YourABA June 2011 Masthead

Improve your firm’s search ranking using Google Places

“Search engines have already outstripped the Yellow Pages as a way for consumers to find businesses in their city or town,” writes Steve Matthews, president of Stem Legal Web Enterprises, in his recent Law Practice Magazine article, “Think Global, Search Local: Claiming Your Spot on Google Places.” “The new reality is that a sophisticated approach to local online search is critical to your chances of being noticed, found and contacted by prospective clients in your area.”

Google search is one of the primary ways that consumers locate businesses in their area, and claiming a Google Places listing is critical to firms interested in ranking high on search results. Since Google changed its algorithm for returning local results last October, businesses with a Google Places listing typically appear before those without one.

“Google merged its natural search results—the non-sponsored listings that usually appear on the left-side of the page, also known as ‘organic listings’—with its local search results,” explains Matthews. “This new, combined approach means that for some local searches, 80 percent of the page-one listings now belong to local businesses. As a result, law firms without a Google Places account face the real possibility that they may fall from the number-one position to the bottom of the first page in a search result—or even off the page entirely.”

Beyond establishing a Google Places account, lawyers should also spend time ensuring their listing appears before their competition. Matthews offers several steps on local search optimization, five of which appear here:

  • Ensure that the key contact information on your Google Places account is the same as on your firm website, particularly your business name, phone numbers, site address and physical address.
  • Carefully choose the categories under which your firm is listed, and use no more than five categories. Larger firms will want to cover service areas that match their brand and promote their most profitable practices, while solos and smaller firms can identify unique practice areas that may help them stand out.
  • Upload photos and videos to enhance your listing.
  • Keep your firm’s site involved in the effort. Include local terms in the title tag, acquire links that embed regional search terms, and embed Google’s map widget in your firm’s contact page (with the location exactly matched to your business’ marker in Google Maps).
  • Register your site with both generic local business directories and law-specific directories that feed Google Places and Google’s local searches. For instance, getting listed in the Avvo, Martindale-Hubbell and Justia lawyers directories can provide the kind of corroborating listings that influence how high your site ranks.

“The Yellow Pages aren’t going to disappear altogether, at least in the near term, but their day clearly has passed and Google Places is the present and the future in online business development terms,” concludes Matthews.

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