Google My Business is a free tool that lets you manage your presence on Google – the world’s most popular search engine with a 72.48% share of the market – in searches and on Google Maps.
It enables you to tell the story of your business, including photos and reviews, and share important information with potential customers before they’ve even clicked through to your website.
This complete guide will walk you through creating, claiming or verifying a listing as well as how to optimise the features that can help you to grow your business.
Part one: How to create a listing on Google My Business
Step one: Check whether you already have a presence on Google My Business
Even if you can’t remember setting up a Google My Business page for your company, it does sometimes happen that profiles have already been created but not claimed and verified.
Your first step, therefore, should be to check whether you already have a Google My Business presence.
Type in your “business name & town/city” to see if a branded Knowledge Panel comes up.
(Knowledge Panel is the information box about a business that sometimes appears on the right-hand side of search engine results pages (SERPs) on desktops or at the top of SERPs on mobile devices).
If that doesn’t bring up any results, you might want to try searching for your business address or business phone number to see what shows up in the search results.
It’s worth doing this in both Google and Google Maps to be on the safe side.
As you can see below, when I do a search for ‘SEO+ Devon’, the branded Knowledge Panel appears on the right-hand side of the search results in addition to the two appearances on page one of Google.
Because I have control of SEO+’s Google My Business presence, I am able to provide all sorts of helpful information to potential customers about my services.
In the style of one of the old ‘Choose your own adventure’ books (remember those?), you’ll need to take one of three paths at this point.
- If your business has no Google My Business presence, go to Step two
- If you appear to have an unverified or unclaimed Google My Business page, head to Step three.
- If your business already has a verified listing but you’re not able to modify the content, jump straight to Step four.
Step two: Create a new listing
If no Knowledge Panel comes up for your business and you don’t appear to have a Google My Business presence yet then it’s time to get your company on the (Google) map.
Head to https://www.google.com/business/ and click the ‘Start now’ option.
If you already have a Google account, you will need to log in when prompted. If you don’t yet have a Google account, click ‘Create account’ as shown below.
Once you’re logged in, you’ll be prompted to enter the name of your business before adding its address and postcode.
It’s important to list this information correctly with no typos and how the address will appear on other online directories and on your website. Google looks for consistency in how businesses are listed across multiple sources and Google My Business should always be correct.
On the ‘Where are you located?’ screen (see below), you’ll notice a tick box against the statement, ‘I deliver goods and services to my customers’. Tick this if you don’t have a bricks and mortar business – for example, if you work from home and don’t have customers come to your work address – or if you provide a mobile service where you deliver your products or services to your clients.
If you tick this box, you will also be asked whether you want to hide your address from your listing (and Google Maps) and just show your region in the address field instead.
At this stage in the sign-up process, you’ll be notified if there’s already a Google My Business page associated with the street address. If there is, you will have the option to go to the existing page and edit/improve it (unless it’s managed by someone else – see Step Four below).
If there are no matches for your business, you may be asked to pinpoint its exact location on Google Maps before you continue. Google will help you by dropping the pin on the map based on the address provided but you can move it around if it’s not quite right.
You will then be taken to a screen (see below) where, if you’ve ticked that you deliver to your customers, you can add the geographical areas you serve, setting either a radius around your business location or covering specific areas.
If you choose the ‘Specific areas’ option, you can enter areas, towns/cities, regions or postcodes.
With this information complete or if you haven’t ticked the ‘I deliver….’ tick box, Google will ask you to set a category for your business.
You should choose a primary category that best sums up to potential customers what you offer.
Where does the bulk of your business come from? What phrase would people be most likely to search for if they wanted to find your business? This will usually be your primary category.
Don’t worry, you should show up in other related searches too. To use Google’s example, if you were to enter ‘pizza restaurant’ as your primary category, your business might appear in searches for related terms such as ‘restaurants’, ‘Italian restaurants’ or ‘pizza’.
You can use additional secondary categories to be more specific about products or services that you offer once you’ve set up your profile.
It’s also worth thinking about whether there could be any ambiguity around your business type/category.
