Google, the dominant search engine in the U.S., is constantly innovating its search technology. The search giant has also displayed an increasing dedication to local services and search. This means two things for businesses marketing online ─ opportunity and education. Through search, local businesses have many opportunities to reach new customers and gain visibility within their community, but first local businesses need to understand the options available and how to take advantage of them.
The local search space has evolved quickly, and in the last several months, the pace of change has accelerated. Here’s what you need to know to be present in Google’s local-focused search.
Google Place Pages and Place Search
At the end of September, Google introduced Place Pages for Google Maps. In a blog post announcement, the new feature was explained:
A Place Page is a web page for every place in the world, organizing all the world’s information for that place. And we really mean every place: there are Place Pages for businesses, points of interest, transit stations, landmarks, and cities all over the world. To find a Place Page, click on “more info” in your Google Maps search results or “more info” in the info bubble on the map.
A Place Page can be claimed by the business and customized with rich content including photos, hours of operation, coupons, types of products and services, YouTube videos and more. Each Place Page has its own URL that can be linked to, indexed by search engines, and may rank in organic Web search results.
In October, Google revamped its local search vertical with Place Search. Place Search presents location-based results with reviews, clusters of links to related review and local listing sites like Yelp, Insider Pages and Citysearch, and a map that floats down the page as a user scrolls. Place Pages also frequently show up in Place Search results.
Sometimes a query suggests local intent although it hasn’t been made explicit. For instance, a search for “dentist” suggests local intent because much of the time this query is performed when a searcher is looking for a dentist in her area despite not having included the location in her search. In these cases, Google displays results in what it calls Places Mode, some local results and a map mixed with general web results.
Where Competition Creeps In
With the release of Place Search and Place Pages, local results are more prominent in search results. Web savvy businesses that have optimized their Place Pages have an additional opportunity to be present in relevant searches. However, there are also some features of the new system that may benefit the competition, and thus require active attention.
Place Pages are a great way to present your business to potential clients, however your business isn’t the only one on the page. Related places displayed at the bottom of a Place Page are nearby, similar locations. In terms of business, this is the competition, listed right in your space. Similarly, ads are displayed along the right-hand side of the page. If your Place Page is ranking for your targeted keywords in Google’s general web or Place Search, a searcher who clicks on your Place Page is one click away from your competition.
Implications of Place Pages for SEO
The increasingly competitive environment of the Internet means it’s critical for businesses to be on top of their online presence and fully invested in all marketing opportunities. In Search Engine Land’s analysis of Place Search following its initial release, the effect on local SEO for Google was outlined:
[...] fully fleshed out Place Pages will assume much greater importance, as will being present and reviewed in the various sites featured in the “clustered” links. I’m sure someone will put together a pretty comprehensive list quickly but Yelp is one of the winners here, as are Citysearch, Insiderpages, Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor, Yahoo Local, Judysbook and others depending on the category.
Claim your Place Page and include all applicable rich content to improve its relevance and perceived quality. Use SEO best practices when managing your Place Page by including content that users will find useful or unique, such as photos and hours of operation. And maintain a presence in important review and local directory sites like those listed above. Google culls reviews from around the web when displaying reviews to searchers. The more positive citations and reviews your business has, the better its chances of performing well in search.
Building A Holistic Online Presence
Of course, a Place Page isn’t the only online presence your business may have. A business’s own website is a place to welcome visitors that best represents your professional personality and style. Without the intrusion of ads and competitor listings, your website lets you communicate to clients beyond the formatted guidelines set by Google. Get patients comfortable with a familiar but professional manner communicated through the site’s content and design. Optimize content with long-tail keywords that are less competitive and more relevant to your practice.
At DDS.com we have expanded our SEO services to include Place Pages optimization. This entails claiming your business’s page, creating an keyword-rich description, entering relevant information such as hours of operation, accepted insurance carriers, and uploading media content such as photos and videos. We also offer services that are increasingly important in the local space: review and social media monitoring. Reputation management is now required for any business operating today. Whether you’re listening to what people are saying online or not, your clients are talking. Reviews submitted to sites, such as Yelp and medical specific review sites like HealthGrades.com, are a prominent feature in Google’s Place Search and Place Pages. Effort must be taken to stay aware of reviews and comments posted online.
Things have changed enough that any product or service provider with a local practice should take a moment to learn what Google’s local search results look like today and what can be done to show up in these results when potential clients come looking. With an understanding of what’s entailed in local search engine placement and optimization, you may decide that a qualified specialist can help your dental practice take advantage of these opportunities to thrive online. DDS.com has been committed to building dentist websites and online marketing strategies since 2001. If you’d like to learn more, we’d like to know how we can help.