This article assumes that you have a business with a physical location.
Whether your business has one location or many, Google My Business plays an important role for your brand’s visibility in the search results. The benefits of having a listing include:
- Standing out when you appear on the top right-hand side of the desktop search results and above the fold on mobile devices when a user searches for your business’ name.
- Gives users all your important business information – address, phone number and opening hours straight away.
- Easily enable users to find you on Googlemaps and click directions to your physical location.
- While not the most popular social platform, you can automatically connect to Google+ in which you can build a profile, post updates and share the latest news about your business.
- Build a reputation by enabling customers to review and leave feedback which you’re able to respond to whether it’s positive or negative.
But one of the bigger SEO challenges businesses face, which having a Google My Business can help with, is appearing for relevant but more generic searches your business may be associated with. For example, an Italian restaurant ranking its brand name for a search of ‘Italian restaurant’. Appearing higher up in the local map pack would bring in a strong amount of traffic to your business.
Like with anything to do with their algorithm, Google doesn’t specify the exact ranking factors which influence how your business page ranks. However, they do mention what they do look for in general terms:
- Relevance – How well a local business’ listing matches what users are looking for. This is taken care of by ensuring that all your basic business information is filled out.
- Distance – Proximity of the user to the location if a location keyword (e.g. Surry Hills) is included in a search. Google calculates distance from the user automatically if no location keyword is specified.
- Prominence – How well-known or prominent a business is across the web based on things like links, directories, news etc. More reviews and positive ratings; along with your organic rankings also play a role in determining prominence.
Here are five in-depth strategies to boost your prominence and strengthen the connections between your Google My Business listing, your website, and your brand in the digital landscape:
1) Complete Your Basic Optimisation
First and foremost, before implementing any of the more advanced strategies, ensure that you have filled out all the necessary sections that Google My Business requires. This includes:
- Business Name – Ensure that your business name is exactly as it is in the real world (don’t put in unnecessary information – this is against Google’s guidelines).
- Logo – Put a high-quality logo that represents your brand.
- Phone Number – This should be your customer-facing phone number. If you have several numbers for different departments (e.g. Sales, HR, Marketing etc.) then put your switchboard number in.
- Address – Put your business address as it would appear in the real world; be specific about numbers, levels, suites etc.
- Open Hours – Update your business hours and put in any special hours e.g. holiday opening hours or special events.
- Website – Update with your main website URL.
- Category – Choose the nearest category that describes your business e.g. Thai restaurant.
- Attributes – This is a new feature enabling you to tell customers what special offerings you have e.g. wheelchair access, Wi-Fi, outdoor seating etc.
- Photos – There are several different kinds such as interior, exterior, staff and more. Take advantage of the opportunities to present your business to users by uploading as many high quality photos as possible.
Recommendation: Give your Google My Business listings the most potential to represent your business by ensuring all necessary information is complete and up to date.
2) Build local citations to address the NAP
The NAP (Name, Address and Phone Number) is important for businesses who wish to rank well in local organic search results because Google takes 3rd party data sources into account in determining which businesses to show for geographical-type searches. Being the core “local” information that users will rely on to get in touch with you; it is of utmost importance to ensure that this information is consistent online.
Ensuring that your NAP is consistent can be burdensome when you’re dealing with tens or hundreds of locations; but it’s essential for contributing quality signals about your business information.
What I mean by this is that your website and Google My Business may not be the only places where your NAP information is present. For example, business directories such as the Yellow or White Pages may have local citations about your business information. With Google, essentially being a signal-oriented machine, it may become confused as to the validity of your business if information is not congruent across the web. Google updates your Google My Business information on its own by sourcing data from the majority of 3rd Party NAP data sources.
You should endeavour to check, clean up and build your local business citations online. Please do not go out and build thousands of listings on poor quality business directories.
Instead, I would recommend that you start with the most popular websites that are common to all businesses (e.g. Yellow Pages) before moving onto the top business listings for your industry (e.g Dimmi and Opentable are relevant websites for restaurants).
