Of all the social networks your average digital marketer cares about, you’d be hard pressed to find Google+ at the top of anyone’s list. There are loads of jokes about its irrelevance with nearly every audience. No one’s posting there—not sharing content, links, ideas, or photos, and there are far too few cat videos to be considered a legitimate social media site.

In all seriousness, whenever I’ve recommended Google+ optimization to a client, down to a person, they’ve responded with: “Seriously? Do people even use that?”

Well, no. It doesn’t seem as though they do. At least not for staying in touch with their college roommates. But you know who does? Google. And people use Google for everything. For search, directions, reviews, scheduling, communication, media, cloud storage. I’m struggling to come up with anything I need online that Google doesn’t cover.

The reason Google is so useful, so very helpful (and seemingly invasive at times), is that all of these products integrate to deliver a seamless user experience when you’re signed in to Google. A hotel reservation in gmail will auto-populate a calendar invite, and Google Maps will pinpoint your hotel location with dates of your stay.

Google Maps and Gmail integration

Creepy or helpful? You be the judge.

Not only can I find my reservation on Google Maps, I also used Maps and its integrated customer reviews to choose my hotel in the first place. And after my stay, I may or may not write a Google+ review of my own.

Google Maps and reviews integration

When my trip actually arrives, I don’t have to hunt down the address of the hotel or dig through emails to find my confirmation number. The same goes for flight confirmations or dinner reservations made through OpenTable.com. In fact, you can make a dinner reservation with OpenTable straight through Google Maps.

“Ok. We get it. Google knows everything about my life, so I should basically move to New Mexico and live off the grid if I don’t want a digital record of all my activities.”

Perhaps. But if you’re reading this and you’re a business owner or a marketer, you’re likely singing a very different tune.

You may be thinking about how customers can find, vet, purchase, and rate their experience with your business, all from a single location, and how you’d like to have some say over all these interactions.

Enter stage left: Google My Business.

Google has made it so that people can find practically everything they need, without ever having to leave the search engine. Thanks to the knowledge graph, Google+, and Maps results, marketers are seeing a decline in organic click-through rates because people are finding what they’re looking for directly on the search engine results pages (SERPs). Google has both dictated and adapted to how people search online, and local and mobile search are a massive part of that search evolution.

Informational vs Location Search CTR

Click-through rates for position one in location-based searches are less than half the CTR of informational searches (check out this brilliant CTR history tool from AvancedWebRanking.com). Location searches are where you’re most likely to find Google+ results, so it makes sense that people aren’t clicking through to a website, because they’ve already found loads of info in the SERP itself.

Not to mention the fact that there are some location-based SERPs (in both mobile and desktop searches), where the first set of results aren’t even for websites at all, they’re ONLY Google+ pages. Like this search for “coffee shops Fountain Square Indianapolis”.

Local search results

There isn’t a single organic website result above the fold.

When I click on a listing here, I’m directed to Calvin Fletcher’s Google+ info (and an entirely new collection of search results, listed underneath), rather than their website.

Calvin Fletchers Google+

Google+ profiles contain info like location, photos, reviews, price, phone number, hours, and website, and visitors can get turn-by-turn directions to your business in just one click.

But not all SERPs are created equal! Just a slight tweak of our query changes the type of results I receive. Take a look at the difference in the way Google serves up results for “Fountain Square coffee shops”. This format is a little more familiar for a SERP on a desktop, but it features the same businesses in the top two positions, this time linking to their websites, rather than their Google+ profiles.

Local and organic search results

Here’s the thing: Google has changed its search results in this manner because it’s what the people want. We don’t want to have to click multiple times to find what we’re looking for. We want to know where to find our coffee, and if it’s good, close, cheap, and recommended by our friends and neighbors, all in one fell swoop. The only way to get your business to show up in these searches is to hop on the Google+ train.

So, without further ado, here are the things you should do to optimize your page and make sure your G+ game is on point.

 

Google+ Optimization

1. If you haven’t already, make sure you claim and verify your business on Google+. If you don’t set up a Google+ page, Google will often automatically generate one for you, and will do its best to fill in details like location, contact info, and hours. It’s obviously a better solution to fill this in yourself, so you have control over the content and can put your best foot forward where your customers are actually looking for you.

Just to clarify, a Google+ business page is different than a personal Google+ profile (they differ much in the same way as Facebook profiles and pages). Business pages can be managed by one or multiple Google+ profiles.

2. Create a custom URL for your Google+ page that incorporates your brand name.

3. Make sure all your business details are filled out and accurate. This includes address, website, phone number, hours, and intro content.

4. Add photos. Google lets you add images to all kinds of categories, so you can differentiate between photos of your storefront and interior, products and services, menu, team, and logo.

5. Include business categories. There are several business categories to choose from that will help Google better understand what your business does, and serve it up in search when appropriate.

6. Encourage reviews. Reviews (particularly good ones) send positive signals to Google about your business’ legitimacy and reputation, which often translates into boosts in rankings.

7. Sync your Google+ page with Analytics and AdWords to better gauge visitor activity.

8. Bonus points: Actively post on Google+. Sure, you might not have many followers here, but sharing events, photos, and musings tells Google you’re active online and have fresh content, which has always been a ranking factor.

Google+ is one of many (literally thousands) of factors that affect local SEO, so checking all these items off your list won’t necessarily guarantee that you’re going to rise to the top of local search results. But it’s a very important place to start.

For more on the ever changing landscape of local SEO, check out some of our favorite resources: MozSearch Engine Land, and LocalU.