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When I search for something local, such as dog care for my awesome cocker spaniel, I hop on Google Maps to see what is close to me. In 2009,there were 27.5 million small businesses in the United States, according to Office of Advocacy estimates.

As I was conversing yesterday on Twitter about all things SEO, on #SEOchat it was pointed out by Thos003 that there is a small but very significant change to how Google Maps returns results. If you search “dog care” across the USA, the pictures now return a little differently. But the coolest thing is that the red drop enlarges when you hover over the listing on the left side of the page.

So you might be asking yourself, why do I care? As a business of any size you need to claim your listing and upload your own pictures. One business that I was looking at yesterday has never claimed their listing but had more than 30 negative reviews. This is where SEO reputation management would come into play.

Claiming your Google Places account is just as good as claiming your domain. If you choose not to, then you are not in control and you are leaving your business to the control of the masses. A good search engine optimization firm can take care of reputation management, but claiming your Google Places account will help.

According to Vanessa Schneider, the Community Manager for Google Places:

“I can confirm that we rolled out a couple of changes to Google Maps yesterday. To improve the layout of the information in the search results, the business photos have been moved from the left side of the organic listings to the right side. In addition, when you scroll over a business listing on the left hand panel, the corresponding pin marker on the map now increases in size to help you quickly and easily identify the places that interest you.”

Claim your listing and fill everything out, post photos and entice your customer to leave reviews so that you will rank. This is one of the few things you can do yourself for to improve your SEO. If you own your business, you need to own your online presence and the first step is with Google Places.