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Why Google+ should be part of your agency's online strategy
By Matthew Marko, Progressive Insurance
About this article: Participation in Google+ can help an agency considerably in maximizing its local search optimization. Google+ local business pages have replaced Google Places and if a consumer’s search suggests local intent, Google includes Google+ local business pages in the search results. The author provides some great tips as to how an agency can get started with Google+ and use the tool to its full advantage. The article also contains a number of links to very helpful additional information that will help agencies increase their visibility online.
 
 
Why Google+ should be part of your agency’s online strategy
By Matthew Marko, Progressive Insurance
 
If you’ve been following Google’s social experiment from afar, you may have lost Google+ in the shadow of social media’s 800 pound gorilla, Facebook. But before you dismiss the search giant as an also-ran in social, take note of Facebook’s own pet project, Graph Search. Facebook’s foray into search despite Google’s clear dominance (two out of every three searches online are conducted using Google1) reveals the cracks forming in the wall separating search and social. Both companies are preparing for when the wall comes tumbling down, and now’s the time to position your agency to capitalize. If Progressive’s marketing data hold true, many more agents are opting for a place on Facebook over Google+. Here’s why you should diversify by building a strong presence on both.
 
Google+ is much more than social
Google+ does have social strengths, such as the ability to easily segment and target communications to customers using Circles and host Hangouts with customers on insurance topics. However, for now the primary insurance agency benefit of Google+ is local search optimization. Americans conduct 3.6 billion local searches on Google each month, and Google+, acting as an online business directory, is the most effective way to capture those prospects.2 It’s also the best way to do so without having to compete with big brands’ multi-million dollar online advertising budgets. A key reason to engage with Google+ is to acquire new customers in a way that no other social media site or online directory can currently offer.
 
From Places to Plusses
Google reports that one in three searches have local intent, and 83 percent of consumers search online for local businesses.2 If a search query suggests local intent, Google includes the Google+ local pages in the search results, typically near the top. Formerly called “Google Places,” Google+ local business pages now include social elements as well, making an agency’s participation in Google+ (and customer interaction on the platform) a growing factor in showing up in local searches.
Here are five steps to start taking advantage of Google+ for local search:
1)    Claim and verify it
If you haven’t done so already, claim and verify your Google+ listing. This is something you can easily do on your own. Be sure not to create a duplicate Google+ listing for your agency if one already exists. It’s against Google’s rules. 
 
To check if your business already has a Google+ listing, simply go to www.google.com/maps and enter your business address and phone number into the search bar. If a listing shows up reflecting your business name, then your agency already has a Google+ local business page.
 
Ensure it is under your control through the owner-verification process. If someone in your agency does not have the log-in information to manage your Google+ listing, click on “Manage this Page” on your business’ Google+ page to begin the verification process. Owner verification is a critical step in building trust with Google and guaranteeing that you control your business information on Google+. Progressive research indicates that as of November 2012, more than half of independent insurance agencies had failed to complete this critical first step, significantly diminishing their ability to rank highly in local search results.
 
If you’re not the do-it-yourself type, programs like Progressive’s ListAgent or local search packages from Project CAP can help you with claiming your business listings online and optimizing your local presence. While you’re at it, it’s an excellent idea to also claim local search listings at sites like Yahoo, Bing, and Yelp.
 
2)    Build trust in it
Review your Google+ listing for accuracy and be sure that you’re using the identical name for your agency and its contact information across all directories, on the internet and on your agency website. Search engines like Google look for consistency in your agency’s name, address, and phone number (NAP) online, and your visibility in search results improves if you have consistent listings.  Exact NAP match is important. For example, you don’t want your agency website to say “ABC Insurance Agency” while your Google+ listing says “ABC Ins Agency.” GetListed.org and Yext.com offer free, simple tools to assess the consistency of your agency’s name, address, and phone online.
 
You also can improve your local search ranking over time by creating references to your agency NAP on additional local directories. There are hundreds of local directory sites where you can submit your NAP information for free, with the only cost being the time it takes you to manually claim them. Alternatively, Progressive’s ListAgent program can do this for your agency for under $100 a year.
 
3)    Connect it
Google changed its local ranking algorithm in 2012 to favor Google+ business listings that link to well-optimized websites, making your agency website’s search optimization an important factor in both organic and local search results. While website optimization can be time-consuming and expensive, here are a few simple changes to help your website’s local search optimization:
·       Include your agency’s name, address and phone number in text (not as an image) in the header or footer of every page on the site.
·       Include your city or town name in your title tags, meta descriptions, and header (H) tags.
·       If you have multiple agency locations, create a separate “location” page on your website for each location, and a separate Google+ local business page for each location. Submit each location’s page to its respective Google+ local business page.
·       Start using Authorship Markup on your agency web site and blog posts.
 
If you don’t have a website, consider using a carrier directory page in place of a website in your Google+ listing. For example, the ProgressiveAgent.com agent directory offers Progressive agents free locally-optimized agency pages that work well for this purpose.
 
4)    Populate it
Populate your Google+ profile with content. Thoughtfully consider your business description, including key search terms that describe what your agency does. Make use of all business listing categories available and include photos and videos. Providing this content not only helps your agency rank higher in local searches, but it also makes your listing stand out to consumers and increases the likelihood that they’ll do business with you. Click here for more tips on optimizing your local listings.
 
5)    Legitimize it
On your agency website and within your established agency referral processes, ask for reviews on Google+ as well as other sites like Yelp and Citysearch. Not only are reviews important to your prospects – 70 percent of consumers say that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, according to BrightLocal. Reviews are also known to be an important local search ranking factor. Progressive research indicates that the average independent insurance agency has less than one online review, so creating a slow-but-steady review generation process can really make your agency stand out.
 
The battle between Facebook and Google remains fierce, and both are making big moves to enhance their value to consumers and businesses. Questions may remain over social ROI, but there’s no question local search is critical as more and more people start their insurance shopping online. Adding Google to your online strategy brings a few social benefits, but the local search impact makes it a clear plus.
 
 
Matthew Marko is a Marketing Process Manager for Progressive Insurance. Matt wrote this article for ACT and he can be reached at matthew_marko@progressive.com. He works to provide local marketing strategies and tools to help independent agencies grow their business, and has developed online marketing programs and webinars for Progressive agents on ForAgentsOnly.com. He is one of 40 local search experts invited to contribute to the authoritative annual Local Search Ranking Factors study. This article reflects the views of the author and should not be construed as an official statement by ACT.
 
Matt also recently did an Insurance Journal podcast on this subject which can be found at this link.
 
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