SEPT. 13 I MY TURN I BY GRANT BILLINGS
Stake Your Claim With
Q: What's the difference between a googol and Google?
A: A googol is the term for 10 raised to the power of 100. Google is the website where people go to find out about your business.
Yet it seems Google offers a googol of features. Instead of buying an upgrade for Microsoft Office, Google Apps is available at no cost. Instead of springing for a GPS, Google Maps lets you route your trip for free from a smartphone. From Gmail to the recently launched social networking site Google+, the research project gone multibillion dollar monolith has made an art out of giving away what others are trying to sell. It was only a matter of time until Google set its sights on the Yellow Pages.
In an increasingly virtual world, Google Places is a blessing for brick-and-mortar retailers. Google Places has a free Web page for every coffee shop, dry cleaner, car wash and music store in the country. Each page features a map to the location, complete with driving directions and ratings. That's right — Google searches the Internet for customer ratings from other sites and posts them on your page. According to marketshare.com, more than 80 percent of Internet searches happen on Google. When they do, Google Places is featured on your customers' search pages between sponsored links (ads) and organic results. If you've ever discovered an advertising typo too late, wanted to adjust your business hours or simply desired to make it easier for customers to find you, you're going to love Google Places.
Unlike those archaic yellow books, Google starts everyone with the same-size ad. Want a more impressive page? Simply upload photos, videos or offers. Do you deliver great customer service? Ask your customers to write a review, and you'll quickly build an impressive, interactive virtual ad that will escort people right to your front door.
Claim Your Page
You might be thinking, "Wait a minute. I never created a Google Place page." You're right — Google did it for you. But to get the page working for you, you'll need to claim your Place. Did I mention it's free?
An unclaimed Google Places page is like a ship without a rudder, except the ship has your name painted on its side and your reputation in its hull. Claiming your page will let you verify that the information on the page is correct. It will also let you update your page with more details about your business, including your hours, photos and services.
Start claiming your page by visiting google.com/places and entering your business phone number. From there, you simply update your business information — everything from the brands you carry to your store hours. Google then verifies that you're you by sending a postcard — that's right, they actually send a postcard by mail — with a verification code to your physical address. Once you've confirmed that you've received your card, your updates will appear, and your pages will be owner-verified. Setting up a page takes as little as 10 minutes for computer novices, although it takes up to three weeks to receive your postcard.
Once you're verified, you can decide if you'd like your Places page to be a passive part of your marketing plan, like a Yellow Pages ad, or if you'd like it to be active, like your Facebook page, by inviting your customers to add ratings and photos. Either way, Google Places will get your business in front of customers who want to deal locally and lead them to your door.
• Encourage your customers to rate you on your Places page.
• Check your page at least once a month and respond to any reviews.
• Approach developing your page like you would a Yellow Pages ad.
• Places pages are unique to each physical address, so be sure to claim your page for each storefront you operate.
Grant Billings is the owner of Billings Piano Gallery in Madison, Wis. He can be reached here and on Facebook here. This article is based on a session he presented at 2011 Summer NAMM in Nashville, Tenn.