Google Places Visibility as a Decathlon

I apologize in advance if sports metaphors annoy you.

But if you can tolerate them, I’ve got a good one: Getting your business visible in Google Places is like the Olympic decathlon.

(You know, that 10-event track-and-field challenge that’s as painful to watch as seeing someone eat a pack of Jolly Ranchers the day after getting a root canal.)

How is local visibility like the decathlon?  For one thing, both demand balance—being strong in many different respects.  You can’t win one event and win the decathlon.  Same thing if you want to get visible in Google Places: you must do many things well, not just one or two.

You win the decathlon if you rack up the most points—points earned by performing at a high level from the 1st event through the 10th.  Google has its “algorithm”: dozens of factors big and small that Google takes into account when deciding which local businesses get medals and which ones get a pat on the back.  Bottom line: you don’t have to win every event.  The winners are the ones with the most points overall.

Here’s how I’d compare each decathlon event to 10 of the biggest components of a top Google Places ranking:

Picking the right city to market yourself in = Javelin.  Precision counts: you have to know exactly where you want to place yourmark.  Anyone can chuck spears downfield, but a skilled javelin-thrower visualizes exactly where he wants the spear to go.  In Google Places, you have to set your sights on a very specific local area: usually the one your business is physically located in.  If you just try to get visible in “greater San Diego” or “within 50 miles of here,” you’ll end up disappointed, and you’ll lose business to any competitors who plan their throws with more precision and finesse.

Picking the right business “Categories” = 100m sprint.  The 100m sprint is the first event in the decathlon.  “Categories” are one of the first things you specify about your business when you create your Google listing.  Both are quick and relatively painless, but if you screw up either one, you put yourself at a disadvantage.  (By the way, in a nutshell, the way to pick “Categories” well is to pick only the ones that are dead-on relevant to your services.  It’s easy, but many people screw it up.)

Only pick relevant categories for your Google Places listing

Listing your business on 3rd-party sites (AKA getting “citations”) = Shot put.  The shot requires brute strength, but also plenty of technique.  Likewise, you likely won’t get visible in Google if someone can’t muscle through the arduous process of submitting your business info to numerous directory sites (Yelp, Angie’s List, etc.).  But this also involves technique, in knowing which sites can help you the most.

Making sure your basic info appears consistently across the Web = Long jump.  Many business owners don’t know that their business is actually listed on sites they’ve never heard of.  You have to reach far and wide across the Web to find these sites and make sure all your basic business info—business name, address, phone number, etc—is listed 100% correctly there.

Name + address + phone (NAP) must appear consistently across the Web

Informative, useful, search term-relevant website content = 400m sprint.  A short but intense race.  Anyone can waddle a lap around the track, but to do it in less than 50 seconds is way harder than it looks.  Anyone can get “content, but it’s hard to get good, relevant content on your website that appeals to local customers and helps answer their questions: it takes a little time and effort to write good stuff.   It needs to be clearly relevant to the services you’re trying to get found for, but overloading your content with “keywords” will get you nowhere in Google.  But with a few bursts of focused, intense work, you can get winning content—stuff that Google can tell is relevant to your services, and that’s helpful and informative enough to win you local customers.

(Effective) on-page SEO = High jump.  The high jump takes technique and “feel” and is very tricky to execute properly.  Brute force won’t help you clear anything higher than a baby bar.  A typical SEO “expert” can apply simplistic tactics—like overstuffing your meta tags with keywords—but it takes more finesse and especially a light touch if you want to get visible in local Google.

Beefing up your Google Places listing = 110m hurdles.  Hurdlers have to contend with lots of obstacles (each hurdle).  Any one of them isn’t too hard to clear, but it’s much tougher to clear all of them smoothly while bolting full-throttle down the track.  You have to optimize multiple little areas on your Google page: your “Description,” photos, etc.  None is too tough, but you can’t take your eye off them, or else you get a scraped knee and lose ground to other people

Inbound links to your site = Pole vault.  You have a few attempts to fling yourself over a high bar. Similarly, it may take several attempts to get some good, industry-related or locally relevant links coming into your site.  It can test your patience.  But once you have some relevant, quality links coming in, you can take a deep breath (for a little while, at least).

