Like its main web search engine, Google Places (which is changing to Google+ Local) has a range of factors it looks at when deciding where to list your business. Some of these are common factors that influence your website rankings while others are specific to Google local.
As with all search engine ranking factors, no one really knows for certain how important any given factor is. Some factors are fairly logical and obvious while others can be more vague and theoretical and may or may not be backed up by testing. Below is a list of the more common factors that are widely considered to influence your listing in Google local search.
You may find your business already has a listing in Google places which you did not create. Many of the Google places listings were generated by Google based on information it found on the web. If this is the case Google offers the facility for you to claim your business listing using a verification process to ensure you are a representative of the business.
It is the general consensus that claiming your listing has a positive effect on your listings positions. Combined with the fact that once your listing is claimed you then get access to edit many of the other factors, verifying your listing is first thing we recommend doing.
Once you have claimed your listing you will be able to edit all the details and add additional information that may be missing.
Filling out your places listing as much as possible not only helps in terms of your position in the results but also has a positive effect on user experience. Making sure your details are correct and complete along with ensuring the category of business is correct are the important basic factors but also adding media such as picture and video is also worth doing.
One ranking factor specific to Google places is the number of online citations your business has. Online citations are where other websites mention your business in a way that allows Google to identify that it is your specific business they are talking about. These citations can have a positive influence on where your business shows up in the search results.
The problem Google has is that there are generally a number of local businesses with the same name, either multiple branches of the same company or just businesses with common names. The way Google can ascertain which listing someone is talking about is by looking for references to unique information such as address and/or phone number.
Ensuring that any websites that mention your business include and address or phone number is key and making sure that information is the same across everything is vital. A good way to think about it is that your phone number treated as your business ID.
Like citations, links to your website also influence where you appear in the search results. When editing your business listing you will have the option to add your website URL (the address of your website). Links from other websites to your website build what is known as domain authority. The more authority your domain has the higher it will rank in the search results.
This domain authority can cross over into your business listing and help it to appear higher in the results. Like citations, not all links are valued the same but be warned, it is also possible for some links to have a negative effect on your search rankings.
By adding your website to your Google places listing you are effectively creating a link between your website and your listing. Making sure Google sees your website as relevant to the right search phrases can have an effect on where your business listing shows up.
Google looks at a wide range of things on your website to ascertain how relevant it is to a given search term. Things like the page title, headings on the page, URL and many other factors can all influence where your website and your Google places listing appears in the search results.
Each business listing in Google places is associates to a specific geographical location (your business address). If you have more than one branch you should have more than one business listing.
One ranking factor that you have little control over is the distance between your business and the centre of the area being searched. If you are on the outskirts of Leeds you will find it harder to show up for Leeds based search terms (eg plumbers in Leeds).
Short of moving your business there is not much you can do about this factor other than be aware you will have to work that much harder on the other factors to compensate.
Having a Google places listing allows people to leave reviews of your business. These reviews can play a big role in where your business ranks in the local results. It can also have a positive impact on the likelihood that someone will click on your listing. Google can also pull in reviews from other business listing websites, they may not be as prominent on your Google place page but they should still help your ranking.
It does not matter so much if a review is positive or negative. Some think for ranking purposes you ideally want a balanced set of both good and bad reviews. We generally tend to advise focusing on obtaining genuine reviews rather than worry too much about if they are good or bad. Obviously positive customer reviews are going to look better but a list of one shining review after another can start to look suspicious.
Most business find it awkward asking people to review their business, especially considering you normally have to sign up for an account to leave a review but there are many ways you can encourage your customers without having to directly ask them.
Incorporating a request for reviews into your stationary (e.g. compliments slips or invoices) can work well at raising awareness to the fact people can leave an online review, as can highlighting it on your website and emails.
A good way to encourage people to leave reviews in Google is to use a handout providing instructions. You do not even have to design the hand out yourself as you can use services like Phil Rozeks Google Review handout which does all the hard work for you and only costs $20 (approximately £15).