You can’t create your own category so, if the category you had in mind isn’t there, opt for the closest existing alternative instead.
Each time you add or edit a category after your Google My Business listing goes live, you might be asked to verify your page again so that Google knows the changes are correct and genuine.
Some categories on Google My Business have Category-specific features. For example, hotel listings show class ratings and amenities; food businesses can list menu items and give URLs for online orders, reservations and menus; and businesses offering appointments can add a booking button to their profile or update their menu of services.
Once you’ve chosen your primary business category, Google will take you to a new screen where you can add your contact phone number and website address.
The initial set up of your Google My Business page is nearly over. You’ll now see this message:
Once you hit ‘Finish’, you’ll see a message saying, “Success! Your listing has been created. Choose a way to verify.”
Most people have to select to verify their listing by receiving a postcard featuring the verification code at their postal address. Other options such as phone or mobile verification are offered to selected businesses. Once again, it’s essential that your address is correct in Google so that you receive the postcard ASAP.
As soon as the postcard arrives, you simply need to enter the verification code and the Google My Business page you set up is officially yours.
You can choose to verify your page at a later date but do note that you won’t be able to fully manage your listing until you’re verified.
Note: On the Google My Business community forums on 17th July 2018, Allyson Wright – Google My Business community manager – announced that they are rolling out a new feature where users will be notified when their profiles go live in Google Maps and Google Search. At the moment, this doesn’t apply to bulk listings; also, you must have your language settings set to US-Eng. It will be rolling out more widely soon.
Step three: Claiming or verifying an existing listing
As I mentioned above, it does sometimes happen that a business has a Google My Business presence even though you haven’t created it.
Any Google user can create a listing so a customer might have loved your business and done it for you.
The thing is that you will need to claim and verify the listing in order to have control over the information published.
Below you can see an example of an unclaimed listing for an Italian café/restaurant in my hometown (don’t worry, I’ve been in touch while writing this blog!):
We can see that it’s an unclaimed listing on both desktop and mobile views because Google asks ‘Own this business?’ and gives the searcher the option to claim and verify it as belonging to them.
Having looked at the business’s busy Facebook page, I think the opening hours may be listed incorrectly on Google; there’s also no web address and a potential customer’s question has gone unanswered.
If the owner of the business verified the listing, they could have control over the correct information.
If you find a listing that looks like this for your business, then hit the ‘Own this business?’ link and go through the stages listed in Step two: Create a new listing above.
Step four: Requesting ownership of a verified listing
Occasionally, people find that not only is their business already on Google My Business but that it’s been verified and is owned by someone else.
This is most common in the case of franchises where the overall owner/manager of the franchise group has added and verified multiple franchise locations in bulk and retains management of the different locations.
If, for any reason, someone else has claimed and verified a listing for your business, your first task is to request that the ownership for the listing is transferred to you.
To get you started, go to https://business.google.com/create and enter your business name. If the business has been claimed and verified by someone else, you will see the following message:
Could you have set up the page a long time ago and forgotten? If you recognise the email address as one you’ve used in the past then you will need to follow the ‘Account Recovery help guide’ link.
If not, your next step is to hit the ‘Request Access’ button, fill out the form and ‘Submit’.
It takes approximately seven days to process ownership requests on Google My Business. The current page owner will receive an email asking them to get in touch with you and you’ll also receive an email from Google confirming that your request has been logged.
If your request is approved, you should find that the business appears in your Google My Business dashboard and that you are able to edit the page.
If your request is denied, the email from Google stating, “Your request to access [Business Name] on Google My Business was rejected” should contain the option to appeal the decision with the relevant instructions.
If the current page owner doesn’t respond within seven days, Google may give you the option to claim or verify the listing yourself but this will depend on your individual case.
In the meantime, you may be able to suggest edits to the page even if you can’t do them yourself.
‘Suggest an edit’ and ‘Answer quick questions’ features
While I’m on the subject of being able to suggest edits, it’s important for anyone who has a Google My Business profile to be aware of the ‘Suggest an edit’ feature that appears on the Knowledge Panel in search results:
This quite literally allows any searcher to go into your Google My Business listing and make changes. In theory, you could be vulnerable to a competitor trying to change your hours of business (even listing you as ‘closed’) or changing your contact details, categories or business description.
