Optimizing your online presence for local searches can boost your traffic and sales by as much as 600% or more, according to some case studies. The reason is obvious. More than one-third of all searches and more than half (56%) of mobile searches have a local intent. Almost 8 in 10 people who search for a local business on mobile visit that business and buy from it, usually within a few hours. So, if local SEO hasn’t been on your mind for a while, now is a good time to start.
How Google Ranks Local Businesses
Last year, Google pulled the rug from under the feet of many local businesses by replacing its 7-pack local search results with the 3-pack. It means there are only three spots for local businesses on the first page. You must do everything to make your business appear in the top three positions, so you may drive the lion’s share of the organic traffic. You don’t want to be on page 2 and 3, which only get 5.59% of the total clicks (MOZ). You must also do everything to make users click on your listing and choose your business over competitors. You can achieve both of these goals by optimizing Google My Business.
Most of the information in your Google Local listing comes from your Google My Business page. This includes your business description, address and phone number, work hours, website, customer reviews, photos, and Google Maps results. Optimizing Google My Business can get you more traffic by improving your local ranking and click-through rate (CTR).
Google considers a number of factors to determine local rankings. The three leading parameters that Google says it measures are as follows:
- Relevance: How relevant is your business for the query being searched? Providing complete and detailed business information on GMB helps Google understand your business better and match it with the relevant searches.
- Distance: How far is your business from the location term the user is searching for? Hence, the search results for “Montreal coffee shop” are likely to be different from the results for “Old Port coffee shop”.
- Prominence: How well-known is your business in the locality? Google considers both your offline and online reputation. Google determines the offline popularity of your business by the number of branded searches with your business’s name. Additionally, it also collects information about your business from your reviews on GMB and other local listings as well as your citations and mentions across the web. That’s why it is extremely important to build a strong citation profile, but that will come later.
Let’s do the basics first and start our journey to the 3-pack by optimizing your Google My Business.
The 15 Point Checklist for Optimizing Google My Business
#1. Are You Eligible for a Google My Business Listing?
Not all brick and mortar businesses qualify for Google My Business. Rental and for-sale properties are not eligible. Brands, organizations, artists and online businesses should create a Google+ Brand Page and are not considered local businesses.
#2. Claim your Google My Business Listing
If you have a local address and already had a Google+ Business Page or a Google Local page, Google has already converted it into your My Business listing. You can claim it as follows:
- Search with your business name on Google
- If you see your business on the right, click on it and see if the “Are You the Business Owner” link appears
- If it does, click on it and claim your GMB listing
- If the link doesn’t appear, go to Google My Business and sign in with your Google account
- Click the “Start Now” button and add your business on the page that appears
Taking these steps will make your business discoverable during local and mobile searches and on Google Maps.
#3. Get Rid of Duplicate Listings
Make sure no duplicate listings exist. It is possible that your employees or agency had created multiple Google+ pages for your business. Delete them and note down your official Google My Business URL, as you may need it for further work.
#4. Provide the Correct Business Name
Your business name should simply be the name you have on your storefront, website, and stationery. Do not use marketing taglines, location keywords, special characters, website address, and other unnecessary information with the name of your business. Here’s what Google advises.
#5. Make Sure Your Address is Correct
Your business address must be identical across your Google My Business listing, website, other directory listings, social media pages, and elsewhere. Use your official street address without any further directions or details. If you’ve entered the address correctly but Google can’t find it on the map, can pinpoint your location using the ‘Set marker location’ button.
#6. Always Use Your Local Working Phone Number
Never use a toll-free 800 or call tracking number on your local listings. Google will not be able to match it with your address and that will affect your local status. Only use your current and working phone number with your local area code. Have someone answer the phone every time it rings. Prepare a strategy to convert the leads into sales.
