Developing a diverse Local SEO strategy for companies with brick-and-mortar addresses or clearly defined service areas includes establishing and optimizing a Google Business Profile (abbreviated GBP for this article).
The GBP has had a few iterations on its name. Formerly identified as a Google Business Listing and a Google Business Page, the Google platform is one of the most important tools a local business can utilize for visibility.
The free GBP marketing platform provides businesses with a variety of opportunities to connect current and potential customers to products and services.
As customers search for local businesses, such as hairstylists, restaurants, auto repair, and plumbers, a Google Business Profile is the quickest way for business owners to connect directly with their ideal customers and expand their digital reach in new and creative ways.
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Why Your Local Business Needs a Google Business Profile
Business owners are occasionally surprised to learn they already have a Google Business Profile! Because the GBP and Google Maps are connected, it’s possible to have an auto-generated GBP.
Rather than asking if you have a page, the better question is, “How do I ensure I own my page?”
Google My Business functions as a Business Directory. Google’s FAQ page states, “Google My Business is a free tool that allows you to promote your Business Profile and business website on Google Search and Maps.”
This is a company’s opportunity to promote its business on Google Maps accurately, rank in category searches when customers use the “near me” features, and allow customers to provide online reviews.
It’s important to know that, for now, it is free to set up a Google Business Profile. However, that can change; we don’t know what Google will do in the future.
As we stated earlier, Google continues to add features to their Google My Business platform to make this free internet real estate very valuable for business owners. It’s to your benefit to go further than simply setting up a page to show up on Google Maps.
For companies that interact with people in person, have one or more brick-and-mortar locations, or want to provide important information about the context of your company, creating a Google Business Profile (GBP) is an excellent way to expand your digital presence online.
Ineligible Businesses for a Google Business Profile
Business Profiles on Google My Business are only accessible for two categories of businesses. The first category is those with physical locations that customers can visit. The second is for businesses where service people travel to customer locations.
Some Ineligible Businesses include the following:
- 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.
Follow the actions below step-by-step to set up and optimize a Google Business Profile (GBP). Bookmark this page and check back here often.
Google adds new details regularly to enhance how the listing page works. We’ll work to keep this page up to date on new features as they become available and how we’re using each feature for our clients’ Local SEO strategies.
Set Up or Gain Ownership of a Google Business Profile
There are two ways to set up a Google Business Profile. On a desktop computer, log in to your Gmail account and go to Google Maps or go to the Google Business Profile Icon.
To use the second option, go to the top right corner of your Gmail email. Search your Google icons and select the Business icon. It looks like a blue house or building.
Follow the steps and enter your information in each section.
The more information on the profile the better. Currently, there are sections to include your Business:
- Service Areas
- Phone Number
- Hours of Operation
- A Short Name
- Appointment Links
- Products and Services
- The year you opened
- A space to add photos
- Social media profiles
There are also sections where you can include business categories such as Marketing Agency or HVAC Contractor to help Google pull your information accurately for search results.
It’s vital that you enter accurate information in your Google Business Listing since you will show up on Google Maps. If your address is incorrect your location on Google Maps, as well as other directory listings, may confuse customers.
Google offers a few ways to verify your Google Business Listing; however, the majority of businesses will need to verify by mail. When you verify by mail you will receive a postcard to the address you enter on your listing with a code. Follow the directions on the postcard. This is another opportunity to confirm whether Google has your company details correct.
If your business is already showing up on Google Maps but you haven’t claimed the listing, you can verify your listing by claiming it through Google Maps. After selecting Claim this Business > Manage Now > You will see this option: To choose a different business, click I own or manage another business. Simply go through the steps to complete the process.
Google states that your postcard should arrive within 14 days. They also warn that making changes to your GMB in the meantime may delay the validation process.
Starting in 2020, Google shifted its policies. It’s now incredibly difficult to claim your business if someone else has already set up a profile or consolidated pages.
