In June 2012 Google breathed new life into its Google+ social initiative by rolling its Google Places business listings into Google+ to create Google+ Local Pages. If you aren’t familiar with Google Places listings, they were the local business listings displayed when users perform local searches. They show up with red pins and 5-star reviews on a Google Map, often to the right of the search results.

These new Google+ Local Pages are an important marketing tool for local businesses because they are fully integrated into Google’s search listings, maps and mobile apps. This creates a golden opportunity for savvy online marketers to help businesses claim and optimize their Google+ Local Pages. With mobile search soon to eclipse desktop searching and more than 40% of searches on mobile devices having local intent, Google is essentially offering a free mobile search optimized website to businesses where clients can call, subscribe or e-mail with a single click.

On a Google+ Local Business Page you will find photos, videos, Zagat scores and summaries (Google bought the review service Zagat in September 2011), a description from the business owner, useful information like the business’ address, phone and hours of operation and of course, social recommendations by customers on Google+. The most important thing about Google+ Local Business Pages is that they are now indexed by Google and are shown as pins on a map near the top of the search results for mobile and local searches.

This represents a huge opportunity if you can learn how to claim and optimize these Google+ Local Pages for Businesses. Google+ is now the world’s second largest social network with 500 million users (mostly from Gmail), 235 million of them active and 135 million regularly following their Google+ stream (according to Google).

With Google+ Local Pages showing up in web search results, on Google Maps and on mobile devices, they are a powerful marketing tool for local businesses that want new customers to find them. I have worked with many businesses to claim and optimize their Google+ Local Pages and I find the ROI (return on investment) is far better than Facebook Pages or Twitter Accounts.

What sets Google+ apart from other business-friendly social networks is the search integrations, the +1 button which brings websites your friends like to the top of search results and the fact that Google Analytics can allow you track leads generated from Google+, which makes it easy to present detailed reports and ROI evaluations to clients to justify continued marketing spending.

How To Get Started:

To claim and then optimize your first Google+ Local Page for a business, here’s the step-by-step process:

1. Search Google+ Local for the business.

The first thing to do is to search Google+ Local to see if there is already a listing for the business. Google has already created basic listings for over 80 million businesses using data from Yellow Pages-like business listing services. If you can find the business listed, you can claim it in conjunction with business owner by having a PIN code sent to the listed business phone number or a postcard containing a PIN code sent in the mail to the listed business address.

2. If a listing doesn’t not exist, create a new Google+ Local Page.

If a Google+ Local Page does not exist for the business, then you can create a new Google+ Page. Google will want to verify the businesses’ phone number and possibly the address also by sending a text message or a postcard with a PIN number on it to verify ownership.

3. Complete the Google+ Local Page with all the requested information.

Whether you add a new business or update an existing listing, you will need to optimize the page by filling it out completely. You should complete the business name, address, phone number, add a description with business-related keywords, hours, products or service information.

4. Add photos and videos of the business location, their products and happy customers.

Photos figure prominently on Google+ Local Pages so I recommend getting some professional photos of the business. Take advantage of the banner at the top of the profile to capture people’s attention since it is the first thing they see. Develop a strategy to encourage the businesses’ customers to share their images of the business location and products on the Google+ Local profile.

5. Create incentives for customers to provide reviews.

Individual reviews can be left by any users who are logged into their Google+ account (which basically means anyone with a Gmail account). Get creative and develop a compelling incentive for customers to write a review on your Google+ Local Page. Reviews will help the Google+ Local Pages ranking but more importantly they will boost its visibility on Google’s search engine results and give the business more credibility.

6. Engage with prospective and current customers by interacting with them and posting fresh content on Google+.

To be assured of a consistent ranking, Google wants to see regular updates. You should try to update the Google+ Local Page every week and make an effort to engage directly with your customers on Google+. Try to respond quickly to reviews or photos of the business that are posted on Google+.

How To Sell Google+ Local Pages To Businesses:

Basically, a Google+ Local Page is a free mobile-optimized site for businesses, which makes it easy for mobile users to quickly find more information about the business, its hours, customer reviews, directions to its location and call with a single click on their smartphone. Yet, the vast majority of businesses have not claimed and optimized their Google+ Local Business Pages, creating a huge opportunity for people who can help them do it.

