This post was originally published in May of 2018 and has been updated for 2020.
We will continue to update this post regularly, however, you can also jump to the highlights of changes you should know about for 2020 here.
This post started with just a few updates that Google had implemented and grew to this almost 3,000-word behemoth before you and now has been updated to reflect even more changes since we originally published this article. Because of the growing importance of a Google My Business page for all local businesses and the in-depth, step-by-step detail that this post goes into, we think it earned its “Ultimate Guide” status.
Want to skip all of this and have this service done-for-you?
Check out our Marketing Packages for Small Businesses.
If you want this guide nut-shelled or the TLDR version, here ya go:
Now, let’s break all that down, shall we?
First, why are we here?
If you are a local business owner, you cannot ignore Google My Business and still hope to rank in the Local Pack. The Local Pack is the highly-coveted space of three listings that pull up first when local results are shown on a Google search.
Google is really pushing for the first page of search results to be a business’s new website. Instead of clicking through to an actual website, Google is making it easier for searchers to do almost all of their research about a company without ever leaving the search results page. When they are open. Contact information. Photos. If they are busy right now, or how long you may expect to wait for a table.
Having a fully optimized knowledge panel that shows all available information about a business has been shown to increase calls and inquiries. Like what you’re reading? Contact us to learn more.
We’ve been following the updates closely and wanted to provide you with an easy-to-follow guide to help you get the most out of your Google My Business page.
First things first…
If you haven’t already, make sure your Google My Business (GMB) page is claimed and verified.
Hopefully, you’ve done this already, but if not here are the steps to follow.
Search your business in Google Maps.
If you find your business, claim it and verify it with a phone call or postcard. It can be claimed if you see the text “Claim this business”.
If you don’t find your business, add it by inputting your information, then verify with a phone call or postcard.
• Your business is already verified but you don’t have access.
Maybe someone else claimed it years ago with an email account you no longer have access to. It happens and it can be a pain to reclaim that profile.
However, it is worth the slight headache to get access back to the original account. Here’s what to do:
DO NOT create a new account without trying to get access first!
When your location appears to be owned by another account, you should have the option to “Request Ownership”. When you do this, Google will send an email to the current owner’s email on the account. Be patient as this may take a few days.
• You found duplicate listings of your business.
Sometimes Google listings can be created because of a slightly different address or business name. You want to make sure there is no confusion about which listing is the correct one. Data confusion is something you want to avoid with Google as it can impact your rankings.
Cleaning up duplicate listings can be time-consuming and a real headache, which is why we never recommend creating a new listing without trying to reclaim it first (see above). But, if you do find yourself in this predicament, follow these steps to try to clean up your listings.
If you can claim the duplicate, do so.
Google will alert you to the duplicate once you have more than one listing in your account. Then follow these steps:
What if you can’t claim the duplicate?
You can request ownership using the steps above, once claimed, delete it or if that’s not possible, report the listing as a duplicate. The report feature takes some time, and may even require several attempts to get the listing removed.
To report a duplicate location on Google Maps:
• You own a service-area business.
If you are a service area business and serve your customers at locations that are not your office, you can specify as such on your Google My Business profile. When you set up your account, you will be able to answer the question, “Do you want to add a location that customers can visit, like a store or an office?” If you are a service area business, answer “No”.
You will then be prompted to add the areas that your business serves. YOu can add several cities and zip codes, or skip this step entirely. Note: this will impact how you are shown in local results.
Like what you see? Contact us to learn more.
NOTE: IT IS AGAINST GOOGLE’S TOU TO USE A P.O. BOX OR OTHER REMOTE MAILBOXES FOR YOUR BUSINESS ADDRESS.
OK, now that you have your one and only Google My Business listing claimed and verified, let’s move on.
Once your listing is verified, you can go in and fill out all of your business information. Don’t skip on this and be as complete as possible. Google will offer a lot of options to fill in details about your business and physical location.
Let’s take a deeper look at all of those options.
Entering your business category will not only help searchers find you, but it will also change the options you have in your Google My Business listing. For example, If you are a restaurant, an option to add a link to a menu will become available. If you own a hotel, you may have access to the booking feature.
How many categories should you choose?
While only one primary category will be shown on your listing in the knowledge panel, adding several that will help define your niche and products or services can be beneficial.
