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Google+ Local, which used to be Google Places, is a place where businesses can get themselves a robust and feature-rich online listing for free. When you create a business listing on Google+ Local, you'll have the opportunity to provide basic information about your business, photos, and more. Users will be able to leave reviews for you, and as an administrator, you'll also get to see statistics about your visitors and the searches that they've done to bring them to your page. But all of this is only going to be seen if your visitors can find the page, and there are essentially three factors that influence rankings on Google+ Local: relevance, distance, and prominence.
Relevance is all about how well your business listing matches a user's search term. In most cases, the more complete and accurate a business listing is, the easier it is for Google to properly understand your business and return its listing in the search results. Also, the more relevant your business is to the search term, the more relevant it is to the searcher, which is more likely to provide a quality experience that the search engines want, and get you the click. The second factor is distance. Local searches are by definition bound to a geographic location, and Google uses what it knows about where a searcher is physically located, including location terms in the search query.
It then attempts to return the most relevant result based on listings in that specific area. In many cases larger metropolitan areas are divided into smaller parts, so you'll need to consider how you choose to list your business in Google+ Local. For example, cities like Newark, Jersey City, and Elizabeth are all considered part of a broader New York metro area, but if you lived in any of those places you wouldn't be searching for a business using New York in your search query. As a business owner, you want to think about how locals will be typing in their queries, and mimic that as best you can.
If you have multiple locations, you should create separate listings for each, to maximize your exposure on the search results, and make sure that your closest location is the one that the user sees. Finally, the prominence of the listing has an effect on how well it will rank. Prominence is a measure of how well-known your business is across the web, and much like regular content pages, it looks for evidence around the web that others are talking about you. Things like links, reviews, articles, blogs, directory listings, and any other mentions about your business are all considered, and generally, the more positive these mentions of your business are, the better.
To maximize your chances of ranking well in local search results, just remember these three things: make sure that your listing is as complete, accurate and relevant to your local searches as possible. Make sure that you define your distance from searchers by defining the exact area or areas that your business serves. And just like you do with your general SEO strategy, work on building your brand, customer relationships, and loyalty to earn prominence around the web.
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