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Case Study | Sep 17
Jessica Greene on August 13, 2019 (last modified on June 2, 2020) • 17 minute read
Recently, we asked 53 local SEO experts to rank several different marketing channels—things like websites, email marketing, content marketing, SEO, and various types of advertising—in terms of their importance for local businesses.
The most important channel was a local business’s website. The second most important: its Google My Business listing.
For local businesses, our respondents agree that a Google My Business listing is more important than social media, content marketing, email marketing, profiles on other directory sites like Yelp, and all forms of advertising.
So as a local business, you obviously need a Google My Business profile. But beyond that, you need to take steps to optimize your Google My Business profile to rank higher in local searches and show up in the local pack.
So how can you optimize your Google My Business listing to earn higher rankings for local searches—or for a chance to appear in the local pack?
To answer that question, we asked our respondents to share the best practices they follow when optimizing their own listings and/or their clients’ listings.
Here are the eight Google My Business SEO tips they recommended.
“The first thing you need to do is verify your business with Google,” says Steve Yanor of Sky Alphabet Social Media.
“Google will send you a four-digit PIN in the mail that takes 14 days to arrive. Once you receive your PIN, go to the link provided and enter the PIN so that Google knows your business is legitimate.”
After you’ve verified your business, it’s time to fill out your profile. And while many of the fields are optional, several of our respondents said that you need to provide every relevant detail.
“Fill out all the information Google asks for,” says Azuga’s Garret Seevers. “It sounds simple, but it’s often overlooked. If you don’t fill it out, Google gives the option for others—like your competitors—to fill it out for you.”
“Every extra box you can tick and fill in is extra information that helps prospective customers and tells Google you’re the real deal,” says Commusoft’s Cristina Maria. “In addition to name, phone number, and address, add your operating hours, multiple photos of your products/services, the areas you cover, etc.”
“Google can index details provided under different fields of a Google My Business profile,” says Right Solution’s Ayesha Ambreen. “So if you want to improve the ranking of your profile, start with the basics. Populate all the fields with relevant and accurate information, write keyword-rich descriptions, and add visuals.”
“Google rewards businesses who take the time to complete their profiles,” says Kenny Lange of Web Canopy Studio. “A complete profile is the baseline upon which all other recommendations (reviews, Google Posts, answering questions, etc.) are built.”
When filling out your profile, Always Evolving SEO’s Paul Lovell says to “use your correct business name. Do not stuff it with keywords!”
“Stuffing your name with keywords looks spammy, and the people who have heard of your business from a friend may not even recognize it as your listing and call one of your competitors instead.”
“A clear business name is your brand,” Lovell says.
“An important aspect of optimizing your listing is including your products and services,” says Cheyenne Schueman of Page 1 Solutions.
“Google My Business offers a handy feature called ‘services’ that’s easily accessible from the info panel. Filling out your products and services will not only tell potential consumers what you offer, but it will also keep them on your profile longer, making Google see your profile as more important than that of your competitors.”
“Nowadays, many people don’t want to show up at your business or even call you to find out what you offer. They would rather read that information for themselves ahead of time before making a decision. If you happen to have that information right within your listing, it makes your customer’s choice far easier.”
“You have the opportunity to add a video to your listing,” says Freelance Marketing Consultant Steve James. “Add your videos to YouTube. As this is a Google property, you will get extra benefits from using it!”
According to Google, your videos should be no longer than 30 seconds and no more than 100 MB in size, and your resolution should be 720p or higher.
If you’re not going to fill out your profile completely, you should at least make sure you have the most important details filled out.
According to our respondents, the most important Google My Business profile details are your business’s name, address, phone number, website link, and categories:
It’s not enough to just fill out the information on your Google My Business profile. You also need to make sure all of the information is accurate—and that it stays accurate.
“The most important thing you can do is make sure all of the information on your listing is accurate,” says Cindy Venerio of Nerds Support. “That might seem obvious, but there are so many businesses out there with incorrect information.”
“Google My Business listings are becoming the virtual storefront for most businesses, so it’s important to keep them up to date,” says Womply’s Dallin Hatch. “If you can, set a daily or weekly reminder to keep your information current.”
“This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many times we’ve found that this basic—yet critical—online customer touchpoint is outdated or missing: phone number out of service, website down, email bouncing, location listed incorrectly or not at all, outdated reviews, and more,” Hatch says.
And another part of keeping your profile accurate and up-to-date, as Grand Cru Digital’s Casey Bryan recommends, is adding your holiday hours as needed.
“Google My Business rankings are all about local search, and local search revolves around proximity and relevancy,” says Djordje Milicevic of StableWP. “So make sure your service area is accurate. If people are inside your service area and search for your type of service, Google is more likely to display your listing.”
But how important is service area, really? It’s so important that SmartBug Media’s Paul Schmidt actually recommends that businesses “move their physical locations closer to where their customers are searching for them.”
“Yes, this isn’t feasible for most businesses, but the actual distance from your address to where your customers are searching is one of the biggest local ranking factors. You have to keep this in mind, especially if the competition is fierce in your area,” Schmidt says.
