If you run a local business and want to receive local search related traffic from Google, then a Google My Business listing is essential. Having such a listing is one of the most important routes for local customers and prospects to discover your shop and service offering online. It’s the map part of a local Google search where a companies address and review rating is shown on the Google map.
And yet so many business owners seem to neglect this vital marketing opportunity. If you’ve not yet registered for a Google My Business listing or have not fully optimised it, then this guide is for you. We’ll take you step by step through the setup process so you can be found by more potential local customers, increase your sales and ultimately lead a happier, less stressful life!
- Google accounts for over 70% of all internet searches (to date in 2018).
- Google handles 1.2 trillion searches per year globally.
- 52.2% of searches are on mobile phones (that’s people out and about who could well be looking for a local business or service near them).
- 1st, 2nd and 3rd place results receive between 55% to 60% of all the traffic.
- According to this Google research paper, 50% of consumers visit a shop within 1 day of finding them in search on their mobile.
With these figures in mind, it is therefore essential that local businesses claim the prominent top 3 positions that Google My Business often provides in local search results. So how do you go about doing it?
Well the starting point is to fully optimise your Google My Business listing. Once you’ve done that however, don’t stop there as there are many other factors involved.
The last industry survey on local search ranking factors (which gets updated about every 2 years) placed Google My Business as the most important factor followed by links from other websites to your website, citations, on page optimisation, customer reviews and more. You can see the full breakdown in the pie chart below.
In the first part of this guide we’re just going to focus on getting your Google My Business fully optimised. In the second part of the guide we’ll look into how you go about obtaining citations, relevant backlinks and the rest of the ranking factors. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
First let’s start with a quick overview of the initial 12 steps involved in optimising your Google My Business listing.
Claim your business listing:
- Register with Google: Visit www.google.com/business/
- Business Name: Use your exact business name. Do not add keywords to your name (you will be penalised later if you do). For example, Good = My Company Ltd. Bad = My Company Ltd London Cheap Dentist.
- Address: State your full address. It’s vitally important that use the same Business Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) when registering elsewhere on the web. We’ll talk more on this later but for now, just be aware that you want to be registering a settled and consistent Name, Address and Phone number (NAP).
- Business Categories: Select the most accurate business categories that apply to your business. Checkout this extensive list of options and match them to the equivalent categories Google offer. Make sure to get this right as its a vitally important part of the process. Make sure the primary category you choose is the most accurate reflection of your business. The second category, the second most important, and so on.
- Phone Number: Use your correct local area code phone number rather than a call centre number if possible. Kind of goes without saying but some businesses will try and “pretend” they are located in multiple locations, say for example, London and Manchester. Both locations will strangely use a Manchester area code. “Hmm” thinks Google, “something fishy going on here”.
- Services: List the services that you offer. Not all verticals have this option so don’t worry if you do not. It’s availability will depend on the primary business category you previously selected.
- Hours: State your normal opening hours.
- Website: State your main website address. If you don’t have one, you can create a Google My Business website homepage (more on that later).
- Attributes: Depending on the vertical your business operates in, only certain attributes will be made available for you to edit. So, for example, for a restaurant you may enjoy options such as “Offerings” such as “Beer” and “Wine”.
- Description: Write a brief summary about your business, the services you offer and your Unique Selling Points (USP’s). You have 750 characters to play around with so make it succinct and to the point. In short, your elevator pitch. Oh and don’t keyword stuff. The description field is not a ranking factor (at this time) so you’ll just come across as spammy to your customer prospects. And who wants to do that? First impressions count after all. So work hard on this part.
- Images & Videos: Upload good quality images and videos of your team, your office/shop and any other relevant images which will help you stand out for potential customers. Google’s full set of guidelines can be found here. It includes info on image file sizes (between 10 KB and 5 MB), minimum resolution (720 x 720 pixels) format (JPG or PNG) and quality. And if you go here you can read their guidelines on the types of photos they suggest you include.
- Customer Reviews: Encourage reviews from past and current clients. Here’s Google’s guidelines on what you can and can’t do in this regard. Use the Find Place ID tool to provide clients with a direct link to your review section so they know exactly where to go to leave you a review. You can find your Find Place ID here. And remember to always respond to all reviews (both positive and negative).
