Why is Google Places Important to me as a Business Owner?


“If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” - Isaac Newton

Most business owners understand the challenges of attracting new customers and are always looking for a ways to increase leads, test market new ideas, or make it easier to allow customers to find them.  As mobile search for local products and services grows, you may not even know people are looking for you.  Don’t worry.  Google Places not only allows for the above opportunities to become realities, but your Google Place Page, hosted by Google, can also become a secondary business homepage for FREE.  

Before we step into some samples, let's examine some statistics about Google Places thanks to ugonet.   
  • Google Places has logged more than 5 million business listings, most of which were claimed by business owners who know nothing of search engine optimization.  
  • About 2.3 million listings have been claimed in the United States alone. Google generates Places Pages automatically. 
  • They currently have nearly 50 million Place Pages waiting to be unlocked by business owners covering all types of businesses, organizations, and places ranging from mechanic shops to parks .
  • Google Place Pages are viewed millions of times each day – so local search optimization is a crucial part of any SEO campaign.
Let’s assume you own a dry cleaning store in Miami.  Alright, so you have your website up and running.  That’s great.  You use Google Analytics to track your goals.  That’s also great.  But what if you could have two links on the SERP’s for a Google search for “dry cleaning in miami, fl?”  There’s no question that would be something any small business would enjoy.  With Google Places, it’s very possible to actualize this with only minimal effort.  

There’s never been more reasons to begin to use Google Places.  Let’s take a look at how Google is beginning to promote Google Places in the SERP’s.


It’s true, Google is promoting it’s own content - your content.  When the search context is relevant, Google may return Google Places results in your SERP and this is what is looks like.  I did a search for Thai Food and I live in Kansas City, MO.  Here’s what was returned.

The Google Places results are marked with a red balloon and appear more than half-way down the page for this search for “thai food”.  From the customized Google Place SERP I am able to quickly obtain a wealth of information about the three “thai food” options in my area.  I can see they are all well rated and since I’m concerned about time, I’m going to choose the closer one, www.kctastythai.com.

However, when I change my location to San Francisco, Ca, the results are a bit different.  See the next image.

Since there are so many “thai food” places in the vicinity of San Francisco, the results for Google Places are condensed.  These different clusters are called local-3, local-7, or local-10 packs in marketing circles. [1] The photos from Google Images are nearly the same, just in a different order, and the other search results are consistent with the results I got from a search for “thai food” in Kansas City, MO.  The map on the right, in the above image, is listed twice and sandwiched in-between are targeted ads based on the keywords “thai food.”  Again, it’s clear that competition is clearly not as fierce in Kansas City, but if www.kctastythai.com takes the time to optimize their Google Place page and test some ads, they could blanket the front page of Google.  

Let me illustrate how awful some Google Places are when there are left alone.  I like thai food, but also like pizza.  As you can see, switching my location back to Kansas City, MO and performing a Google Search for “pizza” returns many more options.  The list of Google Places is more prominent and fills the page with more results.  Even more than a search for “thai food” in San Francisco, CA.  

Three listings in the SERP above; Pizza Street, Pizza Factory and Northern Lights Pizza are without a photo and their listings do not stand out as much as the others.  This is why it’s so important to have photos of your logo, product, building, or what differentiates you.  We’ll talk more about that later.  The point is, if you have a retail store or many, you need to be found on Google Places because Google is making Google Places results more relevant.

How’s the find-ability when I’m on my phone and use Google for my search?

When I’m on my mobile device, I get similar results from Google Places after searching for “pizza”.

It appears Leo’s Pizza has a pixel-ated image that needs to be fixed, but what stands out the most are the custom buttons under each Google Local search result.  Google is making is very easy for customers to contact your business.  Mobile users are motivated and are eager to act, which is why Google Places Mobile has one click buttons for phone number, map, or directions for each Google Place listing.  This is very handy when you are hungry and desire some pizza.  