Optimizing Your GBP for Search
When the postcard arrives with a pin verification number begin optimizing the GBP to improve search rankings.
Take a systematic approach to add information to Google Business Profiles. The gaps will be easy to identify if the content is added slowly.
When signed into a Google email, in the top right corner, search the Google icons and select the Business icon.
Follow the steps and enter your information in each section.
The more information on the GBP the better. Currently, there are sections to include your Business:
- Address or Service Areas
- Phone Number
- Hours of Operation
- Contact Link for Appointments
- A Short Name
- A List of Services or Products Offered
- The year you opened
- An About Section
- Social media
There are also sections where you can include business categories and subcategories such as Marketing Agency or HVAC Contractor, to help Google pull your information accurately for search results.
It’s vital that you enter accurate information in your Google Business Profile since you will show up on Google Maps. If your address is incorrect your location on Google Maps, as well as other directory listings, may confuse customers.
Optimizing Your GBP Online Presence
When the confirmation postcard arrives with a pin verification number, the optimization of the GBP begins.
It’s important to take a systematic approach when adding information to the GBP. However, if anything is overlooked, noticeable gaps will appear on the home page.
Google Profile Categories
The goal of optimizing a business profile is to improve the visibility for relevant searches so that a company will connect with the right customers.
There are a variety of ways to incorporate keywords into a company’s profile. Start by selecting a primary category to group the business. These categories are predetermined by Google and they are limited. A company in a unique niche may need to choose a category that is similar but not fully encompassing the description.
Select an option that includes keywords an ideal customer uses when searching for competitors of the business.
Choose a primary category and several additional categories if they are available. Every option is another keyword you have an opportunity to rank for in search.
Other opportunities to optimize with keywords include:
- Service Areas
- Short Name
- Business Description
The GBP also has a section to list customized services and feature special attributes about a business, such as “Veteran-Led” or “Woman-Led.” Remember to offer customer-friendly information such as “holiday hours.”
Optimize for Location and Voice Search
When optimizing for a brick-and-mortar business location, include an accurate address. Not only will this allow the business to appear on Google Maps, but it will improve the chances of showing up when a potential customer uses the phrase “specific company near me” to search for services.
Google has developed a helpful option called Google Assistant. This feature was originally for drivers with Bluetooth but is also utilized by those with virtual AI devices at home.
About 75% of voice search results will rank in the top 3 positions for a specific question on a desktop search. By using voice search, companies that rank in the top three positions retain a significant advantage with customers who are looking to discover new businesses, hear reviews, and pinpoint a brick-and-mortar company.
Google Assistant also allows customers to schedule appointments offering a seamless option. Connect the GBP to your website scheduling link and allow customers to schedule an appointment at their convenience.
Adding Images to Your GBP
Your Google Business Profile (GBP) also has sections to add images. Google suggests adding images that will help customers identify a business.
Google places photos in several categories of your business listing:
- Logo: Help customers recognize the business on Google. For businesses that have their basic information, such as a phone number or hours of operation, the Business Profile highlights the logo.
- Cover photo: Set a cover photo at the top of the profile that best represents the business. In some instances, this action doesn’t guarantee the cover photo will show up as the first image for a business.
- Business photos: Add different photos to highlight features of the business to attract and inform customers. Google has specific guidelines about business photos.
Google Photos must meet the following standards:
- Format: JPG or PNG.
- Size: Between 10 KB and 5 MB.
- Recommended resolution: 720 px tall, 720 px wide.
- Minimum resolution: 250 px tall, 250 px wide.
- Quality: All images need to offer a realistic representation of products, services, or locations. All photos need to be in focus and well-lit. Additionally, do not include images with significant alterations or excessive use of filters.
Videos and Virtual Tours
The ability to add a video to a GBP provides opportunities to feature short snippets similar to those on YouTube shorts, Instagram or Facebook. For a unique video, use a program like Animoto to create custom video content.
