Google Expands Local Business Options

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Google announced last week that it has expanded the features available to small businesses through its Google Places service. The changes give business owners the opportunity to provide more information to consumers through Google's Local Search results.

Google Places, formerly known as Local Business Center, provides a central location for business owners to manage their Google Places information. It is a free service, as are all but one of the new features introduced last week.

For $25 per month, businesses in several cities can add "Tags," sponsored links that will appear in Local Search and Google Maps. Google launched Tags in Houston and San Jose, California, and is in the process of making the service available in additional cities.

The free services available through Google Places include:

  • The ability to create a custom QR code. QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that allow mobile phone users to go directly to a URL -- in this case, a business' Google Places page -- by taking a picture of the image. Google provides QR code window stickers to businesses that are among the most searched for, but any participating business is welcome to use its code on its own materials.
  • Interior photography. In a limited number of cities, Google photographers will take pictures of store interiors and upload the images to Google Places, where they will be available in search results.
  • Service areas. This feature is more applicable to service providers who travel to customer locations, like plumbers, and restaurants that deliver, but bookstores that offer home delivery or other off-site services can use Google Places to list the areas they cover.

Google Places fits into the company's Local Search feature, which allows users to find businesses in a specific area -- for example, "bookstores near Tarrytown, NY." The search results give the user a list of businesses, along with the address, phone number, business website, and a link to the business' Google Places page. For a sample page, click here.

The Google Places page has basic contact information for the business, directions, and related online content. The page can also include user- and owner-generated content, including photos, reviews, store hours, and a description of the business and what it offers.

Business owners who want to administer the pages associated with their businesses can do so by logging in to the new Google Places dashboard. They can also use the dashboard to monitor and update their pages. --Sarah Rettger