You won’t necessarily receive a notification or alert from Google about changes made to your listing so you should check your dashboard regularly to see whether all of the information is correct.
Another feature to be aware of is one that encourages people who are familiar with a business to answer quick questions about it. This is because Google wants to create communities who can share useful information about businesses they love and use.
If we go back to the unclaimed listing example for a local Italian restaurant that I used above, you can see that searchers have the option to respond to common questions such as ‘Is this place suitable for groups?’ when they click on the ‘Know this place? Answer quick questions’ option.
Again, it’s important to keep an eye on the responses people are giving to these questions to make sure the information circulated about your business is accurate.
Now your Google My Business page is up and running, we’re going to look in Part Two at how you can optimise it and make it as engaging as possible for potential customers.
Part two: How to build an engaging Google My Business listing
Google offers a number of different features to help you make your Google My Business listing as engaging as possible. When new features are rolled up, it’s always worth looking into how you might utilise them to grow your business.
1. Writing posts
Most businesses can feature different post types on their Google My Business listing. These are a bit like having an advert or a social media status within the Knowledge Panel in Google searches.
At the time of writing, businesses in the ‘Hotel’ category and some others do not have the posts feature. This post from Search Engine Journal gives you some pointers about who to contact about this if you do want to add a post.
The great thing about the posts feature is that you can tell searchers about your sales, events or products on the search results page before they’ve ever clicked through to your website.
As an example, here’s the prompt to set up a product post:
When you click on the ‘Try it now’ button, you actually have the option to post about:
- What’s new
- An event
- An offer
- A product
Depending on which option you choose, you will be able to add specific information to your post such as:
- A photo or video
- 100-300 words of promotional copy
- The dates, times and venue of an event
- The nature and duration of an offer
- The price of a product
- Product details
You can also add a call to action button to any Google My Business post. The current call to action options are:
- Book [an appointment]
- Order online
- Learn more
- Sign up
- Get offer
- Call now
The Booking facility is particularly powerful because searchers can book an appointment with you without even having to visit your website. This feature is available if you use scheduling software that currently integrates with Google My Business – you can find a full list of current and forthcoming integrations here.
Ideas for posts
If you’re not sure what to post about, why not try some or all of the following ideas?
- Advertise new products or services you’re offering
- Share the details of a forthcoming event or provide a link to an ‘Early Bird’ ticket deal
- Showcase a trending new product with a link to your web store
- Attract signups to your next webinar
- Advertise your next networking event
- Let people book a place on your next training course, e.g. dog training classes
- Post a seasonal message such as wishing searchers a happy New Year
- Tell people about a time-limited offer and discount and how they can take advantage – here’s an example from Google:
- Tell searchers about your latest blog article or an old article that’s still popular. Here’s an example of my latest Google My Business post:
As you can see, posts are a fantastic way to provide extra value and stand out on search results pages.
Posts without a specific end date stay live for seven days whereas event or offer posts will no longer be visible once the end date has passed.
Google My Business posts are especially prominent in mobile searches as you can see from the screenshot below so it’s important to post regularly to make the most of this key bit of real estate on Google.
Using emojis in Google My Business posts
You could even take things a step further by including emojis in your Google My Business posts. Google is beginning to index and place more value on emojis and emoji SEO is most definitely on its way.
It’s already possible to search using certain emojis – for example, use a pizza emoji and ‘near me’ and you will get search results for local pizza places. It’s not yet as comprehensive or accurate as a text search but in time, it may well be.
One emoji per post is probably enough. I haven’t personally tested the impact of emojis in Google My Business posts but, at the very least, this could be another way to stand out in searches and tap into the emoji trend.
2. Adding your info
If you click on the ‘Info’ option in the left-hand menu of your Google My Business dashboard, you will have the opportunity to add to and edit the information you publish about your business in the Knowledge Panel. This includes your:
- Business name
- Opening hours
- Special opening hours
- Contact numbers
- A specific URL for booking appointments (if applicable)
- Business description
- Opening date
There are also some advanced features for those of you who use Google AdWords or have multiple store locations with associated Google My Business listings.
