Google processes over 3.5 billion searches per day. While these searches cover millions of different topics, a significant portion are people looking for a business or service in their local area, making Google one of the most important tools for customers and businesses alike.

Despite the omnipresence of Google in a consumer's life, many small business owners aren't taking the time to improve their visibility on the search engine, according to a recent Manta report. As the CEO of Manta, I strongly recommend that small businesses prioritize earning a spot in Google's "Three Pack." This is the coveted list of three local businesses accompanied by a Google Maps image that appears when someone searches for a business type or location (such as "plumbers near me" or "auto repair in Chicago"). By setting their sights on the Local Three Pack, small businesses can stand out from competitors and get more calls and visits from customers.

So, how can small businesses achieve this optimal search visibility? Here are a few tips for earning a place in Google's Local Three Pack.

Create or claim your Google listing

Create or claim your Google listing: Given the search giant's always-changing algorithm, it can be difficult to stay relevant in Google if you don't start by claiming your business. Business owners can claim an existing listing by locating it on Google and then clicking on the "Own this Business?" link. This will prompt business owners to follow a specific process to claim and verify their business information. If a small business doesn't have a listing, owners can follow similar steps to create a new listing.

Build out a business profile

Once small business owners claim their listings, they should enhance it via Google's free service, Google My Business. This feature enables users to update and expand their business' listing. The more content added here, the more visible the business will be in customer searches.

Even if a business doesn't have the bandwidth to create a robust listing, there are several essential aspects that every business owner should include: business name, address and phone number. Manta's report found that over 80 percent of small business owners who use Google AdWords already have this information on their website. When listing this information, it's important to include everything on the listing exactly as it appears on your website.

Also, listings should include hours of operation, since this is often one of the first things customers look for. The final element used to bolster a small business listing are photos of the business, which add credibility and make business listing more prominent and eye-catching. A picture is still worth a thousand words; even on Google.

Encourage customer reviews - and respond to negative ones

Similar to photos, customer reviews add credibility to a business listing, giving the business a competitive edge and leading to more visible placement in organic search results. Reviews also provide prospective customers with a snapshot of the service they can expect from a business. While no business should expect only positive customer feedback, it is important for small businesses to at least request reviews from happy customers.

According to a separate Manta poll, 57 percent of small business owners don't actively encourage customers to leave reviews. All businesses hope for positive reviews, but what should they do if they receive a negative one? The best option is to offer a courteous response, both publicly and directly to the customer, that recognizes their concerns and provides solutions. You may not be able to fix a specific customer experience but showing you pay attention to reviews can go a long way in building trust with all your customers.

Since Google searches are an essential step in the purchase process for many customers, it's important for small business owners to include a search strategy in their business plans. Earning a spot in the Google Local Three Pack heightens a business' online presence and increases its customer base. Google has become an important part of our daily lives; by making time to manage your business search visibility, all you create is opportunity.

Published on: May 24, 2017