5 ways to optimize your listing on Google Places

Online Marketing April 14, 2014

In our previous post, we discussed the importance of local search for in-destination tour operators.

For the sake of completeness, let’s briefly revisit some key points again:

A local search is one where a user either explicitly enters the location into the search query (Scuba Diving in Goa, Italian Restaurant in Patong, Phuket) or the Search Engine returns the results by implicitly picking up the location.

Travelers are increasingly relying on local searches to explore in-destination tours and activities. These are the most important queries that a tour operator should target to win.

And we discussed how a listing on Google Places can help you rank high for such local search queries. However, we ended with a word of caution – simply creating a listing will not guarantee you a position on the places list.

Perplexed? Don’t be! The trick is to optimize (yet again!) your places listing. Here are 5 ways in which you can optimize your Google Places listing, not just for a higher position in the search engine result pages (SERPs), but also for improving your overall conversion rate.

1. Make sure that your listing is complete and adheres to all the quality guidelines

The first step is to ensure completeness of your listing. Google clearly recommends that your listing should be complete and accurate. While creating your listing, you will come across many optional fields. Do not ignore them. Most important ones (although optional) are – website URL, email address, hours of operation and a well written description of your business.

Apart from the details that are explicitly asked, you also have the option of including additional information that is relevant to your business. For example, a cycling tour operator can include the following information – availability of cycling gear, type or brand of bikes, availability of hotel pickup/drop option, age restriction and so on.

Here is a step-by-step guide (with screenshots) for setting up your Google Places listing.

The next step is to ensure that your listing adheres to the quality guidelineslaid down by Google. These are fairly straightforward guidelines and, if you are running a genuine business, should not be very difficult to adhere to.

Quality and completeness will not only improve the odds of your listing being displayed by Google, it will also increase the chances of a potential customer choosing you over your competition.

2. Pick your business categories intelligently

When creating or editing your listing, Google will ask you to pick your business categories. Google uses the category information (along with many other things) to decide when and how to show your listing.

So pick your categories intelligently. 3 things to keep in mind:

You can also use this elegant tool by Mike Blumenthal to help you pick your business categories. Google’s own set of guidelines for picking categories are here.

3. Make your listing content rich – include high quality photos and videos

As per a survey by BrightLocal,

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60% of consumers give more consideration to local results that have photos. Further, a study by Google and Ipsos MediaCT reveals that a staggering 45% of leisure travelers were prompted to book as a result of watching online video. Therefore, you must beef up your places listing with high quality photos and videos. Make sure that these photos and videos are original and communicate your offering (your tours and activities) appropriately and accurately.

4. Build up reviews for your business

Once your account is set up, start collecting reviews from your travelers. Reviews play an important role in deciding your rank in places listing. And more than the “quantity” of reviews, it’s the “quality” that matters. An interesting excerpt from Google’s official blog:

A recent article by the New York Times related a disturbing story. By treating your customers badly, one merchant told the paper, you can generate complaints and negative reviews that translate to more links to your site; which, in turn, make it more prominent in search engines. The main premise of the article was that being bad on the web can be good for business.

We were horrified to read about Ms. Rodriguez’s dreadful experience. Even though our initial analysis pointed to this being an edge case and not a widespread problem in our search results, we immediately convened a team that looked carefully at the issue. That team developed an initial algorithmic solution, implemented it, and the solution is already live. I am here to tell you that being bad is, and hopefully will always be, bad for business in Google’s search results.

While quality of reviews is completely contingent on your operations, you can increase the quantity by following the techniques mentioned in this post.

5. Merge your account with Google+, increase your +1s and use Google marketing tools

There is a lot more that you can and you should do with your Google Places account. For starters, merge your places listing with your Google+ local page. This will allow you to integrate social features into your places listing – engage with your customers, add them to your circle, share frequent updates and so on.

Google is currently in the process of auto merging Google+ social functionality into Google Places listing so that both “social” and “location” features are available through a unified dashboard. However, this is still being rolled out and the unified dashboard is not available in many geographies. If your account has not yet been upgraded, you will have to use the Google+ widget to upgrade the page manually. You can check how to proceed here.

You should strive to increase the +1s for your Google+ page. Higher number of +1s will “indirectly” lead to a better page rank and hence better SEO. Further, a more direct linkage — Google using +1’s as a signal in the ranking algorithm and giving a preference in the SERPs is also widely debated.

Additionally, Google Places allows you to market your tours through customized promotions and offers. These offers are distributed across the Google network and come with various targeting options based on location and interests. So bring out that marketing guru in you and start uploading promotions and offers.

Intelligent and active management of your Google Places (and Google+ local) account should be at the heart of your digital marketing effort. If you have already been using Google Places extensively, we would love to hear your experience. Feel free to put in your comment.

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