OK so that is a quick introduction as to the steps involved in claiming your Google My Business listing. So far so good. Now let’s deep dive into each step with screenshots and step by step instructions to make this super easy for you. Let’s get started!
Step 1 – Setting Up Your Listing
First you need to make sure no one has previously registered your business at your address. So go to Google and search for your “Business Name” + your “City”. Does a branded Knowledge Panel appear in the results?
Here’s an example of our companies Knowledge Panel (the rectangular box on the right) when we searched for “Smoking Chili Media” + “Sidcup”.
As a backup fail safe, go to Google Maps and search for any business names you might have had in the past, previous addresses and old phone numbers. Sometimes an old listing like this may be registered. If not, you should see a message like the below.
One final way to check is to go to the Google My Business registration page and try searching for your business name when registering. Just beware that should you have a listing that you were unable to find, then you could accidentally end up with two listings which is never good. If you see a message like the below “Create a business with this name” then it indicates the name has not previously been registered.
So in summary, if you’re not able to bring up a Knowledge Panel or map result when searching for your name then you should go to the Google My Business registration page and sign up. Google will offer you the option of receiving a phone call or postcard in order to verify your business. Obviously the phone call is an instant verification whereas the postcard can take a week or two to arrive. Once verified though, you’re ready to take the next step and can jump down to Step 2 below.
If you did find an existing listing however, you should read the following section on claiming a listing.
Claim Or Verify Your Listing
If you did find your business when searching using the above techniques, then it’s time to claim ownership. Perhaps a well intended previous employee registered it without your know how. Alternatively, it could have been a member of the public or even a competitor! Either way, you want to control the information about you that’s presented to the public.
Without control of your listing, you can’t respond to any negative reviews that may have been posted. In addition any factually inaccurate info about your service offering could be putting potential customers off contacting you. So it’s vital to take control.
So in the scenario where a listing is already active and verified, you’re going to need to request ownership by following the steps outlined by Google here. Don’t worry, it’s not a difficult process.
Depending on the type of business you run, Google will either contact the person who set up your listing and ask them to grant you access. Or they will send a postcard to your registered address with an access code. You then simply enter that code to verify you work at the given address. Turnaround time should be around a week or so.
Registering An Unclaimed Listing
Assuming no one has previously registered your business, here are the simple, initial registration steps you will be asked to complete in order to set up your listing.
1. Where are you located?
This is where you add your Address. More on this section later in this guide.
2. What kind of business do you run?
This is where you choose the main category that best describes your business. Again there’s a full section further down this guide to help you get this right.
3. Phone & Website. Again more info on this later in this guide.
4. Finish and Verify this business.
So the initial steps are fairly straight forward. Go ahead and register these to get you started. Everything is editable later on anyway. Once done, now it’s time to…
Step 2 – Optimise Your Listing
To help give yourself the best chance of ranking for local searches, its really important to play ball with Google by filling out as much info as possible. The more they know about you, your goods and services, the more accurately they can rank you for specific searches.
A. Business Name: As mentioned in the overview section, you should use your registered business name. The one that your customers know, that’s on your signage, business cards, registered with Companies House, etc.
Do not try and shoehorn keywords and locations into your name that are not part of your official name. This can create problems with your NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) that you will be registering on citation sites like Yell.com, Apple Maps, etc, later on. Google wants to see consistency in the use of your NAP across the web. So again, Good = My Company Ltd. Bad = My Company Ltd London Cheap Dentist.
Now some companies, like the below, go for it anyway and good luck to them. Google turns a blind eye in many ways because they just skip over the keyword stuffing to focus on the real ranking signals. So this kind of stuffing won’t be doing them any good in ranking terms. It might even hurt them with potential customers when they see the result. So it’s really up to you.
B. Address: This is where you should enter your physical office or shop address if members of the public are allowed to visit it. Some address abbreviations are permitted, for example, Road can be Rd, Suite can be Ste, and so on.
If you do not want members of the public to visit you, perhaps because you offer a call out service, then tick the “I deliver goods and services to my customers” and “Hide my address (it’s not a store)” options as shown below.
