When it comes to the world of local search, Google Places is currently the most important service for businesses to be listed on correctly. Google Places is designed to allow business owners to create and edit their listings in Google’s local database.

The information that is provided in these listings is pooled from when visitors are consulting Google Maps, conducting local searches through Google itself or using some of Google’s new local services like Hotpot and mobile apps. With local search becoming one of the most important new trends in how we use the internet, your practice will be off the radar for a sizable percentage of local search traffic without a decent listing on Google Places.

If you are starting you off-site local search campaign from scratch, the first thing that you need to do is head over to Google Places to find out whether there is already a listing for your practice. Before you log in, take a moment to consider whether you want to use your current Google account for handling your business’s listings. If it’s likely that you will have someone other than yourself managing your listings down the road, you may want to create a separate account just for your practice.

Once you’ve logged in, you can easily find out whether you business is listed in Google’s local database by entering your practice’s telephone number into the appropriate field. So long as there is no information listed under that number, you will be prompted to start entering your basic information. Google Places has a very useful feature that lets you see what your Place page will look like in a screen to the right that is updated every time you enter a new field.

While filling out the basic information for your page might seem pretty straight forward, there are a few important opportunities that you don’t want to overlook. First, be sure to provide a local telephone number as your businesses primary number, as your area code may play a role in how you appear in local results. Next, take some time to come up with professional, engaging description for your practice. This field is a great chance to stand out, as many business owners miss this opportunity to communicate their organization’s message.

The category section is a particularly important field to consider. You can select as many as five categories that apply to your business, and whether you should use all five will depend largely upon your professional service niche. If your practice offers services that apply to five different categories, the general rule of thumb is to enter all five. If you have a more specialized service, on the other hand, you may want to avoid looking like a jack of all trades and master of none.

As for the rest of the form, the more information that you can share about you practice the better. Be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to upload an image or two of your practice, such your logo and a photo of your building. If you work from home and typically meet with your clients in the field, there is an option for removing your street address from your Maps listing.

Before you submit your listing, spend a moment reflecting over the open ended Additional Details field. This is an excellent opportunity to specify the professional services that your practice specializes in, whether it be a particular body of law or medicine. By using this area to specify your areas of expertise, your listing will stand out to potential clients who are searching Google specifically for your professional service.

Once you are finished, you can expect to receive confirmation from Google that your listing has been approved within the next two to three weeks.  After your Google Place listing is up and running, you can update your site with new information, photos and videos as necessary. You will also have access to your account’s Google Place dashboard, which will provide you useful analytical data like page impressions, how often people interact with your listing and the top search queries directing users to your listing.