Forget the phone book. If you own a local business and you are looking for new customers, it’s all about Google. The largest search engine in the United States, Google receives more than 2,000 queries per second. Getting in front of this audience is paramount to having a successful business online.

We talked to Brent Payne, the director of SEO for Tribune Company, about what simple steps a local business can take to rank higher on Google. Here’s what Brent had to say:

1. Claim your Google Places listing. Google Places is Google’s local business directory and is free to use. “Still, only 10 percent of local business in the United States have claimed their Google Places listing,” Payne says. “By claiming your listing, you’re instantly beating 90 percent of the competition.”

To claim your listing, go to  After filling out a short form, you will need to verify with Google that you are the business owner. Google does this by automatically calling you at the number you provided in the form and giving you a pin number. You’ll enter that pin number on Google Places’ website and then will be allowed to complete your listing.

2. Expand your Google Places listing. Be sure to include a simple description of what your business does, what your hours are, where you are located or what area you serve if you do not have a physical storefront. “You want to be as detailed as possible when filling out your Google Places listing,” Payne says. “The more data you include, the more you’ll increase your relevancy in Google’s algorithms.”

3. Sign up for Google Webmasters. Google Webmasters is a free service that gives you detailed reports about how your web pages are doing on Google.  “Google Webmaster also helps you to communicate directly with Google so you can make sure your listings are always appearing accurately,” Payne says.

4. Request that Google photograph the inside of your business. “The same team from Google that takes pictures for Street View will also take photos of the inside of your business for free,” Payne says. “Google does this because they want to match user expectations. They want their users to know what to expect before going somewhere. For example, is it a dive bar or a white linen restaurant?”

You will need to apply for Google Business Photos. Google is currently rolling out the service in select cities and is primarily interested in photographing restaurants, hotels, retail shops and other storefront business. You can learn more on Google Business Photos’ FAQ page.

5. Solicit positive reviews from your customers. Customer reviews of your business are also important to Google’s search results. The more positive reviews your business has, the better your results will be.

Payne recommends that you ask your loyal customers to post positive reviews of your business both on Google and review sites like Yelp and Insider Pages. “If you spot a negative review about your business, it’s important that you respond to it quickly and effectively,” Payne adds.

To learn more about responding to negative reviews posted on Google, see the Google Places User Guide.

6. Build your own website. If you’re serious about ranking higher on Google, then you absolutely need a website for your business. Payne says it doesn’t need to be fancy to be effective–a basic website with a homepage, about page and contact us page will do just fine.

As for what to include on your website, Payne recommends including marketing copy that explains why you are “bigger, badder and better than any other business in the area. ”

Be sure to upload your own photos, particularly ones that people might be searching for. If you’re a restaurant, maybe photos of your best dishes and your  menu. If you’re a law firm, perhaps individual photos of each of your partners.

Payne also suggests adding the physical address of your business in the footer of every single web page on your site. “This makes Google see your address more often and as a result, you should rank higher in a local search,” he says.

7. Include the right key phrases on your website. A key phrase is the term used for a search engine query.  To determine what key phrase you should use, think about the term your customers will type on Google to find you. For example, if you own a dry cleaners in Chicago, you will want to use the key phrase, “Chicago dry cleaners.”

Payne recommends using the same key phrase throughout your website. The most important places to use the key phrase are in the individual title tags of your web pages, as well as anywhere the font is large, bold or italic. “It’s important to use only one key phrase per web page,” he adds. “If you want to rank high for both dry cleaners and laundry, you should create two different web pages on your website–one that is optimized for dry cleaners and one that is optimized for laundry.”

8.. Promote your website via social media. Google looks at three main factors to rank a web page in their search results. One of those factors is popularity or, simply put,  the number of links that go to your website.

So let’s say you’ve finally built your website and you need to quickly get other people linking to you. “The fastest, easiest and cheapest way is to join social networks,” Payne says. “Websites like Twitter and Facebook are ideal for  getting other people to link to your site. The more people linking to your site, the better your results will be on Google.”

9. Finally, be patient. “It will take at least two weeks, if not more, for your business to start seeing improvements in your Google results,” Payne says. “But if you follow these steps, your work will pay off.”

For more tips on optimizing your local business, Payne recommends bookmarking For more general information about SEO, Payne tweets daily at @brentdpayne.

-Tracy Samantha Schmidt