NB: P.O. Box and Virtual Addresses are not permitted.
On the next page you need to specify which areas you serve by completing one of the three options as shown below.
Top Tip: If you are likely to move within the next 2 months then hold off registering with your current address. By the time you’ve completed the setup, created all your citation sources and started to rank, you’ll most likely be about to change address. You’ll then need to update Google My Business plus all your citation sources. If you make mistakes, forget to update any and have conflicting data, your rankings are going to suffer. So sometimes its better to hold off if a move is very imminent.
C. Business Categories: OK this is a key area so be sure to focus and get this right. The choice of your category is a local ranking factor so take your time to work through this extensive list of options to find the relevant categories for your business. And remember that your primary category can be seen by would be clients and customers so you want to be as accurate for them as possible.
You can use the additional categories to beef up your listing. Make your choices wisely and make sure they accurately reflect your service offering.
If you want to peak under the hood to see the categories your main competitors have registered for, go to Google and type in “Their Business Name” + “City”. You should then see their Knowledge Panel on the right hand side of results. Click on the maps element in the top right of the Knowledge Panel.
Take note of your competitors primary category which you’ll find below their name on their listing. Now right click your mouse when hovering over the side panel that pops out over the map and select “View page source” (it won’t work if you right click over the map itself). Hit Ctrl + F buttons and type in the primary category in the search box. Next to it, in the code, you should be able to see all the additional categories they have registered for.
Here’s an example from one of our competitors:
[“Internet Marketing Service”,”Advertising”,”Business Service”,”E Commerce”,”Marketing”,”Marketing Agency”,”Marketing Consultant”,”Services Companies”]
D. Phone Number: Register your main local area phone number. If you have a free phone number you can add this as a secondary number. Alternatively, if you want to use call tracking you can enter your call tracking number as your primary phone number and then your main local area number as your secondary number.
At the present time we’ve found that doing it this way around does not cause NAP consistency problems. Google is able to discern the difference and maintain NAP consistency with other citation sources like Yelp, Apple Maps, etc.
E. Hours: Add your standard hours of business and then fill in any holiday dates when you know you will be closed for business. For example, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Day, etc. This is especially important for shops and services with a heavy foot fall. You don’t want customers looking up your details, coming to your shop or office and finding it closed. That’s never a good experience.
If you run a business where people have to make appointments in advance then leave this section alone.
F. Website: Enter your main website homepage address if you have less than 3 physical locations. Remember to include the https:// or http:// part. And add tracking tags so you can see how much Google My Business traffic you generate in your Google Analytics. Add the following to the end of your domain “/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=local&utm_campaign=gmb_listing“. So for example, our website address is registered as https://www.smokingchilimedia.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=local&utm_campaign=gmb_listing
If you have 4 or more physical locations then its worth creating separate location specific landing pages for each. So for example, if you are a pizza chain with restaurants in Bromley, Beckenham, Orpington and Sevenoaks, then individual location based landing pages would be the way to go. That way your customers quickly get to the most relevant content for them.
Also make use of the appointment URL if you take appointments. We link ours to our contact page but you can also link to an online appointment calendar if you have one.
If you don’t have a website then leave the field blank for now. When it comes to editing your listing later, Google My Business provides you with an option to set up a simple one page template within their platform. You can style it according to your taste. You’ll see this option in your left hand menu of your Google My Business admin section as shown below.
G. Services: This recently added feature is only available for US based clients and for certain types of service businesses at this time. It’s also only available to users looking for businesses via the Google Maps app. As with all new features, if it works well, no doubt it will be rolled out universally in due course.
If you are in Marketing, Insurance, Law, Dentistry, Construction and other related service industries, you may see this option. It allows you to list and describe the services you offer as well as the associated cost. This offers real first mover advantage for those taking the time to list their services so it’s highly recommended.
H. Attributes: As stated at the start of this guide, only certain attributes will be made available for you to edit depending on the primary category you have chosen. For example, as an Internet Marketing Service, the only attribute available to us at this time is “Women led”. There’s no ability to add or select anything else. For restaurants you may see options such as “Offerings”, “Outdoor Seating”, “Wi Fi”. It all depends on your vertical.
