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Grow Your Business Technology

Google+ Local: A Small Business Guide

Google+ Local: A Small Business Guide
Google+ is increasingly integrated with the entire Google ecosystem. / Credit: Google

If you want your business to be noticed, it has to be on Google+.

The search giant's social network is increasingly integrated with the entire Google ecosystem, from search to Maps to YouTube. Engaging with Google+ isn't just a way to share updates and deals with your customers; it's also the best way to ensure they find your business in the first place.

Getting on Google+ will help Google's Web crawlers index your site, leading to higher placement during a Web search. It will also ensure that customers get the right information when they search for your business on Google.

But getting started on Google+ can be confusing, especially if your brand is already juggling a Facebook page, Twitter account and profiles on other social networks.

Read on to learn how to make the most of Google+ to promote and grow your business.

Google+ Business, Google+ Local, Google Places — these are all platforms launched by Google in the past few years to help customers find local businesses. The tech giant hasn't made it easy for business owners to distinguish between each platform.

So, before we get to the nitty-gritty of using Google+ for promotion, a little explanation is needed.

Google+ launched in 2011 as a social media platform for individual users, with personal profiles that function just like Facebook profiles. Later, Google launched Google+ Business, which let businesses and brands get their own Google+ profile — just like Facebook Pages for businesses.

Google+ Business users can share status updates, photos, videos and more, just as business owners can do on their brand's Facebook page.

Around the same time, Google launched another service called Google Places, which consists of pages displaying your business's location, contact information and consumer reviews. If you want your business to be listed in Google's Web search results and to show up on Google Maps, sign up for Google Places.

Here's where it gets complicated.

Google Places still exists in name, but it was integrated with Google+ Business this fall under a new name: Google+ Local.  

You can still sign up for Google Places. Doing so (and verifying that you are actually the owner) will still allow you to create a basic local listing for your business. When users search for local businesses on Google or Google Maps, they can still navigate to your business's Places page, which now appears as a basic Google+ page — even if you never signed up for Google+.

But signing up for Google+ Business can have big benefits. Doing so will activate social functionality on your business's profile, allowing you to share updates, deals, photos and videos. It's also the only way to customize your profile with personal touches, like a custom banner image.

Google recommends that you sign up for Google Places first to create a basic local listing for your business. Once the listing is up, you can easily activate Google+ social features in your account settings.

Studies have shown that nearly all consumers use the Web to search for local businesses. Overall, 20 percent of Web searches have local intent, and that number jumps to 40 percent for mobile searches, according to Google.

If you want your business to be in the mix, you have to take action. The more you engage with Google's Web ecosystem, the more visibility your business will have in two different types of Google searches.

  • A standard Google Web search will be more likely to position your business close to the top of the search results if you are actively engaged. Google+ Local pages are automatically shown when Google knows a search has local intent.
  • Consumers can also seek out businesses by searching within Google+ itself. A local search on Google's social network will return only Google+ Local pages, so your page doesn't have to compete with traditional websites and ads that appear in a regular Web search.

The process Google uses to rank pages in a Web search is complex and beyond the scope of this article. But know that the more complete and appealing your business's Google+ page is, the more relevant it will appear to Google, and the higher it will likely rank.

It's easy to see why it's so important for small businesses to get on Google+, but what about social engagement?

Sharing updates, photos and videos can also improve your business's search status. The more information you share, the faster your content is likely to be indexed by Google.

If you're hesitant to engage, consider this: Every Internet user with a basic account for Gmail, YouTube or any other Google Web service already has a Google+ page. Even if most people prefer Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, Google's social network is huge and growing.

As Google+ becomes the de facto home for business on Google, your business's profile is quickly becoming the landing page that will determine whether a potential customer becomes a real one. If your page is updated frequently with news, deals, appealing photographs and positive reviews, it's almost guaranteed to drive sales.

And users are much more likely to "follow" (or subscribe to) a frequently updated page, so they will be alerted to your updates every time they visit Google.com.

Frequent updates will also encourage users to share your content, which could land your latest post on the What's Hot tab, now accessible from every Google+ profile. If your business is featured in What's Hot, it could drive more followers and more sales.

Here's a brief — and far from comprehensive — list of other ways to make the most of Google+ Local.

  • Reviews: Google makes it easy for users to find similar businesses nearby, so positive reviews on your Google+ Local page can help your brand stand out. The higher customers rate your business, the more clicks your page is likely to receive. You can't control what every customer thinks, but you can encourage satisfied customers to log on and leave a star rating or review. You can also take the time to leave a polite, professional response to negative reviews.
  • Keywords: Keywords are the bread and butter of search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. Make sure to include as many relevant search terms in your listing description as possible to help customers find you.
  • Events: Dedicated customers want to know when you're holding a product launch party, fundraiser or even a customer-appreciation day. Use your Google+ page to invite them and raise awareness about your brand's next big thing.
  • Video: Internet users love to view and share video clips. Now that YouTube is directly integrated with Google+, short videos about products, services or deals can be automatically cross-posted — and they can go a long way in driving customer engagement.
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