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When Google My Business is more important than your website

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This is not the first time we're talking about Google My Business (GMB) on this blog. For example, you may recall a shout-out in our article on best SEO tips for small business owners or how I put "having GMB" as a step to getting a Knowledge Graph.

But we haven't yet had an opportunity to stress just how vital having a listing on Google My Business really is.

Definition: Google My Business is a free tool for business owners to create business listings in a format that Google will then display for a relevant search query. There's a myriad of features in GMB, but most businesses use it only to communicate to their clients the contact details, work hours, for adding photos/videos showing the business and, of course, for receiving and responding to reviews.

Here's my two cents: as of right now, for a lot of businesses, Google My Business listing is more important than a website.

Let's unpack that.

The remarkable benefits of creating your own GMB listing

Benefit #1: Your clients find your info easier

Question #1: Who googles a company to find out its address/hours, user reviews, etc?

Answer: Pretty much everybody.

Question #2: And who would scroll past the GMB listing to your homepage instead?

Answer: Pretty much nobody.

I'm also 100% certain that there's a not-irrelevant section of your client-base who lose interest in you if they don't see a convenient GMB listing with the information they need.

Consider this: I google a restaurant and get basically all the information I could ever need.

And that's not even the entire listing, since there's also the Event tab, and reviews you can read straight on the SERP. Compared to that, going on one website to get reviews, then going back and visiting the restaurant's website itself to get directions, business hours, etc. seems like a herculean task.

As far as I'm concerned, the number one benefit of having a GMB listing is it functioning as your website away from your website.

Through Google My Business, there's no need to spend money and time building and designing a website just to have the overall information about what you do, products you sell, your business hours, menu, etc. — all of that you can set up in literally 30 minutes.

And that convenience is complemented by the fact that Google heavily favors GMB listings in the local search over organic results.

You want for your clients to easily find you? For people to have an immediate and straightforward way to contact you, to leave a review or a complaint?

Then it's a no-brainer, Google My Business is a must-have. Also, I've mentioned already that GMB listing is free, right?

Benefit #2: It's a free way to boost your visibility

Now let's talk about local SEO in particular. I don't need to convince anybody that in the 21st century every search is local. That goes unsaid.

More often than not, when somebody is searching for a non-software service or product, Google, being Google, goes ahead and adds the invisible "near me" and "[X city]" words automatically.

And optimizing for local search, well, we've written a whole article about that, and on the list of:

a. Easy
b. Fast
c. Cheap

It's actually d) None of these things.

Yet there is a better way, provided to us by Google's insatiable desire to make things more convenient.

Whenever you do a local search, Google will (helpfully) give you a Local Pack, which, believe you me, will be so prominent and in-your-face, that only the barest minimum of people would even scroll further down.

E.g. what happens when I search for "car repair":

One word: subtle.

The entire screen is occupied by the local pack comprised of the GMB listings, complete with the enticing "More places" button.

It should be said, that, according to Google, three main factors come into play when ranking websites in the Local Pack: Relevance, Distance, Prominence.

And one of the cornerstones of Prominence, is, and this is a quote:
"Your position in web results [...], so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization."

That means that while website optimization is still important, according to Google itself, it's only one part of the three most important factors they consider when ranking us.

And this is what it's all about: a business can't just be number 5 or number 6 while nowhere in the Local Pack and still hope to get that precious click.

Today, in the world of local SEO, GMB is vital, simply because very few people will continue down the SERP to find your website.

And, yes, it's a bit unfair that organic results are so neglected.

However, Google Local Pack changed the game, and if we aren't participating, then we're losing, aren't we.

Benefit #3: It helps build a relationship with your clients

As any mobile game developer will tell you, the key to a successful business is not to attract a client that will buy something worth $100 dollars once, but to build a relationship with a client that will feel good about spending $10,000 over five years.

GMB is one of the key ingredients to doing that today.

Via features like Messaging , Google Posts, and, probably more than any other, Google reviews, building a lasting relationship with a client base becomes much easier than it probably ever was.

Consider this: today, if a customer loves your business, they can leave a Google review right on your listing, and you can respond to it right there, both of you connected through a shared Google framework.

However terrifying the omnipresence of Google might be, it's leaps and bounds beyond using Yelp for the same activities in terms of convenience.

With reviews and posts, you get to talk directly to your customers, tell them news about your service, create special offers, etc. — it's a way to turn your one-time client into a recurring one.

Benefit #4: It can help your SEO

Another reason every business, no matter how local or global, needs a GMB listing, is that it's one of the few direct ways to feed Google information. This leads to Google more readily creating a knowledge panel for your business, and enriching your brand SERPs, which is always good news for brands.

