Google My Business (GMB) is one of the most underrated and underutilized assets for any local company. It was launched in 2014 part of the Google Pigeon algorithm update. It was built to separate local business search from national or informational search.
Prior to the launch of GMB, Google had a problem. People looking for businesses in a specific location didn't need to always see ecommerce sites (like Amazon), corporate websites, blogs or other content sites. So Google needed to find a way to display relevant local business results.
Prior to this update, all websites were subject to the same ranking algorithm. The algorithm was heavily weighted towards, quality of content, volume of text and external links. Google has always believed that high quality external links that point to your website provide evidence that 3rd parties trust your content. Websites with thousands of high quality links were known as authority sites.
Unfortunately, to ranked high in national or information searches, you need a lot of well written content and you need to be able to promote that content, so websites link to your website. Big companies with large budgets could produce new content and spend larger budgets on link building and promotion. It got to a point with local search was dominated by these sites:
- Yelp - they almost had a monopoly on local search, especially for services.
- Amazon - if the product was similar to a local search, their products would rank higher than local companies.
- Large directories - Sites like Four Square, Trip Advisor, Home Advisor and Angie's List would outrank local companies.
- National brands - Big box retail stores, franchises and restaurants and corporations could easily rank above a local company.
Local services, shops, restaurants or franchise location could not compete with the big boys that the marketing staff to build up a strong SEO profile. If you owned a local business, it was extremely difficult to get found in Google unless the user searched for your specific company name.
Google realized that their users didn't want to always go to the big chains or local business websites. Users were just skipping Google and going right to Yelp when they were looking for a local business. That's when they decided to change the game. This was really important because Google Ads relies on people searching for businesses, so if people were skipping Google, then no ad revenue!
Google My Business is Born
Google My Business is a platform where a local business can sign up, claim their business profile and confirm their location. Businesses can provide text information, logos, photos and videos about their company. (Here is a quick link to Google My Business)
Google has a process to claim and verify your business. The most common form of verification is by sending out a code in the mail. For users, it provides a separate area where you can see media and information about the business. Users can read or write online local business reviews. In many ways, it was Google's version of Yelp.
The text information that you write in your Google local business profile is critical for search. This text is a one of the key ranking factors for local search listings. It is indeed the most important ranking factor for "The Local Pack," which is the 3 business listings that show up near the top of the page under the sponsored listing (Google Ads).
So the first no-brainer tip is to take your time and optimize your GMB profile. If you want to generate leads and customers for your local company, it's the one area that can produce fast results. Taking even an extra hour of research can make a big difference in improving your search rankings.
Below, I will provide a step-by-step guide on how you can approach the GMB platform and get better results.
Of course, this is what we do for our clients, and we are undefeated when it comes to increasing local search rankings. If you decide you need some help, start with a free Local SEO Audit, so you know where you stand with Google.
Optimizing Your Google My Business Profile
Step 1 - Research Critical Keywords for Search
Ranking in Google starts by understanding what keywords people use to find your business. A lot of businesses skip this step and just start writing blindly, but if you don't know how people find your business, you will miss out on potential leads.
For example, let's look at a roofing company. You can also find one by searching for roofing, roofer, shingle repair, roof replacement, roof gutters, asphalt roof, roofing contractor and hundreds more. Even very specific keywords can be useful. We just had a client get found for the term "copper roofer." This term was searched only 12 times in the last 3 months, but it led to a quote request that became one of their largest contracts.
While brainstorming is encouraged, there is no way you can possibly figure out every good keyword. There are better ways to find keywords and great tools available. Here is a good article free keyword tools.
You are looking for both volume of searches and relevancy to your products or services. For our business, people can find us searching for "SEO" but that's a fairly broad term. Even though it has lots of searches, a search for"Local SEO Services" is more targeted and is considered a high buyer intent.
Intent is important. A search for "SEO" is primarily done by people that are looking for information about the topic. A search for "SEO services" or "SEO agency" will bring in users actually looking for a business service.
Make sure the high intent keywords are included in your list. Write them down, and also write down how often they are searched. It is not uncommon for a high volume search to produce 100 clicks and no leads, while a low volume search with high buyer intent only produces 5 clicks but produces 3 customers.
Step 2. - Write out Descriptions
When viewing Google My Business on a desktop or laptop, the dashboard will have a menu that includes a section called "Info." You want to spend some time here.
These descriptions are a major part of Google's search ranking for local search. Do not skip this step. The biggest mistake we witness is business owners and managers carelessly fill out this section with very little detail. We often see important sections left blank. Please do not leave areas blank. Fill out everything as long as it applies to your business.