- Are you a new business that is about to have your grand opening? Why not do a sneak peek virtual tour?
- Do you have a new menu rolling out for the season? Have your chef explain the dishes as people taste them for the first time. Their reactions will encourage people to make reservations.
- Have you noticed people asking the same questions when they call your store? Do a quick, frequently asked questions and answers video.
- Feature products, real estate, and before and after work successes.
The key is to title the video accurately so customers know what to expect when they click the video. And, speak quickly since videos are 30 seconds.
Google Videos must meet the following requirements:
- Duration: Up to 30 seconds long
- File size: Up to 100 MB
- Resolution: 720p or higher
Monitor and Maintain Google Business Profile Content
Google has already included so many different features in the GBP that it’s easy to assume that once information is on the page, it’s set. However, Google continues to add new features all the time and enhances the original sections to give searchers the best experience possible.
Additionally, Google will scrape a website or add related information that competitors have on a page. Ignoring a GBP may result in unintentionally promoting inaccurate information.
One of the most important features of your GBP is the customer review section. Google encourages customer interaction whether they leave positive or negative reviews. If Google suggests that you do something on their platform, it’s a good idea to pay attention to that nudge.
One way to interact with customers and practice good customer service is to thank someone who takes the time to endorse a company positively.
Recent studies reveal word-of-mouth referrals are vital for businesses. Beyond friends and family, 93% of people read reviews before making a decision on products.
Make every effort to address negative reviews as quickly as possible to build trust with an online community. In our experience at SMA Marketing, when you conduct your business with integrity the people who leave a negative review aren’t able to accurately represent the situation. Responding to the review or customer comment is an opportunity to professionally tell the whole story and directly address the person who left the review.
Check out our blog article How and Why You Should Respond to Negative Customer Reviews.
After you respond, you can also request that Google remove the false statements. We’ve written a post walking you through those steps here.
One of the challenges of the customer review space is that anyone can leave a review. This means that a competitor can misrepresent who they are online and say they are a dissatisfied customer. This situation is one of several areas Google lists as prohibited and restricted content. When you have a review on your profile that fits one of the categories listed below, you can start by flagging the content as inappropriate.
- Spam and fake content
- Restricted content
- Illegal content
- Terrorist content
- Sexually explicit content
- Offensive content
- Dangerous & Derogatory content
- Conflict of Interest
While many of the categories seem self-explanatory, you will want to read the definitions before flagging the comment.
As the owner of the business, Google allows you to flag reviews through your Google Business Account. In our experience, reporting reviews through your Google Business Profile account is the most effective way to have a comment removed. Google recently updated this process due to an uptick in fake reviews.
To report a false review through your GBP Page:
- Log in to your Google Business account
- Open the location you’d like to manage (for companies and businesses with more than one location)
- Select ‘Reviews’ from the menu bar
- Identify the fake review in question
- Click the three vertical dots and flag it as inappropriate
Incorporating Industry Keywords into Business Posts
One final way that you can monitor and maintain a GBP is by continuing to optimize descriptions by incorporating trending keywords. Just as you take the time to optimize your meta descriptions and title tags on a website to help increase your rankings, the same opportunities apply with a GBP.
Review company descriptions a few times a year to ensure accurate information reflects the products and services.
Additionally, use the posts section to add updated promotions about the company.
Remove Duplicate Listings
Google protects verified listings from having duplicates created. However, if a page is found before the company sets up a profile, it’s vital to remove a duplicate listing. The process for deleting or merging a duplicate is simple if company ownership is proven. Log into the GBP and go to the Account Summary. Choose “Delete this Listing.”
This will remove the listing. As long as the verified version remains, there shouldn’t be an issue.
If someone else has set up a listing on behalf of the company, the process becomes a bit more complicated. In this case, the best option is the report duplicate locations on Google Maps.
To report a duplicate location on Google Maps:
- Open Google Maps.
