What Is Google Places?
Google Places allows business owners to update and manage their physical business location to be searchable within Google Maps - and within the main Google search results via Google Universal 'Search Plus' boxes and 'Packs'.
In SEO terms, this is an extremely powerful tool as Google Map 'Packs' dominate the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), taking approximately 65% of all search traffic when triggered for a search query.
Today the Places listings can be presented as traditional OneBoxes in the form of 3, 5, 7 or 9 packs or as hybrid local results.
Google Places allows owners to customise content, add rich media like images & videos and frequently update descriptions and associated content.
Places functionality is currently available in over 100 countries, making it a powerful tool for multinational performance.
Local Search & Google Places
Today, approximately 30% of all searches are location based. If Google makes the assumption that a user wants to find localised business listings, it will always return local results.
For example, when a user searches Google for a particular type of business in a location, e.g. a DIY store in London or a Hotel in Munich, they will immediately see a search result page with a Google Places '9 Pack' listing results in that location.
When a Places listing is clicked, the searcher will be taken to a Places page where they can view the full business details, images, videos and customer reviews.
Businesses with a physical location therefore have a great advantage, as Google Places is prioritising "bricks and mortar" locations over virtual businesses such as exclusively online eCommerce brands.
By optimising their online presence with Google Places, hotel and accommodation businesses are enabling users to find & interact with their businesses much more easily.
Laying The Foundations Of Places Listings
The foundations of any Google Places listing should be as detailed as possible, including a title, description, address and popular categories for your business at the very least.
Name, Address and Phone number - otherwise known as 'NAP' - consistency across your online presence, including on your own website and social media profiles is a major ranking factor.
Including the correct NAP wherever your business is listed on the web - e.g. in directories or other online business listings is important for associating the listing with your Places account.
For multiple Google Places listings, all your information should be uploaded in a single bulk listing file.
This is essentially a spreadsheet, with each location's key information listed. So at the very least this includes the NAP, category, 5-10 images, 2-3 videos, and extensive description text incorporating synonyms and target keyphrase terms.
Google gives clear guidelines on how to create this spreadsheet.
To add the listings in multiple languages, you simply create a bulk upload file containing all of the listings in that language. The sample files below illustrate how to set this up for multiple languages.
It's important to remember that each country's listing should have a different store code, as is shown here.
Multinational eCommerce sites should include information on accepted payment methods in the listings as a priority.
Each country has different supported payment types, e.g. cheque, cash, Paypal, and so on - and many countries have payment systems that would be considered unusual that are the preferred payment for the majority of web users, so it's important to ensure payment types used are suitable for the relevant country.
Opening hours are also particularly useful information for eCommerce sites when relevant, to save customers from having to click through and search your site for this information.
It is also important to define certain custom attributes for your business, for example to highlight the cuisine offered in a restaurant or a hotel's star rating. Google's guidelines suggest numerous useful custom attributes for the hotel industry.
You should always include, where relevant:
Although this data does not appear on the Places Page, it helps the Places system understand more about your business and ensure it ranks appropriately on Google and Google Maps for related searches.
It is also well worth exploring the custom attributes already in play, to adopt the most relevant for your listing, and if you feel there are important attributes you'd like to bring to Google's attention then use the custom schema to indicate them.
If enough businesses also follow this approach we'll see this data become a selection option when searching within Places listings.
Schema.org & Microformatting
Microformatting is essentially additional semantic information incorporated into your page HTML which can help search engines understand the meaning of your content better.
Most importantly for SEO, Google uses this data to create rich snippets (small samples of the site's content) in the SERPs, which in turn increases traffic thanks to the additional screen real estate and visual attention drawn by the inclusion of rating stars and other signals based on the meaning of the microformatted content.
Take the address of a hotel as an example.
Lots of users will search for the name of your hotel to find the address. By displaying this immediately in the rich snippet, you are enabling users to find this information with one less click, making your listing much more convenient for users.