As such, click on the attributes button in your listing and, if you see an option that accurately reflects what you offer, then by all means select it.
I. Description: Use this area to describe your business. Think of it as your elevator pitch. You want to highlight your unique selling points (USP’s) in less than 750 characters.
- What makes you special?
- What makes you different to your competitors?
- What benefits are your prospective customers/clients going to enjoy from shopping/working with you?
- What is it about your mission and history that set you apart?
Key to remember, your description DOES NOT influence your ranking in any way! So don’t use it to keyword stuff as it’s not going to have any bearings on where you appear on Google Maps results.
And here are more things not to do in line with Google’s guidelines.
- Keyword stuff
- Include links
- Include emoji’s
- Use all caps. IT JUST MAKES YOU LOOK LIKE YOU ARE SHOUTING – ARGHHHH!!
- Talk gibberish, misspell or use hateful or offensive language
- Promote special deals or offers
J. Images & Videos: Images and videos are key to grabbing user attention. Whilst they are not a ranking factor, they will help you get people clicking on your listing and reading about you. They help sell a vision of your business, people and culture and build confidence in you, in your prospects mind. So they are a very important part of your listing.
You can add Photos, Videos and even a 360 degree tour of your premises.
- Logo – Upload your logo
- Interior – Photo’s of your office or shop. This gives people a sense of what they can expect to see upon arrival
- Exterior – Outside shots of your office or shop.
- At Work – Photo’s of your team hard at work, team photos, etc.
One thing to be aware of us that your customers can add both photos and videos. You will be notified when they do so it’s worth keeping an eye on. You certainly don’t want a face to camera offensive review staying up for months or years, especially if not true! Thankfully you can report offensive photos and videos. Use your discretion.
Here are some great examples to get your creative juices flowing.
Videos are a great way to showcase your business, your team, your location and your work. As I’ve written about previously, the human brain is said to process video 60,000 times faster than text. It puts less strain on your brain whilst increasing your emotional engagement with the content. Therefore making it such a key to most digital marketing campaigns.
Video Content = Emotional Connection + Reduced Brain Strain + Faster Processing Speed
As such you could consider presenting a version of your elevator pitch description, shots from around your business, customer testimonials, etc. As with the description you should think about your USP and how you can make yourself stand out from the competition.
At the time of writing Google accepts videos of up to 100MB and 1.5 minutes long. They mainly suggest 30 second videos although many of our clients go over a minute without any reaction from Google. Film at a resolution of 720p or above.
360 Degree Virtual Tour
This option is ideal for leisure related businesses like hotels, guest houses, B&B’s, restaurants, pubs/bars, health spa’s, gyms, theatre’s, etc. It gives your customers a real sense of the layout, look, feel and ambiance. So it can be a great way to increase your conversion rate. It’s also a low cost marketing method as it can be shot on your iphone or other mobile devices as explained in this video.
Here are a couple of great examples to whet your appetite!
K. Opening Date: When did you start your business? Just the year will do.
L. Advanced Information Settings: Now that you’ve come this far, you might as well also complete the Advanced Info section if it applies to you. All of this section is optional.
Here you can add:
- A store code ID for each of your physical locations if you have more than one location. You can read Google’s best practice guidelines on this here.
- Add labels to help you filter and organise your listings. This is helpful if you have multiple locations and use Adwords to specifically promote each. Again Google explains this in more depth here.
- Add your Adwords location extension phone numbers. As with labels, if you’re running Adwords ads for multiple locations, then this helps keep everything sync’d and ordered. Again Google’s full guide is available here
Additional Features & Managing Your Account
Now that your listing is set up, it’s time to go the extra mile and really differentiate yourself from your competitors. A lot of businesses will set and forget their Google My Business account. By continuing to manage and optimise yours, you’re going to make it feel fresh and alive with new content. As a result you’re far more likely to get engagement from new customer prospects and improve your ranking results.
1. Customer Reviews: This is a ranking and conversion factor so you should treat it with care. Reviews help you catch the eye of would be customers and differentiate you from your competitors. You should reach out to past and present customers and ask them for reviews about your service.
