By: Ryan Miller

In late July Google gave their Places Profiles a major facelift, including cleaning up how the profile data is presented, removing the 3rd party reviews of the location and most importantly removing the citations for the business, or to define it another way, where else on the web the business was being listed.

The update, however, is only an interface change within Google Places, and is not an algorithmic change in the way that Google ranks local listings.  Citations for businesses from authoritative websites, such as Yelp.com or MLive.com’s Business Listings, with consistent data are still as important today for local ranking success as they were last month.

In this POV, we will discuss some of the visual changes that business will see within their Google Places profile, why citations remain an important piece of local optimization and the methods you can use to show prospective clients  where else their business is (or isn’t) listed when discussing local SEO products.

On-Page Reviews

With the new layout, Google is putting a much greater emphasis on users writing reviews using their Google account:

And while they have removed the text reviews that were previously being imported from 3rd party websites, they are still providing links to these websites, along with a total count of the reviews, beneath their own:

Understanding Citations

Business listings (citations) on other websites that Google crawls for their Places profiles are the equivalent of external links pointing back to a website.  External citations are like votes of confidence for a business.  The more there are, from authoritative business listing websites, the better understanding Google has that the business is relevant to search queries.

But it is not just having the business listed on other websites, it is equally important the information is consistent on other websites, and matches the information that Google has, including name, address and phone number.

Finding Citations Post-Update

Prior to the update it was very easy to see the citations, or lack thereof, that Google had crawled and indexed for a business.  While this information is no longer directly provided, we can still find the references that Google is seeing with a bit of work.

One way to find where a business is listed on the web is to simply do a search query using the business’s name and phone number.

Remember to put quotes around the phone number, so that Google will only return results for the entire number, and not pieces of the phone number.  In the example above searching “451-4677” will *only* return results that have all seven numbers, while searching 451-4677 would return results with just 451 or 4677 as well.

This can be done live along with prospective clients to show how many places they are being listed, where they are not listed, and any inconsistency in data that may be negatively affecting the authority of their Google Places profile. 

This method could also be used to search for competitors of the prospective client, as a way to show websites where the competitor is listed when the prospect is not.  This search should be done ahead of time so that you can point out any potential glaring omissions from well-known websites that a local SEO product would allow the client to be listed on.

Another way to get a list of citations for a business is to use WhiteSpark’s Local Citation Finder Tool which can be found on http://www.whitespark.ca/local-citation-finder/. Please note you will need to create an account to use this tool. WhiteSpark has a free account set-up available, though it does limit the number of searches you can do in a 24-hour period and provides only a partial list of citations.  A Pro account provides more searches per 24-hour period and returns a full list of citations.

Once you have an account, to find the prospective client’s citations via WhiteSpark, use the search by phone number tab which can be found here:

http://www.whitespark.ca/local-citation-finder/search/#/phone

Just fill in the data for the prospective client, and the results will be mailed to the email address you used to create the account.  Please note that WhiteSpark takes approximately 1 hour to return the data, so you would need to do this in advance of speaking with the prospect.  This tool can be used just as easily to collect data on the prospect’s competitor.

The Takeaway

While Google may have removed the transparency of what other websites it is seeing a business being listed on, this does not mean that it has reduced or eliminated the importance of business listings elsewhere on the web from their algorithm.  Google still relies on these listings to understand a business’s listing information, its overall reach and relevancy to potential searchers.

At the same time, it is equally important that the Google Places profile be fully filled out and optimized for the business. Now that a business cannot as easily see where and how it is listed elsewhere, using a local SEO service that both optimizes their Places profile and ensure consistent publication of their address and contact information is a vital tool to help ensure maximum reach and visibility.

Ryan Miller is the SEO Manager for Advance Internet. You can follow him on Twitter @cromiller and add him to your circles on Google+.