For the large majority of small businesses, local search is what you need to focus on in the online world. A huge part of local search is getting top listing in Google maps displayed in Google search results. For many clients these Google map results garner more clicks than regular search results. This is a pretty big deal.

I work with a wide variety of clients in different local industries that all share one thing in common: they want the top position in Google maps in Google search results. This is smart thinking.

Here's are some tips to start working your way towards the top. (Reach for the sky baby.)

Claim Your Google Local Listing

The first thing you need to do is go to Google Local Business Center and claim your existing listing or create a new one if you dont see your business listed already. Google collects data from sources like the Yellow Pages, so there is a good chance it's already there.

Now make sure you fill out everything. The more information you include the better it is for your business. This includes adding as many photos as youre allowed and adding yourself to as many relevant categories as possible (up to 5). Also make sure the address you use for your Google Local listing is the same address you have listed on your website.

Note (added April 21, 2010): Google Local Business Center has changed its name to Google Places.

Optimize Your Site with Local Terms

You don't need to go overboard with this one. Having the name of your city in some page titles and headers will certainly help though. The most important task is to make sure that you have your address listed on your website. Also include any relevant areas of town if you're a location specific destination. (Like a clothing store or a restaurant.)

Get Listed in Local Directories

Directory listings from websites specific to your city are a great way to help you achieve some local pull in Google maps. A quick and easy way to find some local directories is to search for {name of city} + directory.

Encourage Reviews

All Google Maps listings have an option to leave a review, so encourage some of your favorite customers or clients to leave a review for you. If you happen to be in the travel and tourism industry, gently persuade happy customers to leave reviews on popular review sites like TripAdvisor. When you take a look at the top Google maps results youll notice that the top listings will have a good amount of reviews.

Build Up Your Citations

Citation building is different than link building because a citation may not always include an actual link. As long as the full address matches the address on your website, its counted as a citation and helps boost your position in Google Local search results.

Check out Google maps results in a competitive industry (such as the Seattle hotel industry) and you notice top listings have more citations than lower listings - in most cases. Citations are not the sole deciding factor, but they definitely help. When you view a Google Map listing in its entirety there is a section called More about this place. This is a great place to find citations from people competing in the same local industry as you.

Start Building Citations Now

Why not start now? Here are some citations to start you off on the right path.

    City Search
    Bing Local
    BOTW Local
    Insider Pages
    Hot Frog
    Yahoo! Local

Feel free to contribute any citation or local directory sources you've found to be useful. Sharing is always encouraged!

Stephanie Woods is a freelance internet marketer living in beautiful Kelowna, BC. She has been working in advertising and marketing for 10 years now. If you are interested in getting in touch with Steph you can reach her here. Or, you can find her on Twitter as @steph_woods.