If you run a local business dependent on custom from people who live locally or who are willing to travel for your products or services, then one of the most effective ways to attract enquiries via online searches is to have a strong presence on Google Maps.
At a Google Performance Summit back in May 2016, representatives from Google discussed the search engine’s intention to improve local search results, including the implementation of local search ads, which we’ll look at in more detail below.
The following statistics from the summit show why local search is a priority for Google:
- 84% of consumers conduct local searches
- 75% of people who search for something nearby using their smartphone end up visiting a store within a day and 28% of those searches result in a purchase
- About 90% of global sales happen in stores rather than online
- Nearly one third of mobile searches are related to location
- Location-related searches have been growing 50% faster than mobile searches overall in the past year
- Over a billion people now use Google Maps
- Searches on Google and Google Maps guide consumers to 1.5 billion destinations every year
What is Google Maps?
Wikipedia defines Google Maps as “a web mapping service developed by Google. It offers satellite imagery, street maps, 360° panoramic views of streets, real-time traffic conditions and route planning for traveling by foot, car, bicycle or public transportation”.
In other words, it’s an interactive street map where you can see the majority of locations as they would look if you were physically there from street level or as a bird’s-eye view.
Google Place Labels
Google has added further interactivity to Google Maps with the ‘place labels’ feature. Like a pin in a map, this flags up information about landmarks, businesses and tourist attractions. Web users can zoom into the map to view the place labels for each pin in the local radius.
The information on your business’s place label comes from your Google My Business page. On its support pages, Google says that its algorithms check the accuracy and richness of content associated with a business before deciding which place labels to show on Google Maps. It also says that verifying your business (see how to do this below) will improve the chances that your business will display a place label.
Setting up a Google My Business page
The single most important step to boost the visibility of your business on Google Maps is to make sure that you have set up or claimed your Google My Business page. In case you’re new to Google My Business, we’ve put together a guide to setting up your page below:
Step 1: Create a Google account
Go to https://www.google.co.uk/business/ and click on either of the green Start Now buttons to begin setting up your business page.
Sign in if you already have a Google account or set up an account if you’re new to Google. Click on Create Account for this option.
This will take you to the following screen and sign up form:
Complete the form to the right of the screen and click on Next Step. (It’s important to give a current mobile phone number as Google may want to text you to verify your business during a later step).
This will take you to Google’s terms and conditions, which you need to read and accept before you can continue. You will then see a screen confirming your new Gmail address and Google account. Click on Continue to Google My Business.
Step 2: Add your business
On the next screen you will need to enter some initial information about your business including its name, address, main business phone number, and a category for the business. Spelling is important here, as is the format of your address. Whenever you list your business in an online directory it should mirror the spelling and format you enter on Google.
In terms of your business category, try to choose the category that best describes your main service or purpose at this stage. This is your primary category. You will be able to add more categories later on.
If you work from a residential address or go out to your customers’ locations, you should select the ‘Yes’ option to the statement, “I deliver goods and services to my customers at their location”. This will hide your address is you don’t want to make your home address public.
If you select ‘Yes’ here, you will be taken to the following screen:
Here, you should specify the region, city or postcode area you serve or the radius you serve surrounding your physical address. This will help Google to identify your proximity to searchers.
If customers can come to your business address too (e.g. you’re a florist who sells flowers from a shop but you also deliver to customers, or you run a restaurant that offers food in-house and food delivery), you should check the box saying, “I also serve customers at my business address”.
Click on Continue.
Google may then take you to a screen that says, “The following businesses look similar to the business you added. Is one of them yours?”
If your business is already listed, click to claim it. Otherwise, choose the option to set up your business as a new page.
You will then be taken through to a screen where a small box to the top left says, “To manage this business on Google, verify the information” followed by the address and a check box that you need to tick to indicate that you are authorised to managed the business. Once you have done this, click on Continue.
Google will tell you that it is now setting up your Google My Business page and how it will send a verification code (usually by email or text). You can choose to Continue and verify later or follow the instructions to verify your page immediately.
You will then be taken through to your Google My Business page.
The first time you view your page, Google may offer you a virtual tour of all of the pages main features. Click to view this.
Optimising your Google My Business page
Once you have set up your Google My Business page, your next goal should be to populate the page with as much information as possible about your business.
The Info screen – accessed via the main horizontal menu – lets you add and edit key information on your Google My Business page, such as:
- Your business name
- Primary and secondary business categories (make your primary category, the one for which you most want to appear in SERPs)
- Phone number
- Web address
- Opening hours
This is information that will appear in search engine results pages (SERPs) so it’s important to make sure that you add as much detail as possible and that each entry is accurate. In particular, check that you’ve listed your address in the same format as it’s listed with the Royal Mail (or your local mail provider if you’re outside of the UK).
It’s also advisable to add photographs to your page. As well as your company logo, profile picture and cover photo, I always recommend featuring pictures that give people a flavour of your business, whether that’s inside your business premises, pictures of your team at work, images of your products, or pictures of you so that searchers can put a face to your name.
360° photos / photospheres
I recently read that Google is prioritising business listings in Google Maps that include 360° photos, also known as ‘photospheres’. There are several popular photosphere apps that will let you take and post 360° pictures via a mobile device:
- Panorama 360 camera (Android or iOS)
- Photo 360° by Sfera (Android)
- Google Camera (Android)
- Sphere 360 Camera (Android)
- Photuf Panorama Pro (currently priced £3.99) (Android)
It’s important to note that other commentators feel that photospheres don’t influence visibility on Google Maps. The jury would appear to be out on this issue, but I would argue that it couldn’t hurt to add interesting images, such as photospheres, to your Google My Business page.
