If you’re serious about targeting local consumers and boosting your local search visibility, you’ll need to take some time to optimize your Google My Business (GMB) listing.
In recent years, Google has rolled out a whole host of new Google My Business features, so much so that you may well find you’ve missed one or two, and as such are no longer using your Google My Business profile as effectively as you might think.
Short of performing a full Google My Business audit, there are many ways you can improve your listing – we’re sharing 10 here for you to get you started.
But before we show you how to optimize Google My Business profiles, let’s quickly touch on why you need to.
Why an optimized Google My Business listing is crucial for every business
Simply put, every business needs a Google My Business listing. It offers a wealth of business information to Google and local consumers and offers a rich local search presence. The details you provide in your Google My Business profile are used in a number of different ways by the search engine, from populating the highly visible knowledge panel which appears to the right of the search results and filling out the local pack to populating Google Maps, providing voice search results and assisting with Google app search results.
Setting up your Google My Business listing is free, quick and easy, and once it’s done, you can begin the Google My Business optimization process to improve your local search presence.
Optimizing your GMB profile is both about updating and using GMB to tell Google everything it needs to know to accurately list your business in the right places at the right times (in local pack and Google Maps) and impress upon any potential customer coming across your GMB profile that yours is the business that best meets the needs defined in their local search term.
Google My Business signals are vitally important to local search and their influence is growing year-on-year. They are now one of the defining factors in local search success so knowing how to optimize Google My Business could be the difference your local business needs to thrive.
The below chart shows how the influence of Google My Business signals on local ranking factors is in rude health (extracted from data originally published in Moz’s series of local ranking factors surveys.
How to Optimize Google My Business
Step 1: Make sure your NAP is accurate
The very first stage of knowing how to optimize Google My Business for local search success is ensuring the basics are done well. For GMB, this means a quick check that your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) is correct, totally up-to-date and entirely consistent with your other local business citations.
Citations help with business discovery, they can help consumers to find your business, and they feed Google the information it needs to help rank your business. If your NAP is wrong on your Google My Business profile, you’re potentially derailing your entire local search accuracy and making it harder for people to find you.
The Moz Local Search Ranking Factors Study places Google My Business signals as number one on its list, with on-page signals including NAP in position five. Dan Taylor, from Search Engine Journal, puts this all into context, explaining,
NAP consistency is an important part of Google’s local and Local Pack algorithms, and building citations with a consistent NAP to your Google My Business listing and listed online addresses can influence your local rankings. However, having a consistent NAP is also important to the user journey as online directories and social bookmarking sites aren’t just used by Google, they’re used by humans too.”
To check your NAP, simply log in to your Google My Business dashboard, click on the ‘Info’ icon on the left-hand side and then verify all information is correct.
Step 2: Claim your Google My Business short name
UPDATE: At the time of publication (July 2019), there is concern within the local search community that a bug in GMB is causing Google reviews to disappear when the short name is claimed. I’ll be sure to update this post to remove this message once the bug is fixed, but in the meantime I’d recommend reading on to find out how to claim your short name, but holding off claiming it until everyone is confident this bug is fixed.
Once you verify your Google My Business account, the next job on your Google My Business optimization list is to claim your short name. This is a short or custom name, designed to make it easier for local search users to find your business. Google requires your short name to be something either associated with your business name or the name that customers commonly use to refer to your business.
The search engine explains,
When you share your short name, customers can enter the short name URL in the browser’s address bar, like “g.page/[yourcustomname]”, to go directly to your Business Profile… We recommend including your location to make the short name more distinct. For example, you can use your business name with your location, like your city or neighbourhood. Keep your short name simple so that you can easily promote it, and customers can remember it. If you have a short name, you’ll get a short URL to request reviews from your customers.”
If your business has multiple locations and you’re wondering how to optimize Google My Business for each one, you can still claim a short URL for each but will simply need to add your location, too, as suggsted by Google.
You should follow [companyname][branchlocation] as your short name format and keep it consistent across locations. Starbucks, for example, may claim ‘starbucksbeachstreetsanfrancisco’ as its GMB short URL for its Beach Street, SF store and ‘starbuckscanalandcentralny’ for its Canal & Central store in Manhattan, NY.
Claiming your short name is easy. Just log in to Google My Business, click ‘Info’ on the left-hand side then scroll down to ‘claim short name’. Your short name can be up to 32 characters long. You can change it a maximum of three times per year by navigating back to the same menu option and selecting edit.
Step 3: Write the perfect business description
You can add a 750-character description to your GMB profile as part of your Google My Business optimization work. This text should describe your business in an engaging, authentic manner but it shouldn’y reference things like sales or promotions.
This text field is a place to tell local search users about your USPs and brand story, your mission, and history. It’s worth noting that Google guidelines prohibit promotional content and links in this space. You can include a phone number and email address.
It may take a couple of tries to write an optimized GMB business description, but you should follow the basic rules of optimized content with each draft. That is to say, pick one or two keywords to build your description around and ensure that search phrase appears early in the text. As we’re focusing on how to optimize Google My Business for local search, you should also include a location keyword as part of this process.
