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Free Google Places listings are good for business and are a key component of a business’ online visibility. These listings can provide businesses with free, perpetual online advertising. Each month in the US, there are 1 billion searches on the Internet, many of which are consumers and businesses in search of products and services to buy. Google Places listings are integrated with Google Maps and perhaps more importantly, Google’s main search engine, by far the most popular in the US among English-speaking searchers. Today, smart-phone devices provide anywhere, anytime access to a rich set of location-based information, while consumers are shopping on the go. Now, more than ever, it’s critical for businesses to have a robust online presence to stay competitive.

A big reason why free Google Places listings are so compelling is the Google dominant market position. Based on reports from leading audience measurement researchers such as comScore and Hitwise, Google has, at the time of this writing, approximately 65% of the US, English-speaking search market share and if you count search engines powered by Google technology, their market share increases to almost 70%, with Yahoo! and Microsoft Bing splitting most of the remaining 30%. Since listings feed search results within the Google main search engine, the Google mobile search engine and the Google Maps applications, having a Google Places listing can provide a business with tremendous local visibility online, particularly valuable in competitive local markets.

Some other top reasons Google Places listings are valuable include enabling businesses to establish online identities and user engagement by sharing images and video. In fact, these listings currently support uploading up to 10 images and 5 videos, all for no charge. Product images and videos can reinforce a business brand while providing visitors additional information to assist their purchase decision in the sales process while setting the business apart from other local businesses. In the past, use of images and videos have demonstrated the ability to increase click-through rates on listings, influencing listing visitors to respond to some call to action such as click through to your businesses website, click for directions or click to call.

Another great feature of the Google Places listing is providing an online venue to engage existing and potential customers in an open and transparent dialogue. The most engaging listings are comprised of a rich mix of business and user-generated content. User-generated content comes from customers who provide ratings and reviews of the business based on their own buying experience. One downside is rating and review input is limited to Google users only, requiring them to be logged into their Google account to provide input to the listing.

This user rating and review mechanism of Google Places listings can foster trust online by highlighting not only what the businesses says about themselves, but more importantly, what their customers are saying, which is often of great interest to other potential customers. Afraid of what some may say, businesses who want to “stay in control of their online reputation” resist claiming or creating these local online business listings. To those that resist, consider this. A business’ online reputation will happen whether the business participates or not. The question is, whether the businesses will take steps to better manage it. Claiming a Google Places listing is one of those steps.

To illustrate this point, Google Places listings exists for businesses who neither created nor where even were aware that the listing existed. Google does this today by sourcing information from data aggregators used to create listings for businesses without their knowledge or participation. Those listings then must be claimed by the business owners, who must verify ownership of that listing in order to make changes and update the listing. Ownership of a Google Places listing can be accomplished through either US mail confirmation to the address of record in the existing listing or through a phone verification system using the phone number in the listing which can allow businesses to claim the free listing in real-time.

These are just a few of the reasons why businesses are strongly encouraged to claim their free Google Places listing today.

Rick Noel is a Local Search Submission Expert for eBiz ROI, Inc. To find out how to claim or create your Free Google Places Listing, see Claiming a Free Google Places listings, an illustrated informative step by step guide for businesses, written by Rick Noel. We thank Rick for his wonderful contribution to Retailers Forum Magazine.