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Google+ Local Bible for SMBs

Guillaume Bouchard
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If you're a small local business, having a Google+ Local profile is imperative to putting your brand – quite literally – on the map. Google Places was recently replaced with Google+ Local – a merging of Places and Plus that serves up your Google+ Local listing in Search and Maps results on mobile devices and traditional browsers. Whereas Places was a static listing, Local is dynamic and social.

A well-optimized Google+ Local page can benefit your digital marketing strategy in the following ways:

  • Outrank your competitors in local search.
  • Build the authority of your brand through +1's and user reviews.
  • Drive traffic to your website.
  • Convert more visitors into leads and clientele.

Quick stats about local mobile use:

  • 50 percent of mobile search is local.
  • 61 percent of local searches result in purchases.
  • 50 percent of smartphone shoppers use a GPS/mapping app to find a retail location.
  • Only 33 percent of advertisers have a mobile optimized website (Read more mobile statistics for local business).

With more than 1 billion smartphone users around the world, a number expected to reach 2 billion by 2015, it's no surprise that mobile search is quickly becoming the number one way users search. And, when people search with their smartphones, they're looking for something local.

How do you unlock the full potential of +Local? Follow these six steps to learn the dance.

Step 1: Claim Your Google+ Business Page

In order to set up your Google+ Local account, you need a Google+ Business Page. If you haven't yet claimed your Google+ Business page, I recommend John Haydon's short video tutorial on how to do it, here.

However, if you have a +Business Page which doesn't have a Local page category, unfortunately it can't be upgraded yet. (The new +Local Dashboard was recently rolled out, however only available in the U.S. for now).

If you already set up a Google+ Business page in the category Local Business, then you have the option to merge your business page with your Google+ local page. For a video tutorial on merging your Business and Local pages, check out Matthew Hunt's video here.

Now, it's time to populate your +Local Page.

Step 2: Update Your Google+ Local Page

The process for updating your Google+ Local page is pretty straightforward. On the left panel you have a series of icons (just like Google+). Hit the Profile icon and update your About section, cover photo, company photos, videos, etc.

update-google-plus-local-page

The key is to build a strong local page that includes all pertinent business information (address, contact information, operating hours), engaging content (photos, positive reviews) and to keep it actively updated.

Step 3: Disseminate Structured and Unstructured Citations

Let's start by outlining the difference between a structured and unstructured citation. A structured citation is a mention of your business' NAP (business name, address, phone number) on an IYP (Internet Yellow Pages) or directory website (e.g., Yahoo Directory, ODP).

Generally, a structured citation has the schema.org mark-up, which allows the search engine spiders across Google, Bing and Yahoo to read the data. (To learn how to add schema location markup check out Carrie Hill's step-by-step article. )

An unstructured citation is more of a casual mention of your business' NAP that appears anywhere that's not an official directory provider, for example, a blog, social media profile, newspaper (online/print) etc.

Having a healthy mix of both structured and unstructured citations is really important for both SEO and conversions. Tools like Whitespark's local citation finder can help you to identify structured citation providers in your area.

Some ideas for getting unstructured mentions include:

  • Event citations (local social event, meetups, seminars/workshops)
  • Job boards (local job posting sites like elance, odesk, freelancer)
  • Classified ads (Kijiji, Craigslist, Angie's list, eBay, Amazon etc.)
  • Local newspaper classifieds
  • Local realtor websites
  • Discount sites (local coupon sites)
  • Daily Deal websites (Groupon)
  • Facebook Deals (Facebook Deals also have potential virality by inviting vetted Friends of Fans to participate in deals)
  • Give away websites (Freecycle, Fiverr, mom blogs…)

Leveraging these structured and unstructured opportunities will definitely contribute to moving your rankings up and achieving your digital targets.

Step 4: Build Rank for Your Google+ Local Page

Google's previous local algorithm for Places was weighted on three main factors:

  • Location
  • Relevance
  • Prominence

With the updated +Local, the algorithm has become as complex as Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson's relationship.

drummer-ba-dum-tssshhh

(Fun Fact: Ask.com's Top Question in 2012 was: Will Robert Pattinson & Kristen Stewart Get Back Together?)