You might not focus on local clients, and that's fine, but every single business doing SEO needs a way to get the data on their business into the machine.

The more information about your company Google receives, the more likely it is to consider you an "entity" with a certain number of "properties", that the search engine needs to display.

By using Google My Business, you are not just providing information for Google to crawl and index, as with a normal webpage, but placing the information directly where Google can easily pull it and provide it for your customers.

Now let me help you along the way of setting this whole thing up.

How to manage Google My Business in 4 steps

For something as robust as GMB, it is quite straightforward. Anybody can claim any business for any address, creating a listing out of thin air.

It boils down to just four significant steps:

  1. Create a listing for your company.
  2. Verify your business listing.
  3. Use all of the available features to boost your online presence
  4. Download and use the GMB app to maintain the listing

Let's explore them one by one.

Create a listing for your company in Google My Business

This one's easy enough. Go to Google's "create" page for the GMB, and follow the instructions.

You'll be asked to:

  1. Type in the name of your company — remember, Google has a huge database, so your company may already be in the system — this is where you get to claim it. Another way to claim your business would be to go to Google Maps and look up the company name: if you're in there, then you can go ahead and claim it.

Let's get this straight. According to Google's Guidelines "Including unnecessary information in your business name is not permitted, and could result in your listing being suspended."

That's not an idle threat, as keywords in your business name are incredibly influential for the local rankings.

This has been confirmed, for example, in a study conducted by our colleagues at Moz, which found that business titles are some of the most important local ranking signals, and reaffirmed by one of the top local SEO experts in the world, Joy Hawkins, who found that modifying keywords in the business's title impacts rankings in a huge way within only a week.

All of that means that if you decide to put the keywords you're targeting into your business name, that will probably help you in the short-term, but you will also likely be penalised by Google for violating its anti-spam policies.

  1. Specify the address — super important if you want an accurate representation on Google Maps. Which I'll assume we all do. If your business is all about delivery, you can also specify the service areas.

If you're managing more than one spot of your business at a time: no worries!

Simply create and manage a "location group".

Go to your GMB page, and see this as your homepage before you actually move to any particular dashboard:

From here on, you can click Create location group button, and manage all of your locations simultaneously.

  1. Note which business category you're working in — this goes a long way in helping Google make your company show up for the relevant search query.

Let's pause here for a while, because this can get a bit tricky. This explanation will also be pretty long, by the way, so maybe come back here later on.

There are, as of now, literally thousands of business categories for you to choose from. Considering that you can also combine those categories, this means that almost whatever you do, there's a category for your services.

However, as this Welcome to Google My Business page will readily inform you, if what you do is "online-only", as opposed to having a storefront or a service area, then GMB is just not for you.

Where does that leave people running software companies, for example? Surely our offices cannot be said to have a "storefront", nor are we confined by a service area.

Well, despite what a "Welcome" page would have us believe, there is a "Software Company" category readily available.

And in the official Guidelines section, the only "Ineligible businesses" are, and this is a quote:

  • Rental or for-sale properties such as vacation homes, model homes, or vacant apartments. Sales or leasing offices, however, are eligible for verification.
  • An ongoing service, class, or meeting at a location that you don't own or have the authority to represent.
  • Lead generation agents or companies.

At the same time, the page reiterates that the only companies allowed on GMB are the ones that "either have a physical location that customers can visit, or that travel to visit customers where they are." — which would seemingly exclude a LOT of online companies.

What's the solution to this? Well, when I personally Google "Software company" — I get this nice Local Pack:

All of these companies sell their services and software exclusively online. They are neither suspended nor penalized for being on GMB, and they get all of the benefits of providing data about their business directly to Google.

While I would avoid the three types of businesses that are ineligible for GMB mentioned in the Guidelines explicitly, it's tough to pin down what exactly "can't" be in a listing.

  1. Add your phone number and/or website URL — one interesting button you may see there is "Get a free website based on your info." Google has a feature where they will create a website for your business for free to go along with the listing.

For any business listing of yours you can create an entirely new website from scratch that will be housed at ".business.site".

You don't need to verify your business to build the website that's going to represent you and your services, nor do you need to have any coding knowledge at all.

The website builder is easy, fast, and looks like this:

While it's not as customizable and robust as building a website from scratch, it's still pretty good for small business owners, as well as companies handling a smaller catalogue of products/services.

You can add your logo, write and edit the necessary information about your business, set up the necessary buttons for your customers to place their orders and contact you. Then upload some photos to the Gallery section for your potential clients to browse your catalogue.

While it's free to create a website with the "business.site" domain through My Business dashboard, you can also go ahead and buy a custom domain through GMB as well.