A great tip from Darren Shaw from Whitespark is to see what additional categories your (well-ranking) competitors are using. Since only the primary is shown, there is a bit of a hack that you need to use to see your competitors hidden additional categories. This is next-level bonus stuff, right here!
The category should show up several times. Scroll or hit the down arrow on the search bar until you find the section like this:
[\”Internet Marketing Service\”,\”Advertising\”,\”Advertising Agency\”,\”Business Service\”,\”Design Services\”,\”Digital Media\”,\”E Commerce\”,\”Marketing Agency\”,\”Services Companies\”,\”Website Designer\”]
Now you can see all of the categories that are being used for this GMB listing.
If any of these categories make sense to use in your business listing as well, go ahead and use them. You never want to copy your competitors exactly, but if they are ranking higher than you in the local pack, taking a peek at the categories they are using can be incredibly helpful.
Include all of your operating hours.
Are there holidays that you know you will be closed for? Include them here.
Is your business closed every Christmas Day? Add that.
If you know of any other holidays that are coming up, you can set special hours now as well. Google will likely prompt you to confirm the next few months of public holidays as well.
This needs to be your primary business number. If you use tracking phone numbers at all, do not include them here. Google uses this information to confirm your NAP (Name, Address, and Phone number) details, so you always want this number to match all other listings of your business.
Also, make sure that it’s a local number. If you have an 800 number you prefer people to use, consider getting a local number that gets routed to the 800 number. Even if you are a local company, 800 numbers tend to scare people off.
If you have more than one main phone number, up to two can be added. (no fax lines should be entered here)
We prefer to use a website tracking URL on Google My Business listings. It makes tracking traffic coming from your GMB listing more accurate and easier to find under “campaigns” in your Google Analytics. We always want to see how many times our website link is clicked on in our GMB listing, vs clicked in the organic results. Yes, it’s nitpicky, but it’s what we do!
You can create one here with Google Campaign URL Builder.
While you will still be able to see Local results in your Google Analytics Dashboard, with a tracking URL you will be able to compare specific clicks to your home page from your knowledge panel.
If you use a booking website to take appointments or reservations, you can add a URL that links to your system here. Depending on the booking software you use, you may even be able to integrate your booking directly into your GMB page.
This feature was released in 2018 and is still not fully rolled out yet at the time of this update. (January 2020)
Currently, this feature is only available for a limited number of business types, like food and beverage companies, health and beauty, and other service businesses that don’t already have a third-party-provided link to a menu.
While you may see this option on your dashboard, your services may not appear on your listing as of yet.
Attributes that are available to select will differ depending on your industry. Attributes can range from things like “woman-led business”, “wheelchair accessible entrance”, “has Wi-Fi”, and “languages spoken”. Make sure to select all attributes that apply to your business and physical location.
Some additional subjective attributes are provided by Google visitors. For example, Google may ask users to provide feedback to questions like, is your location considered “cozy”, “popular with tourists”, or is a “good place to watch sports”.
Attributes are always being added and changing. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on these and keep them up-to-date on your listing.
The business description was taken away a few years ago and just recently brought back. Assuming that SEO’s were keyword stuffing the description is one of the reasons it was taken away, be sure that your description still sounds human.
Use this space to tell a bit about your business. When did you open? Who do you serve? What sets your business apart from all the others?
Have some fun here and encourage people to find out more about you.
Pretty self-explanatory. Add what year and month you opened.
There are other options you may have depending on your industry. For example, if you are a restaurant, you have an option to add a link to your menu. If you are a hotel, you can add a way for people to book a room through any of your booking sites.
If you are a retail business or even a service, you can also add products to your listing.
Once you have entered all of the information you can, next add photos. Like what you’re reading? Contact us to learn more.
When adding GMB photos, keep in mind what searchers are wanting to know about your business.
What does the outside of your building look like?
Are you difficult to find? Photos of the outside can help people find your business.
What does the inside look like?
What about your products or services?
Within your GMB listing, you can specify what images are from the inside or outside as well as photos of your team, photos of your work, and even specify photos of food and drink for restaurants. Include several for each category that you can.
What your photos look like when shown on a desktop.
Also be sure to carefully select your profile image, logo, and cover photo.
Google’s photo standards:
Format: JPG or PNG.
Size: Between 10 KB and 5 MB.
Minimum resolution: 720 x 720 pixels.
