It’s always been a challenge to see success in the field of local SEO. From link building to on-page and technical SEO, you still have to get the fundamentals of SEO absolutely right.
One area to pay extra-close attention to is Google My Business. Without a well-optimized GMB listing, your chances of appearing in Google features like the Local Pack and Maps are going to be slim. With 97% of consumers looking online for local businesses in 2017, you need to do everything you can to be as visible as possible in front of this audience.
In 2018, it’s more important than ever to have a well-optimized listing. Leading search experts recently got together to provide their forecasts for local SEO in 2018, and several concluded that with more users getting what they want directly from Google’s “walled garden” – whether that’s “instant answers” and the knowledge graph, Google My Business or Maps – the result is less traffic clicking through to your website and more interactivity with Google.
Couple that with further encroachments from paid advertising in the form of Local Service Ads, and it’s clear that local businesses should be doing everything they can to attract organic conversions, whether from the website itself or directly from Google My Business.
With a whole host of new features for you to take advantage of, there’s plenty you can do to ensure this linchpin of local SEO is fully optimized. Not only that, it’ll encourage users to get in touch with you and convert, right from the listing itself.
Let’s take a look at some of the most useful features, and how you can use them to boost your local SEO.
Setting Up Google My Business
Every business should have a fully optimized and up-to-date Google My Business profile, but this is particularly the case for local businesses. For any local business, your GMB listing is a great starting point for local SEO.
It’s this listing that will appear in the local pack, right at the top of the organic listings, for local queries, like in this search for “Nottingham locksmiths”:
Users on Google Maps will also be served these listings, and Google My Business continues to have a significant impact on local search rankings.
It’s free and easy to set up a Google My Business listing – just visit Google My Business, click “Start Now” and start filling in your basic business information.
Work through the options, being sure to fill in essential items like your business category, contact information and opening hours.
Make sure you upload plenty of high-quality photographs, to give customers a visual representation of your business.
One thing to make note of, before we look at some interesting features, is that it’s essential that the name, address and phone number (NAP) of the business match what’s on the website, and across all directory listings.
Although it seems basic, making mistakes like choosing the wrong category or having different contact information to what’s on your website is likely to have a negative effect on your local rankings.
Key Google My Business Features
Once set up, many people leave their Google My Business listing alone. While this won’t necessarily hurt you, there are plenty of cool features you can use after it’s live to set you apart from your competitors.
Let’s take a look at how some recent GMB features can help give the edge to your local SEO.
Setting up your listing is great, but did you know you can also get plenty of useful insight directly from the GMB dashboard, in easy to digest graphs and tables?
Log in to your GMB and on the left-hand side, select “Insights”:
You’ll get to see some really helpful insight into how customers search for your local business and what they do on your listing:
And it goes into more detail, with graphs highlighting the region those users were in when viewing your listing, and helpful comparative metrics, comparing elements of your profile to competitors:
You can use this analytics data to help optimize your listing – for example, if businesses like yours have uploaded more photos than you, that’s an area where you need to take action.
After being taken away for a few years, business owners are now again able to to write a short description about their business: “what you offer, what sets you apart, your history, or anything else helpful for your customers to know,” according to Google’s guidelines.
To add a description, navigate from “Info” on the sidebar to the description field. You’ve got 750 characters to write with, around 250 of which will be shown before being cut off.
If you’re struggling for inspiration, a condensed version of your “About Us” page or similar would probably fit the bill.
It’s worth noting that for larger businesses, it’s okay to duplicate descriptions across locations.
Related to the description, another recent addition to GMB is the ability to add products and services to your listing. These are written by the business owner.
Many businesses may find that their business doesn’t quite fit into one of the “Category” options, and as they’re stuck within a category that isn’t quite right, feel they have to put keywords in the business name field.
As of yet, it’s not appearing on every listing, but as a new feature, it’s likely to roll out to more users over time. Access and edit your Services section by navigating to Info > Services in your GMB dashboard.
If the business you’re representing has a special event, offer or a desire to put the spotlight on a specific product or service (and it probably does), check out the Posts feature, which you can access by navigating to “Posts” in the left-hand menu.
