By Nick Nichols
In June 2011, Google launched Google+ (Google Plus) as its entry into the world of social media. But with the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, it was met with a lukewarm response from the public.
As a way to gently but firmly convince the world that Google+ was a viable social-media platform, Google began merging its Maps and Places listings into Google+ at the end of May 2012. This more-or-less forced online users to sit up and take notice. It also caused a bit of confusion for business owners and search-marketing consultants because the process was not exactly smooth.
A few months later, the dust has settled somewhat. Here’s what we now know about Google+:
- In just over a year, Google+ has grown to more than 250 million users, making it imperative that local business owners learn what it is and how to use it properly.
- Google+ Local listings have replaced what was previously known as Google Places. These are the listings that appear below the Google Adwords pay-per-click ads when a local-search query is entered into Google’s search box. A local-search query is one that includes some kind of geographic modifier, such as a city or ZIP code.
- In September 2010, Google acquired restaurant-review portal Zagat. At the end of May, it replaced the familiar review gold stars with a new version of the Zagat Review Quality Score, which is based on consumer ratings of zero to 3. These ratings are averaged and multiplied by 10 to arrive at averaged scores of zero to 30.
- Google+ Local listings are formatted differently than regular organic listings because they use two columns. On the left is the business name, URL, link to Google reviews (if any) and Review Quality Score, if there are at least 10 reviews. The Google Maps balloon marker and address are on the right.
- Usually, but not always, Google shows seven local listings on the first page of local results. These listings are known as the Google 7-Pack.
- Usually, but not always, Google displays one to three organic listings above the 7-Pack. These may or may not be the businesses displayed in the 7-Pack. Occasionally, a 7-Pack listing may appear directly below the Google Adwords, followed by one or two organic listings, then more 7-Pack listings.
Moving to the Top
Confused? You’re not alone! Google itself seems to be a bit confused. Inconsistencies among Google staffers in explaining what’s going on haven’t helped to clarify the situation. One important concept hasn’t changed, though. Every local business needs to officially claim, optimize, validate and “credentialize” its Google+ Local listing. These are the four phases of getting in the first-page 7-Pack and moving to the top.
- Claiming: Free and relatively easy.
- Optimization: Not difficult and mainly involves making sure your listing is complete.
- Validation: Involves making sure your non-Google business listings are widespread and consistent.
- Credentialization: Involves getting third-party links, social signals and positive consumer reviews.
You can do all four phases yourself, but phase three and especially phase four require advanced knowledge and expertise. Phase three can take four to six weeks to accomplish, and phase four can take three to six months. Getting positive consumer reviews is an ongoing process that requires a defined review-encouragement program. You might want to consult an online-marketing consultant who specializes in local search for advice and implementation to avoid the learning curve and get the best possible results.
If you’re able to get your facility on the first page of Google—in the top organic listing and/or the 7-Pack—you’ll be exposed to nearly 100 percent of people looking for self-storage in your area using Google search. This can also lower your tenant-acquisition costs because people come directly to you rather than a third party.
Nick Nichols is an online marketing consultant who specializes in local search. He shows self-storage operators how to get more new tenants, higher rents and greater retention. Visit www.selfstorageadvantage.com for his free report on getting endless online referrals using Google+. This report includes a section on claiming your Google+ Local listing. For more information, visit www.dalfortmedia.com.