Why do reviews matter?
- Gold star reviews help catch the eye of would be customers. Just look at the above screenshot by way of example!
- People are social animals. We feel safer doing business with companies who have a positive reputation. As such, good reviews can improve your enquiry and conversion rate.
- Your reviews appear in your Knowledge Panel along with important snippets. They can include third party sites like Facebook and Yelp. This collective ‘social proof’ acts to engenders confidence in would be customers.
Google Encourages You To Seek Reviews
Google are happy for you to seek reviews from present and past customers. However they do provide guidelines, which you can read in full here, as to what is permitted. Key points include:
- Fake content – You should not post fake reviews in the hope of manipulating your ranking. They need to be genuine and from real customers. There are third party sites out there that you can pay for fake reviews and Google can spot them a mile off. So don’t do it or you could be penalised.
- Stay on topic – People should not use the review space to talk about something that doesn’t directly relate to the business. If they do then you can report them to Google to check out.
- Impersonation – Do not post negative reviews on your competitors. Also if a disgruntled ex-employee posts a negative review about you under and alias, then you have grounds to appeal to Google to have it removed.
So how can you go about asking for reviews?
- Send an email to past and present customers asking if they will leave you a review. Automate the process through the mailing software you use, i.e. Aweber, Mailchimp, etc. Create a ready to go template that automatically sends X number of days after a purchase is completed.
- Email Signature – Include a link to your reviews in your email signature.
- Website – Include your review link on your website. Especially useful if you have a personal login section where customers can track present and past orders.
- Receipts – Include the link and request on receipts.
- Events – If you regularly meet clients at Chamber of Commerce style events and networking nights, then there’s by all means make a personal request and follow up with an email and link to the review section. Most long term clients will be more than happy to oblige.
- Business Cards – Go the extra mile and include your review link on your next batch of business cards.
- Third Party Review Software Services – You can outsource the whole process to a third party service to follow up with all customers. Whilst not really necessary for most SME’s, these services can be a big help for corporations working at mass scale.
- Showcase Existing Reviews – People are more and more accustomed to leaving reviews on the products and services they like nowadays. So include reviews in your promotional material and some customers will take it upon themselves to leave you a review. You can build marketing materials usingtools like this to easily share with them.
What Should You Do Once You Get Reviews?
- Reply to all reviews – Negative reviews need a full response in particular. You could potentially turn around a negative impression a customer had into a positive and ensure they continue to be a customer into the future. In addition, by being seen by others to be showing contrition, and explaining perhaps a unique situation that occurred, you are demonstrating that you care about your customers. Responding to positive reviews likewise with a thank you and further engagement shows just how important they are to you. And everyone likes to feel important once in a while, right? If in doubt, here’s Google’s very own advice on the matter.
- Don’t Over Stress – No one is perfect so don’t overly stress if every review is not 5 stars. If you’re getting 3’s and 4’s then that’s still good. And if you do get negative reviews, and the feedback is genuine, then use them positively by working on improving your systems and processes. After all, if a business was previously seen to be getting lots of 2 and 3 star reviews, and more recently all the reviews are 4 and 5 star, its a good indication that management has listened. That can attract old customers back. Just think of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares as a practical example where some restaurants are able to turn themselves around.
- Do Report Spam, Fake & Offensive Reviews – If someone is being genuinely malicious and slandering your business then you have every right to report them. You can read up on Google’s guidelines for this by clicking here. Just make sure to monitor your reviews weekly and report such instances in a timely manner as you don’t want such reviews sitting out there for months on end. You could lose potential custom as a result and that’s the opposite outcome you want from setting up your GMB listing.
- Request Reviews Regularly – Make your review request process part of your every day interactions with clients. Don’t do it sporadically when you suddenly remember. It’s important to build it into your businesses everyday workflows so it becomes second nature.
2. Questions & Answers: This feature acts like a public Q&A. You can answer questions left by members of the public about your service, people and location. In fact you can even use it as your own FAQ by posting your own question for you to answer yourself. Google are OK with this so long as you remain on topic (and obviously don’t keyword stuff as its not a ranking factor). So long as you think your questions will help your potential customers and clients, then no problem.
