Every firm’s dream should be to have a free listing on a major search engine at the top of its first results page, allowing prospective clients to find the firm when they’re searching for accounting, tax or financial planning services. Imagine if this free listing also included the firm’s phone number, a description of its professional services, a map to the office and a link to its Web site (see Exhibit 1). It may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t a dream. Your firm can take advantage of all this through Google Maps (officially called the Google Local Business Center.)
Why should you get listed on Google Maps? Consider these numbers:
Web fact no. 1. Sixty percent of your prospective clients search for products and services on the Web (Pew Internet Survey, September 2007, tinyurl.com/dko89w).
Web fact no. 2. Ninety percent of these searchers won’t look beyond the first page of a search result (Enquisite Search Analytics study, tinyurl.com/djbsvj). This means that if you’re not on the first page of the search result, you probably won’t be seen.
In today’s market you need to be on the Web, but you also may need to do this cheaply in a slow economy. Google Maps helps you do both. This article reviews what you must do before creating a Google Maps listing, how to register with Google Maps, and how to edit your listing. You need to do two things before registering with Google Maps:
- Create a Gmail account.
- Purchase a “tracking” phone number. (This is optional but extremely valuable.)
CREATE A GMAIL ACCOUNT
To create a Gmail account, go to www.gmail.com and click on “Create an account.” Follow the instructions.
( Note: When you register for a Gmail account, the confirmation page will display a link, “Show me my account.” Click this link to log in to your new account.)
Forwarding Gmail. To make life easier, you can set up Gmail to automatically forward messages to your office e-mail. To forward Gmail:
- Log in to your Gmail account.
- Click on “Settings” in the top navigation bar, then select the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” option.
- In the “Forwarding” section of the new screen, click on the “Forward a copy of incoming mail to” button and type the e-mail address to which you want your Gmail forwarded. ( Tip: Leave the default on “keep Gmail’s copy in the Inbox.” Google has lots of space—more than 7 gigabytes per user and growing—so there’s no need to delete your e-mail history.)
- Click “Save Changes.”
PURCHASE A “TRACKING” PHONE NUMBER
A “tracking” phone number is a separate telephone number that forwards to your main business line but tracks and optionally can record each call. Using tracking numbers allows you to see how many calls your listing is generating. Use a tracking phone number as your main number in your Google Maps registration. The tracking number won’t interfere with or require reprogramming your current phone system.
Tracking numbers cost $20 to $70 per month depending upon the depth of reporting you select. To choose a vendor, do an online search and make your selection based upon who has the easiest-to-read reports and who can provide a tracking number with the same area code and local exchange as your main business line.
REGISTERING WITH GOOGLE MAPS
Step 1: Go to www.google.com/local/add
- Log in using the information for the Gmail account you just created.
- Click on the “Add new business” button (see Exhibit 2).
Step 2: Enter your firm’s profile on the basic information page
- Main phone. Insert your new tracking phone number (see Exhibit 3).
- Additional phone numbers. Click on “Add more phone numbers” to list all alternate telephone numbers (fax, cell phone, etc.) you want prospective clients to use.
- E-mail address. List the primary e-mail address where prospective clients can contact you.
- Web site. Include your firm’s Web address to link your Maps listing to your Web site.
- Description. This text field is important because it is what your prospective clients will see when your listing appears. Focus the “Description” on the services you want to promote, such as higher margin services. For example: “Small business specialists in tax, financial services, accounting, auditing and consulting. Our clients rely upon us for financial guidance. We are committed to meeting your needs on time and at a reasonable cost.”
- Fix incorrect marker location. Make sure the map shows your correct location. Google sometimes gets the wrong address. If this occurs, click on “Fix incorrect marker location” and drag the marker to the correct location on the map, then select “Save Changes.” After reviewing your basic information, click on “Next.”
Step 3: Categories, business hours, photos and additional details
Categories. On the following page you must complete the “Categories” section (see Exhibit 4). Google refers to your categories to determine if your firm’s listing should appear. If you list “Tax and Estate Planning” as one of your categories, your firm might appear when a person searches for “tax planning,” “estate planning” and similar services in your community. You can only list up to five categories, so focus on services your firm wants to promote.
Photos. You can add as many as 10 images to your listing. Each image must be smaller than 1 megabyte and must be a JPG, GIF, PNG, TIFF or BMP. It is suggested that you upload your firm’s logo and, for smaller firms, a professionally shot staff photo. This creates a professional appearance and allows prospective customers to see the faces behind your firm’s name. Larger firms should consider a photo collage portraying the services offered.
Additional details. List each service and firm attribute you want to promote (see Exhibit 5). Unlike the categories, you aren’t restricted to five. Remember to focus on attributes that distinguish your firm (multilingual, free initial consultation, etc.) and prioritize the list according to profitability and growth potential. When you’ve completed this screen, click on “Submit,” and you’re almost done.
Step 4: Validate your Google Maps listing
To prevent bogus business listings, Google won’t post your listing until it has been validated. You can validate your listing by phone or mail (see Exhibit 6). Phone validation is recommended because it only takes a few minutes compared with mail validation, which takes two to three weeks.
If you validate by phone, a four-digit PIN will appear on your screen. Google will then place an automated call to the main phone number listed in your registration. When you receive this call, enter the PIN to verify your registration. You are done.
EDITING YOUR GOOGLE MAPS LISTING
You can edit your listing to add/change photos, services, business hours, etc. (You can even add a coupon.) To do this, go to the Google Local Business Center at www.google.com/local/add. Log in using your Gmail address and password. Click on “Edit” and make your changes.
MAP LISTINGS ON OTHER SEARCH ENGINES
Yahoo, MSN and other leading search engines offer similar free business listing services. We recommend starting with Google Maps because Google controls more than 70% of North American searches. After you’re a Google Maps expert, expand your horizons to Yahoo and MSN (they are No. 2 and No. 3 in North American searches). The registration links for Yahoo and MSN, respectively, are tinyurl.com/4s9pq3 and tinyurl.com/6h6c95.
Todd Webber, J.D., is the founder and president, and Bob Weins, CPA, J.D., is the operations manager, both of LocalBizNOW, a local search marketing company based in Birmingham, Mich. Their e-mail addresses, respectively, are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.