Optimizing Your Google Business Profile for Search and Maps
The goal of any local business marketing strategy is to place your company in front of qualified customers. This not only means ranking your webpages for valuable keywords, it means using every piece of digital real estate at your disposal.
One of the prime zones of online real estate is the Google map pack. With map results appearing above normal webpage results, it would be crazy not to optimize your Google maps listing for this space.
This Google map pack is the place to be if you are a business who provides goods and services within a specific area. You want to show up right away when people perform a local search.
With the rise in mobile searches, there’s a heightened incentive for businesses to show up in the map pack. Due to the smaller screen size, customers are likely to click on one of the first results they see—for local searches this tends to be the map pack.
Ranking your business requires some Google Business Profile SEO techniques. So, how does a business rank higher in the map pack, and what are the steps needed to begin?
What is a Google Business Profile?
Google Business Profiles, which used to be known as Google My Business (GMB), are a free service provided by Google that allows business owners to display their business details and map location to would-be customers.
A business profile on Google gives businesses an inexpensive yet effective option for increased search visibility. It’s a tier beyond your standard website optimizations, allowing businesses to reach customers using an additional property that isn’t just their website.
Acquiring a Google Business profile listing is fairly simple. The only details you need to provide is a real physical address and an accurate business phone number. Google will send a verification postcard to your location within a few business days (up to a couple weeks in some cases). That postcard contains a code that you will need to enter in your Google Business profile dashboard. Once the listing gets verified, it’s eligible to start appearing in search results.
There are about three other options for profile verification that may be available to you, but postcard is the most commonly used verification option.
Verification by email is one option. For this one you’ll select “verify” through email as your method and the code should arrive to your inbox within minutes.
Verification by phone is another option, but far less commonly offered. If you can do it, this method will be the quickest and most hassle-free. You’d simply click on your phone number after hitting “verify,” then a call would come through with a code that you’ll need to enter in your GMB.
Verification instantly is the third option, and probably the rarest. It’s exactly how it sounds. You are able to verify your profile instantly, provided you have a Google Search Console setup for your website. This alone won’t guarantee instant verification though so you may end up having to go the postcard route.
Most business owners will have to utilize the postcard method for verification, which means you’ll need a fair bit of patience for it to arrive. Once it’s finally delivered, you can start the optimization process.
The Basics of a Google Business Profile
Google Business Profiles allow you to highlight key business details that matter most to customers. The more complete your profile becomes, the higher likelihood you will have of getting maximum exposure. Google likes to see you utilizing every element of your business profile, and they will reward you.
The GMB profile setup process is fairly straightforward, and below are the key areas.
The description portion is one of the key messaging components of a Google Business Profile. You can use up to 750 characters of text to introduce your brand, briefly mention what goods or services you provide, and explain how customers can reach out to you.
When optimizing your description, it’s best to rely on sound copywriting skills rather than pure SEO tactics. Exact match keywords are okay to use but only if it makes sense and doesn’t seem forced. It’s better to write these descriptions for the benefit of human beings rather than Google.
Mention the service area or specific location your business operates in and include some unique sales propositions to encourage searchers to click through to your website.
You can set both primary and secondary categories that your business best represents, helping Google understand where to place you in the map rankings. This ensures that your business will show up in the right places.
Give your customers the right contact details so they can reach you anytime. Google Business Profiles let you add a contact phone number, and current website URL to ensure that more would-be customers can reach you.
Most brick and mortar shops where customers will interact face to face will want to display their address publicly. However, some service area businesses (SAB) will choose not to. You can hide your address if you deliver goods or services away from your store and you don’t accept in-person visits.
Help customers schedule an appointment by providing a URL where they can simply click and go. Appointment URLs are a relatively new feature that gives businesses a way to send customers towards a conversion opportunity even faster. Instead of making people go to the website’s homepage and have to fidget around for an appointment opportunity, you can send them to the specific appointment URL in a matter of minutes.
Including a founding date adds legitimacy to your brand. Customers can differentiate a business that has been around for several years versus one that is newer.
Products or Services Offered
Depending on the type of profile you create, you can easily show the products or services provided. This is helpful for customers who are looking to buy a specific item.
Restaurants have the additional option of adding entire menus to their business profile. You can display each food item complete with photos. Plus there’s an option to add a reservations URL, or you can integrate a third party reservation service like OpenTable.
Add a company logo, cover photo, or picture of the entire team to give your brand a personal touch. There are multiple photo categories to choose from and there’s even a video category you can use.
Google posts are another area of the business profile that allows businesses to provide extra details around products, special events, and other announcements.