For example, a restaurant may ask itself “Do you cater for people with Nut allergies?”. As a regular FAQ, this is a great one for a restaurant to clearly display an answer for. The same with questions about wheelchair access, special events and other dietary needs. So long as its useful and relevant then go for it.
Just don’t overdo it. A good 5 to 10 questions is more than enough. And make sure to respond quickly to any genuine customer questions. Some are going to be spammy, offensive and/or irrelevant. When they are clearly so, you can report them to Google.
3. Posts: If you have an offer or event you want to publicise then the posts section is for you. It’s a great way to use eye catching photos and videos to keep people up to date with the latest in store, time limited offers you have. Also if you’re holding a local event then use this section to let local searchers know about it. And if you have a new product you want to shout about, again, this is the spot.
I like to use it to keep people in the loop as to our latest lead magnet offers and long form content. Remember though, that these posts have a very time limited public appearance of 7 days before they disappear. So it’s worth getting in the habit of posting at least once a week. And you can have up to 10 on display at any one time. So you can post daily if you so wish without erasing the previous posts (well, until they naturally expire after 7 days).
The added bonus is that your latest post automatically appears in your knowledge panel. So it adds even greater depth and aesthetic appeal to your listing. Check out where it inserts into your Knowledge Panel in the below example.
4 Types of Posts:
- What’s New: As noted above, this is where you can post your latest business updates, blog posts, testimonials and so on.
- Events: If you’re planning an event then this is the perfect slot to place it. You can include start and end times, a description and any other pertinent details.
- Offers: Any in store sales promotions, discount codes and coupons you’re currently running can be showcased here. Again you’ll need to add an start and end date.
- Products: If you have a new product or service you want to promote, here’s the place to do it.
Text: You are allowed a maximum of 300 words although, be aware, only the first 75 or so characters are displayed in a desktop knowledge panel and it’s even less on a mobile. So use your copywriting skills to maximum effect with this one.
Images and Videos: You need to include an image or video with every post. An image editor will offer you the chance to crop your image if you are outside of the recommended dimensions of 1,076px by 815px.
Call-to-action: Pick the Call-to-Action which best matches your type of content. These appear with your post enticing the user to do one of the following.
4. Insights: Now that your Google My Business listing is live and fully optimised, it’s time to start monitoring your insights reports. We recommend doing this on a regular basis. Either weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Keep track of when you post updates in the posts section, add new photos and videos and answer customer questions. Also correlate it to your link building strategy to see if offsite work is paying off in terms of increased exposure.
Here’s an example of our insight reports stating “Your photos receive 607% more views than similar businesses.” This is a result of regularly adding new photos and keeping things fresh and up to date on our listing.
Setting up and optimising your Google My Business listing is a bit of a process. But once complete, it will more than pay for itself in the long run. Spend the time getting your listing as good as it can be to begin with. Then build a weekly 15 minute update into your schedule.
By following your insight reports, you’ll soon see where you are gaining traction. Keep adding fresh new relevant photos and videos to your photos section. This will help ensure your listing remains inviting and appealing.
Make sure to use posts to keep people in the loop as to what’s going on in the business. Local events are a great way to build local community rapport. So do promote them if you are involved.
And in general, don’t neglect your listing. Potential customers/clients will soon be able to tell. Stay on top of reviews and Q&A’s, encourage them and be seen to publicly engage with your customers.
Good luck and please feel free to ask any questions on any aspect of the above. We are more than happy to help.
OK so that is the Google My Business registration part taken care of. Next up it’s time to register with citation sources and building relationships with other websites in your geographic region as well as websites in your business vertical.
Why? Because without citations and backlinks from other websites, your beautifully optimised Google My Business listing is going to languish out of site for many local search terms. You need to be in those top 3 positions (otherwise known as Local Pack) in the Google Map search results in the Google organic search if you’re going to attract a decent volume of visitors and business enquiries.
So in the next part of our guide we’re going to walk you through how to go about doing this so you can dominate local search results in your niche and region.