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HOW TO: Run Location-Based Google Ads

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

If you want to get on the location-based advertising bandwagon, but you don’t want to spend a ton of money and you feel a little nervous venturing into uncharted territory, Google Boost, Google’s latest location-based ad product for local businesses, could be a solution for you.

While Facebook Places isn’t available yet to advertisers and location-specific apps might seem like too much of a risk for budget-focused small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners, Google’s new local ad product is simple to use, inexpensive (its pay-as-you-go fee structure means you only spend money when your ads are actually working) and maintenance-free.

For some time, Google has been focused on helping SMBs target their own cities, towns and neighborhoods with relevant advertising and marketing.

The company’s Local Business Center became Google Places this spring — Places gives SMBs a Yelp-like landing page for reviews and star ratings. And of course, Places Pages tie in with Google Maps, giving searching consumers easy access to business information from a familiar and trusted source.

Now, Google has unveiled Google Boost, an even more significant step toward locally targeted, location-based marketing –- and it’s simpler than any local marketing program we’ve seen. Read on to learn how to use Boost.

What You Need to Get Started

All you need to start using Google Boost is a free Google Places Page (they’re extremely simple to set up) and a monthly ad budget (they go as low as $50 per month, and you only pay for clicks on your ads).

You don’t have to pick keywords, monitor analytics, stay up to date on a complicated bidding process or do any other maintenance on the account once it’s been created — this is a “set it and forget it” advertising solution.

Google Boost is currently available in San Francisco, Houston and Chicago — it will be coming to more areas around the U.S. soon. If you’re a Google Places business owner in one of these cities, you should be able to access your Boost invitation from your Google account dashboard.

If Boost isn’t available in your city yet, fill out this form to be notified when it comes to your area.

Setting Up Google Places

To start using Google Boost, you’ll need a Google Places Page. They’re completely free to create and maintain, and they take just a few minutes to set up.

While creating your Google Places Page, you’ll be asked to enter basic information, such as the type of business you run; your business’ phone number, hours and location; any images or videos that will help customers get a better feel for your business; and a few other helpful tidbits, such as accessibility, parking or delivery options.

At this time you’ll also need to enter a tagline for your business and up to five categories that describe your business. Google automatically suggests categories as you type. Make sure you choose one Google-suggested category before adding customizable categories. These will help Google determine the keywords in a potential customer’s search that would be a good fit for your ad and your business.

Once your Places Page is created and verified, you’re ready to start using Google Boost.

How Boost Ads Work

Once your Places Page is ready to go and Google has verified your business location (either through a phone call or through a postcard sent via regular mail), you’re ready to set up a Boost location-based ad campaign.

Boost ads cost a minimum of $50 per month, and Google can recommend specific monthly budgets to help you stay competitive in your geographical area and business vertical. In the end, though, you may not pay your full budgeted amount each month — you pay only for the clicks on your ad.

Other than setting up your monthly budget, all you have to do is provide Google with a couple short descriptions or ad taglines, pick a link for the ad to go to and choose the category or categories for your ad.

Altogether, the process takes just minutes, and you’ll be able to see a preview of your ad before it goes live in search results.

Once your ad is up and running, you’ll be able to see analytics on how the ads are performing — that data is available in your Places Page account. But again, you don’t need to pore over graphs to optimize your ads unless you really want to, since Google is picking your keywords for you.

What Boost Ads Look Like

Finally, you’ll want to know how potential customers are going to find your ad.

Boost ads will appear in Google web search and Google Maps search results. They’ll be highlighted as promoted links, and you’ll also get a special colored “pin” in the Google Maps interface, identifying your business along with organic, non-ad businesses in your area.

Here, you can see a Boost ad (circled in red) for the search term “Asian restaurant San Francisco.” The blue pin in the map below shows the restaurant in relation to other, organic search results.

In the end, Google Boost is probably going to be the fastest, easiest and cheapest way to reach actively interested consumers in your immediate area — at least for now. These web searchers are local, and they’re doing research on your specific type of business –- they’re as highly qualified as leads come.

Do you think this type of ad campaign would work well for your business?

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