Continually adding content everywhere = Discus…wait.  I actually don’t see how this is like the discus.  Kind of coming up dry here.  Anyway, what I will say is it’s important that you keep on the lookout for ways to add more and more relevant content to your site, and to add things like coupons, real-time “Posts,” and even videos to your Google Places listing.  Keep it fresh and keep it coming.  Google pays attention to activity and progress—and so do your potential customers.

Customer reviews = 1500m run.  The last and longest event.  You’re running on fumes.  You have your hands full with running your business, and drumming up customer reviews is probably the last thing you feel like doing.  But you’ve come this far and can’t quit now.  It takes endurance, because you have to keep the reviews coming in on an ongoing basis.  Like the 1500, reviews require you to pace yourself: if you try to get too many reviews at once, Google will likely conclude that you’re not getting them legitimately, and you’ll get nowhere fast.  Impatient jackrabbits lose.  Reviews can be tricky to get, but you’ll be glad once you have them—and you’ll enjoy watching your lesser competitors finish in tatters because they couldn’t hang on.

In the decathlon and in Google Places, it’s the big-picture that counts.  You can win even if you only manage to blow ‘em out of the water in a couple of events, and you can win even if you do downright lousy in one event.  But you will only emerge as a stone-cold butt kicker if you’re consistently strong.

Are there even more track & field events worth clobbering your competition in?  Yes: you’ve got the 800m run, the 5000m run…and many others.  Likewise, there are even more elements of getting visible in Google Places.

But if you shine in all of the above, you’re a regular Bryan Clay, and you’ll get that laurel wreath around YOUR neck—meaning more local customers coming through your doors.

5 Easy Experiments for Your Google Places Listing

Are you a gritty, gutsy gambler? Do you like taking business risks, especially when there’s the possibility of making more money than you do today?

If so, that may be bad news for your business’s local visibility in Google Places.

Sure, you can use your drive and determination to hammer away at trying to get visible in Google Places FAST—but it probably won’t work.  Google usually doesn’t reward furious flurries of changes.  Rather, the best way to get lasting visibility that actually attracts local customers is to take small, deliberate steps.

But you also need to be able to retrace your steps.  The steps need to be reversible and low-risk—so that you can see to what extent they actually help your local visibility versus harm it.

5 experiments for boosting your local visibility in Google Places

AKA an experiment.  You can build a better local ranking by experimenting with your Google Places listing.

I’m assuming your business is somewhat visible, but not as visible as you’d like.  (If you’re nowhere to be found, you have no business reading this and instead should spend time applying the steps in my free guide to local visibility.)  Maybe you’re ranked #8 and are just barely missing the first page of local search results.  Or maybe your business is pretty visible locally, but for the wrong search terms.

These 5 low-risk experiments can help you feel your way to better visibility to local customers.  Even though it takes a couple of weeks to “run” most of them to completion, each takes only a minute or two to implement.

The best part is you’re not taking a big plunge by trying these experiments: save your gutsiness for the next BASE-jumping competition.  See how many of the following you can try out.


1.  Tweak your Google Places “Categories”


Why: Picking a new lineup of relevant “Categories” can help you rank more highly for different local search terms—possibly including the ones you’ve been trying to get visible for.

How to do it: Log into your Google listing, go to where you edit/update your listing, and change some of the “Categories” fields.

When to do this experiment: If you rank poorly in Google Places, or if you only seem to rank well for searches that aren’t completely relevant to you (for instance, if you’re a house painter and don’t rank well for the term “house paining” but do rank well for “paint supply”).

When NOT to do it: If you rank well locally (top-7, AKA page 1) for the search terms you want to be visible for.

How you know if it works: After a week or two, see if your business is visible in Google Places for terms that it wasn’t visible for previously, or see if you notice a boost in ranking.

More detail: If you’ve already selected categories that clearly describe your services or business, keep them.  In general, only try changing the “iffier” ones.  For instance, try changing 2-3 of your categories if there are some that aren’t spot-on relevant to what you offer, or if there are some categories you chose even though you saw plenty of other applicable ones to choose from.

Experiment with your Google Places categories

Another way to do this experiment is by selecting a different number of categories.  The maximum is 5, so if you’ve already specified 5, maybe try going with only the most relevant 3.  Or if you’ve only chosen a couple, rack your brains to come up with 3 more pertinent ones.


Not completely sure which new categories to try?  Mike Blumenthal’s free, ridiculously excellent Google Places Category Tool might help.


