How are your customers finding YOUR local business these days? For services and products within their locale, they were doing their research in phone books and newspapers. Walking the streets and physically finding a particular business was normal in the era before that.The current answer will soon sound the knell of traditional methods mentioned above. Thanks to Google Places, Google Maps and Google local search algorithms; phone directories, Yellow Pages and local business directories are in terminal decline. In many seemingly affluent areas such as my locale, Carlisle’s Stanwix and other suburbs north of the river Eden, very locally focussed advertising magazines have foundered 3 times in the last 3 years. During a local business training seminar, one of the consultant trainers stated quite baldly that he no longer wasted his time on expensive newspaper advertising. Simply put; potential customers are trying to satisfy their need by typing their questions into Google to find the local business that will satisfy them. This is a skill which even a five year old will have more experience of than many Google business users.If I need takeaway food or a taxi, when the regular suppliers are unavailable; I search for “indian takeaway” or “taxi” online (frequently using my internet capable mobile phone) and find out what appears first… and I don’t often go past the first page of results! There are, using the example just given, about 1.5 million listings for Indian takeaway. It’s curious that even though Google knows my locale is Carlisle. the top results aren’t actually that relevant to Carlisle. The first result up is a Just Eat page for Manchester: 120 miles away, which is incorrectly judged more relevant to my question than Carlisle’s own Indian food establishments. To understand how Google views relevancy, the example of a search for Indian takeaway food outlets for a person based in my locale: Carlisle, Cumbria in the UK provides a useful starting point.So, for this simple example, let’s take the part of an Indian restaurant owner in Carlisle. With only about 70,000 people in the urban area you would imagine there was not much competition. You’ve had a stunning website set up to show off your authentic recipes, but it is not generating any new business! As the previous search showed, there are almost one and a half million pages to compete with to gain a customer; just from Carlisle based searches for Indian Takeaway. This simply means that there is a tough job for a local business to get top Google listings when that hungry customer tries to Google business in their area, to satisfy their need.Bearing the previous example in mind, sensible use of a well optimised Google places listing can help you in your quest to rise to the top of the search results. For most searches the results pages have a distinct structure. The SERPs (search engine results pages ) are arranged in 3 distinct sections. Ignoring the paid advertising at the top of the page, the first section shows 3 organic (ie normal ordinary search results) and in our example search, they do not have much relevance to me in the role of a hungry Carlisle customer. Following the organic results is the Google places listings section. Following the places listings, the remaining space on the page is taken up by organic listings.It is important to understand that Google is always refining its algorithms for displaying the solution to a search and the question it implies. This was illustrated quite clearly while I was researching for the launch of my local SEO service, I watched the results for the keyword “builder carlisle” change several times over 22 days last November, with an Australian company topping the Serps for much of the time. The goalposts keep changing for good reason: to prevent people like myself gaming Google too effectively and skewing search results too much towards commercialism, rather than relevance.Any local business, seeking customers from their own locale, needs a Google Places listing as a crucial first step to becoming a Google business. A well optimized Google Places listing is far more likely to show up at the top of the search results for those customers who want satisfaction NOW… and are ready to pay for it. If your competitors show up on the front page and you do not; you are already fighting a losing battle. A Places listing is one of the most important signposts to be putting up online.Many customers will in fact not be happy about all the irrelevant listings that appear and will try to get more localised results: typically by changing the search term to “Indian takeaway Carlisle”. Even with this filter in place there are still 293,000 results for Google to choose from that relate to the search term “Indian takeaway Carlisle”. Now, even with Carlisle businesses in focus, will your establishment be amongst them? For this specific search, the SERPs are dominated by Google places listings. The local business appearing at the top of this group is the one where the money will be spent and if our example takeaway business is absent, that is an untapped income stream for that local business.If a small city like Carlisle in the relatively stagnant north of the UK gives 300,000 pages of results for a local search for a spicy meal, that is an indication of the level of work and skill that has to be employed to help you rank and show up for search terms that relate to your locale and business. With guidance from knowledgeable consulting partners the learning curve can be reduced and the whole process can be put into the hands of people who are familiar with the bizarre world of the search engine, removing one more obstacle to business success.