Guide to Using Google Plus Local Places to Market Your Business

As an SEO consultant, I receive many questions on how to use Google Plus Local Places as an effective online marketing tool. To help small businesses make the most of Google Places, I’ve put together this step-by-step guide. Google Places benefits small businesses by:

  • Enhancing natural search rankings.
  • Increasing local search visibility.
  • Attracting and managing online reviews.

Google Places gives your business a free Place Page with a map and other features, including a website link, company description, categories, photos, video links, reviews, and more. Claiming and optimizing your Place Page on Google helps your business and your website rank higher in natural search results and maps searches.

You can use Google Places even if you don’t have your own website.

Update June 29, 2012: Google Places to Google Plus Local Places Conversion

Google is in the process of merging Google Places into Google+ Local. For now, you’ll still use Google Places for Business to claim, verify, and enter information about your business. Your business listing will appear on Google Maps and Google+ Local.

For more information, see this article from Google: What happened to Google Places?

On the Google Places home page, Google mentions that more changes are coming in the next few months. I plan to monitor the changes and update this guide when the conversion to Google+ Local is further along. — Thanks, Mary Gammel

Table of Contents

Because this post is quite long, please use the following links to visit the sections you are most interested in.

  • 1 – Sign up for a Google Account
  • 2 – Claim the Place Page for your business
  • 3 – Verify your Place Page ownership
  • 4 – Change information about your business
  • 5 – Get a link to your Google Places Page
  • 6 – Ask people to review and rate your business on Google Maps
  • 7 – How to write reviews on Google Maps
  • 8 – How to respond to negative reviews

1 – Sign up for a Google Account

Before you can claim a Google Places page for your business or review another company on Google, you’ll need a Google account. This account is used for all your activities on Google (Analytics, Gmail, AdWords, YouTube, etc).

You may want to have separate accounts for personal and business use. If you already have an account that you use with Google for your business, then skip this step.

Here’s how to sign up for an account to use with Google Places:

  1. Open your browser and go to: http://www.google.com/places/
  2. Click the Get started button.
  3. Click the SIGN UP button to create a new account.
  4. Enter the requested information. You do not  need a Gmail account. You can use your main business email address so that it is easy to remember.
  5. Click the Create my account button.
  6. Follow any instructions you receive to confirm or verify your account.

2 – Claim the Place Page for your business

Even if you haven’t claimed your Google Places Page yet, there may be one listed already for your business because sometimes this information is pulled from marketing databases and other sources.

Repeat the following steps for all physical locations of your business. Each location must have a valid physical mailing address; PO boxes are not acceptable. When entering your listing information, you have an option to hide your mailing address and show just the city and state where your business is located.

TIP: It’s best to wait until after you’ve verified your listing once before you change your business name, phone, or address. Changing these items before verification usually causes the verification process to take longer or to get hung up because Google doesn’t recognize your business.

  1. Open your web browser and go to: http://www.google.com/places.
  2. Click on the Get started button.
  3. Log in using your Google Account if prompted.
  4. Add your business by searching for it. If it is not found, you will need to add a new business listing. If it is found, you want to claim the appropriate business listing.
  5. Fill out the information about your business:
    1. Complete as much information as possible.
    2. For categories, you need to choose one category from Google’s list. Then you can add up to four more categories by using the provided list or entering a new category. For best results, enter broad categories that match your product or service offerings. Do not use geographic terms in categories.
    3. Upload your logo first and then any photos or images.
    4. Link to any videos you have on YouTube.
    5. Review the listing preview on the right side of the screen for accuracy.
    6. Save your listing.

You can find more detailed instructions from Google at Add a listing for your local business.

Google also has rules about Google Places listings that you can read here: Google Places quality guidelines. It is best to follow these guidelines to the letter. If you don’t, your listing will be flagged and removed from verified status (if already verified).

3 – Verify your Place Page ownership

After you claim your business Place Page and enter the information, you must verify ownership of the business. Changes you made when claiming your Place Page will not appear until you complete the verification process.

It is wise to be patient with this process and do it the right way. Problems with verification often occur when the address or the phone number do not match the listing on file with Google or when too many businesses have been verified with the same phone number or same address.

In general, you may choose from these two verification methods:

  1. Phone verification – If this option is available and you choose it, Google will call the phone number associated with your business listing right away, and you should have your PIN in seconds. However, this option will only work if a person answers the phone and records the PIN. If you have automated call answering or a very busy office, it might be easier to verify via US mail.
  2. Verification by postcard – Google will send a postcard with your PIN to the mailing address of your business. This generally takes a week or so to arrive. If you change your business phone number, address, or company name, you will need to verify via postcard.

