It's important to remember that a properly optimized web site is extremely important. This means building your web site so you are found when someone types in a search phrase related to your business, and targeting phrases with the high-test potential return. Google Places reviews your sites content and weighs that in its rankings.
Google Places helps focus your web site on a specific geographical area, related to where your business is located. You basically tell Google where you are. This can work for companies with one location, or many facilities and offices.
Besides telling Google Places where your business is located, you have the added benefit of being able to select five categories where you think your business should be listed. Very similar to the old yellow page listings. Pick five phrases that describe your industry and focus and Google will list you in that category. At least one of the categories must be an established Google classification, but the other four you can customize yourself.
The benefit of these Google Places categories is that customers can find your business when they search for a company like yours that is located in a certain area.
For example, if I searched for "Italian Restaurant" the first three listings are for national chains. But if I search for "Italian Restaurant Hartford CT" the first listing is for a site that has optimized for that phrase, and the rest are Google Places listings.
Here's the catch - note on my general "Italian Restaurant" search example, I said only the top 3 hits were national. After that I had six listings that were locations in Google Places.
Google is pretty smart. First, it knows where you are - almost exactly - by your IP address. Second, its search engine optimization algorithms identify terms Google thinks you might want localized results for. This is weighted more with terms like "restaurant" or "hospital", but Google has begun to list anything it can easily identify as a location or business with related Google Places listings.
So if I type in "plastic manufacturer," included in my results are Google Places listings, business which Google knows are local, and therefore possibly more relevant.
Just because you've added categories to you Google Places account doesn't necessarily mean you'll be ranking where you want to in a Google search. If there's lots of competition you may be buried with a listing down at the bottom. This is where your web site's search engine optimization comes in.
Google checks your Google Places categories to be sure your content is relevant.
Google also may rank you for phrases you don't necessarily want. For example, we set-up a SEO package with Google Places profiles for a large practice of eye physicians. All of the doctors were ophthalmologists. After a few weeks the client called and asked why their doctors were also getting listed as "optometrists" - a less specialized type of eye doctor. Basically, Google had extracted a few words out of their practice's web site that referenced optometry. Then Google applied its own "understanding" of the word "optometry" and decided that those two factors made it a relevant search term.
Search engine optimization is not an exact science. It takes ongoing maintenance and monitoring to be sure you are listing where you want, and don't fall in the rankings. Google Places is a great tool to add to your SEO arsenal, but make sure it's just a component in this important marketing resource.
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