Once you’re satisfied with your description, go back to the ‘Info’ tab and scroll almost to the bottom. Then copy and paste the text into the ‘add business description’ section. You can go back and edit this as many times as you want until you hit on the perfect optimized text.
Step 4: Choose an appropriate category and sub-category
As you might expect, the category you choose when optimizing your Google My Business listing plays quite an important role in local search ranking as it tells Google which searches your business could be relevant for.
The search engine says,
Categories are used to describe your business and connect you to customers searching for the services you offer. For example, if your primary category is “Pizza restaurant”, Google may show your business in local search results to people who search for “Restaurants”, “Italian restaurants” or “Pizza” in their area.”
The most recent Moz Search Ranking Factors survey also suggests that category and sub-category comprise an important component of strong local rankings, with ‘Proper GMB category associations’ ranked fourth in the top 50 local ranking pack factors and ‘GMB primary category matches a broader category of the search category’ placed 8th on the list.
Now, in Google’s example, choosing the right GMB category as a pizza restaurant owner was straightforward, but that’s not always the case for local businesses.
In many instances, there isn’t a single standout choice; a law firm, for example, can practise many areas of law, from corporate to environmental to family matters. As a general rule of thumb, when there is uncertainty or a number of possible options, the primary category selection should be for the category that is most important to your business.
This category should also be specific. Google has a good example here, advising on its support page that if you have a nail salon, your primary category should be ‘nail salon’ rather than just salon – this is more specific, so it’s better from an optimization perspective and much more useful to local consumers.
The secondary category is also important when considering how to optimize your Google My Business listing as it provides additional valuable information to Google and local consumers.
The secondary categories can outline additional services that you offer. Again, Google has a good example of how to optimize Google My Business secondary categories, saying that if you run a supermarket with a pharmacy and a deli on premises, ‘supermarket’ should be your primary category and ‘pharmacy’ and ‘deli’ then added as secondary categories.
To select your category and sub-category in Google My Business, head to Info then click the pencil icon under your business name.
Step 5: Upload amazing photos
A picture may be worth a thousand words but it could also be worth a few additional brownie points when optimizing your GMB listing. We were already researching the importance of images in search results back in 2011, when 60% of consumers said that local search results with good images captured their attention.
Other research has also found that images give posts 3x more chance of being shared. Ultimately, looking good online comes down to careful selection of exactly the right images – we’ve got more on this specifically for Google My Business in our guide here.
GMB gives you a lot of options to play with when it comes to images so it’s vital that you really maximize this opportunity to grab local search attention. You can add interior and exterior shots, 360-degree images (perfect if you have a really cool bricks-and-mortar space or are a hotel, wedding venue, restaurant or similar) and even video to this space.
Google advises that you upload;
- If applicable, three exterior shots of your business as a minimum, with photos taken from different directions and at different times of the day.
- At least three images of the interior of your business, showing ambience, atmosphere, and décor (only if you have a physical location, of course)
- At least three photos of your team providing your services to customers to give a genuine representation of your business.
- A minimum of three images of products that you sell, food and drink you serve if you’re in the hospitality business or images of rooms if you’re a hotel.
- Three images of your colleagues and team members.
Google has said you’ll soon be able to add captions to your images. While this feature isn’t yet live, do make a note to return to your image uploads when captioning is rolled out to give meaningful context to the photos you have uploaded to your GMB profile.
Your customers can also upload images of your business, its staff and services to Google. Reviews with images are a local search ranking factor so as well as planning how to optimize your Google My Business listing for search success, you should also consider how to encourage your customers to leave reviews with images in their feedback.
Step 6: Generate, monitor, and respond to reviews
Before we move on to how to generate, monitor and respond to reviews to further your GMB optimization efforts, let’s quickly recap the importance of reviews overall.
For local businesses, the beauty of reviews is in the influence they have on the purchase process. The most recent BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey found that local consumers will read an average of 10 online reviews before they feel they are able to trust a local business – so generating positive reviews can have a direct impact on sales.
We also found that more than half of consumers will only use a business if it has four or more stars – increasingly, this means that you need reviews in order to generate customers. Typically, 50% of consumers will visit a local business website after reading a positive review, 15% will visit the business location, and 13% will contact the business directly.
We know, too, thanks to Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors study, that review signals, including quantity, velocity and diversity are a top three local pack ranking factor. The nature of how Google reviews works means you’re much more likely to rank in spots 1-3 if you have Google Reviews attached to your business profile.
So with all of that said, how do you begin to generate reviews when learning how to optimize Google My Business? Some consumers will naturally leave a review without being prompted but for those who don’t, you’ll need a consistent process for requesting online reviews (read our post here to ensure you don’t fall foul of Google policy on review requests first).
There are plenty of tools available to automate the review request process. You can do this directly on site at checkout or, send an email a few days after services have been completed or products shipped. You’ll need to develop a few methods of reaching out as not all of your customers will react the same way or take the required action. A follow-up phone call a few days after an email request could be appropriate in some instances for example.
