Updated May 1, 2018
An important first step in any local SEO strategy is to claim and verify your local business’ Google My Business (GMB) listing. Getting on Google My Business can increase your chances of showing up in Google’s Local Pack, Local Finder, Google Maps, and organic rankings in general. Qualifying local businesses can claim this free listing on Google and include information about their company, like their address, phone number, business hours, and types of payments accepted.
Additionally, over the past several months, Google has added some great features to Google My Business that companies should take advantage of that enhances your Google My Business listing and helps to grab viewers’ attention — and can increase how you rank in local search results.
If you haven’t claimed and verified your Google My Business Listing yet, that’s the first step. To get started, visit https://www.google.com/business.
Many local businesses just claim their GMB listing and forget about it. What most businesses don’t realize is that there are a variety of other features Google gives you that you can use to optimize your Google My Business listing and several reasons why you should frequently check your business listing to ensure that its accuracy stays intact. Want to know more?
Complete all the information Google asks for
There are a variety of questions Google wants you to fill out to complete your Google My Business profile. When done, your listing will have valuable basic data that will make it easier for potential customers to find more information about your company. And if you don’t fill out that information, someone else could. Many business owners don’t realize that anyone can suggest a change (or “edit”) to your business listing — and that includes your competitors.
When a searcher clicks on your GMB listing they see a “Suggest an edit” option:
When someone clicks on that option they can literally edit your Google My Business listing (and make some pretty dramatic changes, too):
And these aren’t just “suggested” edits — these user-generated changes can actually be made live on your listing without you even being notified. This is just one reason why it’s very important that you log in to your Google My Business dashboard regularly to ensure that no one has made any unwanted changes to your listing.
If you log in to Google My Business, you can switch back to the “Classic” dashboard here:
In the classic dashboard, you might see “Google Updates” notifications.
If you see updates, these are changes that Google made to your business listing because either their algorithm found new information about your business (perhaps from another directory/citation site or a change they found on your Google Map) or a Google user submitted an edit that was published. (Yes, when people make “suggested edits,” they are not really “suggestions” -– the changes are often made live without you ever getting a notification or the opportunity to dispute the change!)
When you click on “Google Updates,” you’ll see a box that allows you to “Review Updates.” It’s here where you’re given the opportunity to remove incorrect information that may have been made by a troublesome Google user.
Now, Google supposedly sends out emails to the owner and others managing your Google My Business account when changes are made, but oftentimes those people never receive notifications about changes to their listing. So beware: you may (or may not) be notified by Google if changes are made to your listing. (For example, your business category could be changed from “criminal attorney” to the generic “lawyer” category, which could negatively impact your search rankings.) That’s why it’s extra important for you to log in and check your listing frequently (especially when, quite literally, some businesses have had their address and website URLs changed in their GMB listing by nefarious users.)
If you see a change that is incorrect and you have difficulty changing it (like a bogus review, for instance), create a new post explaining the situation in detail in the Google My Business forum and reach out to one of the Google Top Contributor volunteers for help.
Also, it’s important to realize that Google encourages people who are familiar with your business to answer questions, so that Google can learn more information about your company. To do this they simply click on the “Know this place? Answer quick questions” link.
They’ll then be prompted to answer some questions about your business:
If the person knows the answer to the question, they can answer and then they’ll typically be asked another question. If not, they can decline.
Now, some business owners have cried foul, saying that competitors or others with malicious intent can wreak havoc on their Google My Business listings with these features. However, Google’s philosophy is that this type of user-generated content helps to build a community, more fully completes a business’ profile, and allows Google to experiment with different search strategies.
Just remember, after you get your Google My Business listing verified, continue to check your listing regularly to be on the safe side.
Once you have your GMB listing verified, now is the time to optimize your listing. (This is where you have a greater chance to outdo your competition!)
Google My Business Posts
Google Posts are almost like “mini-ads” or “social media posts” that show up in Google search in your Google My Business listing (in the Knowledge Panel and on Google Maps).
To get started with Posts, log in to your GMB dashboard and you’ll see the Posts option on the left-hand side:
You can have fun with your Google My Business Posts by adding an image, a call-to-action (CTA), and even including a link to another page or website.
Not sure what type of Post you should make? Here are just a few Post ideas:
- If you’re having an event (like a webinar or a seminar about your chiropractic practice) you can set up an event Post with a date and time, then add a link to the registration page.
- Do you have a sale going on during a specific time? Create a “sale” event Post.
- Does your latest blog post rock? Add a short description and link to the post on your blog.