Their 4 core areas in Google My Business that have the most impact on search rankings:
The other areas are important, but these sections provide a way to include keyword rich content. You want this information to be descriptive and not too much sales and marketing language. Still, make sure you form sentences. You don't want to enter a giant list of keywords or that might be considered spam.
You will get 750 characters to write out your business description, so make it count. Use most of the available characters. People can read this area, even though that value is in the keywords. Describe your products or services using keywords based on your research.
If you want to add some context that is more compelling, you can differentiate yourself from your competitors. Try to explain why the reader should use your business. It doesn't hurt to include a call to action (Visit our website, come to our location, call us, request a quote).
They also have a section for produces and services. Out of the last 100 GMB optimizations we've completed, about 85% of businesses had left these areas empty. There is a good chance your competitors skimped on this area, so by filling out this information you will have an edge. Separate out services with different titles. Each service heading gives you a box to describe the service and utilize your keyword research. You can add 100 or more services to this section.
If you own a shop that sells products, then I would still add at least 1-2 services. Even if that service is something like delivery or financing options.
Local retail stores and physical locations will spend more time in the product section. You can enter product images, titles, descriptions and price (including price ranges). You can also link to an online store, category page, information page or the actual product item. Sometimes products will show up in Google search results.
Step 3 - Add Media - Logos, Photos and Video
Add a lot of photos. This is another underutilized area. To start, I would add at least 25, but you may want to look at your competitors and see how many photos they use. You can see this number in the Insight tab under the Photo report. Photos give customers an inside view of your business. Actually do a search for your business and look at the listing, so you understand how those images are displayed. Look at the main search and also map searches.
Post images of the people that work for you, people in uniforms is ideal. Photos of your employees can tell a story, especially if you have photos of them having fun, laughing or smiling.
You can take images of the inside and outside areas of your building or office. Do you have new technology or equipment? Add those photos.
In some cases, you can use photos of your customers to show users the type of people you service. We had a client that was a local gym that showed photos of their youth exercise program. They were able to get signups from parents that mentioned they felt comfortable after viewing photos on Google.
Step 4 - Read and Respond to Online Reviews
Online Google reviews are the most powerful marketing tool a local business can leverage. You can say anything you want about your business on Google My Business or on your website, but potential customers pay close attention to what third parties say about you in the Google reviews.
In order to get the best reviews, you have to ask your best customers for reviews. Put it this way. If I had a business do one single thing, it would be writing out their complete GMB listing and spend time every week sending out review requests. This effort alone can grow a local business faster than spending thousands on advertising. I say that as someone that makes a living managing advertising for clients. While both are critical and recommended, I would rank review generation as much more important in this day and age.
And almost as important as generating reviews, you need to quickly respond to any reviews. Positive or negative. Review response text and speed is a Google ranking factor, and a quick, detailed response looks much better to potential customers.
A response to a review is another opportunity to add SEO keywords. Don't just say "thanks." Try to be detailed.
"This roofing company was great and repaired my roof quickly"
Your response could be something like:
"Thanks for contacting our roofing company. When customers have areas of their roof that could potentially leaks, its important for us to review the roofing material and schedule a roof repair. A leaking roof ca cause much more damage, especially if its over a living area. We were able to replace your roof edge material and asphalt shingles efficiently enough o ensure you never have to deal with a water damage from your roof.
As you can see, we mention keywords related to the business and explain HOW the business helped the customer. This review response will strengthen future searches of: roofing company, roof repair, leaking roof, roofing material, roof edge material, asphalt shingles and water damage from your roof.
Step 5 - Online Business Listings
Local business listings are also important for local SEO and Google search optimization. Google uses third party listings to validate business information. They also want to see accurate contact information known as NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number). Additionally, links still help you rank better and having your business listed on additional listing sites (often called citations), you are adding more external links to your business website. Here are some of the best places to get listed.
- Bing Places
- Merchant Circle
- Better Business Bureau
- Merchant Circle
The keywords in the descriptions will also help you rank better in Google. We recommend writing slightly different descriptions on these pages than you do on Google.
Most of these sites will not produce a lot of traffic, but they do occasionally lead to web traffic or a phone call. Yelp and Bing tend to be the best alternatives to Google.
Along with Google My Business, it's good to add new photos, fresh text content to these listings. Google is monitoring your activity, so logging in and consistently adding content helps.
How Much Does This Help You Rank Better in Google?
Google My Business is important, so a lot of research has been done in the marketing and SEO industry.
Moz did a study on local search ranking factors that gives you a good idea of what you can address when working on SEO. Whitespark also does a survey each year of Local SEO experts, to see which areas they believe impact Google search results. You can read this article here.
When you spend the time and effort to build a great Google My Business profile, the results can be life changing. If its not the best ROI form of marketing a local business, then its at least near the top.