Google Business Profiles are only as effective as you make them. If your profile is well-optimized, meaning it includes all the information mentioned above and is consistently updated, you will have a much better chance of ranking in the map pack.
Here are some helpful tips you can use to improve your chances of ranking long-term.
Enter Complete Data for Your Profile
It starts in the Google Business Profile manager dashboard, where all of your optimizations can be made. And it starts with filling out all the information completely.
Filling out your Google Business Profile in its entirety means exactly that—in its entirety.
This includes all contact information, website links, appointment links, open date, and business description. But it’s not only about filling these details in once and calling it a day, you should regularly update this info so that you are serving users with the most up to date data.
Google professes the importance of up to date information on their support page, stating that “regular updates help ensure we can share the most accurate information with your potential customers.”
There’s no question that Google rewards businesses who they deem to be accurate and trustworthy sources. Maintaining an accurate profile will undoubtedly improve a brand’s overall E-A-T (expertise-authority-trust) metrics.
If you don’t have time to complete the information or keep up with your profile on your own, you can simply add other users to help. Just go to the “Users” section on the left hand side of your Google Business Profile dashboard and add additional users as needed. You can assign permission levels based on what features you want your users to be able to access.
You want to be as authentic as possible in your Google Business Profile, but it’s okay to use keyword phrases where appropriate since this will ultimately tell Google what keywords to rank your business.
Let’s start with areas where you should include keywords:
- Business Description: It’s smart to include your primary keyword once in your description, just try to avoid making it sound forced. Natural language is your friend, so if the keyword is “plumbers los angeles ca” you will want to use an alteration that makes sense like “We are the top rated plumbers in Los Angeles, CA.”
- Reviews: You don’t necessarily have control over what people say in their reviews, but you can try your best to nudge them towards using certain words. When you send out a review link, you can specify which service you want reviewed. For example, a plumber may specify “share feedback about your drain cleaning appointment.”
Keep Business Operating Hours Accurate
Make sure customers know when your business is open. You can configure hours on a weekly basis as well as placing closed notices for holidays and other special events.
For businesses that are open all day and night, you can set the availability to 24 hours. Otherwise, simply go through each day of the week and choose your open and closing hours.
Google will periodically send you messages in your business profile dashboard asking whether your business is open or closed on upcoming holidays. This is a gentle reminder to update your hours before the day.
Photos are the face of your Google Business Profile, quite literally. And Google helps you categorize these photos to ensure that you are representing your brand to the fullest extent.
Photo categories include interior/exterior of the workplace, rooms in the workplace, photos at work, common areas, rooms in the workplace, team photos, and product photos. There is also one slot for a “cover” photo, which goes across the background of your Google Business Profile, and a “logo” photo which is like a thumbnail image of your business.
GMB photos help users identify your brand and attach a human element to it, which can ultimately sway them towards visiting your website.
Manage and Respond to Customer Reviews & Questions
Customer reviews have long been the lifeblood of Google Business Profiles, but how to use those reviews is often misunderstood.
It’s not necessarily about how many 5-star reviews you have—although the more the merrier. It’s about your response and engagement with those reviews.
Google rewards businesses that are attentive to customers. One of the best ways to show that you are paying attention is to respond to EVERY review. Yes, even the bad ones.
Make it a practice to go through each new review and offer up a response, good or bad. In fact, responses to negative reviews might be even more valuable because it shows empathy. You may be able to change the reviewers’ minds with a well-crafted response.
Another SEO component to consider is keyword usage. It’s not likely that your reviewers will have SEO in mind when they write a review, but you can utilize some SEO keywords in your response. For example, if someone is reviewing a local plumber, a response could read “thank you for leaving a review. Our team at Hal’s Plumbing Company appreciates that you took the time to leave us feedback about our drain cleaning service.”
In the above example, you are utilizing the business name which is important, but you are also sneaking in a specific service keyword that could help your Google Business Profile rank.
Aside from the algorithmic ramifications, Google reviews are vital from a consumer perspective. Customers all over the planet depend on reviews to help them gate the quality of local businesses. Google and Yelp are often seen as the equivalent to a person receiving a personal recommendation from a friend.
Like it or not, reviews can provide an excellent source of feedback for business owners. We may not like to hear it, but criticisms can help proprietors make their businesses better.
Let Customers Message You
Google’s Business Profile messenger is a 100% free tool that enables customers to reach you immediately, similar to an instant messenger.
Customers can reach out to your business straight from search results. This saves them time from having to go to your website first and hunt down your contact details.
Simply activate the messaging feature from your Google Business Profile dashboard and customers will start seeing it from both Google Search and Google Maps results.
