Today we'll discuss ways to optimize your Places page to maximize its effectiveness and further improve your rankings.
It's All About Signals
We all know that Google's rankings are determined by algorithms. These are mathematical formulas used to rank sites based on a specific set of criteria; the criteria and their weights being determined by humans.
When these humans sit down and try to figure out what should be used to rank sites, they have to rely on signals from the outside world -- signals they believe indicate quality and relevance. Signals like link popularity, anchor text, content, semantics, etc.
So what we need to do is try to figure out what those signals are and make sure we send them. When it comes to localized search, there are few (if any) signals stronger than a well-optimized Google Places page.
So how do you optimize your Places pages to improve our rankings organically on Google? Filling in all of the information is step one, but let's go through these areas step-by-step to better understand how to enter/edit the information for your page and send the right signals.
Fill this in completely, including e-mail address, website, description, and categories.
Make sure to include your keywords in your description but don't stuff them. Like your meta description tag, you want readability and relevancy. If your keywords are relevant, you shouldn't have any trouble fitting them in.
So far you've told Google where you are, who you are, tied that information to your website, given them a description to display and to draw relevancy and keywords from, and then told them what categories of search phrases you're related to. That's a lot of information you've managed to tie to your website and that's just the beginning.
Service Areas and Location Settings
You can either select that customers need to come to you or that you will go to them. If you select the latter option, you'll be asked for a radius from your place of business, or specific regions that you will service.
While I haven't seen issues caused by adding this information, one can conceivably think of a time when Google might omit a site for a phrase like "emergency plumber subburb wa" if the searcher was in a region that wasn't included in the serviced areas. That may sound fine, because you don't service the area anyway, so you won't lose business.
However, entering this service area information could be a negative if you hit a period where business is slow and you're willing to extend your reach a little. That said, make sure to adjust your Places Page when this happens and you'll always do well.
Hours of Operations
Fill in this information so people know when to contact you. Again, the more information you give Google and your customers/visitors, the better.
One potential trouble area is if you're working longer hours than normal due to business situations (e.g., holiday season, peak time of year for your business), and you don't keep your hours of operations updated. In this case, your site won't show in Google's results because it's based on your regular hours of operation -- even though, in actuality, you're working longer hours.
While not necessary, you should add this information for the same reason I recommend all information where applicable -- the more you give Google, the more they can assume you'll give your visitors on your site.
Adding photos further reinforces that you offer a variety of resources and that you take your Google Places listing seriously. While this message is important -- even more important is that adding your own photos allows you to control how your SERP appears for blended results.
Also, as discussed in Part 1, photos can have a tremendous impact on clickthroughs. Improving your click through rate (CTR) is a clear signal to Google that your site is relevant.
So add photos, test your CTRs when specific photos are displayed in your blended organic results, and adjust accordingly. This will help your CTR and make your Places page more compelling.
I haven't seen much in the way of direct organic benefits from videos in Google Places listings yet.
However, it's no secret that YouTube is featured prominently in Google's SERPs and Google loves sites that send a lot of traffic to their various properties. Tying together your business and a YouTube page for your business, assuming you have enough views/impressions, should help your organic rankings overall.
If you want to rank for branded local terms or if you would like to include details that haven't already been entered and are relevant to your business (e.g., free parking or fully accessible), this is where to enter these details.
Because there isn't a solid set of data Google is collecting and because this area is easily abused (you can put almost anything there) I believe it has low weight and I haven't seen a huge impact on results. However as Google Places ages this section will likely be used by Google to determine what other types of information they should be collecting.
This information may also impact results without producing a blended Places SERP listing. Just because the results aren't blended with Places data doesn't mean that information wasn't drawn from Google Places to help form those results.
On Your Site
Having a well-optimized Google Places page is one thing, but what it's linking to is equally important. If your site doesn't hold visitors or if it's not deemed relevant to the query in question -- it's still not going to rank.
Let's use an extreme example. If I optimize my Places page for "victoria bc restaurant," my site still won't rank for "victoria bc restaurant" because the site itself is related to search engine optimization (SEO).
So I've got more work for you now. Here we've gotten into how to optimize the Places page. In the next article we're going to have the results of some specific tests we're running and additional hints.
Before then, you need to get your optimization completed. To get started, read the other great articles here on Search Engine Watch to familiarize yourself with SEO and link building strategies so your efforts will reap the maximum rewards.