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A simple SEO step that you can do today - sign up with Google Places

This blog post is part of our Search Engine Optimization (SEO) series for the month of November. To find other blogs in the series, visit our list of SEO resources for nonprofits and get started with our introduction to SEO.

"Local SEO is Taking Over", according to a recent Mashable blog post on 6 Best Practices for Modern SEO. What that means is that search engines are placing increasing importance on location-based information, so that people searching can find out about busineses in their local area. You may have noticed that if you do a Google Search, the results often include maps and lists of places (called Google Places).

Google PlacesIf your nonprofit has a physical location that the public visits, it's very important to make sure you are listed with Google Places and other location-based services. Who is included in this category? Here's a few I thought of:

  • Museums & Art Galleries
  • Libraries
  • Theatres/Performing Arts Centres
  • Shelters & Drop-in Centres
  • Employment Resource Centres
  • Churches
  • Health Clinics
  • Stores (e.g. thrift stores run by a charity, social enterprise restaurants)

(In my opinion this is particularly important for charity-run social enterprises, since the public will view them in the same way as any other business.)

So why would you go to the effort to make sure you are listed on Google Places and that your information is up-to-date? (We'll focus on Google since it has about 80% of the market share, but the same idea likely applies for other search engines.) Well, first of all, it's free. And as it turns out, Places results carry a lot of weight in searches.

(Side note: if you're not sure what Google Places is, have a look at this Getting Started with Google Places blog and video.)

What I found really cool is that an SEO company called SEOmoz did a study (which Mashable shared in their blog) where they tracked searcher's eye movements as they looked at the search results for "pizza". This was the result:

Google heat map from pizza search

As you can see, searchers put the most focus on the Places results - even though they're not actually at the top of the list.

So what should you do with this information? First of all, take 5 minutes right now to sign up with Google Places. This will make sure that the information people are finding about you is accurate. If you want to take the next step and work to improve your rankings, Mashable's post shared the following suggestions:

  • Citations: Ensure that your correct business information is listed in as many (reputable) sources as possible around the Internet. As always, consistency is king. If you write “Blvd.” instead of Boulevard on your Google Places page, make sure your other listings reflect the same.
  • Google Places page optimization: Just like your website, make sure your Places page is properly optimized. Include categories that match exactly, and point your Places page back to a city-specific landing page if applicable.
  • Reviews: Google will only display reviews from Google, but getting reviews from aggregators like Yelp, Superpages or Trip Advisor will help increase your presence.