Whether I’m looking for “thai food” or “pizza” in Kansas City, MO or San Francisco, CA, with Google Places in my search results, there are many food offerings just one-click away.  Don’t you want your business setup on Google Places?

Another challenge facing business owners is the cost of lead generation.   PPC can become  costly and display ads can be tricky and time-consuming to target your direct buyers.  You might not have the best graphic design skills to make coupons, but just want to offer deals.   After beginning to use Google Places, there are some immediate ways to begin increasing leads for your business.


Keep in mind that adding increasing leads is classically the most expensive activity any small business engages in. Let’s go back to the dry-cleaning shop example.  Let’s say you’ve base-lined your order demand, so you know most people come in on Monday’s to drop off the dry cleaning and pick it up later in the week.  Very rarely does anyone drop off anything on Friday.  They just pick-up clothes.  How can you use Google Places to increase leads in your dry-cleaning store?

Offer a Google Places coupon for customers for when they drop off larger, seasonal items or on garments that take longer to clean, and are not worn as often.  However, the deal is only good on Fridays, and you only offer it on your Google Places business listing.  I’ll show later on how you can track this to see how well it’s performing.

In the latest enhancement to Google Places, retailer management of coupons were added.  That means you create your own coupons using a coupon wizard.  It’s not an offer-based system like Groupon, but Google is working on something like that called Google Offers [2].


There are two new ways, and many more coming, to position your business in the SERPs that offer unique opportunities.  First, there’s a new advertising product called Google Tags which is a way to set your business apart from the competition by having a little yellow tag next to your listing.  When the customer mouses over your little yellow tag, it expands to show a special feature about your business.  You can update and control this for only $25 a month.  Notice how the little yellow tags stand out in the image below.

Sample Coupons
The other way to differentiate your business is to use Google Places and provide offers.  Offers users print and bring to your business. Offers will appear alongside your business listing on Google Maps.

A new way to attract customers. Adding offers to your listing in Google Maps will bring new customers to your business. The better savings you offer, the more customers you'll gain.

It's free and it only takes a few minutes. Just enter a few lines of text for your offer, set an expiration date, and tell us which of your locations accept the offer. Users will start seeing your offers within a few hours.

The coupon wizard guides you through the process of creating coupons by giving instant feedback.  You will have the option to set your distribution as mobile phone or printable, but either way, you’ll need to track the results.


Tracking what items are clicked and on, and most importantly, which items are not clicked on is something you’ll need to become, if you are not already, a master at.  There are several techniques you can use to achieve success, but they all depend are your knowledge of urls and web tracking.
  • Campaign Tags aka UTM Tracking - Google’s method that integrates with Google Analytics
  • Querystring Tracking - Passing values to your web server to trigger tracking events.
  • Direct Urls - Setting up your tracking code in separate html pages that track and redirect.

UTM Tracking

If you are already using Google Analytics, then use Google’s URL Builder [3] to utilize UTM campaign tracking.  In the sample below, you can see there are five sources of information, but three are required; Campaign source, medium, and name.  An example of how to decorate your links that you place directly on your Google Places page might be campaign source = Google, Medium = Places, Name=PlacesHomePage.  You would add the url you want your Google Places customer to land on, then add the other UTM value above and click “Generate Url.”  This url is what you place in your Google Places account, then all links which are clicked on will be tracked in your Google Analytics campaign manager.

Querystring Tracking

Some tracking packages are setup for tracking query string values.  Query string values are name value pairs of information that appear after the ? in a URL and include an = sign as delineator between name and value (name=value).

For the dry cleaner, who is not using Google Analytics, then using a url like www.ikesdrycleaning.com/aboutus.htm?source=GooglePlaces would allow the source value to be tracked.  

Direct Urls

In some cases, business owners just want to track referrering traffic to certain landing pages.  Therefore, the dry cleaner could use www.ikesdrycleaning.com/googleplaces.htm, which is a custom landing page built just for Google Places customers.


