Why Use Google Places, for Small Businesses
Finding a product or service online has never been so easy, constant Google updates mean you're always going to be getting the best results from across the UK or the globe. But when you want something local, Google has you catered for too! Simply add the location to your search or search from your mobile and boom localised search is yours - one of the big features of a search results page when you do this is the local search results section, which usually looks like the below.
As you can see you get a piece of the search results page landscape and more importantly (as shown above) it is not a case of "one or the other", a search results or a local listing, you can get both. Which means your are much more likely to get clicks and enquiries. Interestingly, you can also have multple businesses listed within the same building, for instance the RedStar building has 6 businesses within it registered to Google Maps, all different businesses focused mainly in the same industry and we all appear in local listings.
Why Every Business Needs Google Places for Business
I've spent a long time talking about how Thomson Local and Yell are in decline and how its because their business model doesn't work in the 21st century. They try to protect it by claiming they have good search rankings for many terms and this means people click to see their results, but the reality is that if people wanted to see Yell they would go to Yell and search there. Also the reality is that if those results were "fantastic" they would have some kind of deal with Google to show them in local results, in a similar way to TrustPilot (and others) appear in Google's Review sections for online stores. The advantage Google has over these third party systems is many fold, search volume, omni-present (seen across Google platforms, including Google Maps), is highly relevant (if you aren't relevant Google won't show you) and importantly local listings are highly trusted and have a high clickthru rate.
Finally, Google Places is a free service to be listed on. You won't get 101 phone calls from anyone trying to up sell you to a better package or buy a website from them. (naming no names). Instead you are in charge of the quality of your content both in the listing and on your website, combined they can be a formidable force for search rankings - improving your online business greatly. The only way it will cost more is if you decide to use Google Adwords.
In 2011 I wrote a 10 tips for google places article, it is still quite handy, do take a look.
A Google Places in Every Port
Another important aspect of Google Places for Businesses is that if you have multiple locations (stores, cafes, branches, offices etc) you can list them all. Each should have a unique address, but you can use the same central phone line if necessary. This also means if each branch offers different services or offers services only a given set of locations (or in a given radius) you can set this out on each branches separate local page.
Having a Google Place for each location is also a good way to encourage your users to leave reviews and rate your services - the higher you rate the more likely your local listings are to show up (which is great for competitive arenas, such as for example Phone Repairs). Further to this if you've connected your website / branch web page to the listings this page is also more likely to show in results because the trust is for your branch and your brand, not just for that local listing.
So the message... Have One In Every Port.
The Future of Google Places and Google+ Local
These are just a few notes on the future, it doesn't affect whether you should sign up or not - which of course you should sign up.
Earlier this year Google began to really push its local social media aspect within Google+ moving across places listings to Google+ Local. The big push has mainly so far been within the Restaurant sector (following Google's purchase and deep integration with Zagat and Froomers). However, today all Google Places listings have a Google+ Local page, usually in addition to the Places page.
What does that mean?
Well basically it means Google+ Local is going to take over from Places, this is a move to centralise everything around social for Google but also means that if your brand is talked about on Google+ and the local listing is to your brand page on Google+ you will get even more kudos! (after all part of todays search algo is freshness, and so if people are talking about your site and brand you may appear more).