2.  Try NOT showing your address on your listing

Why: You might become visible in slightly different geographical areas within your local market.

How to do it: In the “Edit” area of your Google listing, select “Yes, this business serves customers at their locations, and then select “Do not show” address:

Try not showing your street address on your Google listing

When to do this experiment: ONLY if you travel to your customers (rather than have them come to your location).  Given that, only do this experiment if you’re trying to rank more visibly in a big city but you’re located a few (about 2-6) miles outside the center of the city.  Or you can do it if you’d just like to be visible in slightly different specific towns/areas within your local market.

When NOT to do it: If you have any really good rankings in Google Places that you wouldn’t want jostled around.

How you know if it works: Type in a local search term (let’s say “roofing” or “roofer”) and see how visible you are for it.  Then go to the “Change Location” bar on the left-hand side of Google and set the location to another town in your local market (a town that you serve).  Type in the search term again and see how you rank for it.  Repeat this process for other towns in your local market.  Then you’ll know whether you’re visible in the local areas you want to be visible in: if you are, great, but if you’re not, then uncheck the “Do not show my business address” box to undo the experiment.

More detail: Your business will appear on the Google Places map as a floating red dot, not as a pin that’s “stuck” in a specific location on the map.  If the experiment succeeds, you’ll see your dot and a bunch of pins on the local map that’s on the first page of Google:

Your location won't appear as a "pin" on the local Google map

By the way, you’ll also want to remove mentions of your physical address from your website (at least while you’re running the experiment).  Or if you want to try this experiment but feel you really need to include your address on your website, simply create an image that contains your street address, and put the image on your site. (Google can’t read what’s in images, so you won’t be confusing it by not including your address in your Google Places listing but including it on your website.)


3.  Narrow or widen your geographical “Service Area”

Very similar to experiment #2.  All the same conditions apply.  As before, only do it if you travel to customers.  Everything else I said about #2 also holds true for #3.

Under “Service Areas and Location Settings,” simply change the “Distance from one location” or “List of areas served.”  No guarantees that you’ll be visible exactly where you want, but this at least allows you to tell Google where your local market is.

Try either narrowing or widening your service area.  I don’t know your market, so I can’t say for sure which one is more likely to help your visibility.  Still, if your main goal is to get visible to customers in one specific town, try narrowing your service area to just encompass that one town.  If you serve many local towns maybe try widening your radius by 10 miles.


4.  Tweak your Google Places “Description”

Why: It’s a way of establishing your business as relevant to the services you’re trying to get visible for.  It’s another little factor that can help you rank more visibly.

How to do it: Go to the “Edit” area of your Google Places listing and change what’s in the “Description” field.

When to do this experiment: This is a “finishing touch,” so only do it if you’re trying to bump up your ranking by 1-2 spots (for a given search term).

When NOT to do it: If you rank in the top-3 for some of the major search terms you want to be found for: in this case, it’s probably not worth rocking the boat by messing with the description.

How you know if it works: You might see a little improvement in ranking.

More detail: Don’t just stuff the description full of “keywords.”  It still needs to make sense to a human reader.  You should only have a couple (2-4) local search terms in the description.  Therefore, the “experiment” shouldn’t extend beyond just trying out slightly different search terms in place of the ones you already use: don’t just shoehorn a bunch of additional search terms into that tiny description box.


5.  Add more “Additional Details”

Why: Same reason as #4: another little factor in your favor.

When to do this experiment: It’s really never a bad idea, because the “Details” aren’t a big ranking factor, and you can instantly change them.

How to do it: Scroll down to the bottom of the “Edit” area of your Google Places page and fill in the “Additional Details” fields with more information about the services or products you offer.  You might want to mention your specialties, some of the equipment you use, what types of jobs you do or don’t do, your professional certification, etc.  Be as detailed as possible.

Try adding more "Additional Details" to your Google listing

How you know if it works: Again…your ranking might go up a notch within a couple of weeks.

More detail: There’s no limit to how many details you can add: Google lets you include as many as you want.  And you should use multiple fields: don’t just slop everything into one.  Make sure all the details you add make sense to a potential customer and that they aren’t just a parade of keywords.

By the way, jot down every change you make.  The experiments are reversible as long as you remember how you had your Google Places listing before.