However you approach your customers to request a review, always ensure you provided a quick step-by-step guide which outlines exactly how they can leave a review on Google. Unsure what to say in your review request emails? Check out these 5 free review request email templates to get you started.
Once your reviews start coming in, you’ll need to have a designated person or persons within your organization to monitor them and respond. The speed of response is important so this will ideally be a daily activity. A simple ‘thank you’ will be enough in some cases, but in others you may need a more detailed response. Our post here offers more details on how to deal with negative reviews.
Step 7: Use Google Posts to boost conversions and showcase brand personality
There’s a feature within GMB called Posts, which is crucial to your Google My Business optimization efforts. Posts are essentially tiny blog posts which can be used to give a short news update, share an offer, publish details of an upcoming event or showcase a product.
Google My Business Gold Product Expert Ben Fisher says that Google Posts are a fantastic way to increase your local search visibility as well as optimize your Google My Business profile:
The great thing about Google Posts is that when a potential customer searches for a particular business on Google, the Post shows up front-and-center in the business’ Knowledge Panel… And when a searcher clicks on the Post, it expands into an amazing ad-like box that grabs visitors’ attention.”
Recent developments at Google have also seen the search engine make Offers-style Posts more prominent. Posts are also starting to appear in the local finder in a section atop the search results labeled “related to your search”.
With as many as three relevant posts being pulled from GMB into the knowledge panel on local search, it’s clear that there is significant additional search exposure up for grabs. Whether this is just a test or not, this use of Posts also hints that Google is a big fan of this content type, making it an important piece to consider when looking at how to optimize Google My Business.
To create a Post:
- Log in to Google My Business
- Click on ‘Post’
- Select post type (update, event, offer or product)
- Upload a relevant image or video
- Write your content (you’re allowed up to 1,500 characters)
- Select button type to display below your Post and add your link
Step 8: Build up a good database of information on Google Q&A
Is the name suggests, Google Q&A is a question-and-answer feature. It gives consumers the opportunity to ask questions about a local business, with the question and its answer displayed in the knowledge graph.
The purpose of Q&A is to give search users and local consumers additional information about a business – this is a great way to gain additional local exposure and further build out your GMB profile as part of your optimization efforts.
The good thing about Q&A is that as the business owner, you’re allowed to ask and answer questions about your location. That means you can create a store of helpful information to help search users considering your business before they’ve even come through to your website, let alone your dedicated FAQ page.
Creating questions and answers about the services you offer, brands you carry, average costs and similar can be constructive and helpful, aiding the local search consumer on the hunt for local businesses.
Local search expert Mike Blumenthal advises,
Google expects that the business will be engaged in the Q&A process… Don’t get carried away with too many questions and don’t be thinking of these questions as an opportunity for keyword stuffing. They should be free of marketing speak and reflect the voice of the consumer.”
It goes without saying that when a consumer does ask a question, you should always aim to respond with an answer promptly and be useful, helpful, and accurate in your response.
Step 9: Add your social media profiles to your Google My Business profile
Part and parcel of optimizing a GMB profile is ensuring it is as complete and up-to-date as possible. As we have seen throughout, there are some serious search visibility benefits to be had if you complete your profile information, update often and make the most of the myriad GMB features.
In some knowledge panel search results, social media profiles will appear alongside local business information. Google explains,
When people search for your business on Google, they may see links to your business’s social profiles included with your other business information in the knowledge panel in Search. Google gathers business information from a variety of sources and may include it to give customers a more detailed overview of your business. Social profile information is automatically added to listings for eligible businesses.”
To ensure that your social media links appear, Google says you must be consistent, verified and use structured data. On the consistency front, make sure that the business name used on your social media profile is the same as that on your Google My Business profile.
Where the social media site requires verification, ensure that you complete this process. This signals to Google that the profile is authentic and connected to your business. On your business website itself, you can also add structured social profile markup to indicate to the search engine which social media profiles you’d like to be showcased.
In order to maximize this opportunity, it’s imperative that your social media profiles are updated often, their messages and comments monitored and your community engaged with.
Step 10: Investigate GMB features specific to your industry and use them
As the hub of Google’s local search and local business efforts, GMB is absolutely packed with features. Many features and tools are specific to various industries – while our guide here provides a comprehensive overview on how to optimize Google My Business for your brand, there are new features added constantly and lots of niche features that could be relevant to your business type not covered here.
To ensure your GMB listing is fully optimized, investigate what industry-specific features GMB offers you. For example;
Google is continually refining its tools and features – you’ll need to be proactive about updating your profile and making any needed changes when new developments are rolled out.
Monitoring your GMB performance is also important and can be done using GMB Insights. This will give you a good handle on the impact of your actions and how much traffic and visibility your efforts are generating.
Regularly auditing your profiles using BrightLocal’s Google My Business Audit can help you to identify further opportunities for improvement and refinement.
Knowing how to optimize Google My Business packs plenty of benefits in for local business owners – with a promise of greater local search visibility, more reviews, and enhanced information for local consumers.
While some actions, such as filling out your profile with opening hours and choosing a category need only be done once, others, such as uploading recent images and publishing Posts, need to occur on a regular basis if you are to truly unlock the power of GMB.