Google+ Local, formerly Google Places, is a valuable resource for any retailer looking to use the web to drive offline sales.
In a nutshell, it allows businesses to create a listing (via a Google+ page) which will appear next to relevant, especially local, search results.
As more people use smartphones to search for local businesses, a well optimised Google+ Local listing is an essential.
This is something I covered in our recent How the Internet can Save the High Street report.
Here's why offline businesses should be creating a listing...
What is Google+ Local?
This used to be known as Google Places, but has since been merged into Google+, as it looks to find more ways to force people to use its social network...
By creating a Google+ page and optimising Local listings, businesses can have greater control over how they appear in local search results.
For example, if I search for a restaurant near the Econsultancy office, I see these results:
As you can see, results are plotted on the map and listed along with their addresses and average review scores. The team behind The Modern Pantry have clearly done a good job, as its result stands out, with a high average review score.
Also, when you hover over it, it gets better. A brief description of the restaurant appears, along with opening hours and contact details:
It has also used Google Business Photos to allow people to take a tour of the inside:
All in all, this restaurant has done a lot to make its results stand out, provide information and images for potential diners, while users see the reassurance of positive reviews and ratings from customers.
This works well on mobile searches too, as review scores are displayed prominently, along with the option to click and call straight from the result:
Why use Google+ Local?
The growth of mobile and local search
According to Google stats, 85% of UK mobile users seek local information on their smartphone, and 81% take action using the local content. Even if you don’t have a website, this is a great way to maintain an online presence and provide potential customers with information on and directions to your business.
In addition, a recent study found that 43% of all Google searches have a local intent. That's a lot of traffic to target.
These results are shown prominently on Google, and since users are often searching for [type of product or service] + [location], then there is a real intent to visit or purchase behind these kinds of queries.
The listings allow businesses to rank for target keywords and, even if the business in question doesn't have a website, a Local listing can give them a strong presence online.
Gain an advantage over competitors
Local listings also provide businesses with an advantage over competitors who have yet to set up their own listings. In the first screenshot in this post, just seven restaurants are shown on the first page of Google's results (10 if you search on mobile).
There are many more restaurants in this area, but perhaps they haven't done their homework and set up a Local listing. They're missing on a lot of mobile search traffic.
The power of reviews
Consumer reviews are powerful sales drivers, and just seeing a quick review score, especially 25/30 can be enough to persuade people to pay a visit or book a table.
Google+ Local: tips for implementation
Setting up a listing is easy, and free. It’s just a matter of taking the time to provide details that potential customers will find useful, such as contact details and opening hours.
Once you have set up your listing, here are a few ways to optimise its impact:
Make your listing stand out
It’s worth taking the time to add extra information, photos, promotions and fresh content. This will be more useful to readers, and will make your listing memorable.
Add keywords to your business description
A Google+ Local listing lets you describe your business in up to 200 characters. Make sure you use your most important keywords (but avoid keyword stuffing). Write for potential customers first.
Encourage customers to leave reviews
Listings with reviews stand out, so encouraging your customers to leave their opinions will increase your chances of success. Of course, you have to do the hard part and make sure your customers are satisfied first...
Create a listing for each of your physical locations
This will ensure that people have the correct details for the nearest branch when searching locally and will give businesses more opportunities to increase rankings.
Get (rel) authored up
I haven't seen this in the UK, but this US dentist has sorted out his Google authorship, and look how his listing stands out:
Add images and videos to your listing
This will make your listing stand out, and will also provide useful information for potential customers.
Monitor your Google+ Local analytics
You can learn the top search queries that caused users to see your listing as well as how many visits it sent to your website. This is vital for finding out what works and what doesn't.