Local search is notoriously important for professional services firms, with the ability to come top of queries for your town and profession likely to result in a number of solid website referrals and, hopefully, client conversions.
It’s a bit of a shame then that, like a handful of areas of Google’s empire of sub-sites, setting up for local search isn’t perhaps as easy as it could be.
The initial questions around what you should be doing and how you should be doing it are mainly complicated by the presence of two solutions: Google Places and local business pages on Google+, Google’s social network.
The two options
Google Places is the solution you’ll be familiar with if you’ve used Google Maps: your business will appear on Google Maps at or near to where it is in reality and clicking on it will display a handful of further details; website, contact number and opening times. Google Places is managed on the Google Places for Business site and to ‘claim’ your business from the map (something you’ll need to do if you ever want to make changes) you’ll have to follow a telephone or postal authentication procedure. Alternatively, you can just click ‘suggest an edit’ on the map entry and leave it to Google to action in due course.
Google+ meanwhile, offers the ‘Local Business’ category when you create a business page on the site, or from the ‘Pages’ section of your personal G+ account. This gives you a presence on the network for your business for sharing updates and pictures and can have a positive impact on search rankings.
The problem with the above comes from the fact that areas of Google Places and Google+ now look very similar, although this wasn’t always the case - you can even create both a Place and a G+ page which never come into contact or know the other exists.
To add another layer of confusion, if you created a Local Business page on Google+ and have your business registered on Google Places then it is possible to merge your Google entries together, giving you one central hub. Sounds ideal doesn’t it? The problem is that, like a lot of Google’s sub sites, they were developed by different people at different times and the merging is renowned as both buggy and occasionally confusing.
If you want to get involved with social, or already are, then by all means get your business on Google+. It’s a very functional, beautiful-looking social network, if not perhaps as used as it could be by many.
For most businesses, though, Google Places should remain your primary concern. It’s this that will govern most of the information shown in search, referring people to your website or to contact you by phone. Make sure it’s got all of your correct information and take steps to correct it if it hasn’t.
If you have both then consider merging but be aware that it may take longer than a simple button press: many users are holding off completing this step until Google simplify or streamline the process.
By Sam Turner. Sam is ClientsFirst's Marketing Executive and writes here on topics including; inbound and content marketing, social media, design and e-marketing. He likes all of those things as well as travel, golf and frequent cups of tea. You can find him on Google+, Twitter & LinkedIn.