If you own a local business, having a well optimized Google Places profile is an essential part of having your business noticed above your competition. If your business either doesn't have a Places page, or if the Places page for your business is not optimized, you are losing out on targeted traffic and potential clients.
Odds are that if you go on Google Search, and type in your brand name, a places page will already exist even if you never set one up yourself. If your listing is there, click through to the place page and look for the "Business owner?" link in the top right corner. After that just follow the directions given by google in order to claim your business! If a places page doesn't come up in your search, you'll have to start a new one at google.com/places.
After you claim (or create) the Places page for your business, you will have to verify your ownership of the Place before your changes will show up in the search engine results.
Verifying ownership is relatively easy, but you will have to be near the phone to your business, or wait for Google to send a postcard to your business address to finalize ownership. (The postcard can take 2-3 weeks.)
Optimize the business title. The title should be your business name, but you may also want to include a reference to your location. This is especially the case if you own a franchise, as you will want to distinguish your location from other franchisees in the area. You can use Google AdWords keyword tool to get a better idea of how your potential clients are searching for businesses similar to yours using city and state names.
Keywords are king. Make sure you include keywords customers are using in your Places page description. Write a brief description of your business, but make sure that you include a few keywords you discovered in the previous step. Don't add too many though, as this could dilute their overall effectiveness.
Choose your categories. Making sure that your business shows up in the right categories is important. You can select up to five cateories, but if only a few are relevant to your business you don't have to fill out all five.
Completeness. Google Places pages that include photos, videos, links to social media, hours, and additional information will make the page more appealing to users. Additionally, it's generally thought that more complete Places will show up more highly in the search results than other Places.
Reviews are critical to your Places page rankings. Encourage your clients and customers who have good experiences to look you up and share their experience with the world. Not only does this make your business more appealing to search users who end up at your places page, but it makes your Places page rank higher among your competitors as well!
Links to your website will have an impact on your Google Places rank, but some industry experts believe that simple mentions of your business around the web are just as important. Search engines likely use mentions of your business as a way to measure how many people are talking about local businesses. You can build up both citations and links in a number of ways, but the easiest way to build up buzz around your business is by using directories.
Claim or create the listing for your local business in each of the major web directories, and make sure that information about your business is consistent in all of your listings. (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, Yelp, Merchant Circle, etc.) You will also want to take note of any reviews on those sites, and again encourage your customers to leave positive reviews of your business all around the web.
With all this talk of your Google Places page, and other directory entries, we can't forget about your business website. A well-optimized website will attract search traffic all by itself, but it's also the best place to build up the buzz for your Google Places page! Make sure that the opening page of your website has the phone number and address indicated on your Google Places page in plain text, so that web spiders are able to make the connection between your website and places page.