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Google Places puts your local business on the map

Challenge: How do you increase the visibility of your business on Google Maps?

Solution: Google Places at www.google.com/places allows you to claim a "Place Page" for your business on Google Maps at no charge. On your page, you can list your business name, description, address, hours of operation and payment options. You can also upload photos and videos, a map of your location(s) and other information. For an example of a Place Page for a renowned Vancouver business, go to www.bit.ly/vancouverdiner.

How Google Places can help your business: If your business doesn't already have a website, this is an easy way to instantly establish a web presence. If you already have a website but you're less than satisfied with your traffic, this is an opportunity to immediately improve your online profile. The service is especially important – and should be compulsory – for businesses such as restaurants, clubs, hotels, coffee shops, dry cleaners, spas, bike shops, medical and dental services, plumbing, auto repair and other establishments that target walk-in traffic, tourists and other local clientele. Why? A seismic shift is now taking place in how consumers search for products and services in their neighbourhood and city. It's goodbye Yellow Pages and traditional phone directories, hello Internet – especially searches on web-enabled cellphones. According to Google, between one-fifth and one-third of all Google searches have local "intent." This means they're expressing immediate interests or needs for experiences, products or services that are nearby. This has huge implications for local marketing when you consider average consumers spend 80% of their disposable income within 10 miles of their home.

Usage tips: Be sure to fill out the page in full and keep it current (Google rewards pages with complete and accurate data). Running a special event or promotion? Use the page to provide live updates on daily or weekly specials and create coupons that customers can print out and redeem. A real hidden gem is the dashboard feature that reports on how many times Google searchers have seen your page as a local search result, what actions they took in response to the ad and what keywords they used to find you. If for no other reason, you should check and verify your Place Page for piece of mind: hijackers are known to misdirect and misrepresent unclaimed places.

Bottom line: While Google Places is not an online marketing cure-all – it certainly helps (but doesn't guarantee) your visibility on Google. It also includes a cluster of information from sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and other review sites which you can't control. But the service is one of the simplest, highest-impact – and did I mention free? – things you can do to literally put your business on the map, have it stand out from competitors and provide insight into how your customers find you online.

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