One of Google's inital goals was to help people find information on the internet. To make money though, they needed to offer various advertising solutions to businesses. The most famous of Google's products is Adwords, which is pay per click advertising.

Google offers other free marketing solutions for businesses, so they can be more easily found on the internet. One of these products is Google Places formerly known as Google Local. I have been trying to help a small brick and mortar type of business get online and I learned some interesting things about optimizing local search for businesses.

To sign up for an account, just visit One important thing to realize when signing up for an account, is that you need to provide an email address that is accessible for everyone who will need to administer this page. I didn't realize this when I started and I used my own personal email for the company I was helping. This may change in the future but for now, it is not possible to change the email address for your Google places account. Google's only advice for this is to delete the account and start again, which would not only entail a bit of work recreating the account, you could lose the rankings you may have built up.

Google asks you to veryify the account by sending an SMS message, which you need to follow the instructions. That procedure is fairly straight forward. I did this in Indonesia and it worked fine.

Once you have your account verified, you need to start adding information about your business. This might seem straight forward, but as I found there are a few things to you need to pay attention to if you want your listing to be shown by people searching.

For the company name, make sure you use the regular trading name of your company in this field. Some people initially got better results by putting targetted keywords in this field, but Google has clamped down on this and there is a chance you might get penalized.

For the address, it is important to use the exact address that you use on your website and in any other places on the internet. West Street and West St. for example is not treated the same, so the important thing is to pick one format and be consistent with it on all of your web properties. The same goes for the contact telephone number and main email address.

In the description area it is important to write an accurate description of your business while at the same time using appropriate keywords which you want your business listing to be found for. Don't use any irrelevant or off topic keywords, otherwise you could be penalized.

For categories, you can enter up to five, either categories that already exist or you can create your own. Again choose categories that accurately descibes your business.

For photos, you can add pictures of your business or some of your products. Google allows you to add 10 pictures, so why not add all 10 pictures. The same goes with video, where you can add five videos on Youtube of your business.

It is also important to place the marker of your business accurately on the Google map. This helps to make your business visible in Google maps. Another nice feature with Google places is that you can post relevant events that your businss might be hosting.

If you complete all of the above steps, your listing should show 100 per cent complete. I am not sure if it matters whether your listing is 100 per cent complete or not, but you never know how Google's algorithm works with this.

If you make a search for example for "London Hotels" you will see something like what is shown below. Google shows the top seven results othwerise known as the "7 pack". If you are in a competitive market, it's not going to be easy to get into the top 7. This is why optimizing you Google places page is important. I have read that these results can show up randomly, but I am sure there is some kind of algorithm working behind this also.

Google places

Google also provides some useful analytics data in your places account, showing you how many times your listing has been viewed, what actions and what people clicked on and what keywords your listing was found for.

To summarize, to optimize your Google places page:

- Use the actual name of your business and don't add any other keywords
- Be consistent with your address on your website and all other sites. Street is not treated the same as St.
- Locate your business on Google maps
- Create a good description with appropriate keywords. The same with categories.
- Try to make your listing 100 per cent complete