Have you got a Google My Business listing?
Google My Business (or GMB) is what powers Google’s Maps (all those red pins that appear when you search for things when you’re out and about) and it’s also where the results come from when you search on Google for a something “coffee shop near me” or “garden centre bradford” – or wherever you are.
But how did A C W Garden Centre get to the top of those results? And why are Tong Garden Centre second? And why isn’t your business even in there at all?!
That’s what this post is going to help explain. If you don’t have a GMB listing, I’ll show you how the pros set one up. If you do have one but you ‘set it and forget it’, I’m going to show you how to optimise your listing to maximise your chances of getting those coveted higher ranking positions.
What is GMB?
Let’s be 100% clear what we’re talking about here and why it matters.
GMB doesn’t just feed information to Google Maps and those ‘Map Packs’ which appear in the search results when someone Google’s something to do with a location or place. It’s also where those ‘info boxes’ which pop-up in the results sometimes get their info from.
This is what you get if you Google my company, Optimisey:
Lots of lovely organic results (the bits down the middle) and that big ol’ box on the right with a picture of me, a map, my opening hours, phone number… all sorts of good stuff.
All the stuff in the box on the right is from my GMB listing.
Something you need to know about before we start any of the optimising is: tracking.
The old adage of “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” applies here. You’re going to want to know if all your optimisation efforts pay off and when you make updates in future did they make things better or worse?
Sorting out your tracking will mean you’ll be able to monitor all that.
‘UTM tracking’ is the thing you want to look up. Happily a friend of mine, Claire Carlile, has written a brilliant guide all about how to get this right: Claire’s Complete Guide to UTM Tagging for GMB.
Bookmark that for later.
If you think about it, Google have played a masterstroke with GMB. They’ve effectively outsourced having to gather data about places, shops, tourist attractions, plumbers etc. to us, the business owners.
But it goes wider than that. Anyone can add and edit stuff on GMB listings. If you haven’t set-up a listing for your business you may find you’re already on Google Maps and appearing in the listings if some helpful soul has added you already.
Don’t worry you can ‘Claim this listing’ if you’re already on there. It’s much better to do that than set-up another one. Having duplicate or very similar listings is confusing for customers and Google and not where you want to be.
Look again at that screenshot of my listing above and this bit (which appears down the page a bit when you scroll):
Notice all those prompts: Suggest an edit; Ask a question; Write a review; Add a photo and more.
Those appear for everyone, not just me as the business owner. Google is prompting people to crowdsource more information about my business – and your business too.
Google sends direct questions to some users too to help them gather even more information. Things like this:
It’s all a bit Big Brother, but Google is just trying to get a better understanding about places and businesses and what they do or don’t do, sell or don’t sell.
In short: if you did ‘set and forget’ your listing you’re going to want to check on it to make sure it’s still accurate and see what, if anything, visitors to your business have added to your listing.
Make sure things like your website link is correct. If, like lots of people, you switched to https instead of the old http version in the last few years, does your GMB listing show that?
Make Your Listing Sing
We’ve established what GMB is and why it’s important and important to keep an eye on it.
So how do you make your listing look knock-out? And really wow people when it does show up?
A big one is photos.
In short: add some.
Lots of businesses don’t so Google fills that void. Often with a rather unflattering, stretched looking pic taken from one of those Google Maps cars (those ones which drive past with those alien-looking cameras sticking out the top).
Not the best first impression.
Add your own. Google makes this easy for you too. They have categories for your photos when you add them: By owner; by customer; 360; Video; Interior; Exterior; Product; At Work; Team; Identity etc.
Put. Something. In. All. Of. Them.
OK, the “by customer” one may be a bit more tricky but you can ask some favourite customers or clients to take some pics and put them in here.
But add photos of you and your team; your office or shop; your products etc. And put some bloomin’ people in them! Nothing looks worse than yet another photo of yet another faceless office with empty chairs. It makes it look like no-one does any work there!
