For most small businesses, the Internet is changing the game.
It used to be that most cleaning and maintenance professionals won or lost business based upon the size of their Yellow Pages advertisement, but given the increasing prevalence of the Internet, even the smallest shops can compete against the largest of companies.
A study by TMP Directional Marketing said that 82 percent of local searchers — people who use the name of their city and a service as a part of a search — follow-up offline via an in-store visit, phone call or purchase, emphasizing the importance for marketers to integrate their online and offline information.
Of the initial percentage of people, 61 percent made purchases.
For most businesses, this equates to a significant amount of revenue, so ensuring a company''s information in Google is correct and prominently ranked is of vital importance.
In mid-2010, Google significantly changed the way local results are displayed on its results page, merging the organic listings with the local listings.
One will recognize the local listings, as they contain a business'' name, address and phone number.
The local listing also has a link to that business'' Google Places page that contains reviews by other Google users, photos, hours of operation and a company description.
Google has created a control panel where companies can manage the information displayed as its local listing called Google Places, which can be accessed by going to www.Google.com/Places.
Businesses that do not manage their Google Places page run the risk that their information may be out of date or incorrect.
By not being proactive and claiming and/or monitoring their listing, those companies lost thousands of dollars.
Besides being marked as closed, sometimes malicious marketing companies will claim a business'' Google Places listing and rent it back to that company for a monthly fee.
If you encounter a situation like this, you should report the listing to Google and ask them to return the listing to you.
Claiming Your Google Places Page
Claiming your Google Places page is quite easy, so there is no need to stress out.
Here is a five-part step-by-step walkthrough:
1. Go to www.Google.com/Places.
On that page, find a section that says, "Get Your Business Found on Google," and a button that says, "Get Started."
On the next page, you''ll be asked to login with a Google account.
For most people, this is a Gmail account, though the best practice is to create an account for the company, as you may need to give the login information to a service provider — and the last thing you want is for them to be able to read your personal e-mail.
2. Enter basic information
The first information that Google will ask you for is your business'' primary phone number.
You''ll enter that in, and Google will do a search for your company.
If you are lucky, they''ll have your company''s information pre-populated.
Check this information for accuracy; if incorrect, change it.
You need a physical address and not a P.O. Box for this to work.
If you work from home, use your home address, which you can hide from public view later.
3. Describe your business
Google gives you 200 words to describe your business in the description field.
Make sure you are as descriptive as possible.
Mention the major cities or areas you serve in addition to the types of cleaning you do.
In the field that says, "Category," use broad categories as well as using custom categories like "corporate office cleaning and maintenance" or "environmentally friendly cleaning services."
You can have up to five.
4. Share imagery
You''ll next need to upload some photos.
The ideal series of images for you to have is a logo, photos of your past jobs and photos of your employees or offices.
The idea, of course, is to humanize your page.
The best image size for Google Places is 220 pixels by 155 pixels.
At this point, you also have the option to upload videos to your listing.
If you have any, this is highly advised.
5. Final review
Double check all the fields and click on "Submit."
This will take you to a screen where you''ll be asked to verify your listing. In most cases, a business will be given two options: Google calling you or Google sending you a postcard.
It is always preferable to have Google call you, as the verification process only takes a couple of minutes while the postcard can take weeks and you run the risk of it getting lost.
In some instances, Google will only give you the option of receiving a postcard, in which case you should keep a sharp eye out.
Search Engine Optimization
While verifying your listing ensures that your information is correct, it does not ensure a prominent ranking in Google or Google''s local section.
Optimizing and improving your rankings starts with consistency and completeness.
Claim your listing and provide all the items Google is looking for, such as a business description, photos, videos, etc., within your Google Places account.
The next step in improving your local listing''s placement is to ensure consistency of your business'' name, address and phone number with the dozens of places around the web that have your company''s name, address and phone number listed — think of service and review directories like Yelp.com, Yahoo Local, Superpages.com, etc.
The reason for this is that Google doesn''t trust the information it has about your company.
When Google scans these sites and notices a consistent name, address and phone number, it will rank you higher within the local listings.
You''ll want to make sure you update these listings with a consistent name, address and phone number.
This cannot be stressed enough.
There are many tools out on the Internet that can help even the smallest businesses grow.
Google Places is one such tool.
It''s free and only takes a bit of time; but, for those who make the effort, it puts them one step ahead of their competitors.
Lee Gientke is the managing partner of Webmix Marketing, a marketing agency that specializes in helping service companies grow though online marketing. More information about Webmix''s services can be found at www.WebmixMarketing.com. For a free guide to making social media sell, visit www.WebmixMarketing.com/CoBuzz.