Here are some top general business directories with good domain ratings (from the Ahrefs tool) to start with:
- http://truelocal.com.au/ (67)
- http://yellowpages.com.au/ (67)
- http://dlook.com.au/ (64)
- http://www.yelp.com.au/ (64)
- http://www.womo.com.au/ (63)
- http://www.brownbook.net/ (62)
- http://www.whitepages.com.au/ (62)
- http://startlocal.com.au/get-listed.html (60)
- http://hotfrog.com.au/ (60)
- http://aussieweb.com.au/ (57)
Recommendation: Review your business information on general and industry specific business directories and build more local citations around your name, address and phone number.
3) Show the Inside of Your Business with Google 360 Virtual Tours
Give potential customers an inside look at your business and where the operations take place. Sometimes it’s difficult for users to choose the right business, so letting them experience a high quality virtual tour enables them to know your premises before they arrive.
While it may not directly boost any rankings; studies have shown it to have an indirect impact on brand awareness and familiarity. According to research by Google Street View, business listings with photos and a virtual tour are twice as likely to generate interest. A Google 360 Virtual Tour enables your business to show up where it matters most.
Google Search – Appear in the google search results very prominently next to the business photos section:
Google Maps – Appear in the Google Maps business listing under important business information giving users an easy access to view inside:
You need to find someone who is a qualified Google 360 view photographer. Make sure that you shop around for the best price and check their portfolio for past virtual tours because you will likely get the same experience for your business. For more information, check out the Street View help centre here: https://www.google.com/streetview/hire/.
After they have completed the photos, make sure that you check for potential errors before it gets published. Some common errors include:
- Stitching errors – Where different sections of a room join together and don’t look natural
- Reflections – Objects reflected in surfaces such as windows and mirrors should be blurred out.
- Directional arrows – Check that the arrows are leading people the right way and not into dead ends.
- Starting position – Ensure that when users start the virtual tour; they aren’t facing a wall.
Recommendation: Showcase your business location to your audience with a Google 360 view and benefit from increased brand familiarity and presence.
4) Increasing positive reviews and mitigating the negative ones
Reviews and feedback are important signals for Google because they authenticate the experience that customers have with your business; along with assisting other searchers who may want to find out how your business treats its customers.
Google enables users to directly give you a rating (out of five stars) and leave feedback about your business location. Customers expect for local businesses to have online reviews with many saying that online reviews directly impact on whether they choose one business over another.
Customers expect for local businesses to have online reviews and many of them say that online reviews give the local business a competitive edge. Furthermore, happy customers are more than willing to write positive reviews for their favourite local businesses. According to a 2016 survey of over 1,000 people by Bright Local, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
Fascinatingly, while 89% of customers state that they are more than happy to write a review after having a positive experience, only 7% of customers are actually asked to do so by a business. Here are some strategies to get more positive reviews:
- Consider asking for reviews – Not specifically good reviews, just reviews and not until the work has been done. You don’t want to be pushy, but after you’ve delivered your services, it makes sense to ask them to review it. Let customers know that the company takes their opinion seriously and appreciates feedback.
- Make your online brand presence known – Sometimes customers may not be aware that your brand is actively online; there may be opportunities to direct them to specific review channels. Make it as easy as possible for customers to share their experience by sending them a direct link to your profile page on major review sites or encouraging the customer to rate your company on Facebook.
- Use existing customer communications – Do you have a regular email marketing list? How about a newsletter? If you maintain some form of regular (or even irregular) contact with customers, then there may be potential to either ask them for reviews in one communication piece or on a more regular basis.
- Offer an incentive to all customers who review you – Even your biggest fans may be unlikely to review your business if it means taking time out of their busy schedules. Yet sometimes all the motivation they need is the possibility of receiving a small gift in return, like a coupon or discount.
- Reward employees who gather reviews – Consider making it part of your work culture for customer service and sales staff to solicit reviews from customers.
- Share reviews on your website and social platforms – Getting eyeballs on reviews on your website or social platforms opens the door to recognition and helps generate more business for your brand. Make the most of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter by promoting rave reviews about your business.
Dealing with Negative Reviews
It’s natural for mishaps to occur in business and for customers to voice their frustrations. When you do receive a negative review, don’t get angry but instead address the issue, offer a solution and thank them for their feedback. Remember that your overall reputation is more important than any one review.