Once a Google+ Local Page has been claimed, it can be fully optimized for the local search keywords that customers are using to find similar businesses. Unlike a Facebook or Twitter page, a Google+ Local Business Page shows up at the top of Google’s search results and the more a business adds photos, videos, reviews, builds links (called citations for local pages, I’ll get to that shortly) and update the page, the higher it will rank in the local search results.

With oover 80% of customers researching local businesses online before making a decision, it is a business necessity to have a well-optimized Google+ Local Page. For the setup of a Google+ Local Business Page and the building of a series of citation links to get the page a decent ranking, you can easily charge a business $500. As you get more experience, you can work up from there and change a monthly retainer fee for continued link building and local marketing consulting services. This expense can easily be justified to the business owner because with proper Google+ ROI reporting in Google Analytics you can demonstrate that the value of the regular leads far exceeds your consulting fees.

Here are some Google+ Local Business resource you can learn to get up to speed on optimizing and promoting Google+ Business Pages.

Google+ Local Business Basics:

Google+ SEO and Social Optimization:

Local SEO Ranking Factors:

  • David Mihm’s 2012 Local Search Ranking Factors – This is the authoritative guide to the most important ranking factors for local SEO on Google. Each year, Google local marketing expert David Mihm compiles feedback from the best local SEO marketers.
  • Local Search Data Providers – This extensive guide shows how Google, Yahoo and Bing get their local business data.
  • Google+ Local Scores – A guide from Google that explains how it compiles local scores from user reviews. On the right sidebar, you can also access more information about Google+ Local Pages.
  • Whitespark Local Citation Finder – The best tool I’ve found for discovering new citation sources in your community.

Google+ Local Citations Sources:

Google’s crawls these local review sites for citation sources which will improve your rank on Google+ Local if your business is listed. If you want to increase a Google+ Local Business Page, add the company’s address, telephone and website information to these directories. From my experience, here are the most important websites for local citations:

  • Yellow Pages – Not completely dead yet, still worth using as a citation course. Basic listing free.
  • White Pages – Add a business to the White Pages and also be included in Yelp, Citysearch, Yahoo!,
    MapQuest and Superpages. Paid.
  • Service Magic – A website to find screened and approved local professional service providers.
  • Angie’s List – A top-notch local review website.
  • Local.com – Free business listing from one of the web’s top local business directories.
  • Yelp – The largest, community-based local review site. Main source for Apple’s new Maps.
  • Manta – One of the largest business directory online.
  • Patch – A source for local knowledge.
  • CityGrid – Local advertising and business listings.
  • BBB – Increases businesses credibility.
  • HotFrog – Easy directory to add a listing.
  • MojoPages – Local listing and business rankings.
  • MerchantCircle – Free business listing and customer reviews.
  • City Data – An important citation source for Google+.
  • DexOne – Large business listing directory.

Those websites listed above are the citation sources that get the most traffic. For more citation sources browse these posts:

Google+ Engagement, Analytics and Reporting:

  • Google+ Page Insights – The amount of data that Google+ gives you about your users blows away anything provided by Facebook or Twitter.
  • Google Analytics – If the business you’re promoting doesn’t already have a Google Analytics account, get one! The social reports for Google+ and other social networks are excellent.

Google+ Thought Leaders To Follow:

Related Local SEO Resources:

I would focus the majority of your time and effort on a Google+ Page simply because Google search dominates business discovery. I think it is also worthwhile to create profiles on theses other local search and social discovery platforms.

  • Yahoo! Local Pages – You can also claim local business listings on Yahoo.
  • Foursquare For Business – The popular local geo-location check-in app Foursquare is also a great place to claim your business listing.
  • Bing Business Portal – You can also get a search-optimized business listing on Bing. I recommend doing this because Facebook uses Bing Maps extensively so having your proper location listed on Bing Maps is very important.
  • Facebook Business Pages – As Facebook search improves and is used more, Facebook Pages will be more valuable for local businesses.
  • LinkedIn Company Pages – LinkedIn recently updated their Company Pages adding new features and making them more useful for businesses and marketing professionals.