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Improve Your Organic Rankings With Google Places, Part 3

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One question you might well be asking yourself after reading Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on how to use Google Places to enhance your organic results is: how long does it take for the organic effects of creating a Google Places page to be realized?

The answer here seems to vary. A Places page isn't a silver bullet. It may have an affect, but still not push you to the first page.

The shortest amount of time it appears to take is about two weeks. I've seen it take as long as a couple months, however, which may be more a factor of the rest of the search engine optimization (SEO) process weighing in and pushing the site up than for the Places page to be carrying weight.

How Much Weight Does A Places Page Have?

Unfortunately there is no answer to this question (and no, that's not a cop-out). As with all factors (or as Google likes to call them: signals), it's about balance.

Even if there was a specific percentage I could give you, there's a good chance that percentage would change in the time between the writing of and publishing of this article, as a fluctuation in any signal is going to change all the other weights as well.

Those in an incredibly competitive sector may see virtually no affect from adding Google Places. By the same token, you'd see very little affect from the building of one solid link -- but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be link building.

Those in less competitive sectors could see their site catapult from outside the top 50 right into the top 5 with the help of Google Places.

Let's go through some more tips and results, based on our own tests and implementations, as well as experiences others have shared with us.

Image Optimization

Selecting the right images to include in your Places page can have an impact on your clickthrough rates (CTRs). Most of us have noticed that when Places results are blended into the organic results, they include an image. This image is drawn from one of two sources:

  • The Places page
  • A third party site (e.g., one that reviewed your business)

Placing your own images on your Places page and testing them can give you control over which image appears in the organic results, thus improving your CTR.

We played around with the images for one of our clients. This was an ideal test because their listing had a fairly generic image pulled from a review site.

The week before the image appeared in the Places-inclusive organic rankings, there were no significant changes in rankings; in the week following, the site received 24 percent more visitors. This included double-digit increases in traffic from phrases with a number one ranking.

This carried over into subsequent weeks, although as the dates get further apart the credit gets skewed with likely more factors at play. So, to be on the safe side, let's just say they received a 24 percent boost in organic Google traffic for phrases where the Places results were blended. Definitely worth the 30 to 40 minutes of time invested in testing a few images.

Adding Reviews

There's been a clear connection between reviews and rankings, though it's clearly not purely a numbers game.

Out of the gate, Google neither seemed to have a strong handle on detecting spam tactics in reviews, nor did they properly consider good versus bad reviews, but they've gained ground lately. It appears that many of the lessons they learned in the manipulation of links have been applied to reviews and that Google is quickly learning to adapt to those pesky SEOs once again.

Unfortunately, we don't have any consistent statistics or concrete tests run on the very important area of reviews. However, we have learned a few things.

One useful strategy is to run an analysis on the top competitors in an industry when determining where to recommend getting reviews. Look at the distribution of sites the reviews are being drawn from and the distribution of ratings, then seek strategies to mimic that environment.

Also, try to come up with strategies that encourage your clients to review your site. Send an email asking them to contact you if they've had any problems or review you at [insert your URL here” if they've had a good experience.

Don't send it to just the people who will give you five stars. If a bad review does appear, though, you'll definitely want to direct more of your positive clients to that location for reputation management reasons.

Location, Location, Location

The majority of my Places advice is based on one core principle: that you are geographically located in the area you want to rank. More than a couple times, however, a client has targeted terms in a large city, only to discover that Google has determined the area of that city and decided the client is outside of that area.

Let's use the example of a lawyer in Los Angeles. If that lawyer is geographically located on Santa Monica Boulevard, they won't get the benefits of Google Places because Google has decided that area won't be included in where they pull Places results from when blended with the organic rankings.

One thing we have tested, though never implemented on a client site, is the use of a UPS P.O. Box (which lists as "Suite" not "P.O Box") to register for two or more locations. At this time the strategy seems to work and in the case we tested it on -- the company had the UPS location listed as their address and appeared on the map and received the bump in organic results we had expected -- all within three weeks from the time of confirming the location.

This specific strategy is a bit risky, but worth noting. Ethically I don't have a problem with it from a fairness perspective if used correctly. If your company is in a city but Google has chosen not to select that area of the map then an argument can be made that you are being put at a disadvantage for no legitimate reason.

The problem is that this strategy could be subject to abuse (why not register in many cities?) and if I were Google, I'd request from UPS all their locations to filter out of the Places results. Should they do this, you have to wonder what would happen to your legitimate Places page. I prefer to play it safe and go for the long-term rankings, but promised to note info on the tests we've run and this is one of them -- albeit crossing into the gray zone of SEO.

Conclusion

The data gathered thus far is of a Google service and ranking factor in its youth. Google is adjusting and testing new ways to weight and utilize Google Places in their results and I can't recommend enough -- don't just build it and leave it. Like everything with SEO -- watch what the ranking sites are doing, ask yourself why this is working, what Google is trying to glean from their attributes, and seek to mimic the signals they're sending to Google.

I'd like to give a special thanks to Steve Penny for sharing his experiences, some of which were included in this post.


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