Google Posts can be used to promote events and special offers or to put the spotlight on a specific product or service. They’re really quick to set up, but you still don’t see too many of them on the SERPs, meaning they’re a great way to stand out on Google.
This guide on GMB Posts goes into a lot more detail about what exactly they are and how to use them.
This doesn’t look like it’s yet rolled out to the UK, but it is available to the US, and is likely to roll out further in future. It’s another little-known feature which gives users the option to send a text message directly to the business, straight from the Google My Business listing. With so many local searches carried out on mobile, adding in another opportunity for customers to get in touch is nothing to be sniffed at.
You’ll see the messaging option on your Google My Business dashboard, and you don’t need to worry about displaying your personal phone number, as you’ll use a different number, via Google’s Allo app.
Set this up, and on mobile searches, users will have the option to message you directly from the local panel – another example of how Google’s new updates can mean fewer clicks to your website. (If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.)
Another one that’s currently in the US and is soon to be rolled out to further countries is Google’s booking feature.
Google has partnered with several scheduling providers to allow customers to make bookings straight from the GMB interface, in under a minute. If you’re a US business already partnered with one of the scheduling providers, the booking button will be automatically added to your listing, and looks like this:
Image via Blog.google
If you offer the option to convert right from the SERP but your competitor doesn’t, it could be one more thing to give you the edge. It’s worth noting that users don’t book on your website – they won’t leave the SERP, and it’s one more way to keep users in Google’s “walled garden” – which is becoming increasingly contentious in the search community.
If you’re outside the US, this is one to keep an eye out for.
Okay, reviews aren’t a new or little-known feature of Google My Business. But there’s still opportunity to stand out on the crowded local SERP if you take proper advantage.
First of all, you should be actively cultivating reviews and asking customers for feedback. Then, once a review has been left, respond to it! Whether good or bad, you should be responding to all reviews. In fact, 30% of people said this was key when judging local businesses, many of which may not be responding to reviews at all.
You’ll know plenty by now about the awesome power of video marketing, and if you don’t, check out some of these stats. Just one to bear in mind for now is the fact that viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video compared to 10% when reading it in text.
That’s great, because since the start of 2018, users have been able to add a 30-second video about their business to their GMB listing. This’ll appear in the overview tab of the dashboard, and is a great way to add some personal, creative flair to your listing.
Upload a video via the “Photos” section of your dashboard:
Just imagine how powerful a video tour could be for an event space, or an entertainment complex.
Rolled out in June 2018, the Google My Business Agency Dashboard aims to make it easier for marketing agencies to manage clients’ GMB listings.
The Dashboard aims to make location management and user access simpler, particularly for agencies managing thousands of listings – previously, locations were restricted to 100 per account.
If you’re new to local SEO, you’re probably unlikely to be managing thousands of listings, but it’s worth knowing what features are out there.
That said, there’s been some initial criticism of it, and it looks like it might be best to wait until initial bugs have been ironed out.
Common Google My Business Mistakes To Avoid
As mentioned above, incorrect business information is one of the most common business mistakes, which is easy to fix.
One of the other things you’ll want to look out for is duplicate listings. It’s worth checking if a business has any other GMB profiles set up already. I’ve seen plenty of cases of duplicate, old or forgotten listings, which you’ll want to remove in most cases.
Another common mistake is a business setting up a new listing when it moves to a new location – again, you need to just update the information on your existing listing, rather than creating a new one and ending up with duplicates.
Often, you might see things other than the business name in the business name field – for example, adding a promotional message, or the business location. This is pretty common, but the only thing that’s allowed in this field is the actual business name, and nothing more. It’s best to stay well within Google’s guidelines!
Once you’ve set up Google My Business, be sure to use these features to make the most of it. Although local SEO success will require work on aspects of technical SEO, content, and off-page SEO like any other SEO project, Google My Business lays a strong foundation.
As search continues to evolve in 2018, with all signs pointing towards increased interactivity with Google SERPs at the expense of fewer clicks to your website, it makes sense to ensure you evolve with the times and ensure that it’s possible to drive conversions directly from your GMB listing.
About the author
Stanley Dunthorne is an Owned Media Consultant at Nottingham-based Hallam, where he specializes in SEO.