How to make your local business rank higher on Google

Forget the phone book. If you own a local business and you are looking for new customers, it’s all about Google. The largest search engine in the United States, Google receives more than 2,000 queries per second. Getting in front of this audience is paramount to having a successful business online.

We talked to Brent Payne, the director of SEO for Tribune Company, about what simple steps a local business can take to rank higher on Google. Here’s what Brent had to say:

1. Claim your Google Places listing. Google Places is Google’s local business directory and is free to use. “Still, only 10 percent of local business in the United States have claimed their Google Places listing,” Payne says. “By claiming your listing, you’re instantly beating 90 percent of the competition.”

To claim your listing, go to  After filling out a short form, you will need to verify with Google that you are the business owner. Google does this by automatically calling you at the number you provided in the form and giving you a pin number. You’ll enter that pin number on Google Places’ website and then will be allowed to complete your listing.

2. Expand your Google Places listing. Be sure to include a simple description of what your business does, what your hours are, where you are located or what area you serve if you do not have a physical storefront. “You want to be as detailed as possible when filling out your Google Places listing,” Payne says. “The more data you include, the more you’ll increase your relevancy in Google’s algorithms.”

3. Sign up for Google Webmasters. Google Webmasters is a free service that gives you detailed reports about how your web pages are doing on Google.  “Google Webmaster also helps you to communicate directly with Google so you can make sure your listings are always appearing accurately,” Payne says.

4. Request that Google photograph the inside of your business. “The same team from Google that takes pictures for Street View will also take photos of the inside of your business for free,” Payne says. “Google does this because they want to match user expectations. They want their users to know what to expect before going somewhere. For example, is it a dive bar or a white linen restaurant?”

You will need to apply for Google Business Photos. Google is currently rolling out the service in select cities and is primarily interested in photographing restaurants, hotels, retail shops and other storefront business. You can learn more on Google Business Photos’ FAQ page.

5. Solicit positive reviews from your customers. Customer reviews of your business are also important to Google’s search results. The more positive reviews your business has, the better your results will be.

Payne recommends that you ask your loyal customers to post positive reviews of your business both on Google and review sites like Yelp and Insider Pages. “If you spot a negative review about your business, it’s important that you respond to it quickly and effectively,” Payne adds.

To learn more about responding to negative reviews posted on Google, see the Google Places User Guide.

6. Build your own website. If you’re serious about ranking higher on Google, then you absolutely need a website for your business. Payne says it doesn’t need to be fancy to be effective–a basic website with a homepage, about page and contact us page will do just fine.

As for what to include on your website, Payne recommends including marketing copy that explains why you are “bigger, badder and better than any other business in the area. ”

Be sure to upload your own photos, particularly ones that people might be searching for. If you’re a restaurant, maybe photos of your best dishes and your  menu. If you’re a law firm, perhaps individual photos of each of your partners.

Payne also suggests adding the physical address of your business in the footer of every single web page on your site. “This makes Google see your address more often and as a result, you should rank higher in a local search,” he says.

7. Include the right key phrases on your website. A key phrase is the term used for a search engine query.  To determine what key phrase you should use, think about the term your customers will type on Google to find you. For example, if you own a dry cleaners in Chicago, you will want to use the key phrase, “Chicago dry cleaners.”

Payne recommends using the same key phrase throughout your website. The most important places to use the key phrase are in the individual title tags of your web pages, as well as anywhere the font is large, bold or italic. “It’s important to use only one key phrase per web page,” he adds. “If you want to rank high for both dry cleaners and laundry, you should create two different web pages on your website–one that is optimized for dry cleaners and one that is optimized for laundry.”

8.. Promote your website via social media. Google looks at three main factors to rank a web page in their search results. One of those factors is popularity or, simply put,  the number of links that go to your website.

So let’s say you’ve finally built your website and you need to quickly get other people linking to you. “The fastest, easiest and cheapest way is to join social networks,” Payne says. “Websites like Twitter and Facebook are ideal for  getting other people to link to your site. The more people linking to your site, the better your results will be on Google.”

9. Finally, be patient. “It will take at least two weeks, if not more, for your business to start seeing improvements in your Google results,” Payne says. “But if you follow these steps, your work will pay off.”

For more tips on optimizing your local business, Payne recommends bookmarking For more general information about SEO, Payne tweets daily at @brentdpayne.

-Tracy Samantha Schmidt

  • Paul Tashner

    Great article. Google redefined marketing as we knew it, and it’s a challenge keeping up with all the “new-fangled” ways we need to learn and use to remain competitive in our marketing. Your specific tips are relevant and timely and we’ll put them into action today. Thank you.

  • Mike Montgomery

    Great tips and ideas on making sure your business gets the most from Google. These are easy tips that will cover the basics for you. In addition to Google, be sure to consider some of the same ideas for Yahoo! and Bing. These search engines bring less traffic but from my research, they typically can bring higher quality traffic.

  • Harris

    Tracy and Brent —
    The Tribune’s own SEO is not very good, to put it mildly. Why aren’t the paper’s archives — even from a few years ago — online and highly Googleable? It would add to the Trib’s footprint online, to say nothing of its respect — great work has been done in the past that now doesn’t see much light. I followed a news story a few years ago I won’t name here but it was covered by both the Trib and the New York Times. I recently tried Googling the Trib reporter’s name, and none of the articles came up except for a few linked from the Tribune by another site. When I tried Googling the Times reporter? Even though that reporter was apparently no longer at the Times, all the links showed up on Google, and once linking over to the Times site, there was a handy archive that could be searched by topic or the reporter’s name, going back for years and years. The Times also uses links within current stories that refer readers to archived coverage of that topic. Wish the Tribune did the same.

  • BrentDPayne


    Thanks for the feedback and for your insight on Tribune’s SEO for archives. You are right that our SEO for archived material is less than optimal. This is due mainly in part to Tribune’s CMS not keeping content in our database for an extended period of time.

    Good news though is that we recently fixed this problem and most of our archives can now be seen at,, etc.

    This is a recent program so not all of our older content may be online. Moving forward you will see much better results however. I have felt strongly that keeping old content live on our sites is imperative for not only good SEO but for proper journalism. We, in many ways, are the scribes of history; we stop keeping that content in a format that makes it easy for users to find (like the Internet) then we are doing the public a disservice. Of course, there are costs associated with all of this and, as you may know, the media industry is having a difficult time right now.