For bonus points: Keep these updated. It jars a bit when you Google a business in June and see a photo of the place shrouded in snow. Got a new employee? Re-shoot your team photo.
Things like that make a difference. It makes you look like you care and makes your business look active and up-to-date.
You can even add short videos and gifs if you really want to go the extra mile!
Stick a Pin In It?
One thing which puts a lot of people off using GMB is: “I work from home. I don’t want a big red pin in Google Maps on my house!”
And you don’t have to.
If you don’t serve customers from your location you’re what Google calls a ‘Service Area Business’ or SAB. Take a plumber for example. If your pipes have burst and it’s 2am you don’t care when the plumber lives, you just want to know if they can get to you ASAP, right?
Plumbers are SABs. They can specify which area or areas they cover and they will show in the Map listings on a Google search but without a big red pin.
Your location is still important though. If you’re in London you could specify your service area as Edinburgh but you’ll find it harder to rank well for searches in the Scottish capital. Much better to aim to be champion of your own backyard than try and conquer the world – at least not in Google Maps.
Setting yourself as an SAB is easy but also easy to overlook.
When you create your GMB listing it asks for all sorts of details: your business name, address etc. etc. There’s also one tiny question which is usually worded as something like: “I deliver goods and services to my customers at their location: Yes/No.”
If you say “Yes” you’re an SAB. Simple as that.
Here’s My Number – Call Me
Your phone number is important.
That’s not news. What I mean is, it’s important to Google too.
Google is getting better and better at understanding how things relate to one another. Something machines are very good with is numbers. Google understands that dialling codes are associated with certain areas. It knows that 01274 means you’re in or near Bradford; that 01223 is Cambridge.
This matters if the number you have on your GMB listing is something like an 0800 or 0845 number or your mobile or if you use a call-tracking number. It’s OK to use these but GMB allows you to list a secondary number, so make sure you have a local area dialling code number to firmly anchor that you’re genuinely based in that area.
Post, Q&As and More
Last bits to get your listing is grade A shape: posts, Q&As and the other extra bits like Products and Services.
Posts are GMB’s nod towards social-media like elements. Google My Business is, effectively a roll-up of what used to be Google Places and Google+.
By using Google Posts you can tell customers (and prospective customers) what you’re up to. You can tell Google too.
There are different types of Posts: Offers, Updates; Events; Products. There’s even a special Post category for COVID19 updates at the moment. Want to reassure customers you’re still open? Or tell them about your new curb-side delivery service? This is the place.
Q&As are, as the name suggests, questions and answers. Word of caution though: they’re open to everyone. There are some hilarious (some alarming) examples of people using the Q&As on listings to ask all sorts of questions; and local ‘wits’ answering them with equally unhelpful comments. Keep an eye on these.
The good news is, you can ask and answer your own questions. And not through some scammy chicanery, pretending to be someone else asking a soft-pitch question which you then answer.
Nope. You can ask and answer questions, openly as the business owner. Google positively encourages it.
So if you get loads of customers asking where they can park; or if they can bring their dog; or what time you open on Sunday (even though it clearly shows it on the listing already!) – you can pose and answer these questions, so they show up nice and clearly on your listing.
Not only helpful for your customers but freeing you up from all those madly repetitive phone calls too!
You can also add Products and Services to your listing too. Products are a great way to show off your top-sellers or best-looking products. Services are a little less prominent and visual but a good way to reassure potential customers about the sorts of things you do.
How Google Ranks You in Local Searches
On to the good stuff. How does Google decide who to put first, who second and why are you always on page 15?
Remember, the local algorithm is different from the main Google algo. How it decides where to rank results in the map packs etc. is different from how it decides the ‘normal’ organic results.
There are three things which are important to Google in local searches:
Bluntly: How far away is it from the searcher; how relevant is it to what they’re searching for; and how prominent is this business?
Let’s break those down a bit.