When you receive your PIN, log into to Google Places again and enter the value provided. Once verified, listings generally appear in Google Maps within a week.

Remember, if you change your business name, phone, or address, you must re-verify with Google Places.

For more information, please visit the Google Places for Business About verification page.

4 – Change information about your business

After you have a claimed and verified the Place Page for your business, you can log in to Google Places anytime to modify the listing to add or change things such as photos, video links, special offers, business description, and categories. Re-verification is needed if you change your business name, phone, or address.

You can even add additional locations for your business here. Each new location requires verification.

In general, changes you make will show up on Google Maps in about a week.

5 – Get a link to your Google Places Page

Once you have a Google Places Page for your business, you’ll want to let people know about it so that they have an easy map reference to your location and so that they can review/rate your business. Add a link to your Place Page to your website and email signature.

Here’s how to get a direct link to your Place Page:

  1. Open your web browser and go to: http://maps.google.com/. This is the main Google Maps website.
  2. Search for your business name and location or phone number.
  3. In the list of businesses that appear, click your business name. Your business information will pop up on the map or you’ll go directly to your Place Page.
  4. If needed, click your business name again in the map popup to display your Place Page.
  5. On your Place Page, click the word Link near the upper right corner.
  6. Check the Short URL box.
  7. Copy the link provided and Paste into a document or email for safekeeping.

Here’s an example of the Link dialog box that appears:

6 – Ask people to review and rate your business on Google Maps

It helps your business when you get some traction going with reviews on your Google Places listing. The best strategy for this is to ask customers to review your business. After you complete a sale or a project, send a follow-up email or postcard asking for a review. You can also remind people to review/rate you when you send out invoices or thank-you cards.

Keep in mind that in order to review your business on Google, the reviewer must have a Google account and must log in to leave a review. Not everyone is comfortable with this, but the requirement cuts down on extraneous, spam-filled reviews.

When you ask people for reviews, provide them with a direct link to your Place Page. If you are using printed postcards or thank-you notes, you can provide a QR code that links people directly to your Place Page.

You may also want to give your customers some helpful hints on how to write a review. Include both technical instructions (see next section) and a few guidelines as well. Guidelines for reviews help create richer, more meaningful testimonials.

For example, a review that reads, “Great product. Would buy from again,” does not provide much substance. Some good guidelines would be to ask people to identify the product or service they purchased, what they liked about the experience/product, and what benefits they received from it.

7 – How to write reviews on Google Maps

Here are some instructions for writing reviews. To simplify step #1, I suggest always providing your customers with a direct link to your Google Places Page.

    1. Go to the direct link provided for the business. Proceed to #2 below.
    2. OR go to http://maps.google.com and search for the business you want to review. Then click the business name in the left sidebar to pop up the business information on the map. Then click more to show the option to write a review.Find the business on Google Maps:
  1. Click Write a review.
  2. If you are not logged in to Google, you will be prompted to log into your Google account or create a Google account if you don’t have one.
  3. Once logged in, you can write the review as follows:
    1. Select the star rating by clicking the stars next to Your rating.
    2. Type in the text for your review in the big box.
    3. Click Publish to save your review.

8 – How to respond to negative reviews

When you start asking for reviews, you may get a few negative ones mixed in. There may be spam reviews from people you don’t even know, or there may be inappropriate reviews that need to be removed. You may even want to thank some customers for their positive reviews. Responding to the people who give you feedback shows you care about your customers and what they think.

The good news is that Google has built a way for verified Google Places business owners to respond via Google to reviews posted on their Places listing. Your response is public, so, it will appear on your listing for everyone to see. Google has posted helpful guidelines to responding to reviews for Google Places users.

While it may be hard to respond to a clearly negative review, take a few breaths and craft a response in a word processor first. Think about what you write in your response. Be nice and be positive to show that you care.

There are two ways to handle review responses on Google Places:

  1. Respond publicly as the owner:
    1. Log in to Google Places and view your listing.
    2. Scroll down to the review you want to respond to.
    3. Click Respond publicly as the owner underneath that review.
    4. Type your response in the box provided.
    5. Click Publish to post your response.
  2. Flag a review as inappropriate:
    1. Log in to Google Places and view your listing.
    2. Scroll down to the review you want to flag.
    3. Click Flag as inappropriate underneath that review.
    4. The Report a policy violation page will appear.
    5. Follow the instructions on the page.
    6. Click Submit to send your request to Google.
    7. Wait for Google to respond. This can take a while because a person needs to review your claim. If you are concerned about the review being on your listing, you can always post a public response to it for users to see while you are waiting.

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