  1. Choose if you want to get updates from GMB by email — you should really turn this on, since Google updates include user reports, your information being changed for any of your locations, etc. You'll see any updates in your listing dashboard, but it's something you want to monitor closely.
  2. Fill out your business description.

There was a bit of confusion recently related to business descriptions and how they work with local rankings and visibility. What happened was Google changed up their Guidelines to include a line: "Think about the words customers would type to find your business, and make sure that your listing actually includes those keywords within it."

Now, if that were the case, it would lead to tremendous changes in local SEO, since we would start optimizing descriptions, possibly leading to rampant spamming. Some eagle-eyed SEO's noticed this and reacted immediately:

To sum up: if you happen to read that putting more keywords into your business description will somehow impact your rankings, — it's an understandable mistake, even Google people get confused about this — but that's not the case.

After that's done, you'll be asked to...

Verify your listing

(a.k.a. the postcard adventure)

It's not, strictly speaking, necessary to verify your business. But it is helpful, and even fun in a way. If you consider getting a postcard fun. I sure do.

Types of business verification available on Google My Business

Once you're done creating a listing for your business, GMB will automatically let you verify your business via one of the following 5 options:

  1. By mail (postcard way)
  2. By phone
  3. By email
  4. Instant verification
  5. Bulk verification
N.B.: Only the first type of verification, by mail (postcard) is available to all businesses. All the rest are only available for some, and you will see which ones are available for you in your dashboard when you choose to verify.

You might be thinking: what do I do if I skipped the verification process during business registration? Don't worry, the "Verification needed" message on your GMB dashboard is not exactly easy to miss:

This is the most widely available, and therefore popular, way to verify your business on GMB.

Step 1. Go to your GMB dashboard

Step 2. Click on the hard-to-miss "Verify" button

Step 3. Fill out the address for mail to find you

Step 4. After up to 14 days, you get your mail with a postcard containing the code you type into your GMB, and you've just successfully verified your business!

Step 1. Choose the "Verify by phone" option when going through the verifying process. And, yes, if you aren't seeing it, then your particular business category is not eligible for the call verification.

Step 2. Put in your exact number in the international format, press the "Verify by phone" button, and wait for a text from GMB.

Step 3. Type in the code you got from the text — and you're verified!

Step 1. Choose the "Verify by email" option when going through the verifying process. And, yes, if you aren't seeing it, then your particular business category is not eligible for the call verification.

Step 2. Put in your email address exactly, and press the "Verify by email" button, then wait for the email from your GMB.

Step 3. In your inbox, open the email and click on the verification button to finish the verification process.

Instant verification is as easy as it gets — all it takes is a click. However, in order to get access to this, you'll need to have verified your website in GSC.

Step 1. Verify your website in Google Search Console. There are several methods for this, but the easiest one is probably HTML file upload.

Step 2. Once your website's been verified, all you need to do is log into your Google My Business with the same account.

To bulk verify your locations, a few conditions have to be met:

  • You have more than ten locations for your one business
  • You aren't servicing a specific area (delivery etc.)
  • You are one business with multiple locations, and not multiple businesses with a single common account running them
  • You aren't running an agency managing locations for other businesses

If these conditions have been met, then you can verify a bunch of your locations in bulk.

Step 1. After clicking on the "Get verified" button, you'll see a "Chain" option.

Step 2. You'll need to fill out a substantial request form, and then wait for up to a week for Google to fully process what you've submitted.

Step 3. Stay active on GMB, since Google, by admission, is prone to de-verifying any business listing they consider to be inactive.

Using the features of Google My Business

Google My Business presents us with a lot of features to boost our online presence. And I do mean a lot. In this section, we'll talk about:

  1. Google reviews
  2. Messaging feature for your clients
  3. Google Posts (Events, Offers, Announcements)
  4. Photos & videos in your listing
  5. Services editor & Product editor
  6. Questions and Answers
  7. Business analytics feature
  8. Competition research
  9. Business-specific features
  10. Pointy from Google
  11. Gift card/donation campaigns

This might take a while.

Google reviews

Managing Google reviews can be annoying and time-consuming, but I'm certain that a business handling and cultivating their Google reviews cred will always stand out.

Have you guys noticed that Yelp kind of fell off the radar? I sure did — today, Google seems to have the local review game on lock.

And we're all familiar with how Google reviews work: for any listing there is, you can go ahead and leave a review describing your experiences there and leaving a 1 to 5 star rating. And these stars are really, really important. Google reviews directly impact your rankings, and catching too many bad ones in a row might send you tumbling down that Local Pack.