- Find the location you want to report.
- Click “Suggest an edit.”
- Mark the location as “Place is permanently closed or has never existed.”
- Select “Duplicate” as the reason.
- Click “Submit.”
Reserve with Google
As Google strives to be people’s preferred resource for help, they are finding new ways to make using their platform convenient for business owners and customers. With “Reserve with Google,” customers can book a table at a restaurant, schedule classes, and purchase movie or event tickets.
With a preferred third-party reservation service, customers will see (or hear) available bookings, whether they find a company through Search, Maps, or Google Assistant.
Link a Google Business Profile Account to Google Ads or Google Merchant Center
There are two benefits to linking a GBP and a Google Ads account. The process to link a Google Ads account is simple; you will need to request a link.
Link or Unlink the GBP and Ads accounts:
Linking and unlinking accounts are seamless procedures to require the click of a button.
Allow more than one person to have access to a GBP by sending permission to administrators who will access the GBP through their email. This is found under “Users.”
Business owners should always own their Google Business Profile. Even if a marketing agency sets up or maintains an account by creating one owner, they will receive messages from customers.
Now that the Google Business profile is set up, continue to optimize it frequently. This includes more than monitoring and responding to customer reviews.
When on the GBP, there is a list of options on the left side of a computer monitor. The section highlighted in blue is the tab you are viewing.
This next section will highlight each tab in detail.
Optimizing Each Section of Your GBP
The Home tab area is an overview of the GBP. To update many features quickly, as well as jump to different sections such as customer reviews or analytics, use Home. The main feature of the Home tab is the ability to create posts and add photos to your page.
The posts are opportunities to share current content about the company. Posts older than 6 months are archived unless a date range for an event is specified. There are three types of posts to create, and each is free.
Here is an example of what your platform looks like:
After selecting Create a Post from the choices to add free information to the Google Business Profile, you will have three different types of posts to feature.
What’s New – This is a great option to feature blog posts, something new such as a change in store hours, an announcement about a new employee, or a blog post. This is the most versatile of the spaces.
Event – This space is for highlighting an event. Include dates and information for the event, including an image. It will stay on the profile until 24 hours after the event.
Offer – This section is different because it has space to include a Coupon Code, a Link to Redeem an offer, and Terms and Conditions. The offer can run for a limited time by including dates. Take time to preview posts before publishing and make sure everything looks just as expected.
The benefits of adding content to a page include featuring photos, blog articles, and events unique to a company. Incorporating keywords into each post, such as company location, services, and the most searched terms, will give Google additional opportunities to understand the context of a business.
End each post with the offered option of a call to action. Choices include the option to have a customer call directly, schedule an appointment, or learn more about the information you’ve highlighted in a blog post.
Here is a full list of your call-to-action options:
With the Call Now option, the phone number from the Google Business Profile will auto-fill into the box.
The Info tab allows updated business details. Business service areas or a physical address are in this section. Edit hours of operation or add holiday hours as well.
There are sections to include the main business line and a Google phone number, website, and a link for appointments. Some sections will appear as buttons at the top of the GBP on the Desktop.
The next tab is Insights. Google has recently updated the information on insights.
How it works
Insights data includes views, searches, and actions from both organic search results and Google Ads. Google Insights provides different ways to understand how customers interact with a listing:
Here are Google’s definitions:
Direct: Customers who find a listing by searching for a business name or address.
Discovery: Customers who find a listing by searching for a category, product, or service.
It’s important to realize that just because a customer doesn’t take direct action through the GBP doesn’t mean that they don’t connect with a website.
It’s important to track the total analytics as well as direct actions on a GBP and make sure to compare the numbers.
If a GBP is not pulling up in Search or showing up on Google Maps, these are good indications that further optimizations are needed.
One feature of Insights to pay close attention to is “Searches Breakdown.” These longtail keywords are indicators of how prospective customers are finding the profile.