The Services feature is primarily available to businesses in the food, hospitality, health and beauty sectors or other types of businesses that have a list of priced services. This is the perfect place to list your current menu or price list so that people know how much you charge before they even make an enquiry.
Always remember to update your services list and the associated prices if anything changes so that you’re publishing the most up-to-date information.
The Business description is a relatively new feature that allows you to add up to 750 characters describing your business – sort of an elevator pitch to attract potential customers. Google has posted more information about this feature in its Help documents, including the following example:
Google only shows the first 250 characters in the Knowledge Panel so I recommend putting the most relevant information first in the Business Description.
At the moment, this feature appears near the bottom of the Knowledge Panel below the Reviews section and is headed, From <business name, e.g. SEO+. Searchers have to click on ‘more’ to read the full description.
You can only see this feature on mobile devices if you click on the ‘About’ tab.
3. Adding photos and videos
Another way to make an impact with your Google My Business listing is to add some photos and videos to your page.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to bring a professional production crew in and spend loads of money – a few snaps from your smartphone are more than enough.
Google My Business gives you the opportunity to add a profile picture (the same as on your social media channels is ideal for continuity), a cover photo, photos of the outside of your premises and much more.
People love pictures of you and/or your team going about your day, other customers, services being delivered, products being created and so on.
Keep forgetting to add pictures to Google My Business? There’s now a service called LocalPics that will text you a reminder at whatever intervals you set for up to ten different business locations. You don’t even have to login to Google My Business to post new images via this service (it’s currently available on a 14-day free trial and then costs $9/month).
If you only have one location and/or one person managing your Google My Business profile then it would be enough to set a regular reminder on your phone or computer. Or why not upload a picture to Google every time you post one of your business on social media?
Do note that customers can also add photos of your business, products or services to your Google My Business page. They do this by choosing the ‘Add a photo’ option in the top-right of the Reviews panel.
You can manage the photos that other people upload to your page via your Google My Business dashboard.
It’s now also possible for you to add videos to your Google My Business page. Google recommends that any videos are:
- Duration:Up to 30 seconds long
- File Size:Up to 100 MB
- Resolution:720p or higher
The content of the video should reflect your business without being overly promotional. As with the photos, people want to see what your business is actually like – a sneak peek through the door at your premises and customers – so that they know what to expect if they pop in for a visit or get in touch.
If you feature two or more videos on your page, a special ‘Videos’ sub-tab will appear within your business’s Knowledge Panel in mobile searches.
Google has been rolling out a messaging facility on Google My Business since mid-2017 and it is not yet available for all listings. In addition, searchers are currently only able to see the messaging feature if they perform a mobile web search on Chrome.
If you do have the messaging feature, it’s a fantastic way to encourage searchers to contact you without even having to visit your website.
If you want to keep your business messages separate from your personal text messages, you can use Google’s Allo messaging app to view and respond to messages.
You can read more about the messaging feature on the Search Engine Land blog.
- Answering questions
On the Knowledge Panel about your business in Google searches, people can now ask questions about your business and your answers will be published to be visible in searches. This is a great way of answering common customer questions and helping people to decide whether or not they want to buy from your business.
When someone clicks on the ‘Be the first to ask a question’ option above or the ‘Ask a question’ button and sends a question, you should receive an email notification so that you can respond.
Tip: Compile your own list of frequently asked questions and answers and post them to your Google My Business listing under the Questions & Answers feature. This can help to pre-empt common questions.
If someone asks a question that is particularly important or asked regularly, it’s fine to up vote it with a ‘Thumbs up’ as Google says this can help to make specific Q&As more visible.
You can read Google’s Questions & Answers guidelines here – remember that, like the ‘Suggest an edit’ feature, other people can answer questions so it’s important to check that your customers are responding accurately if anyone does reply before you.
- Attracting reviews
Each year, the BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey shows us how important genuine customer reviews are to businesses.
