend just one social media network for businesses just getting started in social media marketing, right now Google+ would be it. The impact of Google+ on search is just too much to ignore.
For Google’s guide to starting with Google+ for Business, click here.