I will not start the Google Places optimization topic with the preliminary stage, setting up the Places page and choosing the right categories, because on this topic there is enough information both at the Google Places Help Center and around the Web.
The difficult part, and the harder one to achieve is to get a decent number of citations, outlining at least the basic business information - business name, business physical address, business land line number. What are the citations? When your business information is mentioned somewhere around the Web, Google notices that, scrapes it down and adds it to its relevant place - in your Google Places listing. It goes to your “More about this place” section, which is located in the bottom part of your Places page.
To get your citations there, the information for your business must be consistent all over the Internet. One letter in the business name, one number in the address or one dash in the phone number may cause Google to think this is not the same business, and pass by this vital source of information.
Citation building is a time taking, but very important process. Sometimes, even if you have done everything perfectly, you will not see any results for months. This is not your fault. Google crawls more rarely websites and directories with lower authority and ones that get their content not changed frequently. That is why, the fastest results can be seen coming from generic and famous directories, such as City Search, Yahoo! Local, Insider Pages, Judy’s Book, Yelp, Hot Frog.
The value of the citations.
Different citations have different value and citations from the mentioned generic directories in the majority of the cases would have lesser value, than citations from locally-oriented and niche oriented directories. If a roofing contractor from Richmond, VA gets a citation from a directory, which is mainly oriented towards serving the people in the area of Richmond, and is mainly about contractors, this citation will have much higher value than one from a generic, nationwide business directory. Unfortunately, citations from the specific and local directories generally come slower and not frequently. The highest value citation would come from the company’s own website, as it would be the most relevant one.
How many citations do I need?
As many as possible. The final goal is to overcome the all the competition and appear on position A. Sometimes all you would need is to verify your ownership over the Google Places listing, but sometimes a hundred citations will not be enough. It depends on the strength of the competition and the competitiveness of the keywords you want to rank for. A restaurant in New York City will definitely have more troubles getting to page 1, then a pet groomer from West Liberty, Ohio.
Where do I get the citations from?
There are literally thousands of business directories, where any business could post their information. However, getting a citation from a directory, specialized in auto repair in the area of Washington DC, would have close to zero value if you are a landscaper in Las Vegas, Nevada. What you need to do is type your targeted keyword in the Google search and start checking one by one your competitors’ profiles. Go to the bottom of their Places pages and see all the directories where they have citations from, then do everything possible to get your business information on all of these. Check all the businesses on page 1 and page 2 of the Google Places. After you have done this with all your targeted keywords, go to the Google search again and type your keyword + the nearby big city. Then repeat the same process with all the businesses listed there.
There is an easier way to find all this information. Two very useful free tools are the Local Citation Finder and the Local Search Toolkit. They are time-saving and will provide you with all the results you need. However, the Local Citation Finder provides only the top 30 citation sources per keyword for the free subscribers, and the Local Search Toolkit shows information only for the business on page 1, but they both are definitely helpful and useful, especially for the smaller size businesses.
Final thoughts and insights
Although I have mentioned that citations to your place that matter for your business listing ranking are the ones shown in the “more about this place” section, many Google Places gurus state that these are not the only ones that matter, but Google counts some more citations that are hidden. A vigorous supporter of this statement is the creator of the Local Citation Finder as well as Mike Blumenthal - the top expert for local search.