(Updated for 2020)
Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that lets you manage your presence on Google – the world’s most popular search engine with a 92.26% share of the market – in searches and on Google Maps.
It enables you to tell the story of your business, including posts, 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+’, 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 (and a listing for my LinkedIn profile further down the page).
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 four 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.
- And if you need to claim a Google Maps listing, hop-forward to Step Five.
Step two: Create a new listing
Action 1: Head to Google My Business
Head to https://www.google.com/business/ and click the ‘Manage 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 and follow the instructions.
Action 2: Find or add your business to Google
Once you’re logged in, you’ll see a screen where you can either search for your business (if Google is already aware of it) or ‘Add your business to Google’.
Action 3: Choose your business category
You’ll now be asked to choose the category that best describes your business.
Currently, there are about 3,000 business categories associated with Google My Business (you can find the full list here). If you can’t find a category that perfectly describes your business, you will need to think in slightly broader terms, choosing the next best option. For example, a soft play centre would need to choose ‘Children’s amusement centre’ or a dog behaviourist would have to choose the ‘dog trainer’ category.
Action 4: Choose whether or not to add a location
Google will then ask you if you want to add a bricks and mortar location that customers can visit, such as a shop or office. If you want to attract local in-person custom, it’s important to add your location here as it will show up on Google Maps and Search.
Action 5: Add your address
If you click ‘Yes’, Google will ask you to enter the address for your business. 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.
Action 6: Review, accept or ignore potential listings
If a close potential match to your business is found near your address, Google may ask you whether your business could be one of the existing listings. This could happen, for example, to a new hairdresser who is setting up their business a few doors down from the local barber.
Simply click on ‘None of these’ if your business isn’t already listed and hit ‘Next’.
If your business is listed (perhaps because it has an unclaimed or unverified Google My Business presence), you can choose the listing that matches your business and begin the process of verifying it as yours.
Action 7: Let Google know if you serve customers outside of your address or in specific areas nearby
Once you’ve entered your address, Google will ask whether you serve customers outside of this location too. For example, if you offer an online delivery service in addition to a shop, you can make it clear that your products or services are available to a wider area. Google will prompt you to add the areas you serve.
Even if you say ‘No’ to a physical location that customers can visit, you will have the option to say if you cover specific geographic areas. This will show up on your listing and help to attract local customers. You can change and amend the areas you serve once your Google My Business listing is set up.
Action 8: Add your contact information
Your Google My Business profile should make it easy for potential customers to contact you. Add the best phone number to reach you, as well as your web address.
If you have a call tracking phone number, you will want to include this in your GMB profile.
If you don’t currently have a website, you can click on the ‘Get a free website based on your info’ for a very basic web presence (i.e. a one-page site).
Action 9: Opt-in to updates and recommendations
Google will ask you if you’d like to receive updates and recommendations about your business listing. I think it’s a good idea to opt-in for news about updates, etc., but it’s entirely up to you.
Action 10: Finish and manage your listing
Your initial Google My Business set up is nearly done. Simply hit ‘Finish’ and move on to verifying your profile so that it can go live.
Action 11: Verify your listing
Google will now ask you to choose a way to verify your listing. This is to ensure that you are who you say you are and that you have the authority to manage the Google My Business profile that you have just created.
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 it has been verified.
Action 12: Access your GMB Dashboard
Once you’ve verified your listing, you’ll be able to sign into the GMB dashboard and begin adding content.
Step three: Claiming or verifying an existing listing
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.
You can tell a business remains unclaimed on Google My Business by the ‘Own this business?’ question in the Knowledge Panel.
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.
Note: If you work from home delivering services to clients at other locations and would rather not have your address visible on Google My Business, you can remove it from an existing listing. Once your access has been verified, look for the Info option in the main GMB dashboard menu, find the address and click on the pencil icon to the right of it, then choose the ‘Clear address’ option. Your address will no longer be visible in searches.
Step four: Requesting ownership of a verified listing
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 three to 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 three to 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 suggest changes to your Google My Business listing. This isn’t a guarantee that the changes will go live but they could if they come from what Google views as a ‘trusted’ source. In theory, this means that 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 to not only ask but also answer questions about a business. This is because Google wants to create communities who can share useful information about businesses they love and use.
For example, if someone were to click on the ‘Know this place? Share the latest info’ option on the SEO+ Knowledge Panel, they would be able to answer questions about my business.
Here’s a typical question someone might answer:
If the person were to click on ‘More choices’, they could even answer that my business is permanently closed!
As we can see, 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.
Step five: Claiming a Google Maps listing
If this is the case, you can claim the listing so that you’re able to make edits. To do this:
- Go to Google Maps and search for your business.
- Click on the correct listing.
- If the list has not been claimed, you will notice an option to ‘Claim this business’.
- Hit the ‘Manage now’ button.
- Follow the directions to verify the listing. A postcard will be sent to your premises containing a verification code (this usually takes around four days).
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 out, it’s always worth looking into how you might utilise them to grow your business.
1. Writing posts
There are various post types that you can add to your Google My Business listing. These are a bit like having an advert or a social media status within the Knowledge Panel in Google searches.
The great thing about the posts feature is that you can tell searchers about your special offers, events or products on the search results page before they’ve ever clicked through to your website.
When you click on the ‘Posts’ option in the left-hand menu of the GMB Dashboard, you’ll see that you have the option to add:
- A COVID-19 update (as of 2020) – this might be things you’re doing to make your business safe for customers or changes to how your business is operating
- What’s new/updates
- An offer
- An event
- 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
- A short piece 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, such as:
- Book [an appointment]
- Order online
- Learn more
- Sign up
- 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
- 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.
