If you’re a small business owner, you can’t go anywhere on the Web without hearing about Google Places. Google is certainly making a hard push toward local with the back-to-back launches of Place Pages, Place Search, Google Hotpot and a seemingly never-ending list of local announcements. If you’re a small business owner, it’s not always an easy job to keep up. But it’s really important that you do. To help you find some of the signal in all the noise, here are four tips to help you optimize your Google Place Page to make sure that you’re found.

1. Claim your listing, completely.

The biggest mistake small business owners make with Google Places is not claiming their listing or taking the time to accurately fill out all of the fields, assuming they’re not important. With Google placing considerable reliance on these listings and showing them alongside your regular website in search results, you want to make sure your profile is as complete and accurate as it can be.

When you claim your listing, you’ll be asked to include the basic information about your business (address, phone number, website, e-mail address, etc.), service areas and location settings, hours of operation, payment options, photos (up to 10 photos), videos (up to five YouTube links) and any additional details. Much of the information will resemble what you’ve already shared with Google, or made available on sites like Yelp. Every available field should be filled out in order to give your business the best chance for ranking high. Do you really want one of your competitors to rank above you because they took the time to upload photos and you didn’t?

2. Be smart about keywords.

When you fill out your listing, be smart about your keyword usage – using terms related to what you do and to your location. Do your keyword research to know which terms searchers are using to find your business. Make sure those keywords are included in your description, and be sure you’re listing your business in the right category. Whenever possible, also include the name of a couple of the towns/cities that most of your customers are from. If they don’t fit, don’t worry too much as the Services Area section will give you room to incorporate them, as well. Don’t stuff the description with keywords (you only have 200 characters), but do keep search engine optimization in mind when you’re writing it. This is how Google will decide when it’s appropriate to show your site.

3. Add images.

You’re a mechanic. Why should you bother uploading appealing photos of your business? Well, because the new Place Search is putting those image thumbnails right next to your site URL in the search results. Your site + Places page now shows up in the same package. This gives you another opportunity to grab someone’s eye and get them to click on your listing. Try to use images that are visually appealing and that will catch their eye from the SERP. Also, if your listing has no photo and your competitor’s does, who do you think Google will show? Who would you show if you were Google? Add your images, friends.

4. Start heavily encouraging reviews.

With Google Hotpot and reviews becoming part of Social Search, it’s clear that reviews may soon become part of Google’s larger ranking algorithm. However, reviews are also showing up in Places search. he business has reviews from.  (Andrew Shotland has a good list of the top 10 review sites in Google Places search.) This is a huge trust indicator for both users and Google. As a small business owner you need to encourage customers to leave reviews about your business.

Reach out to them during checkout, after the purchase, in e-mail newsletters, in company mailings and at other touch points. Teach them how to leave reviews and direct them to the appropriate sites. Don’t be heavy-handed about it, but do let customers know how important those reviews are to your business. Reviews are the links of local. You need to start figuring out how you’re going to solicit reviews from customers in a way that won’t turn them off.

Local search has changed. It’s no longer about getting included into the 10-/7-pack results. Web search is now local search, and that means small business owners are competing much differently than they were before. More than ever, it’s about creating the full package and showing users and search engines that your business is relevant to a particular area and that you’re a trusted brand. Search engine optimization is about to become more important for local businesses than it ever was before.