But you shouldn't ever be afraid of a review, since:

a) not having any Google reviews looks a little fishy in the 21st century, even for a small business,

b) a person can, and very often will, amend their review after a pleasant interaction with a business, if you reach out, talk to them, make a special offer, or, hell, just apologize if they found something horrendously wrong.

c) responding to reviews is actually a pretty good signal to the search engines — since they continually claim that they want to promote that exact behavior:
"Interact with customers by responding to reviews that they leave about your business. Responding to reviews shows that you value your customers and the feedback that they leave about your business."

You don't have to chase that 5/5 star rating (although it's great to have it), and you don't have to panic if your overall rating falls a bit.

Instead, use Google reviews as a platform to make an impression on:

  1. Your customers with how you handle the feedback
  2. The search engines that you are an engaged and integral part of your community

Messaging through Google My Business

A huge boost to any company working with GMB is the Messaging feature.

Okay, personally, I don't mind simply making a call to the business if I need to find out something.

Lately, though, it really feels like I'm in the minority, as phone anxiety is picking up more and more steam, to the point where there's a comprehensive Healthline article about it. Seriously, look it up, it's pretty heavy.

I'm not saying this is why Google added the messaging feature to the GMB listings, but I'm assuming it helps.

All you need to do is turn on the Messaging through your GMB app (yes, there's a GMB app), and voila! Your potential customers see this baby:

Be sure to follow Google's guidelines, though.

Google Posts

Instead of waiting for the customers to write to you, you can write to them with Google Posts.

Is it just me or should "complimentary delivery" be a given from pizza places in the first place?

This is a multi-faceted, exceptionally useful, and simple feature. You create a post, containing some information about an event happening at your place of business, or a special offer that you have right now, or just an announcement about your operations.

When creating a Google Post, you can add some pictures, add some text (character limits vary depending on the type of posts, but generally: just put the most important and concrete stuff first).

Posts don't influence your rankings and don't help you end up in Local Packs, but they are displayed in Local Packs, and if your post with a unique special offer stands out among your competitors, it's pretty easy to guess which business is going to attract a client most successfully.

Photos and videos

A no-brainer, a must-have, and all the other hyphenated nouns.

If you're running a business servicing any kind of clients in the real world, you absolutely have to upload some photos of your building/office space — this goes a long way to help people locate you and even make a judgement of whether they want to visit.

When adding the photos, make sure that they are high quality, cropped, and remember to test how they show up, since GMB has an unfortunate tendency to display different image sizes depending on whether you're using a desktop or a mobile browser.

Videos in GMB are perfect to give a potential customer the tour of the place and showcase the unique features of your business.

Overall, follow these guidelines for photo and video content uploaded to the GMB.

Services & Product editor

In order to list that you're providing certain specific services (for restaurants, for example, that you have delivery and/or takeout available) — you can go to the Info section on your GMB dashboard and add what you want people to see when they google your business.

That is what's called a Service editor, which is used in order to fully inform your potential customers as to the kind of service you're willing to offer.

In addition to that, Google has recently added a Products page on a GMB listing/Knowledge panel. It's similar to services in nature, but it's much grander in scope.

It'll be located right there in your GMB dashboard, although, for example, if you're running an eatery, instead of Products the section of the dashboard will be called Menu, but it's the same logic.

You can add photos, descriptions, prices, etc. Then, a potential customer will see a carousel showcasing what you're offering, along with prices and product names right there on the SERP:

There is an argument to be made that Google is turning more and more into an e-commerce website, and we need to keep up with the times.

To configure your own product carousel, go over to Google's guidelines for that.

Questions and answers

A little similar to Google reviews, Q&A is a bit freer and there are no ratings involved. Anybody online can ask a question about your business, and anybody else can answer that question, although it's preferable that you do it yourself.

Once any questions get up to three upvotes, they show up on your GMB listing.

Pro tip: Simply write your questions and answers, since, as the owner of the business, your own content will automatically be on top whatever the case.

While any business can get and answer Q&A, some businesses don't really have the Q&A in their listings for one reason or the other. E.g. schools and universities (although, interestingly, many universities have unique informational panels like "Average tuition cost" and "Graduation rate" in their listings)

A good rule of thumb to know if you need to bother with the Q&A's is to google your competitors: if they've got them, then it makes sense to invest some time into answering questions.

Business Analytics feature

With Google My Business Analytics (quite a mouthful), you see exactly how much, how intensely, and just plain how your customers interact with your business.

Of course, there's Google My Business analytics, and then there's actual Google Analytics. No, GMB's data is not nearly as robust and all-encompassing, nor does it quite yield the same kind of insights.