Google tries very hard to find relevant testimonials, scrape them and relate them to your company, from many sources like yelp, judysbook, insiderpages, newspapers, and many others.  Google also has their own method to capture reviews.  However, both sets of testimonials are separated on the page.  The sample below includes testimonials from the Google Places page for the San Francisco Main Library.

Side Note - I do need to point out that Google’s search engine model is based on algorithms, but it’s also based on scraping raw html content, saving it for later user, analyzing it, and building an index based on rules applied to it.  

Monitoring your reputation online has become a new responsibility.  There are many new service companies that offer search agent technology to scour the Internet for people on twitter, facebook, in blogs, etc that talk about your brand name.  Some tools allow you to monitor whatever keywords you wish to monitor.  You may what to monitor a hot product to see what people are saying about it, too.  Search for reputation management services on Google and you’ll find many results, however, I like www.trackur.com.  Andy Beal is a pioneer in online reputation management and speaks on the subject at many industry trade shows.


Google Places also has the capability to allow business owners to add small, 160 character updates which expire in 30 days.  This can be used to constantly update customers about anything exciting going on.  However, unlike Twitter, Google Places does not offer an RSS or Atom feed for user updates users to follow.  I suspect this is coming soon.  
The way you offer deals is an important aspect to consider.  Remember, people buy benefits not features.  Before adding URL’s to the quick update be sure to add a tracking scheme and shorten the URL before posting, so you can maximize your messaging.  These links can be tracked to determine which offerings convert better than others so you can optimize your campaigns.  Use some of the tracking techniques mentioned above to track your specific results.*


There should be no doubt at this point how important Google is making Google Places.  They did not guess at this decision either.  Google makes data-driven decisions and I can assure you that the increasing emphasis on Google Places is based on Google tracking all its users and weeding through the results.  Google is noticing a change in user-behavior, especially with mobile users.  

Google’s new Click-To-Call feature was rolled out in an experimental way because the engineering team was so exciting about the opportunities.  Here’s the quote - “Thousands of advertisers—an unprecedented amount for a brand-new feature—were on board to try it out, and with a few engineers and some pretty massive spreadsheets, we started to see real results. Within a month, we had the magical ingredient—momentum—and from there we were collecting enough feedback to be on track to bring the feature to all advertisers in a matter of months.”

Jason Q. Fried, (Author - HotelNewsNow.com), states that “Google Places will in fact de-emphasize the importance of booking direct, and, if hoteliers want to be part of the booking game, they must completely alter their distribution strategy to spend more money on advertising with Google,” [5] and Dennis Schaal, Author, tNooz.com, says “Google Places now is officially risky business for Expedia and its hotel review site, TripAdvisor.com” [6].   In Expedia’s 10-K report published Feb 11, 2011 [7], Schall points out  that, “Expedia states that in 2010 Google “made changes to its hotel search results, including promoting the use of Google Places. To the extent these actions [including Google's proposed acquisition of ITA Software] have a negative effect on our search traffic, our business and financial performance would be adversely affected” [5].

The suggestions of the authors above prove Google is putting some major resources behind Google Places, so there should be no question as to what intentions Google has.  Is that enough proof to make you aware of how important it is to get your Google Places page setup and converting?

Chapter 2 References -

[1] - http://yourlocalbusiness.org/google-places-7-box/ [2] - http://www.scribd.com/doc/47293461/Google-Offers-Fact-Sheet [3] - http://www.google.com/support/analytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=55578
[4] - http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/dialed-up-rapid-launch-and-growth-of.html [5] - http://www.hotelnewsnow.com/Articles.aspx/4944/Google-will-change-your-distribution-strategy [6] - http://www.tnooz.com/2011/02/11/news/google-places-becomes-expedia-risk-factor/ [7] - http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1324424/000119312511030900/0001193125-11-030900-index.htm


Google Places Fact
They currently have nearly 50 million Place Pages waiting to be unlocked by business owners covering all types of businesses, organizations, and places ranging from mechanic shops to parks.