- New product you want to feature? Show a picture of this cool gadget and link to where people can make the purchase.
- Want to spread holiday joy? Give potential customers a holiday message Post.
The possibilities with Posts are endless! Posts show up prominently in your business’ Knowledge Panel, so don’t miss this opportunity to stand out.
TIP: To grab a searcher’s attention, you want to include an image in your Post, but on Google Maps the Post image can get cut off. You might have to test a few Post image sizes to make sure it’s sized appropriately for Maps and the Knowledge Panel on desktop and mobile devices.
Want to have even MORE fun and potentially help your local SEO? Try adding relevant emojis to your Post. Google is beginning to index emoji-relevant search results. (In fact, you can now search Google by “tweeting” an emoji at it!) Additionally, people — especially younger people — are beginning to search (typically on their mobile devices) with emojis! So if a person is searching for “[pizza emoji] + nearby” and you own a local pizza restaurant and use the [pizza emoji] somewhere on your Google My Business listing — like in a Post with a special offer on a pizza order — you might have an SEO edge over the other pizzeria competitors in your city.
Not sure how to add emojis? If you’re using a Windows computer, you can add emojis by pressing the Windows key + the “.” OR “;” key at the same time on your keyboard. The emoji list of characters will appear and you can select the emoji you’d like to include (but don’t get carried away — one emoji is enough):
When people search using Chrome on their smartphones with an “emoji + near me,” you might be surprised by what they find:
You got it! Google knew that I was looking for a great burger joint around my home! (Pretty cool, huh?)
Disclaimer: This strategy is still new and we’re not certain how adding emojis to your GMB listings impact these “emoji search results,” but if you have a related emoji that is pertinent to your business, you should definitely test it! (But don’t overdo the emojis — it gets obnoxious and doesn’t look professional if you go overboard.)
Posts stay live for seven days or “go dark” after the date of the event. (However, the old Posts still appear in your GMB listing — they’re just pushed down by the new Posts.)
If you’re forgetful, Google is great about sending you reminders when it’s time to create a new Post.
And remember, Posts show up prominently in mobile searches, so make your website stand out among search results by keeping your Posts “topped off.”
It’s important to note that at this time, hotels and B&Bs are not allowed to make Posts. That may change sometime in the future, so stay tuned!
Booking button feature
Google’s Booking button feature can really help your business stand out from the crowd. If you have any type of business that relies on customers making appointments and you’re using integrated scheduling software, people can now book an appointment with your business directly from your Google My Business listing. This can make it even easier to get new customers — they don’t have to leave Google to book an appointment with you!
If you have an account with one of Google’s supported scheduling providers, the booking button is automatically added to your Google My Business listing. Take advantage of this integrated Google My Business feature if you use the booking providers, it’ll make it super simple to get new clients or customers.
Did you know that you customers — and potential customers — can send you text messages? This is a great way to connect directly with people interested in what you have to offer, and a great way to engage with people looking at your GMB listing (and you know that Google is always watching engagement.)
To get started with Messaging, log in to your GMB dashboard and click on “Messaging”:
You can then set up the message people will receive after they send you a message and your mobile phone number.
If you don’t want text messages sent to your personal phone number, you can download Google’s Allo app. When you set up your Allo account, use the same phone number connected to your Google My Business account. Now when someone messages you, the message will be sent to the Allo app instead of appearing alongside your personal text messages.
The Allo app is a great way to keep your personal and business text messages separate:
This feature is still in its infancy, though. Right now, messaging is only available to mobile web users and is not available to mobile app or desktop users. People also won’t see the Messaging option in the Knowledge Panel or on Google Maps.
The ONLY way someone can message your business is if they perform a mobile web search on Chrome. (I expect that Google will expand the Messaging feature once they work the kinks out.)
Questions & Answers
Questions & Answers is a great feature for Google local search. It’s very cool! Just like it sounds, Q&A allows people to ask questions about your business and you can answer those questions.
The Google My Business Questions & Answers feature is the perfect opportunity to hear directly from “the people” and you can respond to them. Win-win. However, according to a study done by Get Five Stars, 25 percent of locations on Google Maps have questions (and many of those questions are probably STILL unanswered).
Here are a few things to keep in mind about Questions & Answers:
- On mobile devices, you can see, ask and answer questions on Google Maps on Android devices and when you search for your business on mobile browsers on both iPhone and Android devices. To use Google Maps on your Android device, download the Google Maps app and sign in with the email address you use for your GMB listing.
Ironically, you can’t see Questions and Answers on the Google My Business app.