#7. Select the Correct Business Category
The first category that you select will be treated as your main category and should remain the same for all of your store locations (if you have more than one). Make sure that the main categories represent your business correctly. Google has a list of more than 300 popular categories, from which you can select additional subcategories later on, after your Google+ page is created. The main category should stay the same for all of your locations, if you have more than one.
#8. Provide Your Service Area (if you serve customers at their locations)
If you are a local business delivers goods and services to customers at their doorsteps (such as food delivery, moving company, home repair, etc), you should list your business as a ‘service area business‘. You can then define the service areas based on the zip codes or cities that you serve.
#9. Make Sure Your Business is Verified
After you have provided the above info, Google will ask you to verify it. Your contact details, description, photos, and other business details will display on Google Maps and other Google properties only after your business is verified. You can do it by a phone call on the number you’ve provided or a postcard to your address. A “Verified” badge will appear beside your business name on your Google My Business dashboard when Google has verified your business. You can also skip the verification for later and move straight to your my Business profile.
#10. Link Each Page to the Correct URL
This should be obvious if you have only one street address, one website, and a single Google My Business location. But if you have multiple store locations, you should have a separate page for each and link it to the relevant landing page. Businesses with more than 10 store locations can use Google’s bulk verification feature to upload and verify all addresses.
#11. List and Update Business Hours
Your local search results will feature the hours of work, so make sure you display the correct hours of operation on your Google My Business page. Remember to change the hours if you have daylight saving time in your area or if your business has different timings in different seasons.
#12. Write a Compelling Description
Keep it short and sweet and focused on the most aspects of your business. Highlight the unique selling points (e.g. ‘artisan coffee,’ ‘gourmet coffee,’ ‘coffee & cake,’ etc). Google will pick up a snippet from your description to display under your business name in the local SERPs. You can mark the snippet you want Google to show with the Schema markup, which we’ll discuss shortly.
#13. Add Photos of Your Products and Premises
Showcase your products, premises, and personnel by adding photos to your Google My Business page. Photos are good for your ranking and increase your CTR. You can add different types of photos to your Google My Business.
- Cover photo, which is the large photo featured at the top of your Google+ page
- Profile photo, which will show up on your Google+ page beside your business name
- Upload your logo to help you customers identify your business online
- Select a ‘preferred photo,’ which you want to show as the ‘hero image’ alongside your business name on Google Search and Maps
- Add more photos to highlight different aspects of your business
The photos should be between 10KB and 5MB in size, with a minimum resolution of 720x720px. They should be well lit, in focus, and realistic. Photoshop or other filters are not allowed.
- Pro Tip 1: Be very careful to include only high-quality photos, because they’ll be displayed right on top of your Google My Business page, and are critical for converting your online visitors into buyers.
- Pro Tip 2: Make sure your shop is looking great during business hours because customers can also add photos to your Google My Business.
#14. Consider Adding a Virtual Tour
You can leapfrog competitors by hiring a Google recommended photographer to shoot an indoor Street View of your business. Recommended for hotels, restaurants, and other businesses that rely on their décor and ambience to attract customers, the Street View will be added to your search results on Google Search, Maps, and Hotel Searches. Google says people are twice as likely to be interested in booking a reservation in your hotel if you have a virtual tour with your listing.
#15. Collect Genuine Customer Reviews
Now that your Google My Business page is complete, you should actively pursue your customers to add positive reviews of your business. You can remind them to review your business when they come to your store. You can also approach them by email, providing a link to your Google My Business listing and requesting them for a review. The more reviews you have, the better your chances of ranking higher.
Congratulations! You’ve optimized your Google My Business for local and mobile searches. But don’t pop the champagne just yet. You have taken the first step on the long journey to a position in the 3-pack search results. The next thing to do is to start building citations across as many directories as possible. These can include Yellow Pages, Yelp, Facebook, Canpages, Weblocal, Cylex, Manta, Hotfrog, and so many other websites. A strong citation profile tells Google your business is trusted and well-known, so it is likely to reward you with higher rankings.