Distance is simple enough. If you’re in Cambridge and search for “coffee shop” Google doesn’t want to show you a place in Carlisle… even if it is really good.
Google tailors searches like that based on where you are. A great way to demonstrate is to search for something like “takeaway pizza”. Try it in your office. Then, on the same device (your phone or whatever) do the same search when you’re at home. You’ll get very different results.
Relevance is Google matching up businesses or places which it thinks provide what the searcher is looking for.
A big factor in this is the categories you choose in your listing. Take something simple, like a plumber. As well as “Plumber” there are categories for “Heating Contractor” and “Drainage service” and “Water softening equipment supplier”.
As a plumber these may all be services you offer.
You can choose just one Primary category. But you can add multiple secondary categories.
This is one place where Google don’t make it easy for you. There’s no big drop-down to pick from or a handy list of all the categories to pick from, it’s all auto-complete. You start typing and it suggests things.
At the last count, there were 3,953 to choose from, including the rather marvellous ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation’. So how do you know which categories might be available in your industry? And what Google calls them?
Enter a handy free tool called Pleper. Using that you can find one category you like the look of and Pleper will scamper off and find a list of all the categories related to it. Google are changing the available categories all the time, so this tool can save you a lot of hassle.
Try a search in your nearest city for something like “Chinese Takeaway”. Then try “Chinese restaurant”. Note the differences. Often the results are quite different. Usually because restaurants (which do offer takeaway) don’t add ‘Chinese Takeaway’ as a secondary category – and as a result, cost themselves a big potential revenue stream.
Don’t go crazy with the categories. Add the ones which are relevant. And experiment. Try switching around your primary and secondary categories and you’ll be able to see which drives more business for you – because you’re using the tracking Claire Carlile recommended, right?
You can get clever with this too. In summer maybe you want your primary category to be ‘Air Conditioning Repair Service’ but in winter, perhaps ‘Heating Contractor’ would be better?
Another big relevance factor is your business name. If you’re called ‘Carl’s Coffee Shop’ that’s a pretty big clue to Google about what you do.
Sadly, that’s why you see lots of name spam in Google Maps. Things like ‘Carl’s Coffee Shop – Best Takeaway Latte, Cappuccino, Restaurant in Cambridge’ etc.
That is not that business’s name. That’s not what they say when they answer the phone (though it may be fun if they did!).
It’s also against Google’s guidelines and could get their listing entirely removed (though, sadly, rarely does). Don’t be tempted to the dark side. Keep your business name accurate and relevant.
If you spot someone trying to game the system, you can ‘Suggest an edit’ on their listing and correct their business name. Google will review it and usually adopt your suggested change.
Lastly, Prominence. This is Google trying to avoid being wrong. And tying up the offline world with the online. If you search for ‘Windsor Castle’ you probably mean the Queen’s some-time residence, rather than the countless cafes and diners that also use the same name.
At a guess her Majesty doesn’t have a lot of time for SEO. But Google knows that the big castle is more prominentin the offline world than the greasy spoon just off the M4 motorway.
So, short of asking the royal family to move in, how do you make your business more prominent?
Factors here include reviews (get some, make them good and genuine); and people talking about you online and linking to you.
If every local newspaper, magazine and food blogger in the city links to your coffee shop and raves about the service and the amazing baristas – chances are Google thinks you’re a good bet when someone’s searching for “coffee shop”.
To sum that all up:
- Get listed – Get on GMB if you haven’t already
- Track everything
- Make your listing look amazing – add some great photos etc.
- Reviews – get some good, genuine, flattering reviews
- Use the extras – like Posts, Q&As, Services and Products
- Categories – find the right categories for your business
- Get mentioned – get some good local links (from local papers, businesses etc.)
Andrew Cock-Starkey is an SEO consultant and runs his own business called Optimisey. He also runs a series of free-to-attend events all about search marketing and SEO. You can find out more about him, the events and read more SEO advice on his website: optimisey.com.