Google’s Going Local, Why Google Places Pages Are Now More Important than Ever for Organic Placement

Have you noticed the change in Google.com results? Have you seen all the red icons in front of listings whenever you do a Google search that contains a city location in the query? Are you noticing that your website’s organic (unpaid placement) seems to be pushed down below a myriad of local results? Welcome to the new world of Google’s localized results!

With Google pushing location specific listings pulled from their Google Places index, it’s getting harder for prospects to find your “real” website. Localization is the rage with search engines right now; even Bing and Yahoo have gotten into the act too. It is now more important than ever to use your local Places page as a doorway to bring visitors into your website. As Google is the big player in the world of search, we’ll focus on discussing Google Places accounts in this article, but be aware that Bing and Yahoo both have similar services.

If you have a business, you most likely already have a Google Places page even if you never created one. Google has planned ahead for you, and has created a page just for you, based on the information that it has found on the Web about your business. It’s your job to claim it, and then work the page over so it can be a selling tool to funnel customers and prospects into your “real” website.

How do you claim your listing?
First, visit this page: http://www.google.com/places/.  On the right you will see a section for business owners. Your listing is free, but you will need to set up or tie an existing Google account login to your new Google Places account. One word to the wise, if you are paying a third party to do set up for you, make sure that they tie the Google Places account to you and not to themselves. You want to retain ownership of your Google Places page as long as you have your business.

The sign up and set up interface is easy to use. You will enter in your physical address (no P.O. Boxes allowed), your phone number, email address, website URL, business description, and then select service or product categories. Don’t be afraid to choose custom categories that are short keywords of the services or products you provide. You can only set up a maximum of five categories.

Your Places page is not complete until you enter details about your business such as: operating hours, types of payment accepted, photos, YouTube.com videos, and finally the important “additional details”. Take time to add “additional details” that make sense. We recommend using keyword phrases for these “additional details”.  Keep in mind that what you enter here should be considered like a bulleted list, with a one to three word clarification in the second field to the right of the entered keyword. Focus on keywords that are indicative of what you sell and in a very short concise format.

Although you are done, your Places page will not go live until Google has verified that you are really located at the address your have listed in your Google Places account. Plan on two weeks for a postcard or plain envelop to come to you via regular mail at the listed location. This correspondence will contain a PIN. You must enter this PIN number in your Google Places account for your Places page to be put in the indexing queue. It may then take another one to four weeks for your listing to actually become live. Unfortunately setting up and verifying a Google Places page is not quick process but make sure to follow the instructions carefully. If someone has already claimed your physical location you will not be able to claim it as well. This is an important note to remember for office buildings and even businesses sharing physical spaces with the same street address. The location will be tied to a single Google Places account on a first come basis.

How to maintain top position with your Google Places listing?
As Google Places pages are so important now in the organic results, how can you improve placement and then retain it once you win it. We recommend that you do monthly updates of your photos and videos on your Google Places page. If you don’t have videos, now’s the time to start getting creative and make several short videos using your digital camera. Just load your video files to YouTube.com (tied to the same Google account that you used for your Google Places page). Insert the YouTube.com link to the video into your Google Places account in the video section. You can show up to five videos at a time. As for pictures we recommend sizing 20 or so into a square shape and then rotating ten different ones each month. Google seems to like and reward Places pages with better placement that are actively managed on a regular basis.

Google also seems to reward Google Places pages with better placement when the business offer coupons and has more review than their competitors. Not all markets seem to have a clear cut path to top placement, but we do know from research that in major markets reviews and coupons are just one of the keys for top placement of a Google Places page. Your geographic proximity to the person who has searched is still the top determining factor in which businesses are shown and then coupons and reviews will additionally rank the returned business listings.

Where do the reviews come from that appear on my Google Places page?
Google scans the Web and pulls reviews from all over and embeds them on your Google Places page. Users can also leave reviews directly by visiting your Places page if they are logged into their own Google account. Additionally, with the creation of Google Hotpot, a social business review tool, Google is actively seeking for others to rate your business with their own application.