- No notifications of new questions show up in your GMB dashboard. To find out if you have new questions that need answering, you need to install Google Maps on your phone, log in, and check for questions/notifications. You can also go on a mobile browser, search for your business, and see if you have new questions that need to be answered.
- Google has recently started sending out email notifications letting you know that a new question has been asked, but it’s possible that not everyone associated with your account receives these emails:
This email notification is a BIG improvement over the lack of notification we’ve experienced so far with Q&As.
One thing you should do is be proactive and create a Frequently Asked Questions list to preempt people’s GMB Q&As. Check with your sales reps and your customer service staff to identify the questions people most often ask, then put those Q&A questions on your GMB listing.
TIP: Google has said that upvoting questions can make them more visible. If someone has a particularly important question, go ahead and upvote it.
WARNING: It’s important to note that just like “Suggest an Edit” on GMB, anyone can answer questions asked of your business. Therefore, you want to keep an eye out and make sure you answer questions quickly and ensure that if someone else answers a question, that the answer is accurate. If you find that someone is abusing your GMB listing’s Q&A feature, reach out to the Google My Business support forums.
Still have questions about Google Questions & Answers? You can read Google’s Q&A guidelines.
Google My Business online reviews
Unlike Yelp, which vehemently discourages business owners to ask their customers for reviews, Google encourages business owners to ethically ask their customers or clients for online reviews. (Yelp takes it to the extreme, in my opinion.) Online reviews appear next to your listing in Google Maps and your business’ Knowledge Panel in search results. Online reviews can help your business stand out among a sea of search results.
Additionally, online reviews are known to impact search result rankings, consumer trust, and click-through rates. According to BrightLocal’s 2017 Consumer Review Survey:
- 97% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2017, with 12% looking for a local business online every day
- 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
- Positive reviews make 73% of consumers trust a local business more
- 49% of consumers need at least a four-star rating before they choose to use a business
- Responding to reviews is more important than ever, with 30% naming this as key when judging local businesses
- 68% of consumers left a local business review when asked — with 74% having been asked for their feedback
- 79% of consumers have read a fake review in the last year
If you follow Google’s guidelines for Google My Business reviews, you can ask your customers for reviews. (However, if you violate any of these policies, your reviews could be removed.)
Recently Google made some changes to their review guidelines. They have now changed it so that current and/or former employees can’t leave reviews. For business owners this is great news because it means that disgruntled and ex-employees with a grudge can no longer post bad reviews. Here is the new section that deals with Conflict of Interest:
Additionally, Google made some changes with regard to reputation marketing software. Reputation marketing software can help filter out people who were planning on leaving negative reviews so that they aren’t given the opportunity to leave that bad review online. (This is sometimes referred to as “review gating.”) Google wants to prevent that practice, so on April 12, 2018, Google updated their review policy to include information on this. In general, you don’t want to “Discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.”
Also, whatever you do, do not offer a bribe in exchange for a review. Not only does it go against Google’s terms, it goes against the laws of reviews in general: do you really want to bribe someone to leave you a good review — or do you want to earn it?
When customers leave reviews for you — good or bad — make sure you respond to them. Not only does it show that customer that you appreciate their feedback, it also shows potential customers that you care.
So what happens if you get a negative review? First, don’t freak out. Everybody has a bad day and most people recognize that. Also, if you have a troll that gave you a one-star review and left a nasty comment, most people with common sense recognize that review for what it is. It’s generally not worth stressing over.
TIP: Asking someone to leave a review on Google is very cumbersome. To give your customers a direct link to your Google My Business listing so they can leave a review online for you, read and follow the directions in this post on How to Create a Direct Review Link to Your Google My Business Listing.
To learn more about strategically getting more online reviews, check out this article from Moz.
Photos and videos
The Internet used to be all about text and information, but more and more the visual appeal of the Internet is what grabs people’s attention — and that means photos and videos. Videos are so hot that you don’t even need sound. Studies show that as much as 85% of Facebook videos are viewed with the sound off.
However, many business owners are still under the misperception that to get into videos (or even photography) you have to hire a professional video production company or studio. Not true. Some of the best photos and videos are done on the fly — and with a smartphone!
Adding photos of your business is a great way to humanize your brand and let your customers get a “behind-the-scenes” look at what your company is all about… AND your customers can post photos on your Google My Business listing, too! (Surprise!)