It’s not enough to just keep your Google My Business listing accurate. You also need to make sure that it’s consistent with all of the major local directories on the web.
“The most important part of optimizing for Google My Business is NAP (name, address, and phone number),” says Simon Rodgers of WebSitePulse. “These details should be identical in every place that they’re listed.”
Part of that, as Paul Teitelman SEO Consulting’s Paul Teitelman says, means “building tons of high-quality citations via local and niche business directories with 100% NAP consistency to really prove to Google that you deserve to be included in the local pack.”
Another part, as Colibri Digital Marketing’s Andrew McLoughlin recommends, is “making sure your NAP on Google My Business is an exact match for the listings on your website, social profiles, and other directory listings.”
“Discrepancies are easily avoidable but can seriously lower the listing’s rankings,” McLoughlin says.
Leighton Interactive’s Travis McGinnis also recommends “embedding a Google Map on the contact page of your website. For businesses with multiple locations, do the same thing for each location page on the website with the NAP information and map embed.”
“The single most important thing a local business can do to its Google My Business profile is selecting the proper service categories,” says Diane Hansen of Cougar Digital Marketing & Design. “This is the feature that’s used to determine if your listing will be displayed when someone does an organic search.”
“You can define one primary and nine secondary categories,” says Adrian Siuda of Bee Inbound. “There are nearly 4,000 categories available to choose from, and the list is regularly changed.”
For help choosing your categories, Siuda recommends PlePer.com. “PlePer.com maintains a comprehensive and up-to-date list of all Google My Business categories and has a tool to help you choose the correct ones.”
“Make sure you have the most relevant, current category selected for your primary category,” says Kyle Sanders of Complete SEO. “We’ve seen instances where clients see a jump in 5-10 positions simply from moving the most relevant category from secondary to primary.”
“Additionally,” Sanders says, “don’t go overboard on secondary categories that are a stretch in terms of relevance.”
And Joe Goldstein of Contractor Calls says, “Don’t just guess what your categories should be. Search for a target keyword, expand the local pack, and make a note of the category that is displayed for each business. Then, repeat with at least five other keywords and keyword variations.”
“When you track that data on a spreadsheet, it can help you find other categories you may have overlooked, or it can make you reconsider your primary category.”
“The categories you choose determine which searches you’re eligible to rank for—and there are often trade-offs for each category choice—so understand your options and choose carefully,” Goldstein says.
“One of the most important aspects of Google My Business is having pictures,” says Juliane Sunshine of Tandem Interactive. “As simple as it may be, the picture for a Google My Business listing plays an important role.”
“Pictures show Google that this is a legitimate business. They give the user an inside look at your business. They help build trust—a huge factor that Google considers.”
“In order to improve rankings, make sure to have semi-professional pictures; the higher the quality the better. Have photos taken of the outside, inside… any little aspect can help boost rankings on a Google My Business listing,” Sunshine says.
Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray recommends “uploading high-quality pictures of your office, as well as pictures of your team. People like the human aspect of companies, and showing that there are people behind your company name will help you attract prospects to visit your business.”
“Assuming you’ve fully optimized your Google My Business profile and ensured NAP are consistent across all the main citation sites, then regularly uploading new photos is key,” says Alistair Dodds of Ever Increasing Circles. “It helps drive engagement with users, which, in turn, helps with your rankings.”
“Far too many businesses have a set-it-and-forget-it attitude about Google My Business. But it’s essential to regularly update your photos so you have fresh new material being added. It helps tell the story of your brand and demonstrates that you are still active.”
“Monitor your photo engagement stats, and you will soon see what a positive influence this has.”
Editor’s note: Need a simpler way to monitor your Google My Business engagement metrics? Grab this free Google My Business Insights dashboard to keep a close eye on how your listing is helping generate traffic, leads, and sales for your business.
“The best Google My Business SEO tip is to optimize your photos properly—just like you would when optimizing other types of content,” says Max Robinson of Green Bee Gardeners Fife.
“Photos are a seriously underrated aspect of trying to rank for Google My Business. Google will use the information—such as alt text, titles, captions, and geotagging—included within your photos to determine the location of your business.”
“If you aren’t properly optimizing your photos, then you’ll find it very hard to rank for local results.”
“The most important thing you can do to help grow your Google My Business profile ranking is to get more reviews,” says Fisher Unitech’s Jackie Tihanyi. “Reviews will help you rank on Google Maps and improve your click-through rate in the search results.”
Chas Cooper of Rising Star Reviews agrees: “Get as many positive reviews as possible. Google uses both the number of reviews and the average star rating of reviews in its algorithms that determine which businesses show up first—both in Google Maps and in the local pack for web search results.”
“After proximity and backlinks, reviews are the most important ranking factor for local businesses,” Cooper says.
“Every business needs a review strategy,” says Samantha Kohn of AutoVerify. “Some involve painstakingly reaching out to customers individually and asking them to leave a review, and some involve tools that do the heavy lifting for you by automatically making these requests.”