Below are tips for responding to negative reviews:
- Don’t ignore it – Responding to negative comments is a chance for you to demonstrate how thoughtful and engaged your business is, and how it solves potential problems. If you show that your business listens to and responds to feedback in an appropriate manner, you’re creating a sense of trust that will go far beyond the commenter you’re dealing with at any given moment.
- Respond appropriately – Whatever you do, don’t say that the problem is a result of something the commenter has done, even if you think that’s true. Also, don’t blame the commenter for a false or misleading comment. Instead, pay attention to what’s been said, then respond in a balanced, appropriate, and professional way.
- Be brief – You don’t want to reveal too much in your response to a negative comment.
- Have some supporting content ready – If you frequently refer to policies, make them easy for users to find. An easy-to-navigate FAQ page can be a useful to refer to.
- Ensure that you respond as quickly as possible – The sooner that you can respond to a negative review, the better.
- Apologize anyway – One thing to keep in mind about online reviews and complaints: whether they’re legitimate or otherwise makes little difference to the masses. It’s all about perception.
- Continue the conversation privately – Someone might attempt to further engage you publicly. Ask them to take the conversation to email, a phone call or a direct/private message.
Google has specific guidelines for responding to reviews although these guidelines do not address negative reviews:
- Be nice and don’t get personal – This isn’t just a guideline—it’s also a good idea as a business owner. It’s difficult to win an argument with a frustrated customer, and you want to avoid burning bridges. Keep your responses useful, readable, and courteous. In addition, responses should comply with our local content policy.
- Keep it short and sweet – Users are looking for useful and genuine responses, but they can easily be overwhelmed by a long response.
- Thank your reviewers – Respond to happy reviewers when you have new or relevant information to share. You don’t need to thank every reviewer publicly, since each response reaches lots of customers.
- Be friendly but don’t sell – Your reviewers should already be customers so there’s no need to offer incentives or advertisements. Tell reviewers something new about your business, or share something they might not have learned from their first visit.
If you believe that a specific review violates one of these Google content policies; that review can be requested to be removed. Some key policies include:
- Advertising – Reviews should not be used for advertising, contain links to other websites or be used to manipulate a place’s ratings.
- Spam – No promotional / commercial content and no duplicates of the same reviews from multiple accounts.
- Off-topic reviews – Reviews aren’t meant to be a forum for general political or social commentary or personal rants.
- Keep it clean – Reviews should not contain obscene, profane, or offensive language.
- Conflict of interest – Employees must not review their own business or employer. Negative reviews on competitors is too be avoided.
- Impersonation – Don’t post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or connection with the place you’re reviewing.
- Personal and confidential information – Don’t post reviews that contain another person’s personal and confidential information, including credit card information, government identification number, driver’s license information, etc.
Recommendation: Incorporate getting more positive reviews into your marketing strategy and regularly mitigate negative reviews if needed.
5) Strengthen the local signals between website and GMB
There are additional strategies that you can apply to your website to boost your local connections signals between Google My Business and your website:
- Local website Information – Display your business name, address and contact details on site. If you are a single business, then the footer is best. If you have multiple locations, then on your serviced area location page, link to the matching business page.
- Organisational Schema Mark-up – Incorporate this markup onto your homepage to give additional business information to Google such as your logo, contact information, social profiles and more. Find out more here.
- Local Link-building – Link-building is always an important part of any SEO strategy but local links provide a little bit more “local” signals. Try to get links for local organisations or groups e.g. chamber of commerce by joining their membership programs or offer training or discounts to educational or government institutions to get highly coveted .EDU and .GOV links.
- Local-focused pages – This applies more to businesses with multiple locations. For example, if your business is national, try to create pages focused on individual cities i.e. a landing page for Sydney and a landing page for Perth.
- General SEO – Outside of local SEO, if your website is generally driving a lot of organic traffic and you’re ranking well on the search results, then Google sees this as a sign of quality and authority; similarly rewarding you for local searches.
Recommendation: Strengthen the local signals around your website with link-building, relevant information and schema mark-up.
Hope these tactics find a way into your local SEO strategy in 2017. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org