Using Google Plus for SEO offers great opportunities for improving your website’s search engine rankings, increasing visibility, and helping to position yourself as an expert in your niche.

Sound familiar? You’ve all heard some variation of this before. Google Plus has consistently proven itself to be a powerful platform for integrating online marketing efforts and local SEO strategy, and it carries arguably one of the most heavily-weighted ranking signals in modern day SEO: the sacred +1. The community experts have been preaching this, almost since the inception of Google Plus in 2011. But every now and again we need a reminder, and a little update on what’s currently working—not what used to work. It’s almost 2015 now, and a few things have changed since Google Plus launched, so here’s your update on what’s changed, and what you should expect to focus on in 2015:

Google officially canceled Authorship

First and foremost, as of Thursday, August 28th of this year, Google Authorship has been officially canceled. That doesn’t mean that “author rank” is dead. The concept of adding more weight to articles written by authoritative industry experts is a good one, but the implementation of Authorship (or lack thereof by webmasters) is one of the reasons it ultimately failed. Publisher Markup, however, is still alive and kicking.

Huge emphasis on localizing search results

Localizing search isn’t really a new initiative, but the emphasis has certainly been amplified. “Pigeon” is the latest addition to Google’s major algorithm updates that are oddly named after animals, and has injected some life back into local directories. With quality localized search results sitting at the forefront of Google’s plans, people are practically tripping over each other to claim their business listings through Google Plus, but that’s usually where the effort ends.

Keep in mind, anyone can create a business page and verify their address. For some of the less competitive industries, that might actually be enough to show up in the local listings. But for those of you in cut-throat, competitive markets, verifying your business page alone isn’t enough to hit the top 7 results for local businesses. There’s more you need to consider if you want positive results. Let’s dive right in.

Google Plus Local SEO Strategy

A Guide for building your local business presence in 2015

1.  Implement Publisher Markup on your website.

This one has been around for a while, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s still important. Google Plus Publisher Markup links the Google+ page for brands and businesses with the content featured on their websites. It basically lets Google know that the website owner and the administrator of the Google Plus page are, in their eyes, the same. The primary benefit of adding Publisher Markup to your website is the possibility of getting a featured sidebar result when people are searching your business or brand. Take note of the word “possibility,” because it’s not a guarantee.

For our example, I used a local car dealership to show you what the resulting sidebar display will look like once your website and Google+ page are properly connected:

Google Publisher Markup featured sidebar

Google Publisher Markup adding a featured sidebar search result for local businesses,.

The primary information and recent activity are usually pulled from your Google Plus page, but sometimes Google will even pull information from Wikipedia if you’re a well-known brand. Overall, your business will have a more “personal” vibe when it appears in the sidebar search results, leading to higher click-through rates and in some cases, a really strong first impression.

How to Add Publisher Markup to Your Website

Here’s the simple line of code you need to add to your site’s homepage:

<link rel=”publisher” href=”YOUR GOOGLE PLUS URL GOES HERE” />

Alternatively, you can add your profile’s Google Plus badge as a widget to your site if adding the line of code behind the scenes isn’t an option. The badge will serve the same purpose and connect the page to your website, and also gives you a chance to earn more followers by having your profile page front and center.

Once you’ve added the line of code or the badge to your site, jump over to the Google Structured Data Testing Tool, input your website link, and check to see if Publisher Markup validates.

2. Verify your business page with Google My Business

When using Google Plus for SEO, one of the first items on your to-do list should be getting your business address verified with Google. This part only applies to the local SEO strategy of brick and mortar establishments, not standard brand pages.

Start by visiting the official Google My Business page, and click “Get On Google” to start creating your official business page. After you’ve input your business information, Google will begin the verification process by mailing you a postcard with a verification code attached. At times, there’s an option available where they call you to complete verification if your business was already on another Google property, but in general, expect the longer version of this via the postcard. Here’s a screen grab of what you should expect to see:

Google My Business address verification postcard

Google My Business address verification postcard.You have approximately 30 days to enter the code on your Google Plus page. If the time has elapsed and the code is no longer valid, you can request that they send you a new postcard right from your profile page. Each time you log in, you’ll be prompted to enter your code to complete verification, so don’t worry, it’s not in a difficult place to find. Once this part is done, you’ve greatly increased your odds of being displayed in the business listings of localized searches.

3. Link your Google+ page to your website

The next phase is to get your website verified on your Google Plus page, either through Webmaster Tools or through a line of code on the homepage. This is different than Publisher Markup (even though it uses the same line of code) and business verification, because what we’re going for here is the Google “checkmark” that confirms the official website of the Google Plus page. This portion of the tutorial is useful for local SEO strategists running business pages, as well as webmasters running regular brand pages.

Outside of establishing more trust with your audience, the checkmark draws more visual attention to the website URL listed in your profile. It also provides Google with more detailed information they can use to determine the relevancy of your website in a search query. Here is a Google+ Page with both business verification and website verification completed:

 Google My Business verification and website URL verification complete.

Go here for more detailed steps on how to link your Google Plus page to your website.

4. Push for more positive business reviews—don’t be afraid to ask.

Business reviews are perhaps the most important conversion factor and have the most potential influence on a user’s decision to click to a site or purchase a product. Websites with positive user reviews are perceived by the masses to be more reliable. It’s the social proof reviews provide that help potential customers make educated decisions about whether or not your product or service is worthy of a purchase. What many people overlook is the profound SEO impact that reviews have on the rankings of local business listings.

As mentioned earlier, verifying your business page is the easiest part of our Google Plus SEO strategy guide. At some point, every business in the area will have done this, and the added congestion will make it difficult to stand out in the search results. One of the ways to gain separation between yourself and the competition is to get more positive reviews than them! I know… easier said than done.

Each time local listings are pulled into a search query, there are only 7 potential spots that can be filled. If you have 15 competitors actively asking their satisfied customers for positive reviews, then you’d better come up with an action plan before you get buried at spot 8 or below. Waiting for reviews to come can be a costly mistake, as a higher percentage of people who leave reviews are looking to vent after a negative experience. On the other hand, finding promoters who actively go out of their way to tell people about their positive experience is much more difficult to find. However you want to earn the reviews is up to you. Be creative, but also make sure you’re proactive so you don’t fall too far behind.

5. Use Google Plus Niche Communities to Boost Your Follower Count

Google Plus Niche Communities are ideal for inquiring about particular topics, discussing your views and sharing your content to a more targeted audience. That’s the obvious part, but the benefit of sharing content to communities is twofold.

We already know that reviews play a large role in how your website ranks in local search, but what about follower counts? According to a recent case study done by Quick Sprout, How Social Signals Impact Search Engine Rankings, the simple addition of 100 followers to one of the business pages that was studied actually boosted its overall search rankings by 14.63 percent! That’s a huge improvement, and all from adding just a few followers. That probably won’t be the case every single time, but if none of your competitors have a strong following on Google Plus, consider this a prime opportunity to get an advantage.

Now, what does this have to do with communities? When you first start out on Google+, learning how to get more followers can be difficult, and quite frankly, rather time consuming. The goal is to make sure that when you share content, you’re putting it in front of the people who are most likely to engage with it. More pluses and reshares translates to better SEO results for your website, and greater exposure on Google Plus. The more times your profile gets viewed, the more times it will get circled. It’s simple math.

Leveraging Google+ for your local SEO strategy should be a major focus in your online marketing efforts. The future of localized search is upon us. Get your page and website connected, get your business verified, start engaging in communities, and ask your customers for reviews. The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.