But back to what really matters: What's affecting the positioning of a +Local listing on the SERP? The most up-to-date and comprehensive ranking factor analysis I've come across so far, is from the big wig of local search engine marketing, David Mihm. He's analyzed and written extensively about the top factors that affect the rank of your Google+ Local page. And he just did a Whiteboard Friday about the evolution of the local algorithm.

(Note: This analysis was performed in June 2012, just after the Places/Plus merge, so there may be some new factors that come into play – and others whose influence will increase or decrease when 2013's assessment is ready.)

Here's a very condensed breakdown of the top five factors that drive Google's local search algorithms:

google-plus-local-page-criteria

1. +Local Page Criteria

  • Physical address in city of search
  • Proper business categories
  • Proximity of address to city center (centroid)
  • Local area code on +Local Page

2. On-site factors

  • Domain Authority of website
  • City/state/province in +Local landing page title
  • HTML/schema NAP matches +Local page NAP
  • Page Authority of landing page specified in +Local
  • Product/service keyword in website URL

3. Off-site factors

  • Quantity of structured citations (IYPs, data aggregators)
  • Quality/authority of structured citations
  • Quality/authority of unstructured citations
  • Quality/authority of inbound links to domain

4. Review factors

  • Quantity of native +Local reviews
  • Product/service keywords in reviews
  • Quantity of third-party reviews
  • Keyword(s) location in reviews
  • Velocity of native +Local reviews

(Note: velocity refers to the speed at which a local listing or a website accumulates outside references, such as links, citations, reviews, or check-ins.)

5. Social/Mobile factors

  • Number of +1's on website
  • Number of adds/shares on Google+
  • Click-through rate from search results
  • Authority of +1's on website
  • Velocity of adds/shares on Google+

Now we know what performance indicators to put the bulk of our efforts into; it's time to find out what local region searchers are looking for.

Step 5: Perform a Local/Hyper-Local Keyword Research

Doing keyword research for local business is a challenging but high return activity. By tapping into what searchers are looking for in your local region, you open yourself to continuous discovery of quality, targeted keyword prospects, that will give your local business a competitive advantage.

You can use keyword tools such as AdWords, Wordtracker, WordStream and Übersuggest to generate an exhaustive list of as many possible relevant keywords. You can also use a fantastic local keyword tool that allows to you to include cities, state abbreviations and zip codes in your search.

Once you've analyzed and prioritized your keyword list, assigned them to the best pages (landing page, blog, mobile site, micro-site), you're ready to start building your first-class content.

Step 6: Create Value-Charged Local and Hyper-local Content

The ongoing sharing of valuable, relevant content that caters to the specific interests and intents of users on each platform you have a presence on, can have significant impact on the visibility and prominence of your brand.

It's a matter of "getting" your audience, and crafting meaningful copy that provides real value, answers questions and engages people to act. Author Rank is going to continue to give real estate to the content creators with a strong identities and that means it's more crucial than ever to build your following (Google+, +1s, reviews) and maintain your most important channels: your website, blog, social profiles, job profiles, forums, etc. with rich content including videos, images, social posts, that again, give searchers something to come back to.

Remember to keep your content cycle turning by revisiting and rejuvenating your most valuable local and hyperlocal content.

Local is “Where it's At”

The forward path of mobile search, increased local search, the influence of Google+, as well as user reviews, makes Google+ Local an invaluable platform for small businesses to utilize. Helping to drive relevant traffic and generate more qualified leads, now is the best time to do the "Localmotion" and capitalize on all the search that +Local has to offer.

To sum up, here are the key ways that will help you maximize the power of Google+ Local:

  • Make sure you have a Google+ Business Page for entry into the Local space
  • Once its claimed, merge your Business Page with your Google+ Local Page
  • Update it with marked up business information + engaging content
  • Build rank for your Google+ Local Page by optimizing the most important ranking factors (on-site/offsite factors, social media/mobile factors, reviews)
  • Disseminate structured and unstructured citations (IYPs, directories, blog mentions etc.)
  • Build the most comprehensive list of local/hyper-local keywords
  • Consistently publish value-charged content and engage with your online communities

Mary Monserrat-Howlett of nvi contributed to this post.

Drummer image source: http://fark.com


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