Quality: The photo should be in focus and well lit, and have no significant alterations or excessive use of filters. In other words, the image should represent reality.
Sizes for each image type:
If you need some help taking high-quality photos for your business, see this post,
How to Take Better Photos for Your Business
If you have the ability to take a 360-degree photo, all the better! You can even hire one of Google’s partner photographers to take a 360 virtual tour of your space and have it added to your listing. These are really powerful for businesses that rely on their interior space like event venues, bars, restaurants and places of interest.
A NOTE ABOUT YOUR COVER PHOTO:
Ideally, what you select for your cover photo will be the one that is shown in your search results. However, Google will try to show the most relevant photo they can, and sometimes that means they bypass your chosen cover photo. (How rude!)
What do you do if an unflattering photo is showing as your primary?
We had this come up with a client recently where a photo of some construction was appearing on the cover photo spot even though another, better-suited photo was selected as the cover. While the photo was relevant for what they do it was pretty ugly in the search results! The photo was added under the “at work” category, but still showing up as the cover image. The only way we found a way around this was to delete the offending image and re-upload it. While this workaround isn’t ideal, it seems to work for now.
GMB owners can also add videos to their listings. And not a lot of businesses are doing this yet so it’s a great opportunity to stand out! A video is a great way to show new customers more about you and your business in a fun and engaging way. Even if it’s just a walk-through of your business or a job that you perform, video is a great way to show people what you do and what to expect when choosing to do business with you.
Google’s video requirements:
Can you accept text messages on your business phone? Adding messaging to your GMB listing will allow searchers to message you directly from the results page. This is perfect for a business whose customers need an immediate response.
Posts are a great way to encourage searchers to click through to your website or encourage other searcher actions. They are perfect for any promotions you are running, recent blog posts, events, and even highlighting products.
The calls to action include, “Book”, “Order Online”, “Buy”, “Learn More”, “Sign-Up”, and “Get Offer”. Posts can be a great way to get additional eyes on a blog post, any sales or promotions you have going on, or to encourage sign-ups.
Some tips to get the most use out of posts:
• Images appear in a 4:3 ratio – so keep this in mind when selecting an image here. You can crop your image once you upload it, so make sure to preview before you publish any new post.
• Only the first 100 characters will show in the knowledge panel, so make them count.
• Posts only last for 7 days, so post often if you can. There are a few exceptions to the 7-day expiration rule, events and offers will not expire until the event and the offer are completed.
• You can have up to 10 posts at once, however only the most recent two will be shown and the following will be available in a carousel format.
People can ask questions right on your knowledge panel. This is an important area to keep an eye on. Anyone can ask questions, but anyone can answer them as well.
To help take control of this section of your knowledge panel, here are some tips:
Now that you’re a GMB pro, make sure you stay on top of your listing. Receive email alerts to your owner’s account when someone leaves a new review or adds photos of your business. Be quick to respond to reviews and make all of your information stays up-to-date.
There is a Google My Business app available in both the Android and Apple stores that will help you manage your listing on the go.
We talk a lot about Google My Business reviews here. We have seen reviews being one of the single most important ranking factors for local businesses.
Since we’ve already talked about it a ton, I won’t go into too much detail here. But here are some useful posts to help boost your Google My Business reviews:
• Why Reviews Should be at the Top of Your Local Business Marketing Strategy
• 3 Email Templates for Local Businesses Asking for Reviews
• How to Increase Your Local SEO Through Customer Reviews
• 4 Ways to Use Customer Reviews in Your Small Business Marketing
And if you’re looking for a free and easy way to ask your customers for reviews on the spot by texting or emailing them a direct link to your GMB listing, download our Odd Dog Review App.
You can even get some eyes on your newly optimized and awesome Google My Business page by linking to it from your website and creating these handy signs provided by Google.
Google does provide some reporting, called “Insights” on the Google My Business dashboard.
Your stats can be viewed by week, month, or quarter.
While you can only view at most a quarter at a time on the dashboard, you can download your results going back eighteen months.
From the dashboard, select “Download Insights” and follow the prompts.
Well done, you are now on your way to becoming a Google My Business superstar! If you enjoyed this article but have more questions about GMB or SEO in general, contact us to learn more.
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There were even more industry-specific updates, like hotels are now able to add a check-in and check-out time, and popular dishes for restaurants.
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