Most small businesses don't care about being found on google on a national level, as long as their customers can find them locally. Google places has taken that to the next level. If you are one of the top 3 businsses in your niche you will be listed at the top of the page under the places guide. Google places allows businesses to have profiles setup with their map, hours, photos, video, and other relavent information. Unfortunately most local business niches have more than 3 businesses operating in them, which makes these top three spots very competitive. Here is how you can improve your chances of showing up on these top 3 spots.
Every time your business is mentioned on the web you want your information to be correct. The correct Name, Address, and Phone Number, and if they allow it your website address. The more information you can get out there about your business the more chances customers will be able to find you. For search rankings, google does take into account how many times it finds your business listed online, and if that information is uniform.
There may be services such as Yext, and others that claim they will quickly get your business listed on the top directories. Unfortunately this comes with a cost. You have to pay a monthly price for services like these. In the short term it may look cheaper, but in the long term it is not. Additional problems exist with these services not solving problems with duplicate listings, of which google looks down upon. The best way to get listed in my opinion is to search every business directory and see if your business is already listed. Then take ownership of that listing and update its content. This can be a very tedious process, as there are literally over a hundred business directories.
It used to be that all the directories would allow you to take ownership for free and then update some of the basic information, like name, address, phone, website address, and maybe set your categories. But Free also brought problems for many directories are they were flooded with spam postings. So some directories have started to charge a small nominal fee, usually $5 - $20 one time charge to update your business information. This to me is reasonable. Unfortunately some directories try to upsell business owners on advanced ranking on their sites, and the ability to add more content ( Photos, Videos, Products, ect.. ) to help their business stand out more. They try to convince business owners to pay a monthly fee for this option.
As you search trying to find directories to list your business, you are likely to come accross many sites in which you don't recognize. As matter of fact many of these directories only show up when searching for directories. They don't have any real google ranking for your business niche. Thanks to google's recent updates, most directories have been down ranked and the actual business websites have been given precedence. This is great for business owners, as it used to be the directories would flood the first few pages of search results. But this also means they need to take notice of where they get their traffic from, as its typically not usually from the business directories, because nobody uses them.
There are plenty of data services that want to get businesses to pay a monthly fee to keep their listings updated for them. YEXT has take this to the next level of blackmail, and has started to set themselves up as the only way to get listed on many directories. Many of these sites used to be free to get listed, now when you try to claim your listing you are sent to YEXT where they try to get you sign up for their monthly packages. My feelings are if a business has more money than time, then sure YEXT is fine. But for the small business owners who have more time than money, there should still be a way to get yourself listed for free. If a busness owner wants to manually take ownership of over 100 directories, and manually update them that is their business. Some people want to do things themselves to make sure its gets done right, I fall into that category.
I know what you are thanking why would I want to submit to directories that nobody uses? The simple answer is a uniform message. The Google search engine used to focus primarily on back links. Now they are taking into account where you appear online. Every time your address, and phone number and business name appear listed somewhere google gives you a little boost. The more places your name and contact info appears the more popular google dems you to be. But if google finds your address and or phone number is tied to another business, they will penalize you. Thats why its important to make sure all your information on the web is correct.
The one site I have done a full Local Search Optimization with has seen its ranking go from middle of page 1 to Top of Page 1. It now absolutely dominates its niche. However this didn't happen over night. From what I can tell Google can take over 90 days to digest all the changes you have made online. So if you are planning to optimize a business don't expect to see huge changes soon. This can be stressful for business owners and webmasters as spending the time and money to do these optimizations can see like a waste when the return on investment is not realized til much later.
My recommendation to businesses looking to do this, is to not take short cuts in your local search optimization. Put the time into it and personally take ownership of every business listing you can. Update them to the maximum you can. If this was easy every business would do it.