The 2017 survey found that 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. In addition, positive reviews make 73% of consumers more likely to trust a local business.
Google is one of the most important sources of customer reviews. If you can attract reviews on your profile, it’s a fantastic way of standing out from your competitors in local searches.
For example, when SEO+ appears in the ‘local pack’ of three listings at the top of a search for ‘SEO services devon’, the searcher’s eyes are immediately drawn to the listings with star ratings and reviews. In the listings below, SEO+ has 24 Google reviews against the three reviews associated with its competitor. Knowing that – according to the BrightLocal survey – people like to read at least seven reviews about a business before they make contact, this puts SEO+ at an advantage.
Although you’re dependent on your customers to leave reviews, Google is happy for you to ask clients to provide feedback (as long as there’s no bribery, coercion or payment to secure reviews, of course).
Google’s current guidelines forbid the following:
- Leaving a review for your own business
- Past or current employees leaving negative reviews about a business
- Leaving negative reviews on competitors’ pages to manipulate the reviews feature
To make things as easy as possible, you could always send a link to your customers taking them straight through to the Google Reviews feature. You can do this by:
- On your computer, search for your business on Google.
- Find your business listing and click Write a review.
- Copy and paste the URL you see in your address bar.
If these steps don’t work for you, you’ll need to use the PlaceID Lookup Tool instead. You can find instructions for how to do this here.
Once you have managed to attract some reviews on your Google My Business page, I always recommend posting a response, even if it’s just a short and sweet, “Thank you”.
If someone leaves a negative review, it’s important to respond in a courteous and professional manner. Tell the reviewer that you would like to hear more about their experience to see if you can help in some way. This will serve you better than responding defensively.
People don’t expect or fully trust a profile that has 100% five-star reviews but they will want to see how you respond to feedback.
Of course, if you get a one-star review from someone who is clearly a troll, it’s probably not worth responding. People are pretty good at spotting unfair or fake reviews.
- Website builder
In the Google My Business dashboard, you will also see a ‘Website’ option in the left-hand menu. This is a feature that Google rolled out in 2017, as reported by Search Engine Land and others.
The Google My Business website builder is aimed at small businesses who need a web presence but who don’t yet have the time, money or focus to create a business website.
The website builder draws all of its information from your Google My Business profile and presents it as a simple, attractive website.
This service is free to use, mobile-friendly and easy to update. However, you need to buy a custom domain name through Google if you don’t want to use the more generic URL you’re assigned.
Managing your Google My Business page
Once your Google My Business page is up and running, there are several ways to access it to manage and update the content.
If you search for your business in Google, you should see a little editing panel at the top of the SERP next to the Knowledge Panel that gives various suggestions about what you could add to your page, e.g. create an AdWords campaign, add some images or create a new post.
Alternatively, you can go into your Google My Business dashboard and update your profile from there. If you have several pages or businesses in several locations, just hit the ‘Manage locations’ option to navigate between profiles.
The Insights option on the main menu in your dashboard takes you through to some helpful data about how your profile is performing. This includes:
- The search terms most used to find you
- Whether searches were for your business specifically or for your products/services
- Whether people found your business in searches or on Google Maps
- Customer actions (e.g. website visits, request directions, calls)
- Phone call data
- Photo views and quantity in comparison to your competitors
The insights can be a good source of inspiration about how to improve your profile and what search terms to target.
Why every business should optimise their Google My Business listing(s)
We know that Google is always exploring ways to provide searchers with the information that’s most relevant to their search quickly and easily.
Google My Business is the ideal platform to show the search engine that you’re engaged with potential and existing customers. You can show this by providing as much helpful information as possible, relevant images and videos, contact details and more.
If Google sees that people are clicking to read your reviews, opting to call you, reading your posts, visiting your website or viewing your pictures, all from your Google My Business page, it’s a strong signal about the relevance of your content.
In turn, this should help you to achieve more appearances in the ‘local pack’ of local search pages and increase your organic rankings overall.
When was the last time you updated your Google My Business page? Are you using all of the features mentioned above? If not, are there any that you might start using now? I’d love to hear your thoughts about Google My Business.
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