Unfortunately, you have no control of the reviews that appear on your Places page. However, as the Places owner, if a poor review is posted, you can respond to the review, but there is no “remove this review” button. You can however flag the review for Google as inappropriate, but Google may leave the review at their option. If the review is pulled in from a site that is not a Google property, even if you flag it as inappropriate Google has stated that they will not block it from showing on your Places page.

Be careful if you are using a third party set up service that the creation of fictitious reviews is not part of your package. Your Places page could be dropped from the index through a violation of Google’s terms of service.

In conclusion, with the advent of search engine localization, claiming your Google Places page is a very important aspect of managing your online presence. With Google Places pages being ranked higher than websites for search queries that contain a location, you really must use this new tool to your advantage to funnel clients and prospects into your website.

How the New gTLD Domain Names Will Impact You and Your Brand

How the New gTLD Domain Names Will Impact You and Your Brand

If you’ve ever heard the term TLD, it may seem like just one of the myriad of mysterious acronyms that populate tech-speak. You might be surprised to learn that it’s actually something you likely use every day in one way or another. In addition, recent developments could make it even more relevant to your company or business.

TLD stands for top-level domain, which is the extension to the right of the dot in an Internet address. They’re further subdivided into gTLDs, which are generic domains such as .com or .gov. Currently there are only 21 gTLDs in use, but that number is about to explode. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (iCANN) has begun approving new gTLDs for the first time since 2004.

What makes this expansion potentially game-changing is that these new gTLDs include specific terms that relate directly to businesses, cultures, hobbies and other interests. Some of the domains included in the list are .career, .casino, .book and .fashion. In addition, alphabets such as Cyrillic, Arabic and Chinese will be introduced into the naming system in an effort to increase Internet use around the world.

iCANN began accepting applications for the new gTLDs in January 2013. By September nearly 1,800 of these applications had passed the initial evaluation. Prominent retailers Amazon, Wal-Mart have applied for their own brand names as well as other domains (.grocery for Wal-Mart, .book for Amazon) that pertain to certain aspects of their business. The first approved domains are expected to roll out early this year.

While control of a branded gTLD has an obvious benefit, the hefty $185,000 application fee that goes along with it will probably keep all but major companies from pursuing those domains. The real action will undoubtedly come from purchase of addresses with generic domain names such as the aforementioned .grocery and .book. These will be available through online registries such as GoDaddy that currently provide the service for addresses with .com, .biz and other established gTLDs.

One potential benefit of these domains is using them to make a website more user-friendly by sending customers directly to their area of interest. For example, Amazon could use the address Kindle.book to steer people to their online e-reader store without forcing them to navigate the Amazon.com site.

Another scenario is demonstrated by the plans of BuySeasons Inc. They’re attempting to buy several domains with a .party extension to use with their e-commerce sites. Customers can be led to different areas of the party-planning process via Invitations.party, Photos.party and other descriptive addresses.

Use of the new gTLDs clearly serve a proactive function of helping your customers find you more easily. There’s also a defensive purpose of claiming an address to keep your competitors from taking advantage of it. Other businesses, particularly large retailers, will also find themselves in the position of scooping up addresses that may mislead shoppers or reflect poorly on their service or brand.

Search engine giants Google and Microsoft have been vague on the question of if and how their algorithms will change in response to the new gTLDs. However, experts believe that these domains can’t help but make addresses more relevant to customer queries. This is another aspect that makes control of the domains important. If, for instance, the holder of the .makeup domain allows use only by cosmetics companies, it preserves integrity of these addresses in consumer searches.

There are a couple of ways you can prepare for your own potential use of gTLDs. If you have a trademark, you can register it with iCANN’s Trademark Clearinghouse. This gives you priority during a gTLD’s so-called “sunrise period”. When a domain related to your trademark becomes available, you have a 30- to 60-day time frame in order to purchase or bid on it. You may also pre-register for your desired domains with online registries that are likely to be selling them.

As with any change or innovation in online marketing, the jury will be out on the full benefits of gTLDs until they’ve been in use for a while. But it’s vital that you consider the implications for your business and position yourself to use this development in your company’s best interest.