As a consumer, what’s the first thing you do when you want information about a business? Chances are you’re not reaching for the phone book. Most people these days scour the internet for intel on everything from restaurants and coffee shops, to clothing stores and hair salons. This means that as a business owner, it’s more critical than ever to prioritize your online presence so that it’s easier for potential customers to find you.
But how? One option, of course, is to enhance your website using tested SEO strategies. Another equally important action is to claim and fully optimize your Google My Business listing, says Sherry Bonelli, a digital marketing pro and founder of Early Bird Digital Marketing.
Google My Business is a free tool that helps business owners manage how their establishment appears across Google, including Search and Google Maps. The platform gives users access to a number of valuable features—things like reviews and the ability to upload photos and videos to your business profile—that can help you interact with customers and increase your business’s ranking in local search results.
Today, Google handles an estimated 167 billion searches a month and makes up more than 92 percent of the search engine market share worldwide. (By comparison, Bing and Yahoo, which rank second and third, respectively, make up only about 2 percent each of the search engine market share.) That’s why claiming your Google My Business listing and taking advantage of the full suite of features available is so vital to your business’s online visibility. Plus, research shows that consumers are two times more likely to view verified businesses on Google as reputable than businesses that are not verified.
A lot of businesses are probably already in the Google My Business database, explains Bonelli. “But you need to claim it in order to get control,” she says. If you haven’t claimed your listing already, run a quick Google search on your business name and your city. If it’s in the Google directory but not yet claimed, you’ll see a link under the listing that says, “Own this business?” Simply click on the link and follow the prompts to confirm that the business is yours.
One thing to note, adds Bonelli, is that you need a physical address to verify your business listing. (Google will typically send a postcard in the mail as part of the verification process.) However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have a brick-and-mortar shop. If you run a service area business out of your residence, such as landscaping or painting, for instance, you can use your home address as your business address. You just have to choose the option to hide it so that it doesn’t appear on Google Maps.
Once your listing has been verified, you can log in to your Google My Business dashboard and start populating your business profile with pertinent information. Make sure you fill out all the basics, including your street address, phone number, website, business category, and hours of operation, and update as needed.
For example, says Bonelli, “if you know you're going to be closed the day after Thanksgiving, make sure you update that. What I tell businesses is, if you’re closed and people show up, who are they going to blame? They’re not going to blame Google. They’re going to blame you. And so, making sure that your business information is updated is really, really important.”
And then comes the fun part: using the features to tell the story of your business, which when used effectively, will help you stand out and attract new clientele. Statistics have shown that businesses with complete and accurate Google My Business listings get seven times the clicks as those without, are 70 percent more likely to lead to customer visits and are 50 percent more likely to influence purchase decisions.
Here are a few of Bonelli’s pro-tips for best practices for using the features.
This feature gives you an opportunity to really tell people why they should come to you over your competitors, says Bonelli. But be careful to adhere to Google’s guidelines or else your description could get rejected. In other words, don’t misrepresent your business or mention sales or promotions—those are violations. Instead, “try to be matter-of-fact,” Bonelli advises. Mention things like how many years you’ve been in business, the types of services that you offer and the benefits of choosing your products.
"There’s really been no correlation between what’s in your description and that helping you with search engine rankings, so I generally discourage people from stuffing it with keywords to try and rank higher, because it doesn't read very well for people."
Also, she continues, “from the SEO research that industry experts have done, there’s really been no correlation between what’s in your description and that helping you with search engine rankings, so I generally discourage people from stuffing it with keywords to try and rank higher, because it doesn't read very well for people.”
Uploading photos and videos that showcase your business and services has actually been proven to get more people to click on your listing. According to Google, “businesses that add photos to their listings receive 42 percent more requests for driving directions on Google Maps and 35 percent more clicks through to their websites than businesses that don’t.”
Avoid stock photos at all costs, and use images “that genuinely represent your business,” Bonelli says. The more quality images you post, the better. These should include pictures of your space—both the interior and exterior, so people can more easily recognize your building when they visit—your product, your services and your employees at work. Meanwhile, keep videos short and stay away from promotional ads. “They should be videos of maybe of an employee talking about what your products and services are, or maybe a customer giving a testimonial—those types of things,” she says.
According to BrightLocal’s 2018 Local Consumer Review Survey, 86 percent of consumers peruse online reviews of local businesses, typically taking in an average of 10 reviews before they deem an establishment trustworthy. So when it comes to reviews, you want as many good ones as possible. (Read more about how you can build up your positive online review count—and handle negative ones—here.)
“Reviews are really important, not only because it can impact search rankings but they also impact buyers’ decisions. So many people will trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation,” explains Bonelli. Business owners shouldn’t hesitate to ask their customers to write reviews, but she warns, “never pay for reviews or bribe people for reviews.” Not only does it go against Google’s guidelines, but it’s also unethical. She adds to never ask for reviews on Yelp because that violates Yelp's guidelines.
When used in a thoughtful way, the Post feature can add a lot of value to your listing. Just don’t treat it like a social media post or only use it to promote your products or services, says Bonelli. For example, she has clients who are divorce attorneys, so some of the posts she has created for the firm include tips for parents on how to handle children during a divorce, or what to look for in a mediator.
Businesses that add photos to their listings receive 42 percent more requests for driving directions on Google Maps and 35 percent more clicks through to their websites than businesses that don’t.
“You need to think about what your customers want and need. What are they interested in?” Bonelli says. She suggests that businesses try to put up new posts every seven days.
Another useful tip: Use really good imagery to capture people’s attention, and if using text on photos, try to center the text on the image, because sometimes the text can get cut off around the edges when viewing on a mobile device, she says.
This feature allows customers to post questions and answers regarding your business to your profile, which, admittedly, can be a little “scary” for certain business owners, Bonelli says. Unlike most other features, the Q&A function is not connected to your Google My Business dashboard. That means you’d have to search for your business on Google in order to see what questions have been asked and answered.
To head off the possibility of random people posting wrong information about your business, Bonelli instructs her clients to pre-populate the section with frequently asked questions and answers. “Talk to your sales reps, talk to your customer service people, and find out, what questions are people asking about our products or services?” she says. “Answer those questions before other people can.”
Google has made it easier than ever to connect clients to businesses directly from a listing. Not only can people call your business and get directions right from your listing, but depending on the type of business you have, customers can now even book appointments or order food straight from your Google business profile, making it a sort of one-stop shop.
“I mean, if they can make it easy to get traffic and clients directly from a search result, what business wouldn’t want that?” says Bonelli.
Once your profile is complete, one of the most vital things to remember is to regularly monitor your listing. Aside from a general lack of awareness about the tool, one of the biggest mistakes Bonelli has seen people make is that they claim their listing and then “forget about it.”
Either that, or they don’t realize that just about anybody can change information in your business profile by suggesting an edit. That’s right, anyone, including those who may be trying to spread misinformation about your business. So, it’s imperative that you not only update your business profile often, but also check it frequently for any unacceptable changes or errors, Bonelli stresses.
If you happen to see any fraudulent activity or misleading information on another business’s listing, Google has created a form for submitting complaints. Business owners can also seek additional support via the Google My Business Help Community page.
By logging in to your dashboard and looking at insights, you’ll also be able to see how well your profile is working for you. One of Bonelli’s clients received 200 phone calls last month solely as a result of their Google My Business listing, proving just how good for business it is—and for the bottom line—to optimize and keep up with your business profile.
“I can then tell my clients, listen, just because of me optimizing your Google My Business listing, and it showing up where it did in the search rankings, you received that many phone calls,” she says. “And that's awesome.”