There are some helpful pointers in this article on photospheres from Android Central, including issues around privacy that you should consider before you post a 360° image.
What to do if you already have a Google My Business page
If you already have a Google My Business page, I would recommend checking that you have verified it. If you have, you will see a small green tick icon next to the word ‘Verified’ next to your page name in the header of your Google My Business Home page.
At this stage, Google your business. Does a Knowledge Graph panel appear for your business? You’ll see this on the right of the search engine results page (SERP) – see below for the SEO+ Knowledge Panel as an example
If so, are you happy with the information that appears and with this being a potential customer’s first impression on your business?
- Is it correct?
- Have you filled out all of the available fields?
- Do the images reflect where you’re situated and/or your products and services?
- How many Google reviews do you have?
- What is your Google review star rating?
Although it may not directly boost your business visibility in Google Maps, it certainly won’t hurt to make sure that your Google My Business page – and, therefore, your Knowledge Panel – is as current as possible.
While we’re on the subject of Googling your own business, this is a good opportunity to review the depth and breadth of your presence in SERPs.
For example, when I search for ‘seo plus devon’, page one of the search results shows listings for the SEO+ home page, About page, my Google My Business page, Knowledge Panel, and LinkedIn profile. Nine pages into the results for this one search and SEO+ is still appearing with links to blog articles and various directories. The message is consistent and relevant in every listing. Google is likely to view this favourably and prioritise SEO+ over a similar business with a smaller online presence.
If your business isn’t as visible in SERPs as you would like, then I would recommend reviewing your content and checking your presence in online directories and review sites (see below).
Claim and check third party listings
We should remember that Google uses third-party data as a ranking signal and this can influence which businesses the search engine chooses to prioritise on Google Maps. Search Engine Land discussed this in a recent blog article about visibility in Google Maps.
To leverage the power of third-party directories and review sites, it’s worth checking whether your business is listed on websites such as Yell or TripAdvisor. If it is, have you claimed the listing as your own?
For example, your customers may already be reviewing you on TripAdvisor – a high authority site that can generate good quality backlinks – but, if you haven’t claimed control of the listing, you won’t have any say about how your business is presented. This may mean that your company name or address is listed differently to on Google My Business, or that people don’t know about your full range of products and services.
You can find out more about claiming your TripAdvisor listing here.
Does your business appear on any other major directory or review sites? To boost your visibility on Google Maps, your details should be the same on every third-party site.
Location-specific content, both on and off your site
To best respond to local searches, Google will try to identify businesses that are associated with a specific location. Imagine you run a search for ‘coffee near me’ – Google will return a list of cafes based on their proximity, star ratings in Google reviews, and mentions on third party websites – for example, if a local café has appeared in a newspaper article or a TripAdvisor review. The most relevant are likely to be the most visible in Google Maps.
To help Google understand how important location is to your business, it’s advisable to include location-specific content on your site. There are several ways that you can do this:
- Add your business address into the header or footer of your website
- Show your location in Google Maps
- Write content that talks about the local area
- Give your customers news about how you’re getting involved with the local community
You should consider content outside of your site too. For example, if you can get a local newspaper to write an online article about your business, it will help Google to understand that your presence is tied to a geographic location.
Be active on social media
In the Search Engine Land article referenced above, they also found that social media activity – they specifically referenced Facebook – can influence whether your business gets a place label and highly visible presence on Google Maps. Search Engine Land found that a new business that posted to Facebook on a daily basis had a far greater presence than more established businesses that were using social media less frequently.
Google is no doubt keen to show businesses on Google Maps that care about engaging with their customers and that are still actively trading.
Ask for Google Reviews
Back in 2015, we published a popular blog about online reviews – where to feature them and how to get them. In this article, we listed Google reviews as the number one place to feature customer reviews about your business.
According to an article by Lockedown Design, Google will only show your star ratings in Google Maps if your business has three or more Google Reviews (the threshold was five reviews up until February 2017). We also know that people are more likely to click on listings with reviews, especially if they have high star ratings.
Therefore, another way to boost your visibility on Google Maps is to encourage your customers to leave a Google Review each time they buy a product or service.
Local search ads on Google Maps
Local search ads were in the beta phase in summer 2016 and have now been rolled out to AdWords users. They are designed to help you make your business more visible on Google Maps and drive more foot traffic to your physical location, especially when people are nearby or looking specifically for the products and services you offer.
In fact, Google has been gradually rolling out a range of features to help you boost your Google Maps’ visibility, including:
- Promoted pins featuring brand logos
- Signposting in-store promotions
- Customisable business pages
- Local inventory search
Local search ads can appear in a number of different places. To give you an example, I did a search for ‘coffee New York’ (a flight of fancy on a cold spring day!) and Google Maps returned the following results:
As we can see, the top listing for The Russian Tea Room is accompanied by a small purple ‘Ad’ symbol to show that this is a paid-for local search ad. In addition, the restaurant stands out on the actual map as it’s the only restaurant to have a purple pin. In an area so abundant in restaurants – New York City, no less – paying for a local search ad helps The Russian Tea Room stand out from the crowd.
Creating local search ads could be a blog topic in and of itself. To help you get started, you might find this article from the Observer helpful. In order to create local search ads via your Google AdWords account, you need to set up and use the Location Extensions feature – find out more here.
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