This post was originally written by Steve Lam.

Don’t know a lot about local listings? You are not alone. The web’s local marketing landscape is rapidly changing, what with search engine and listing giants like Google, Bing and Yelp all vying for local ad dollars. In the midst of all that evolution, it can be difficult to figure out where, what and how to market your business effectively.

Here, we walk you through the setup of Google Places, followed with step-by-step instructions for listing your business on Bing, Merchant Circle and CitySearch.

What is Google Places? It’s a department of Google that provides free search listings for local businesses—much like Yellow Pages once upon a time. Google dedicates a specific spot of its coveted search results pages to Places (some call this Google’s “seven pack” but that can change depending on the number of visible listings).

Google Places listings share the Google search results page with pay-per-click ads and organic listings (natural non-paid results). But a Places listing is different—it doesn’t go to your site. It leads to a special Google page showing the local business’s contact info, physical address, and a pin on Google Maps. More recently, Google added digital pictures and customer reviews.

But where does Google get those details? Well, that part is up to you. Google and its competitors are eagerly asking businesspeople to post information directly.

The results are well worth the time of any business owner operating on a local scale. For one thing, Google still the dominant search engine with a market share greater than 65 percent. For another thing, Google is giving business owners exposure to thousands of potential customers—free.

Claiming your listing will help it climb to a more prominent location in Places’ seven-pack. If you don’t claim your listing, you are leaving it vulnerable for others to modify including unscrupulous competitors.

Create a Google Map Listing

  1. Go to: www.google.com/places

  2. Create an account.

  3. Log in to the account you just created.

  4. Click on “List your business.”

  5. Input the business phone number (not a call center number), then click “Find business information.”

  6. Follow and fill out the form completely. Before you click on “Submit” button on the bottom of the screen, make sure the map marker is correct.

  7. Once you click the “Submit” button on the bottom of the screen, it will ask you how you would like to verify the listing. Select one of the two options available: (a) a telephone call will be the faster verification process. In under a minute, Google will send an automated call to your listed number. Once the call is picked up, it will give you a PIN; (b) a postcard via snail-mail will be the slower process. Here, Google will send you a postcard with the PIN in weeks.

  8. In Dashboard, locate the listing you are trying to verify and there will be a dialog box for you to input the PIN number you received from Google.

  9. Congratulations, you are finished. Your listing is now on Google Maps.

Claim a Listing on Google Maps

  1. Find your business listing on Google Maps: maps.google.com.

  2. Locate your business listing on the left side of the map.  Then click on “more info” next to the business name.

  3. On the listing page, click on “Business owner?” It will ask you to log in to Google Places account.  If you don’t have an account, create one.

  4. You will see three options available; select “Edit my business information.”

  5. Follow and fill out the form. Before click on “Submit” button on the bottom of the screen, make sure the map marker is correct.

  6. Once you click the “Submit” button on the bottom of the screen, it will ask you how you would like to verify the listing. Select one of the two options available: (a) a telephone call will be the faster verification process. In under a minute, Google will send an automated call to your listed number. Once the call is picked up, it will give you a PIN; (b) a postcard via snail-mail will be the slower process. Here, Google will send you a postcard with the PIN in weeks.

  7. In Dashboard, locate the listing you are trying to verify and there will be a dialog box for you to input the PIN number you received from Google.

  8. Congratulations, you are finished.You have claimed your Google Places listing.

Guidelines for Google Maps

Company:

Use the business name that you use in the offline (brick-and-mortar) world. Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business into the business name. Do not include phone numbers or URLs in the business name.

Address:

Enter your address as it would appear on a paper mail envelope. P.O. boxes cannot be used.

Phone number:

Provide a phone number that connects to your individual business location as directly as possible. Make sure to include the area code with your business phone number.

Website:

Make sure to list your authoritative business website as your homepage. Google uses info from your homepage to help improve search results. Do not provide URLs that redirect or refer users to other landing pages or phone numbers other than those of the actual business. The URL you provide can be a maximum length of 255 characters.

Email address:

Let users know how to contact you.

Description:

Tell users what makes your business special (in paragraph format). You are given a 200-character limit, which is about three sentences. Use it!

Categories:

Classify your business to help Google show it for the right searches. Google Places will suggest categories that match what you type, but feel free to create your own if you don’t see a category that fits your business. Make sure that the categories you choose are accurate and describe your business well. It’s ok if they’re specific; Google’s search algorithm makes sure that users doing a general search will see narrower categories too.

Hours of operation:

Let customers know when your business is open. This is key to serious shoppers.

Payment options:

Select checkboxes next to the payment methods that your business accepts.

Photos:

Use the photo uploader to add a photo from your computer, or specify a URL to add a photo from the web. Add up to 10 photos to your listing.

Videos:

To add a video, upload it to YouTube and enter its URL. Add up to 5 videos to your listing.

Additional details:

Create custom attributes to include more info that you’d like customers to know.

Yelp.com

  1. Go to: www.yelp.com/business

  2. Search for your business. If it’s there, click to claim it. If not, create a page.

  3. Fill out the profile. Once you submit, you will receive a verification email.

  4. In the email, click “verify.” It takes up to a week to review your listing.

  5. Fill out more details including logo and pictures. Prospects like pictures.

  6. Once your Yelp listing is active, request reviews. Reviews are key, since people come to Yelp to see them.

Bulk uploading? No Paid Service? $300-1000/month Monthly traffic: about 10 million

CitySearch

  1. Go to: www.citysearch.com

  2. You will need to create an account unless you already have one.

  3. A verification email will be sent to you. Confirm your account.

  4. Once you have verified your account, search for your business. If found, click on “claim business.” If not, click “add business.”

  5. Fill out the information.

  6. Sit back and wait for CitySearch to update your listing.

Bulk uploading? Yes Paid Service? $20/month + PPC Monthly traffic: about 7 million

Merchant Circle

  1. Go to: www.merchantcircle.com

  2. Create a business account. If your business already exists on Merchant Circle, you have the option to claim it.

  3. Once you create your listing, you can fill in more details, including hours, logo and business description.

  4. Merchant Circle lists businesses in order of how active they are. So be sure to log in and change or add something regularly to stay on top.

Bulk uploading? Yes Paid Service? $20/month + PPC Monthly traffic: about 7 million

photo credit: Jamiesrabbits via photopin cc