The following is a guest post from the kick ass Dawn Wentzell. If you are a merchant or “real business” wanting to improve your Google Places ranking with safe tactics, you need to read this one…

Local Business FolksDealing with local search can be a headache for small businesses.

There are so many things owners already have to deal with to keep the business running, marketing – and internet marketing at that – can truly be the last thing on their minds.

But getting your Google Places profile set up is an important step to claiming your presence online. And it’s not quite as scary as it seems to do it, and do it well.

The Basics

I’m not going to tell you how to fill out a form, because if you’re reading Rae’s blog you should be quite capable of doing that. But you do need to pay attention to how you fill out that form.

Don’t try to get clever with your business name and throw some extra keywords in there, just keep it to your registered business name (or DBA if you have one).

The phone number should be the main, local phone number of your business — don’t go adding any call tracking numbers here, especially if you’re creating a brand new profile (I’ve tried it with established business profiles before, but you should know that you’re playing with fire and it could affect local rankings, not to mention confuse the heck out of your customers). Other no-no’s include 1-800 numbers and vanity numbers. If you really want everyone to see how clever your vanity number is, include it as a secondary number.

And your website URL should obviously match your company’s website. Because with the changes to local listings back in October, your Places Page and organic listing will be combined, and Google needs to figure out which ones match up. So don’t list some microsite, and then wonder why your organic listing isn’t displaying the Google Places info.

The Important Stuff

I don’t know if I can emphasize this enough, but categories are really REALLY important. So how do you decide what categories to pick? Simply search for a term you want to be found for, and take a look at the Place Pages of the businesses listed. The Local Search Toolkit automates the same process. Easy peasy. Then, use categories that you see repeated often, especially amongst ones you know rank well for your desired keywords.

When adding a description, keep it unique. You might have crafted the best company description for your homepage or your Twitter bio, but write something different here. You’ve only got 250 characters, so brevity is king. I like to slip one or two of my favourite keywords in the description, but I’ll state the obvious and remind you not to keyword stuff. Keep it readable for users. In fact, make it exciting for users, and include some sort of call-to-action language.

Here’s your chance to justify that expensive corporate photo shoot you did: add some pictures! Keep in mind that the first image you upload will be the one shown in the SEPPs next to your listing. I like to make sure whatever image I upload will scale nicely when it fits in that spot, otherwise you get white bars around the edges. That image is 85px by 60px, so try to keep it in the same aspect ratio (like, 500×353 pixels, for example). Pictures of your smiling founders work great here, as do your logo, or a picture of your building if it’s particularly remarkable.

And take advantage of the additional details section. This is where you can actually add in some of your keywords. But I’m going to remind you again – don’t keyword stuff, keep it useful and readable for users. Take one field and mention all your service areas. If your products or services can be grouped somehow, then split them up. For example, if you sell electronics, you could take one field to list the types and a few brands of TVs you carry (LED TVs, LCD TVs, 3D TVs, Sony Bravia, Samsung..), and another field to list the kinds of stereo units you carry. You can list your accreditations and awards, the reservations page on your website, the suburbs you service. Whatever, if your business does it, figure out a way to put it in the additional details section.

The Boring Stuff

While it can feel like they’re asking you to fill out every little detail about your business…well, actually, they are. And the guy in #1 didn’t get there by leaving anything out, so make sure you fill. everything. in. All of it. If it gives you 5 spots for categories, fill out 5 categories. You can upload 10 photos? Then you better upload 10 photos. It seems dumb, but fill out your operating hours, your payment methods, and your fax number.

If there’s a field for it, fill it in.

You’re Not Quite Done

Now that you’ve spent all that time on your Google Place Page, you need to make sure your info is consistent across all of the other business directory sites.

Start with the two main ones that feed Google Places – Localeze and InfoUSA. If your information is incorrect in those databases, you could end up with that info re-appearing back in Google Places in addition to the beautiful profile you just created.

Localeze is straight forward, but it’s trickier to find where to change your address with InfoUSA. Just to be confusing, they put that on a different site called ExpressUpdate.

Then take a look at the other major local directories. For most of them, you just need to make sure you’ve claimed your listing and your basic business info is up-to-date. Make sure to hit Yellowpages, Yelp, Bing and the other major local citation sources.

If you want to take it further, start looking for other directories – either particular to your industry or niche, or specific to your local area. To find what other directories your competitors are listed in, try the Local Citation Finder from Whitespark. Put in your keyword, and if there are local listings it will come back with a list of directories they appear in. Pick the ones used the most.

And Finally

Reviews. The local search guys have been going on about reviews for a while, but for good reason. When your organic and local listings are combined, the number of reviews you have – both in total and at every other major directory – get shown. And the average rating. Yes, right there in the SERPs. And, for the time-being at least, it’s a numbers game and how many you have does matter.

This might be one of the toughest things to do, but in order to build up your number of reviews, you will have to ask your customers/clients for them. People rarely leave reviews for a good experience (but will always leave one for a bad experience) and the good ones are obviously more helpful. Send follow up emails to clients and ask for a review. If you have an email newsletter, ask in there. See a client using a smartphone? Ask if they have the Yelp app. Put the Yelp sticker in your window. Start getting your employees on board, and start incorporating this into your business.

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