Why is it that everything Google does is SO confusing? I think everyone who watched Google’s big announcements at the I/O Conference on May 15 was excited — but the changes to Google+ and Maps will have the most impact on real estate agents and brokers.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Google’s massive redesign of maps will pull in more information about local businesses — e.g., YOU. That means that your location will now be linked to key elements in your Google Plus Local Business Page, including customer reviews
- Google’s redesign of Google Plus is image-centric, and more than ever values video and images. So the more populated your Google Plus Business Page, the better off you’ll be in terms of search in general on Google, and specifically on Google Maps
- Google is obviously beginning to favor searchers who are signed into Google+ by offering them more customized results for their searches. And if you’re a business, Google is offering better (or at least enhanced) SERPs (search engine results page) for those who complete Google+ Local Business Profiles
It all stacks up to the fact that now is the time for businesses (agents and brokers alike) to start leveraging the power of Google+. And, this is one thing you can do to beef up your search results — even if you haven’t fully optimized your site, don’t have a blog and don’t feel like you’re a wizard when it comes to search engine optimization.
Considering that some 70 percent of real estate searches originate on Google and have local intent, this is just a no brainer to do — and urgent for any real estate agent or broker who’s competing for leads.
That’s why I thought this cheat sheet on Google+, Google Places and the difference between business and personal accounts might be helpful just about now.
Who Said the Basics Are Basic?
A Google+ Profile is for people — not for your business. You need one personally, just as you have a personal Facebook page. Profiles have social functions that business pages do not, like adding people to your circles, or making use of Google Authorship to link your blog articles with your Google+ profile. Don’t create a G+ profile for your business — create one for you, as a person.
A Google+ Business Page is a different beast. It’s akin to a business page on Facebook. Google thinks of this as your social hub for your business, particularly on Google. That’s why it pulls important things about your business, like reviews, NAP (name, address, phone number) and other details from it to populate search results. At the risk of repeating myself, what’s important here is that Google will pull reviews of your business into search results — and reviews carry significant SEO juice.
A Google Place page is essentially the same thing as a Google+ Local Page. This is the most confusing of all, because Google is simultaneously soliciting businesses to create Google Place pages, while also telling folks to create Google+ Local Business Pages. Whatever you call it, you still need to create one here for your business (and more about that later).
A Google+ Local Business Page is really the same thing as a Google+ Business Page. But here’s the kicker and what you need to know: When you’re creating your Google+ Business Page, be sure to select “local business” instead of “brand, organization, team” when you’re asked to categorize your business. Here’s why: Doing so converts the page into a local business page that will appear on Google Maps, in Google Local Search and give you extras like user reviews.
Confusing? Yes. Maybe the best way to think about all of these products is that Google is migrating towards a Google+ “lite” for local business pages, so that each claimed (or verified) listing is rich with content (including pictures, reviews, and video).
What you need to know is that the more rich, relevant and current information you put into your Google+ Local Business Page, the better your local search results will be. And, the reviews and pictures from your page may also appear within the new version of Google Maps.
Not convinced? Consider this:
- When a consumer searches for “real estate brokers” they’ll be shown a few ads, then a couple of organic results, then a block of Google+ Local Results.
- If you don’t have a Google+ Local Page, it won’t appear in this block of results.
- If you DO have a Google+ Local Page, but your competitors don’t, you may outrank them even if your website’s Page Rank and Authority are inferior.
Take a look at this screen shot of the results that show a local, independent brokerage in my neighborhood (Hill & Co.) with a completed and populated Google+ Local Business Page — and one without it (Redfin). Hill & Co. is coming out above Redfin, a site that ostensibly has more page rank and authority than Hill & Co.
Another HUGE benefit of having a completed Google+ Local Business Page is that Google pulls in your content — and displays it to the right. Take a look at how the content in Hill & Co.’s Google+ Local Business page is populating this search result (complete with reviews):
Compare that nice result with Redfin’s listing. Redfin isn’t complemented by a complete Google+ Local Business Page, even though it is pulling in one anonymous review (probably from a legacy Places page). And it’s being dinged for it in the results.
What to Do NOW
The sooner you create and verify your Google+ Local Business Page, the better. Populate it with useful content, photos and video. And don’t leave it fallow once you’ve created it: Make sure to update it regularly, as this boosts your local search results. So let’s get started.
Step One — Sign in to Google
Create a Google account, or sign in if you already have one.
Step Two — Create a Google+ Local Business Page
This is where things get tricky. You need to choose the “local business or place” in order to get all of the local functions associated with the Google+ Local Business Page. If you choose a “product or brand” page, this will not rank for local search. (However, note that you may choose to have a brand page for different reasons, such as to engage with your clients, but that’s a whole different topic.)
Step Three — Search for Existing Places
If you already have a Google Place set up, it should pop up here when you input your business telephone number and hit “locate.” Scroll down the page and click “Manage this Page” just under “Is this your business?” to claim your business.
Don’t worry if some information is wrong; you’ll be able to correct it later.
If your business doesn’t come up, you can try again with a different phone number. Or you can click “add your business to Google” to create a profile for it.
Enter all of the basic information you have, and correct any incorrect information now. Be sure to include your business name, address and telephone. Completely filling this out helps with your SEO and is considered a verified citation by Google.
Now comes the really important part: Selecting the categories for your Place page. Google prefers you to choose from the categories they already have, rather than creating your own. In fact, they’ve phased out custom categories.
Unfortunately, the nomenclature of the categories is odd; instead of a category called real estate broker (or brokerage) there’s only a category for “real estate agency.” If you’re an agent, there isn’t a category for “real estate agent” — instead, you’ll have to go with “real estate consultant.” There are more categories than these, certainly, but I think you’ll agree that they’re surprisingly limited.
However, there’s a nifty tool you can use to see all of the categories and find the one that’s just right for you. Head over to Blumenthals (the master of Google+ Local) to find Google’s Places categories.
What’s most important here is to enter up to 10 categories for your business, in priority order. Put the most important category first. The first three categories are what will be shown on your Google+ Business Page.
Don’t try to game the system or stuff your business name or categories with keywords. Google frowns on this and will penalize you.
Step Four — Verify
If you already had a Google Place set up, Google will call you to validate the changes. But, if your page is new, Google will send you a physical postcard to verify your ownership of the page. The postcard will be sent to your business address.
The postcard contains a five-digit pin you’ll need to enter to complete the verification process. The postcard typically arrives two weeks after you start the process, and you’ll need to return to the site to enter your code.
It can take up to two weeks after you’ve verified (by phone or postcard) for the changes to appear live in Google+ Local. So don’t delay — all in all, if you’ve got a 2-4 week lag time between creating your page and getting it on Google+ Local. Now is your time to claim your place, and take advantage of Google+ Local.