The messaging feature is a convenient way to interact with customers and prospects in real-time, and it’s a nice opportunity to make a good first impression. You can write a welcome message that will show to customers as soon as they click the Message button, even before they start to type out their question.
You can tailor the messaging button according to your business, like by changing the text to “Request a Quote.”
It’s critical that you respond to messages quickly, as Google keeps a close eye on this. If you fail to respond within 24 hours they will potentially remove your message button from the listing altogether.
Use Local Posts
Google Business Profile Posts are one of the most underused features of the Google Business Profile. These are social media style status updates that businesses can share to customers on their profile.
They can be used to make product announcements, share company news, or just as a way to interact and touch base with the local audience. It’s good to schedule Google Posts on a regular basis, at least 1-2 times per week to maintain engagement. This shows Google that you are making an effort to communicate with customers, which they will reward you for.
Pro tip on Google Posts is to always include a call to action. Even if your content is not overtly promotional in nature, you still want to encourage your audience to do something constructive after viewing your post. The CTA button can go to any page on your website, so it’s a great way to boost traffic on specific pages. A good rule of thumb is to share every new webpage or blog post in a Google Post so you can get traffic moving towards it faster.
Use The Special Attributes
Special attributes can be applied to your Google Business Profile to show customers how your business stands out from competitors.
These attributes cover a few main areas: accessibility, health & safety, payments, and ‘from the business.’ In the dashboard area you can simply check boxes under each category that pertain to your business
Accessibility generally pertains to ADA compliance. These checked boxes would include wheelchair accessible entrances, wheelchair accessible seating, etc. Health & safety is a hold over from the COVID-19 pandemic, but it may still apply to certain business types especially in the healthcare field. This includes options like “staff wear masks” or “temperature check required.”
The payments category is useful for almost every local business to show customers what types of payments are acceptable. Choose from cash-only, checks, debit cards, American Express, and more.
Finally, there’s the ‘from the business’ category which includes certain ownership traits worth sharing, like “women-led” or “veteran owned.”
There may be additional special attributes available depending on your business type, specifically for restaurants, hotels, or other services.
Special attributes are so easy to use, it’s a no brainer for most businesses who qualify. They are a simple way to gain favor in Google and help users learn more about your brand.
Use The Product Catalog
For any local business who sells merchandise, the Google Business Profile product catalog might be your best friend. Products allow customers to essentially window shop online. They can peruse your product offerings, click on them, and make a purchase.
Technically businesses can offer both merchandise and services, or virtual services, under this product tab. It’s worth examining in your dashboard area to see if this tab is right for you.
Select Primary and Secondary Categories
Choose one primary category and anywhere from 2-5 secondary categories. However, you should avoid choosing too many secondary categories as you may end up confusing Google more than helping it.
Determining which categories to use is simple, look at your local competitors and dissect their selected categories. If they are ranking for your desired keywords, it means you should utilize those same categories as well.
Write a Compelling “From the Business” Description
Your business description says a lot about your company. With only 750 characters at your disposal, it’s important to make the most of this real estate by keeping a few key practices in mind.
First and foremost, treat this section like a call to action. Focus on your unique sales proposition and convincing customers to try your brand.
Next, mention your top products and services. This is key from an SEO standpoint and from the perspective of showing customers what you can offer them. Pair this with mention of your main location or service area.
Finally, add something about your achievements or recognition by a highly valued publication.
If you can combine SEO value with effective sales propositions, you will craft a business description that will make customers want to learn more about your brand.
Google Business Profile Guidelines
There are a couple of things that are definite no-no’s in the eyes of Google.
The most common grounds for suspension is using a fake address. They have cracked down on addresses significantly over the years, and now it’s almost impossible to get a GMB approved using a P.O. Box or virtual address.
Your business name should be exact. Although you may have seen competitors keyword stuffing their GMB name, think again. There’s a high likelihood your account will get flagged and possibly suspended.
Review Your Insights
Google Business Profile insights are the Google Analytics for your local business. Here you can see how many customers searched for your business, called your business, viewed your photos, and visited your website.
This area is critical to understanding how your profile is performing and what types of changes might need to be made to see further improvements.
Recently, Google has announced upcoming changes to these insights to provide more data than before. This includes more Google Analytics-type data like website clicks, search keywords, and a few metrics that are specific to the Messages feature.
Google Business Profiles have come a long way and are much more widely used by local businesses these days. By following these tips for optimizing your profile, you will give yourself another robust property that can rank and increase your bottom line. Contact us today for help or to learn more!