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One fifth of searches on Google are related to location¹. This shows that people are looking to the Internet to make decisions about where to go and what to do. And when consumers are looking to purchase goods and services, more buyers search for businesses online than anywhere else.

That's why it's important to make sure your small business listing can be easily found on and Google Maps. Fortunately, with a service we're offering called Google Places, creating a great listing takes just a few minutes and is free.

Your business probably already shows up on our search results. To see if this is the case, do a search on your business name. However, the information that you submit to us through Google Places is the information that we trust the most. This means that it will appear instead of the information that we get from anywhere else.

You can make your listing really shine with photos and videos; custom categories like your service area, brands you sell and how to find parking; and coupons to encourage customers to make a first-time or repeat purchase.

A listing with lots of info will help encourage potential customers to choose your service. This extra information can also help us match your listing to more searches, which might increase the number of views your listing gets. We also recommend that you mention your Google listing to current and potential customers. Remind them that they can use Google Maps to find your phone number and address, get driving directions to your store, find the latest coupons, leave a review, or get recent updates.

A great feature is that you can post real-time updates to your Place Page. You might want to promote a sale, a special event or anything else that you want customers to know right away. You can also provide extra incentives by adding coupons, including ones specially formatted for mobile phones.

Google Maps business listings are generated and ranked entirely by mathematical algorithms which are automated and impartial. Sometimes business owners feel that their business should be listed in a different category, but we can't link a specific search term to an individual business listing, either manually or by request.

Adding your listing to Google Places is free, and we don't accept payment to include particular listings or sites in our search results. However, we do offer locally-targeted advertising through our AdWords program, which I will discuss in a future column.

To keep track of how your business listing is performing on Google, we offer a personalized dashboard within Google Places that includes data about how many times people have found your business on Google, what search terms keywords they used to find it and even what areas people traveled from to visit your business. With the dashboard, you can see how your listing details affects interest in your business.

I should add that there shouldn't be more than one listing per physical location. If you're a handyman that offers plumbing and electrical service, or you are a business service that covers multiple towns, you shouldn't have two listings. Instead, use the description of your business or categories to explain the different services your business offers.

We're experimenting with different services around the world to make Google Places as successful for business owners as possible. For example, in addition to uploading their own photos, businesses in select cities in the U.S., Japan and Australia can now request a free photo shoot of the interior of their business which we'll use to supplement the information on Place Pages. If this works well, we'll roll it out to other countries.

In the coming weeks we'll explore other aspects of how the Internet can transform the ways you reach new customers and how you operate your business. If you have suggestions or questions, we would love to hear them. Click here to use Google Moderator.

- Brett Willms

¹ John Hanke, Vice President of Product Management, Google, USA SBA News Release, May 5,2010; Release Number 10-20

This is a non-paid placement.

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