Reviews, images, opening hours and other supported information can be tagged with microformatting and appear as a rich snippet.
For a reference list, check out the Google, Yahoo!, Yandex & Microsoft supported schema.org.
Of course, before you can lay the foundations of your perfectly optimised listing, you have to verify your listing to claim ownership of it.
This used to be achieved with a quick phone verification and, in the case of bulk listings, with no verification needed at all - but now requires two to three weeks using postcard verification. It entails a pin code being sent to the address which you enter alongside the content to verify your Google business account.
You should also avoid delays in the bulk verification process by following Google's recommendations to the letter.
For example, ensuring businesses and addresses have appropriate capitalisation, formatting telephone numbers correctly and ensuring attributes are correctly named will all help your content become approved and live quickly.
Reviews: Supercharge Your Places Rankings
Once you have laid the foundations for your multinational Places listings, the next pillar of your multinational Google Places strategy is reviews.
These are arguably a more important ranking factor than the fundamental information discussed previously. They hold considerable weight for Google Maps rankings, as well as being a form of social proof for users looking for accommodation or other products or services.
Google Places not only gives users the opportunity to rate and review businesses but pulls in reviews from popular aggregator sites such as Trip Advisor and Expedia as well as the business's website itself.
Any negative reviews being pulled in or added directly to the Places page should be addressed and action taken to prevent the cause of the poor review.
Explaining that you accept valid criticism and are working to solve the cause of the issue is an important activity, and fundamental to generating positive ratings in future, and therefore improved Places performance.
Efficient review management is also essential to maintain a positive online reputation.
Review management can also include responding to positive reviews as a means of showing both users and search engines that you are interacting with your clients and maintaining your listing well. That said, in terms of your Places optimisation, Google generally attaches greater importance to the quantity of reviews, not the quality.
Ongoing review activity also ensures constant fresh content on your Places listings. Ensuring a constant stream of fresh reviews to your page is far more beneficial than having hundreds, with the last one post a year ago.
The generation of reviews and citations is a fundamental part of any Google Places strategy.
Citations are essentially references to your site, generally from authoritative sites. Determining which competitors rank highly for your search terms, then analysing their citation sources can give you an insight into any gaps in your strategy.
One opportunity to generate reviews for businesses in the travel industry is to raise the profile of the hotel in the review sites themselves in order to encourage customers to leave a review - this can be achieved with a display ad campaign on the review site in question.
Remember, different countries and cultures will have different triggers for a positive holiday experience, so it's important that this is taken into account.
Running display advertising campaigns on the review sites will also raise brand awareness.
Other opportunities involve incentivising customers to write reviews. This can be offering them the chance to be entered into a prize draw to win a stay in a hotel in exchange for a review. It's important to note, however, that paying for the reviews is strictly off-limits.
Ecommerce sites can make particular use of the coupons and discounts feature available on Google Places to generate reviews. The coupon system offers customers a discount towards the next purchase in exchange for a review.
"Virtual" eCommerce businesses often set up local partnerships in the respective countries to give customers a physical location. This is a way of providing customers with local support - for example a place to hand in returns.
This strategy is beneficial for Places as it allows a location to be associated with the brand and a listing to be created & triggered.
International companies, even the largest global corporations, rarely have a physical location in every country in which they operate. It's therefore important to present themselves as 'localised', to make customers feel more comfortable and more willing to buy.
This 'localisation' is best handled with well written copy in the local language, using local idioms. Different triggers will be important in different locations, so A/B or Multivariate testing to improve your landing page conversion rates will inform you as to the key information that may also be conveyed on the Places page.
An additional benefit of this approach is its positive impact of SEO more generally (fresh content, targeting localised keyphrase terms; improved SERP clickthough retention, better SERP call-to-actions via the <title&mt; & meta description tags, etc).
So optimising your multinational business for Google Places is also a framework for improving your multinational SEO: a virtuous, and highly beneficial, circle.