Google+ Local Service AreasFirst, for those not especially familiar with the management side of Google+ Local/Places and how local service areas are selected, let's take a look at how this is handled in the back end. Remember, despite changing the front-end user experience, the form business owners use to claim/edit their listings had gone unchanged from Google Places up until "the merge":
Note: I strongly encourage you to read the post I link to in that excerpt to learn about Google's policy change earlier this year that now requires that all service area businesses hide their address. Additionally, I'm now told that the back-end management of listings has changed for the businesses Google allowed to merge. As you've likely figured out, we're not talking about the first paragraph/image in the excerpt above because those businesses don't have "service areas". Instead we're talking about anything from HVAC technicians and construction contractors to taxi services and catering companies. Basically any company that serves customers anywhere but at the business location.
Service Areas and Location SettingsDepending on the types of products and services you offer at your business, this section can be a bit tricky. As you’ll see in the screen shots to the right, there are 2 options. For those that only deal with customers at a bricks and mortar location, like a retail store, you’ll want to choose the first option – “No, all customers come to the business location”. This option works for most businesses, but what about home services companies like plumbers and electricians? Businesses that serve customers at their own locations will want to select the second option – “Yes, this business serves customers at their locations”. If you do go with the second option, you’re then presented with additional options, much like the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books we all read as kids…. Okay, it’s not that exciting because I can’t tell you that “you’re the star of the story”. Essentially Google just wants to know what areas you serve and you can either specify a radius from your business address or add in a list of specific zip codes and towns/cities. Additionally you’ll need to decide whether or not you want your business address displayed in your listing. For further details on this option, I recommend reading our blog post on the recent Google Places policy change, because if you choose to display your address but you don’t serve customers at your location, Google may remove your listing.
Google Local Ranking IssuesBut let's rewind for a minute, back to the beginning, so I can explain the issue with setting service areas. Early on, the biggest frustration for business owners was that Google was placing far too much emphasis, in terms of local listing rankings, on proximity of a business to the Google Maps centroid:
Another issue is one of the primary ranking factors – proximity to the centroid. The centroid is essentially the map marker Google uses if you just search the name of a city or town. If you then couple that city/town name with a search for a service or product, you’ll often notice that the top 7 local results all have locations very close to the centroid. This doesn’t make a lot of sense if, for example, your business is the largest construction company in Boston, but your physical address is in a suburb like Brighton. Some business owners have attempted to account for this issue by buying a PO Box as close as possible to the Google centroid, however this is against Google’s policies and will get your listing removed. Mike Blumenthal notes that Google seems to be trying to resolve this issue, to some extent, through “location sensitivity”. This still doesn’t deal with the fact that they never show more than 7 local results, placing less weight on proximity to the centroid is at least a step in the right direction.I've definitely seen Google make more progress on this in recent months, and hopefully they're now factoring in the business type more, because obviously it makes sense to weigh proximity more heavily for pizza delivery, but not so much for a cleaning company that serves an entire metro area. So progress is progress, but there has still always been an outstanding issue on the front end - users haven't been a ble to view a map of a business's full service area. While users might reasonably assume they're in the service area of any businesses they're shown, especially in cases where business owners have accurately entered all of the towns/cities/zip codes they service, we can't always completely rely on Google. To use an example I've used in the past - default location settings are often based on IP address, and in the case of Vermont Design Works, we have Comcast Business Class for our ISP and that places our IP address in the Boston area, so we get Massachusetts local results. Granted that's an extreme example, but it illustrates how imprecise Google's location detection can be. So wouldn't it be nice if you could view a business's total service area in Google Maps to be sure they serve your area? Well, now you can! I only noticed this feature in late summer, but given how easy it is to miss, it may have been around for several months before I caught it. Because our friends at iMarket Solutions deal almost exclusively with "service area" businesses (contractor websites and marketing), I asked them to supply me a few example clients I could use for this post, and as always they came through for me. Let's first take a look at the listing for EC&S (Environmental Controls & Service), an Elizabethtown, PA HVAC contractor: As you can see in the screenshot above, they show you a small map of what we'll call their location for now, but there are issues here that we'll discuss in a future post as well. So for argument's sake, let's pretend that little map in the right sidebar shows EC&S's location... But it still doesn't show their service area, which is what we're talking about today, right? I'm getting there... Okay, so the next step is to click that little map, which takes you here: Now that we've got a larger map, it kind of seems like we're getting somewhere, but we're still very zoomed in looking at maybe 1 square mile, give/take. Unless we're neighbors with this business, we can't tell from this map if we're in their service area. But did you notice, squeezed in between the basic listing information and the Google ad in the overlay/pop-up, that there's now a "Show service area" link? Take a closer look again: