The Google My Business Optimization Guide for Small Businesses

Sean Lund-Brown

Being a small business competing with bigger brands has its challenges, especially when getting customers to find you and trust the quality of your services. To gain more visibility, many businesses turn to Google since they are one of the most popular search engines globally.

According to NetMarketshare, Google consistently had over 65% of the search engine market share from November 2019 to August 2021. To be seen by the searchers on their platform, you have to create a Google My Business account and a Google Business Profile (referred to in this article as GMB and GBP).

Your GBP and GMB account allows you to effectively use your business profile for search engine optimization (SEO), lead generation, and more. We'll help you make the most of your searchability on Google by covering:

● What Google My Business is

● What types of businesses are eligible

● How your small business will benefit from Google My Business

● Strategies for Google My Business optimization

What is Google My Business?

Google My Business is the platform that provides tools for you to optimize and manage your Google Business Profile, also known as a Google business listing. You will need to create a GMB account in order to control and optimize your GBP for marketing and lead generation purposes.

GMB tools allow you to:

● Maintain updated information about your business online, including hours, location, and contact information

● Post photos of your storefront, products, and/or services

● Receive and respond to customer reviews

● Refer customers to your website

● Generate location-based ad campaigns

Who is eligible for a Google My Business account?

To have a Google My Business account, you need to set up a Google Business Profile, which requires at least a business name, location, and category. This means you need to have a physical location you are doing business from and that customers can visit. Common examples of eligible businesses are:

● Restaurants, cafes, or bakeries

● Retail storefronts

● Gyms

● Grocery stories

● Gas stations

However, suppose you are a small business providing local services or person-to-person services but don't have a storefront. In that case, there are some exceptions that may qualify for a GBP. Examples include:

● Local bakeries or restaurants providing only delivery services

● Seasonal businesses

Google will suspend residential addresses listed as a business location, even if you sometimes meet customers there. In this case, it is best to hide your address and showcase a local service area instead.

Ineligible businesses

Generally, online stores are not eligible for a Google My Business (GMB) account. You have to interact with your customers face-to-face in some capacity. Examples of ineligible businesses include:

● Digital businesses with a 100% online presence, such as blogs or news websites

● Promotional websites or online entertainment

● Vacation and rental properties

● E-commerce stores without a local presence

● Sales associate agents or lead generation companies

● Any business not providing face-to-face services

● Businesses with explicit or illegal content

● Deceptive marketing services, such as mass solicitations, pyramid schemes, or phishing schemes

If your small business only has an online presence but is a legitimate and reputable business, you can still increase your online visibility through Google Ads.

Creating or claiming your Google Business Profile

Your business profile or listing is what appears on local results in Google Search and Google Maps. Your business profile can exist without a Google My Business (GMB) account. When you create the business listing yourself from scratch, you'll automatically be able to claim your business. For details on setting up your Google My Business profile, check out our article on getting the most out of Google My Business.

Google will often generate a business profile for you when you list your business in search results. It's best to do a quick search to see if a basic GBP already exists for your small business. If it does, you can take steps to claim the profile.

Claiming an existing GBP gives your business more credibility and allows you to update any auto-generated information on your listing that isn't accurate. Claiming a profile requires you to:

Find your business listing through a Google search (or the email confirmation link after you added your business to Google)

Claim the business by searching for your business in Google Maps, then clicking on “Claim this business > Manage now”

Verify you really are the owner and choose a verification option

If you've created a GBP but don't see your listing in search results, read Google's support article on how to find your business. Additionally, there are ways to request access to your business profile, even if someone else has already claimed it. Don't try to create another business profile, as a duplicate listing will most likely get suspended.

Why is Google My Business important for small businesses?

There are plenty of reasons to have an optimized Google business listing, especially to increase your search visibility. Before explaining strategies for Google My Business optimization, here are more details on the benefits of using Google My Business for your small business.

1. Improve your online presence

One of the most important benefits of having a GBP is the ability to find you online. Customers often research products and services, including comparing available prices, before making a purchase. A Major Purchase Shopper Study by GE Capital Retail Bank found that 81% of consumers will start searching online before visiting a store. Without an online presence, you are preventing potential customers from adding your business into their considerations.

A GMB account allows you to update your business profile with accurate information, including referring them to your website. It lets customers contact you if they have any questions during their research. Customers are also more likely to consider your business reputable when you claim, verify, maintain, and provide responses on a GBP.

2. Provide visibility to non-locals

According to the 2020 Local Consumer Review Survey by Brightlocal, 93% of U.S. consumers searched for a local business online. Of these people, 34% searched daily. So, even if you are a small business that locals know and trust, there could still be a large percentage of out-of-town visitors or new residents who don't realize you exist.

Having a GBP increases your visibility during searches of "things near me" and gives new customers insight into what to expect when visiting your store or purchasing your services. Customer reviews and ratings are also a great way to help non-locals understand why locals love your business, and they should give you a shot.

3. Analyze business leads and traffic to your website

As the previously mentioned statistics indicate, you have to first be visible online to increase your leads from consumers. But how do you know if your search engine optimization (SEO) and online marketing strategies increase traffic to your website?

That's where having a GMB account comes in. It has powerful built-in reporting tools, called Insights, to give you data to understand your search visibility and how it translates to leads.

Information from Insights helps you better understand your target audience, including data on how customers reach your business and what features on your business profile are most successful for lead generation. Once you know these things, you can improve your marketing strategies and adjust how you allocate your budget. For more detailed information on tracking the performance of GMB leads for your business, read our article on using Google My Business to generate leads.

4. Offer your small business credibility

Small businesses don't always have the advantages of big brand reputations to reassure new customers about their credibility. However, this doesn't mean there aren't ways to showcase why your business is a great option and can be trusted.

Verifying your business profile allows you to authenticate the information by adding a logo and other updated details, including pictures and your website. Having customer reviews and showing how you respond to complaints are also great ways to showcase your customer service abilities. Since customer reviews are not promotional content, people tend to find what's written in reviews more believable. More credibility also means more business leads.

5. Improve customer service efforts

A GBP lets you customize your business profile to make serving your customers easier. Instead of going onto your website to find contact information, customers can call from the number listed in the profile or even send a message. You can also include options to ask your business a question, order delivery, order pickup, or make a reservation directly from the business profile.

Besides making your customer experience more pleasant, you can also respond to unhappy customers or solve any issues highlighted in customer reviews. Businesses can apologize and offer compensation, such as discounts, to encourage an unhappy customer to return and give them another chance. Instead of losing more business due to negative word-of-mouth, you can showcase how you make up for bad experiences and even potentially keep the unhappy customer.

6. No budget impacts

We understand how important budgeting and minimizing costs are for small businesses. This is why, last but not least, GMB is a useful tool that offers you all of the above benefits for free. Often, the best tools for optimizing are budget-friendly, easy to use, and practical for your business. GMB has all three features.

Google also provides detailed support pages about setting up different features or troubleshooting problems.

Seven strategies for Google My Business optimization

Setting up a Google Business Profile and updating your information through your Google My Business account is a great start, but this alone won't necessarily keep your search rankings high.

To guarantee you are getting the most out of your business profile, here are seven strategies to optimize GMB.

1. Make sure your profile is complete and accurate

Having an incomplete or inaccurate business profile can impact your ranking in search results.

Besides distance and prominence, Google uses the relevance of business profile information to determine local ranking. The more complete your business information is, the easier it will be for Google to understand your business and match your business profile to relevant searches. Making sure your business description is professional and incorporates your business's target keywords also helps with rankings.

Additionally, a complete profile allows potential customers to find all the information they need easily. Making sure it is accurate also helps maintain your business credibility and supports a better customer experience. The worst thing is for a customer to dial a listed number — just to get a fax tone or a deadline. They will most likely turn to one of your competitors instead.

When adding your business hours, also make sure to update special hours, such as during holidays. You can improve a customer's experience significantly when they know your profile is updated and they don't have to call in to find out if you are open. This information must be accurate because you can easily lose potential customers with misinformation. You don’t want a customer to show up to your business expecting that it will be open and then find a closed shop. They might even leave a bad review that discourages others from attempting to visit your business.

2. Encourage customers to leave reviews

Reviews help authenticate your business as a legitimate establishment, especially since they are customer-generated and not biased promotions. A 2021 shopper survey report by Bizrate Insights found that 36.4% of consumers read between one to three reviews, 9.1% read seven to nine reviews, and 14.6% read over ten reviews before purchasing.

Google allows you to easily send a request to customers for a review using a shortened URL that looks like this: g.page/[yourcustomname]. You can even offer customers incentives to leave reviews, such as loyalty points or promotions when they submit a review they created. Review requests can be made:

● In-person after a purchase

● On your website through a chatbot or a review page

● Through your social media messages or posts

● On invoices or receipts

● Through automatic emails triggered after a purchase

Reviews are also an avenue to engage with your customers. You should respond to all reviews you get, whether it's positive or negative. Responses allow you to show that you appreciate feedback from customers who took the time to post a review. How you respond to negative reviews also showcases your customer service abilities and professionalism.

How multiple reviews help your business profile ranking

Online reviews are one of the indicators Google uses to change your business profile rankings. Positive customer reviews signal to Google that your business is communicative, has authority, and earned trust from customers. Search engines want to offer their users the best results as suggestions to their search — so the better your reviews, the better your chances of ranking.

Another reason to request reviews is to improve your rating score. Google uses a 5-star rating system based on reviews and will feature your business profile with the average rating. The same Bizrate Insights report referenced above found that 26.8% of consumers trust a rating if there are between 11 to 50 reviews, and 18.9% require between 51 to 100 reviews.

Besides improving your business profile ranking and trustworthiness, you can also use positive reviews in your marketing. For example, you can feature them on your website, Google My Business page, or social media accounts.

Removing or transferring reviews

Google will automatically remove spam reviews from your profile. However, you can also request Google to remove reviews you see that are inappropriate. Make sure the review violates a Google policy and isn't simply a disagreement between you and a customer. Google can take several days to assess a review removal request, but this is a worthwhile process to improve your business profile rating.

If you create a new business profile because of a change in your business's name, ownership, or location, you can also keep any reviews you previously received. Sometimes Google will automatically transfer your reviews to your new profile, but you may have to request a review transfer in some circumstances.

3. Utilize standard SEO strategies

One of the main factors Google uses to determine local rankings for Google Business Profiles is prominence. This factor refers to how well known your business is, including how well your business ranks on web results. For this reason, a strategy for Google My Business optimization is to carry out other standard search engine optimization (SEO) efforts to improve your business website's search engine result rankings.

Google will rank your website higher in search result pages based on the quality of your organic content, meaning that paid advertising is not considered. Some of the time-tested SEO strategies to improve your content and your users’ experience of your site include:

● Targeting popular and relevant keywords in your copy

● Create content answering your target audiences common questions

● Improving your website's loading speed

● Removing dead or broken links

● Leveraging the use of internal and external links

● Increase website dwell time and reduce bounce rate

● Create unique and engaging content people will want to share, such as:

  • Infographics
  • Free resources or tools
  • Interactive content
  • Buying guides
  • Comparison pieces

Even if you don't have a website, Google looks at all of its information about your business across the web — such as from links, directories, and articles — to determine prominence. You can conduct news releases to local publications with websites or submit articles to blogs as a guest writer. You can even send samples to bloggers who do product reviews to encourage them to write an honest article reviewing your business.

4.  Set up a website or online store  

As previously mentioned, 81% of customers will do research online first before visiting stores. Their research includes product or service options and price comparisons. Without a website, you could be losing a lot of customers to businesses that do have one.

Setting up a website also doesn't require HTML knowledge since most hosting platforms offer templates you can customize for your business. The Squarespace website builder is known for its award-winning templates and easy-to-use features for non-technical people. It guides you through simple steps to use SEO features and improve your website's search rankings. If you have their Business Plan, you can also earn up to $100 in Google Ads Credit.

Your website doesn't have to be extensive for it to be efficient. For example, suppose you are a restaurant or bakery. You just need at least a home page, about us page, contact page, and menu page. You can then add information about how to contact your business for daily specials or seasonal availability.

It's also not required to set up an online store if you prefer to have people come in for their purchases. Even if you aren't selling online, your website can still provide:

● Useful information about your business in the About Us section

● Contact information, including your store's location as well as phone number, contact form, or website chat

● Client testimonials or customer reviews

● A catalog of the products and services you offer (for purchase online or in-store)

● News, updates, or blog posts as added value for customers.

Options for setting up an online store

If you want to give your customers an option to purchase online, there are plenty of easy ways to accomplish this. Besides Squarespace that lets you sell on eBay and Amazon, some other notable e-commerce websites include:

● Oracle Netsuite

● Shopify

● BigCommerce

● Web.com

In a digital report released July 2020, DataReportal found that the change in e-commerce transaction rates increased by 19.1%, compared to a pre-COVID benchmark. To tap into this rising trend in consumer shopping, it may be time to consider adding some store products online.

5.  Leverage Google My Business Insights

Your GMB dashboard provides an Insights panel that gives you data on your listing’s traffic and how users behave when interacting with your listing. Examples of available information include:

● How customers found your site in search

● How many views your photos get in a particular period

● Actions customers take after they find you in search (e.g., call you)

Leveraging the insights you gain from this data can help you strategize on how to improve your prominence rating for a higher search ranking. For example, understanding your customer demographics gives you information on your target audience or an audience you should be targeting. You can then create content relevant to their interests and drive more organic search traffic to your website.

6. Maintain an active business profile

An active business profile is one factor Google considers in its algorithms when suggesting local businesses to its users. Besides keeping all your information up-to-date and having recent reviews, you can showcase that your business is active through posts and photos.

GMB offers a tool for posting small blog articles to indicate your business is active and running. Posted content must be relevant to your business and help your customers better understand your business. For example, you can share short news updates, talk about upcoming events, or share offers and promotions.

Photographs can help showcase your services and goods, including providing the ambiance your business location offers. Make sure the images are clear and attractive to entice customers to visit your business or request your services. Make sure the images don't violate Google's policies. For instance, there are some restrictions on posts related to alcohol, tobacco, and other products.

7. Comply with Google guidelines

Google has multiple guidelines related to its GMB tools. They want to provide their users with the best experience possible and, to ensure this, will act against businesses violating their guidelines and restrictions. Violating their guidelines could result in a profile suspension.

Since the last thing you want is to remove all your optimization efforts due to accidental non-compliance, here are some things regarding content and customer interactions you want to be aware of.

Content guidelines

Besides making sure content is relevant to your business, there are many things to be aware of when posting content on your business profile. You should avoid posting:

● Content containing confidential or private information

● Personal rants, political statements, or social commentary

● Misleading or dishonest content, including phishing scams

● Misspellings or gimmicky character use

● Links to viruses, malware, or other harmful software

● Inappropriate content, such as anything hateful, offensive, sexually suggestive, or encouraging violence

● Blurry or poor video or image quality, including unrecognizable content

● Child exploitation

● Prohibited content with the main focus on regulated products and services such as gambling, alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals

● Images of identifiable people without their permission

Messaging guidelines

More specifically, make sure you put your best foot forward while you're engaging with customers through Google My Business messaging. Just be mindful to avoid things such as:

● Providing or requesting sensitive information over chat

● Taking an unreasonable period to respond to customers

● Repeatedly messaging customers with no response

● Excessively long messages or use of URLs and emoticons

● Messaging customers about services or products unrelated to the customer's original request

● Impersonating an individual or organization

You can find a list of all Google My Business policies online.

8. Have a live agent on call for customer contacts

Engaging with your customers is a great way to improve your business' credibility and increase leads. This is especially true since customers are more likely to trust a business they can easily get in touch with and receive prompt responses.

GMB allows you to include options to call, message, request a quote, or ask your business questions. If you are a restaurant, there are also buttons for customers to reserve a table, order pickup, or order delivery. With so many ways to reach your small business for questions and services, it's important to have someone on the other end replying to them. The worst thing is for a customer to reach out and get no response. They might choose to go elsewhere.

For instance, let’s say that your customers contacted you looking to verify the details of an event posted on your GBP — a weekend adoption event at your pet shop. Several customers messaged you on your Facebook account and asked you to clarify the details of the adoption process, but no one replied to the customer. After all, your business was busy preparing for a major event.

You don’t have to let customers like these slip through the cracks if you delegate your communications to a chat service provider or a virtual receptionist. These services, such as the virtual receptionists at Smith.ai, can allow you to focus on the rest of your business’s needs while someone else is getting back to customers.

It's important to respond promptly to messages from customers to promote trust and provide a great customer experience. Google also expects you to reply to messages to your GBP within 24 hours. If your business doesn't engage in timely responses, Google may deactivate chat for your business profile.

Using Smith.ai with Google My Business

Creating a Google My Business account allows you to make the most of what Google has to offer for your small business. With this comprehensive guide on Google My Business Optimization, you’re ready to upgrade how you use your business profile and gain visibility on Google search and map results.

To make the most of these Google My Business strategies, look into integrating Smith.ai into your lead generation and customer service process. By using Smith.ai, you can enable live agent chat services on your website to answer customer questions directly on your website — using scripts and information you provide.

You'll be able to offer customer support in real time, at any time. You can even have your Smith.ai agents offer customers incentives to leave reviews, such as loyalty points or promotions when they submit a review they created.

This doesn't mean you have to work 24/7 or have someone physically at your business at all hours of the night. Smith.ai offers virtual receptionists that can cover the following responsibilities:

● Answer phone calls 24/7

● Respond to website chats 24/7

● Reply to SMS text messages

● Provide lead screening and intake

● Schedule appointments

● Respond to web forms

Having a Google Business Profile is the first step towards visibility on search results. But combining Smith.ai’s resources with the power behind Google My Business can help make a lasting impression on your leads and site visitors. Book a free 30-minute consultation to learn more about how Smith.ai can help your business. And try us out with our 14-day, money-back guarantee.

Sean Lund-Brown

Sean Lund-Brown is a current Marketing Assistant for Smith.ai. A graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Sean graduated with a BA in Music and an individualized degree in Teaching Vocal Pedagogy.

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