The Short and Snappy Guide to Google My Business in 2019
Google My Business (GMB) connects businesses and consumers mainly though Google Maps and Search and is one of the most useful tools to help build local search visibility. 65% of smartphone users carry out searches on the go, and 50% of consumers that carry out a local search on their smartphone visit a store within a day. Local search is more important than ever, therefore it is key to have GMB set up for your business and have fully optimised store listings.
Setting up an account and adding store listings is quite simple. The name of your business should be spelt correctly on your store listings and your address must be correct. Do include your website if you have one and a contact telephone number in your listings. This is all common sense, but surprisingly some businesses have spelt their name wrong, included the wrong address, not included a website or telephone number and this impacts both discovery and user experience.
Once you have created your individual store listings, I would recommend creating location groups. Location groups make it easier to manage stores by area, country or continent as managing multiple stores can become tricky at times. A point to note is that Google will not let you create store listings for stores in China as this market is not supported by the tools.
Verifying the Stores
Verifying your stores can be something short of a nightmare to accomplish if you do not have access to the stores. Nonetheless, it’s all part of the process.
If you are unable to gain access to a store to collect a postcard or answer the store phone you should choose to verify your listing later. Google will contact you to verify your stores via an email or phone number you have access to. Google may ask that you send pictures of the front of a store that displays the signage for verification purposes so make sure that you have clear store front pictures just in case.
A problem we encountered during the verification process was verifying concession stores (i.e. a brand store within a multi-brand store such as Harrods or Nordstrom) for a client. My guess is that concession stores are harder to verify because Google cannot see these on Google Street View, hence why Google asks for pictures of the stores including the signage.
Google did not understand the nature of the client’s concession store to start with, repeatedly asking if the payments for their products are made through one checkout only (to which we said “no each brand has their own till point”) and they used the example, ‘so imagine you owned a pizza stall in a mall and you were selling cans of coke there’ – not quite the concept we were getting at, but 10/10 for effort. We explained to Google that the client’s concession stores are floor spaces that they rent from multibrand stores, along with lots of other brands who do the same thing.
After some discussion the team realised that Google believed the multibrand stores were resellers, which was not the case for our client. We had to explain that the multibrand store makes money from the rent that each brand would pay them for using their floor space to retail and that revenue from sales at the client’s concession stores go back to the brand as the products are owned by the brand and not by the multibrand store. Eventually we got there with our explanation, but my advice is that you must be completely clear on whether your store is standalone or whether is it a concession and be prepared for the verification process to take some time.
Google+ is something I have seen aligned with GMB frequently. New users of GMB may be wondering what it is and whether this is something your business should use. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the tool, Google+ is Google’s social network that enables consumers and businesses to post pictures and content. When you sign up to GMB, Google automatically creates a Google+ account for you. Google+ aims to enable consumers to discover your business socially, and GMB enables consumers to discover your business by search, therefore the two tools are designed to work hand in hand.
There are various articles suggesting that Google+ should be used in conjunction with GMB as it can provide a small advantage. There is, however, little evidence that Google+ provides an advantage to your business nor that it increases your chance of discovery. Google announced in December 2018 that on 2nd April 2019 Google+ consumer accounts will be removed due to “low usage and the challenges involved in maintaining a successful product that meets consumers’ expectations”. Surely this removes any kind of advantage Google+ claims to give?
A study from Stone Temple Consulting in 2015 found that less than 1% of Google’s users actively use Google+ and now that Google is removing consumer accounts, I imagine this number will be even less. I would not be overly concerned in focusing much effort on the tool initially. The focus should be on creating well optimised, up-to-date GMB listings as this is proven to help local search visibility.
So on to the good stuff. For a start, its free, and whether you’re a standalone food stall at Spitalfields Market or a global fashion retailer, GMB will help achieve your local strategy goals.
The tool runs parallel with user search behaviour. As consumers are making more searches on the go, GMB provides an opportunity like no other for your business to be discovered.
Another benefit of GMB is that it bridges the gap between your online and offline business. Particularly for the retail industry, the rise of online is having a negative impact on stores; this tool allows stores to be found and could encourage customers to visit the store. The GMB listing could result in a conversion in store or online through your website being accessible via the listing.
GMB also provides useful insights from each of your store listings, such as the most popular search queries for your business by unique users, how customers search for your business and more. This is useful for shaping your local strategy.
I don’t want to discredit how much of a useful tool GMB is, but nothing is perfect! If you know the potential difficulties of GMB before you start this could make the process a little easier for you as you know what to expect.
Firstly, the whole process is incredibly time consuming and not user friendly. You can only edit individual locations, and the initial verification process takes forever especially if you do not have access to the stores. In addition to this, the insights that you can get from individual store listings are only available for 30 days, so you need to make sure you are continuously downloading the data to track performance. I would recommend having a dedicated person to manage it; if you do not have the resource to do this, set aside some time to work on it.
Getting in touch with Google Support is somewhat like trying to get blood from a stone. The support that you can access online does not always answer your questions and some issues can only be resolved by Google. If and when you do manage to get in touch with Google support, they are not always helpful over the phone and there is a slight communication barrier. You have to be patient.
Users can make edits to your listings that are often unwanted such as adding pictures. There is little you can do about this unless the edits go against Google’s policy, in which case you can report them. There is no guarantee it will be removed, the best advice here is to monitor any user edits.
Lastly, your GMB listings may not show up in the SERPs until they gain some authority in search. This was confirmed whilst I was talking to Google trying to verify store listings for client. For a new or small business this can be inconvenient, but your listing will show on Maps regardless. Please do not get disheartened and do keep working it as the listings will show eventually.
As I have proceeded to mention multiple times, GMB is an essential part of local search strategy, and an incredibly useful tool that all businesses should be using. Even the best tools in the world have their issues; there is always room for improvement from Google’s side, however GMB is a great tool to kick start your local strategy and be discovered.