“Whichever way you choose to do it, if optimizing your Google My Business page is a priority for you, make sure you have a review strategy in place,” Kohn says.
Abhijith VM of Geek’s Framework agrees: “The best way to make an impact is to put in place a process that can get you real client reviews. An email campaign that follows up with the client asking politely about leaving a review would be where I would start.”
And Brian Sheehan of Hollingsworth recommends “sending out reminders to your clients and vendors to review you on Google My Business. Add a link to your listing, explain how this will help support your business, and tell them that it should only take five minutes to complete.”
“It’s important to naturally facilitate the process of getting reviews,” says Dan Moyle of Impulse Creative. “Google is smart enough to tell if your reviews are legitimate, so don’t ask a friend to write a phony review.”
“Search engines want people to naturally rate you and will weed out spammers. If bots miss the fake enthusiasm, searchers sure won’t. You’re not fooling anyone,” Moyle says.
Anthony Mastri of Search Engine Coach agrees: “Google makes a point to say that reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased, so avoid trying to game your reviews at all costs.”
“Google has gone to incredible lengths to identify spammy reviews and remove them, so invest your effort in honest techniques and a great customer experience over anything else,” Mastri says.
“When asking clients for reviews, value quality over quantity,” says Laetitia Caron of HospitalityHub. “Getting tons of 5-star ratings is great, but getting some long, qualitative reviews is even better.”
Loclweb’s Jorge Sheffy agrees: “It’s important to get reviews that have good keywords in them and provide a deeper review than just ‘their service was great.’”
“Now that Google has deemed reviews with 200+ characters more valuable, the mission is to not only generate positive reviews but also to have them include descriptive sentences that explain why the place is good,” says Miva’s Luke Wester.
“Respond to your reviews,” says Kim Kohatsu of Charles Ave Marketing. “This simple action not only shows customers that you’re listening to them and appreciate the time they took to review you, but it also shows the Google algorithm that your business is engaged, responsive, and actively using the platform.”
“Responding to reviews is an opportunity to show customers (current or potential) that you care about their experience with your company,” says Portent’s Amanda Putney. “Reviews are also treasure troves of information service and quality information, which are especially crucial for local businesses.”
“When you respond to reviews, it shows that you are really invested in the community and your business, and that will hopefully entice even more people to come and leave even more reviews,” says Andrew Helling of REthority.
But when you respond, ThinkFuel Marketing’s Kevin D’Arcy says to “focus on writing a meaningful and custom response. Avoid just saying ‘Thanks!’”
And SmartBug Media’s Sam McCue says that responding to bad reviews is an opportunity to get that review revised and improved:
“Once I got a response to a bad review that was absolutely perfect. It read: ‘Hi Sam. Though we enjoy reading all of the good reviews our customers leave, it takes reviews like yours to help us become a better business. I thank you for your candid feedback and am committed to making sure your next visit is nothing but superb.’”
“After reading that, my frustration was gone. I went back to the restaurant and ultimately changed my review,” McCue says.
“Google My Business allows businesses to create interactive posts—Posts on Google—that appear in search results,” says Osiris Parikh of Summit Mindfulness. “Creating high-quality posts can drive engagement on your profile and drive traffic and visibility toward your business.”
“Google My Business Posts impact search rankings and help with SEO,” says Revenue River’s Juliette Tholey. “Posts can reference an article or a blog that exists on your website, as well as events like courses, sales, and promotions.”
Sky Alphabet Social Media’s Steve Yanor recommends writing 10 posts. “These 10 posts expire after 14 days, but you can simply re-post them if you don’t want to write new ones.”
“Each post should be around 1,000 words and contain the keywords you want to show up for in Google searches. Pro tip: if you mention ‘Google My Business’ in the first paragraph, your post will be seen by more people.”
“Google prefers content that is up-to-date, new, and consistent with the season,” says Irena Zobniow of Insightland. “Therefore, post an update regularly, add new photos, write what has changed recently at your company, etc.”
Ellen Roumeliotis of Aston Social recommends “adding a few posts once a week. You can even duplicate your social media posts if you’re struggling to find content.”
Lisamarie Monaco of InsuranceForBurial.com agrees: “Post weekly. Keep your clients engaged, and provide the information they’re seeking!”
“Adding regular posts enhances the user experience and adds value to your Google My Business profile,” says Aaina Bajaj of Signity Solutions. “Therefore, businesses should post regularly on Google my Business—just like other social media channel.”
Optimizing your Google My Business listing for higher rankings is great, but knowing whether or not the changes you made were effective is even better.
So what KPIs should you track to monitor the performance of your Google My Business listing and the impact of your optimizations?
According to our respondents, the most important KPIs for Google My Business are events, phone calls, and clicks to your website:
If you need a way to monitor your key Google My Business metrics alongside data from the other marketing channels you’re focused on—such as your website, email newsletter, and social media profiles—consider building your own custom reporting dashboard with Databox.
Databox lets you pull metrics from more than 70 tools, including Google My Business, Google Analytics, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Mailchimp, and more.
Case Study | Sep 17
Marketing | Sep 17
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