Use these words to optimize a company website and social media profiles in addition to the GBP.
Your Reviews tab allows you to respond directly to each comment left by a customer on the GBP. Flag a bad review as inappropriate, if necessary, in this tab. There is now an option to delete a comment and rewrite it as well. The Google Maps tab allows you to respond to customer reviews from your phone.
This space allows customers to send private messages to an email address. Having the option to answer via chat rather than requiring people to call a business is an extra layer of excellent user experience.
The flexibility of multiple platforms also allows for several users to utilize the service, ensuring a quick customer response time.
We realize that not everyone has the flexibility to answer text messages all day from people via Google while attempting to complete other work. And thankfully, Google now allows automatic response in this area!
If there is one thing that Google makes clear repeatedly, it’s that they want you to add photos to your GBP continually. On the Photo tab, they include all the different types of images to include.
When images are uploaded under each category, Google will identify the images in each category. This could be helpful for customers who are looking at a GBP. If a customer takes a photo and it’s dark or shows an older version of decorations, it will be easier for potential customers browsing images to identify why those photos don’t match the ones that are placed by the business owner.
Services and Products
While not all businesses offer services and products, these features are available and should be optimized.
In the Services section, start by adding category titles that are pre-set by Google. Once a category is set, you can add customized services under the pre-set category. It’s important to group similar services together. This will help Google understand what keywords are related.
Take a minute to check out the SMA Marketing GBP. The custom services mirror the website page dropdown menus. One challenge with this feature is the 80 characters limit. Keep summaries short and to the point.
Product pages feature content differently than services and need to be used properly.
When setting up the Products page, start by creating a Collection. In this example, the Collection is the Ultimate Smile Design (the name of the company) Dental Procedures. Then within each Collection, add Products. They are the sub-categories featured here with a title, image, and explanation. The first sub-category is Cosmetic Dentistry.
Up to 1,000 characters are allowed to describe the product. This is a great opportunity to include a link for a customer back to the business website to read a web page or to complete a purchase.
Use the description section to include keywords customers will search for when looking for products. Always make sure to include links to purchase products or contact the business to request the product.
If you are looking for a quick way to build an inexpensive website, Google is happy to oblige. One caution you may want to consider before going this route is that this choice means all your digital advertising is in one basket other than social media.
A Google website is a bare minimum web page. It will give you a web presence, but it will also limit any opportunities to dive into marketing strategies such as blogging, backlinking, and developing email marketing lists with special offers. You also won’t be able to connect web stories or videos.
Edits and Updates
When a company moves and changes its physical address, adds a service, or wants to refine service areas, it’s vital to update the incorrect business information on a Google Business Profile. Changes won’t happen immediately and may require additional verification with manual approval.
Warning: Third Party Information Will Show Up on a GBP
How Google sources business information
Google is transparently stating that they are pulling information about businesses from third-party sources. This means that inaccurate data can appear on a GBP at any time.
Here is what Google outlines:
There are 4 main sources of information on most business listings:
- Profile owner: Information added about a business. Add, edit, and remove this information as it changes to keep customers up to date and showcase products and services. Learn how to manage your business information.
- Company website: Information from a business’s official website.
- Users: Information from people who use Google services. Google gets a wide variety of information about businesses from its users. This user-generated information includes reviews, popular times, and photos. A business profile is updated when someone takes an action like leaving a review, uploading a photo, or reporting a problem.
- Third-party sources: Information from other places online. If Google finds information about a business that it believes is helpful to customers, it may be added to a GBP listing. This can include links to restaurant menus, social profiles, hotel amenities, or booking/ticketing availability.
Google continually adds new features and improvements to help businesses reach their target customers through the power of search. At SMA, we stay on top of these changes for our customers and subscribers, and we will continue to update this information as new features are available.
If you’re looking for more instruction on how to improve your digital marketing strategy check out our Simplified Digital Marketing course.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct 17, 2019, and has been updated with fresh content.