AGENCY TIP: If you’re optimizing Google My Business listings for your clients, you know how difficult it is to get pictures from them so you can add them to their GMB listing. (Your clients are busy and often hard to track down.) There’s a new tool called localPics that solves that problem. This tool makes it super simple to send your clients text message reminders that it’s time to upload pictures. The owner (or whoever the designated “photographer” is) simply takes pictures or goes into their phone’s photo gallery, selects the pictures they want to upload, and the pictures are automatically uploaded to their Google My Business listing! What could be easier?
The ability to add photos to your Google My Business listing has been around for a while, but adding videos is a relatively new feature that Google introduced. Instead of being afraid, get excited! You can now add a 30-second video about your company that will grab people’s attention on the most popular place people go to search and find information: Google!
To get started, log in to your Google My Business dashboard. You will either see the “Add Videos” image on the Overview tab:
Or you can also click on the blue + sign to add a video:
When you click on the “Add Video” button, you can either drag the video you want to upload or select the video from your computer.
It’s super simple!
Google states that it can take up to 24 hours for the video to display, but most videos show up after just a few minutes. The videos should be 30 seconds long, but we’ve uploaded longer videos just fine. (Keep in mind that people have short attention spans, so don’t overdo it with videos that are too long — 30 seconds is just about right!)
Now, for you marketers out there that are salivating thinking of the great marketing and promotional videos you can upload, hold on for just a moment. Make sure your videos are taken at the place of business and are of people that work at your business or directly pertain to your business. (Google My Business is not the place for stock photos and marketing or promotional videos.) Google can remove the videos if the primary subject of the content is not related to the business location.
Owners who upload videos will be shown in the “By Owner” tab. When customers or clients upload videos, those videos will appear in the “Customer” tab. ALL of the videos will be displayed in the “Video” tab.
Google has given us some general Google My Business Video Guidelines to follow:
- Duration: Up to 30 seconds long
- File Size: Up to 100 MB
- Resolution: 720p or higher
As a bonus, once you have two or more videos on your GMB listing, you’ll get a Videos subtab that shows up on mobile devices!
Good news! Google now allows business owners to include a business description on your Google My Business listing. (And it’s about time!) Google recently made this announcement via Twitter and business owners were thrilled.
As usual, Google has provided us with some guidelines to follow: Google Business Description Guidelines. It’s important you adhere to these rules because Google does review your business Description.
You’re allowed 750 characters in your business description, but only 250 characters show up before they get cut off in the Knowledge Panel. So you want to make sure that you carefully create your business description and put the most important information and keywords — including your city — towards the front of the description.
Google really does review your business description to make sure people aren’t being deceptive or are spamming, so be sure to follow these guidelines:
You only have 750 characters (and only 250 of those show up in the company’s Knowledge Panel), so you want to make sure that every character counts.
On a desktop computer, the business description appears in the Knowledge Panel towards the bottom, below your reviews. (It’d be great if Google would bump the business description up towards the top of the Knowledge Panel where it should be… Let’s hope they move it there soon!)
On a mobile device, you can only see a business’ description if you click on the About tab:
If you sell services, like a spa, nail salon, hair salon, copying company, or even a holistic center, and have a “menu” of services, the new Services list in Google My Business is a great new addition. This feature is only available for food and drink, health, beauty, and other services businesses that don’t have a third-party “menu” link.
The Services list allows you to categorize and list out all your services (or food items) and prices so that potential customers can easily see what you have to offer.
This list itemizes out each service (or food item) you offer. To get started, log in to your Google My Business listing and click on Info:
Then scroll down and you will see the “Services” section where you can Add or edit your items:
This is where you can create categories, add items, and you can also add a description of each item (if you want to):
If you own a service business with set prices, I’d highly recommend you include your list of services and make sure you update these services and prices if things change.
Get more out of your GMB listing
Google is always looking at the engagement searchers and you, as the owner, are having with your Google My Business listing. The more interaction, the better your chances of ranking higher in the local three-pack and organic rankings in general. That means you need to keep optimizing your Google My Business listing.
As new features come out, plan on using them to keep your GMB listing fully optimized.
TECHIE TIP: If you’re managing multiple listings or franchises, you can use Google’s API v4.1 to more easily add Google My Business descriptions and Offer Posts. And if you’re really techie, you can even add “customer media endpoints” that allow users to retrieve photos and videos uploaded by customers at their business (normally GMB users aren’t notified of photo and video uploads).
Google has even introduced a new notification that alerts users who have opted in to receive alerts about newly posted media on their Google My Business Locations. Wow! (If you have someone on your team that can code, you’re at an advantage!)
Hopefully these features have given you a new reason to login to your Google My Business account and get busy! If you have any other questions about optimizing your GMB listing, please reach out.