It would seem that the three most important factors to making an appearance on local search engine results are relevance, prominence and distance.
Relevance - well, if you're searching for 'coffee shops in Leigh-on-Sea', the search results will only show coffee shops, not retail outlets or building societies, etc. This is why it is vital to get your Google Places listing right and ensure that your business is entered in the correct category selection. It allows Google to do the best job of connecting people to the places they are searching for.
Prominence - this is determined by how well-known the coffee shops are. So a shop that has received a lot of online reviews and citations, as well as having a well-optimised website is going to rank more highly than one which has not.
Distance - naturally, the results are based on their distance from Leigh-on-Sea. If you didn't put in a specific address, the results will be based upon your general location as worked out by Google from your mobile phone information. Searching in the 'Places' app today, I had switched off the location services for this app and so it gave me a lot of options for coffee based on the USA. Allowing access to my location immediately picked up the plethora of such establishments on streets nearby and beyond.
Jeremy confirms that these reviews will impact upon the ranking of local businesses on Google, so it's hugely important to get the message out to your customers - it might even be worth offering them a free cup of coffee to write a review whilst they drink it.
Once you've rated a few pages, the app starts to ask you to rate other nearby places and the information says that it will also start showing you places that your friends have reviewed - although I have not seen this yet - but it may be because I haven't worked out how to receive such personalised recommendations.
You can get started on your desktop by going to http://google.com/places or on android/iphone using the Places app.
If you need help with correctly setting up or claiming an existing Google Places listing, call us on 01702 476517