Using emojis in Google My Business posts
For more visual appeal, you could try 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.
If you’re on your phone, you can use the Google My Business app to easily post and add emojis. If you’re on a desktop or laptop, you can copy and paste emojis from websites like Emojipedia.
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.
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
- Service area (e.g. specific towns, counties or countries)
- Opening hours
- Special opening hours (e.g. on public holidays)
- Contact numbers
- Web address
- A specific URL for booking appointments (if applicable)
- Products (it’s well worth showcasing some of your most popular products or product collections here)
- Highlights/attributes/features of your business (this is the place to tell people about what sets your business apart, be it health and safety measures, outdoor seating, free Wi-Fi, online appointment booking, women-led business, etc.)
- 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 ideal if your business has 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 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.
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, 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 75 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.
In fact, Google expressly says in its GMB photo and video content policies that photos and videos must be taken at and relevant to the location in question.
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.
The app now saves conversations to the Google account you manage your GMB profile with so that you can refer back to them. You can also share photos, track average response times and block people, if necessary.
The messaging feature is a fantastic way to encourage searchers to contact you without even having to visit your website. As with any real-time messaging service though, it’s important that you only use it if you’re able to respond in a timely manner.
5. Answering questions
As we mentioned briefly earlier on in this guide, people are able to publically ask questions about your business in the Knowledge Panel. In addition to other people being able to answer (which is what we talked about above), you also have the opportunity to respond and have your answers visible to potential customers.
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 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.
And here’s another reminder 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 replies before you.
6. Attracting reviews
Each year, the BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey shows us how important genuine customer reviews are to businesses.
The most recent survey (December 2019) found that 76% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. In addition, positive reviews make 91% of consumers more likely to use a local business.
People also stated that they would want to see at least 10 reviews for a business, all as recent as possible, before deciding whether to make an enquiry or purchase.
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 39 Google reviews against 4 and no reviews associated with its competitors. Knowing that – according to the BrightLocal survey – people like to read more than seven reviews about a business before they make contact, this puts SEO+ at an advantage.
There’s also a snippet from a review in the listing, which highlights what other people are saying and is a great piece of social proof that previous customers have been happy with their purchase.
Asking for reviews
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. To do this:
- Log in to your Google My Business dashboard.
- On the Home view, you will see a panel that says ‘Get more reviews’
- Click on Share review form.
- Click to copy the URL or share it to Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter or via email.
- Send the link to recent clients/customers telling them how important their feedback is to your business.
Whenever someone leaves a review on your GMB profile, I always recommend posting a response, even if it’s just a short and sweet, “Thank you”.
Dealing with negative reviews
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.
What happens if someone leaves a fake review? Unfortunately, this does happen from time to time. It could be a competitor trying to dis your reputation or a disgruntled past employee, as just two examples.
Google won’t just allow you to delete a review but you can flag it as inappropriate. To do this, go to the Reviews option in the left-hand menu of your GMB dashboard. This will bring up all of the reviews on your profile. Find the fake review and click on the column of three dots in the right-hand corner. You should now be able to click on the pop-up option Flag as inappropriate.
You may also be able to speed up Google’s response by contacting them via the Support option, which you’ll find near the bottom of the main navigation menu for your GMB dashboard.
While the fake review remains in place, it is worth posting a response. You could try something along the following lines:
Hi <insert name, if known>. We take comments like yours very seriously. Unfortunately, we have no record of any incident with a customer as described in the review. We have also been unable to verify your identity from our customer records. If you were indeed a customer, we would like to investigate this further. Please contact <name> at <email address> as soon as possible so that we can resolve this issue immediately.
This response sounds professional but also tells anyone reading it that the review is probably fake.
7. Creating a web presence (if you don’t have a website)
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 back 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, budget 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 one-page 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.
8. Managing your locations
If your business is based in multiple locations, you can add details for each branch/premises using the Manage locations option in the main GMB dashboard menu.
You can add locations one at a time using the ‘Add single location’ option or upload multiple locations at once by choosing ‘Import locations’. In the latter case, GMB will give you a template to download and use to make sure the import works.
Location groups are for when you want to share management of multiple business locations with other Google users. For example, you might want each store manager around the country to be responsible for maintaining the GMB information associated with their branch/location.
If your business does have multiple locations, you might find the Labels feature in GMB helpful. You can find Labels on the Info tab of your GMB dashboard under the ‘Advanced information’ panel.
Google suggests adding labels for different regions or different store types. For example, if you have multiple locations in different UK counties, you could create a label for different regions, e.g. North West, South West, etc. Similarly, if you have a chain of restaurants but only some offer a takeaway menu, you could create labels to say ‘Takeaway’, ‘Full service’, ‘Eat-in only’ as just a few examples.
You can apply up to 10 labels per location.
9. Creating a short name for your business
In 2019, Google rolled out a feature allowing you to create a short name and URL for your business (a bit like a Twitter handle, only this takes people straight to your GMB profile).
The short name must be between five and 32 characters (no spaces or symbols) and should reflect the name people are most likely to use to find your business. If your location is important, it’s a good idea to include this in your short name.
Naturally, Google won’t allow duplicates of names that already exist so you might need to try a few options before settling on the right name.
You can add this short name to your business cards, website, social media, etc. or direct potential customers to the short URL: g.page/yourshortname
To create or amend your short name, you’ll need to go to the Info tab in the GMB dashboard and click to ‘Add short profile name’.
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, edit your profile or post your business hours. If you click on the Customer tab at the top of this panel, this should bring up any customer questions that have been posted to your profile recently.
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.