But is it still useful? Absolutely.

You can see exactly how many of them visited your website or looked up your directions or called you on the phone that you've put down in the GMB listing earlier.

And if you're managing a couple of locations, you can just download the insights GMB has for you in bulk. Once you get it, it's a real one-stop-shop for the way people interact with your listing in particular and business in general.

Competition research with Google My Business

Yes, the literal most vital thing to do when doing SEO is also present in GMB. Now, don't get me wrong, the "Businesses like yours are posting!" tab is not much in terms of competitor analytics.

I'd even dare say it's almost nothing. But there's still value to be mined there.

What the competition tab in GMB does is show you the Google Posts (i.e. events, special offers, announcements, etc.) of your direct business competitors that work in the same geographical area as you.

Seeing as how I'm running a coffee shop in my dashboard, they're showing me the special offers of the coffee shops around town:

This is done not only to help you keep up with your rivals, but also to get you posting and engaging with all of the GMB features in a more regular way.

Business-specific features in Google My Business

What I'm talking about here are the features available only to the most particular business categories.

For example, managing a restaurant's listing, you can add some info to your listing on the kind of orders you take, and people won't have to move a finger for an extra click, they'll be able to order right from their local pack.

As you see, the same goes for ordering the food online.

In the same vein, if you're running a hotel, you'll be able to provide some information best described as hotel-specific. From personal experience, a copy that you can write for your business describing your "hotel class" can get away with some scandalously ad-sounding language.

On the other end of the spectrum, a gas station can go ahead and display their gas prices on GMB, so that the drivers could decide where they'll stop on their trip without wasting any time arguing with a cash register person.

And, for instance, if you're providing a service running on a regular schedule, say, a yoga studio, you can add your schedule to the GMB, and a potential client will be able to see available times right in your Google Maps listing.

Pointy from Google

Okay, the article describing what Google's Pointy is, is literally titled "What is Pointy from Google".

That is the question, isn't it? What it is, is a scanning system, that's a figurative godsend for the huge retail stores.

You see, it's not actually possible to go ahead and simply add all of your products into a GMB listing, not if you're a Target-sized supermarket, since the process of individually integrating every item and/or service into the GMB is, frankly, tedious and incredibly time-consuming. What Google came up with instead is a Pointy box, a technology they bought not so long ago.

Once you've connected the Pointy box to your barcode scanner, all you'll have to do is scan any product as you would during a purchase, and the product's description and price is instantly and automatically uploaded to the product carousel of your GMB listing.

You can edit and touch up the info on any product at any time, of course, so it's a huge help for stores trying to digitize. Unfortunately, right now it's only available in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

Gift cards/Donation campaigns

The "Support links" are the newest addition to the GMB roster of features.

When you've set up these Support links, the customer will see the following buttons:

Quoting the official Google rules for this, eligibility criteria include:

  • Businesses must be verified before March 1, 2020.
  • Businesses must have a physical storefront.
  • Owners, managers, and site managers of the Business Profile can use the posts feature to add gift cards and donation links.

So what does it all mean? Businesses are suffering, we all understand that. Google, killing two birds with one stone, added "COVID-19 Updates", so that businesses could communicate how they're struggling with the end of the world, and these "Support links".

If you already have a devoted client base, that would absolutely be spending money in your establishment, but, for the reasons of yours and their own safety you've closed your doors — they can still easily help you out by either buying a gift card or making a donation directly to you.

It's a platform created to help your customers support you when they can't really partake in your services.

We don't really know when Google plans to stop the "Support links" feature — after the COVID-19 crisis is over, maybe, but there haven't been any announcements yet.

Conclusion: Maintain your listing with the GMB app

Google My Business is great. Really, it's a huge, sprawling, convenient space for business owners and their clients, potential and actual, to come together and make each other's lives easier.

But it's not exactly super easy to get into. Naturally, it's not "learning to code" in terms of difficulty, but, if you've read the entire text preceding this conclusion, then you've just read a five thousand word guide on Google My Business, and I'm willing to bet there are things that hadn't occurred to me.

It's a complicated machine that can bring a whole lot of customer satisfaction, traffic, and money to the people using it correctly.

But it's not a driverless car.

Go ahead and use the GMB app to have an easier time managing your listing wherever you are, to modify, edit, create Google Posts, etc.

Use it to encourage your customers to leave reviews, to answer the questions in the Q&A sections; make Google Posts if you're doing something special today (or on any day).

Outside of the app, don't let any features go unused: fill out your product sections and don't be afraid to ask for a donation if you're in cold water.

In order for your GMB to start working for you, you need to start working on it, too.


By: Oleg Triers