Step-by-step guide - claiming and populating your Google My Business profile

If your business serves customers face-to-face and in a specific local area, then a Business Profile within Google My Business can be particularly useful.

Guide

15 min read

1. What is ‘Google My Business’

‘Google My Business’ is a tool from Google that businesses can use to claim a business listing and input and edit a lot of the information that appears about them in local search results - in both Google Search results and Google Maps.

If your business serves customers face-to-face and in a specific local area, then a Business Profile within Google My Business can be particularly useful, for example:

  • If you have one or more physical customer-serving premises - like a shop, cafe, garage, restaurant or beauty salon.
  • If you don’t have a customer-service premises but offer a service to customers within a specific geographical area - such as a cake designer, mobile hairdresser, plumber, electrician, or consultant.

Furthermore, during the current pandemic, with many businesses changing how they operate, it’s a good time to take a fresh look at how this tool can boost your marketing. Many businesses will want to actively promote new services or keep customers up to date with their opening times.

To create your business listing, first you need to set up an account, then you can use the Business Profile facility to input your key information and edit what’s there.

As Google describes it, it’s a “free business listing that appears on search results”.

2. Benefits of Google My Business

Grow your visibility

A Google My Business account is the quickest and simplest way to boost your position for local search results and panels. And this is achievable even if:

  • you don’t have a website and you only trade through your physical premises.
  • you run your business from home, and don’t have a physical premises to put on Google Maps.

Make it easy for your customers

People who search for a local business are often close to making a purchase or using a service. Often all it takes to persuade them to choose you over a competitor is an accurate description and some images of what you offer.

If they search for you by name, then they’re even closer to a purchasing decision. In this case, up-to-date location and opening hours will be even more important to convince them to use your service. And the information that appears on the Google Business Profile panel is quicker for them to look at than clicking through to your website.

Build trust

Having clear, concise and up to date information on your Google My Business listing ensures you maintain a professional image online. This is especially important for your business listing as often this is the first contact your customers will have with you. Google’s own research suggests that businesses that confirm and complete their information on Google My Business are more likely to be considered reputable by customers.

3. Considerations before you start

However, it's important to be aware that you do not own your listing and you do not have full control over it. People can suggest edits to the information within your business listing - including key information like opening hours, etc. - that Google can make live on your listing at any point.

Users can also upload photos of your business that they have taken and leave reviews on your profile. Also, Google may have a ‘knowledge panel’ about your business - populated with information about your business from around the web and its own data - without your knowledge and input.

Before you begin, it is important that you understand all of these elements about Google My Business and that you make an informed decision about how to proceed. Claiming your business and setting up a profile is just part of the process. You also need to maintain and manage it, responding to reviews and reviewing and edits, making changes as necessary.

For more information read this article (LINK TO Claim it or leave it - could Google My Business boost your marketing article)

4. What information can you control or influence?

In a Google My Business account you can confirm and update the following information:

Factual

  • Correct business name
  • Location
  • Opening hours
  • Business description
  • Images - Google claims that businesses that add photos receive 42% more requests for directions on Google Maps and 35% more clicks to their websites

Interactive

  • Monitor reviews from your customers and reply to them, or flag any fake and malicious comments to Google.

Temporary updates

  • Make temporary changes to your opening hours and days as well as the scope of your products and services. This is useful for small businesses in many scenarios, but especially in the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

5. What you cannot control

But remember, although you can actively manage your profile, you cannot fully control all content in the same way you could control everything on your own website.

Google invites information on your business from any searcher with the ‘suggest an edit’ link, including reviews, photos, edits to key information and questions.

This means you must regularly review your listing, checking for reviews and any updates, responding and managing as needed.

6. Setting up your Google My Business Profile

Setting up your profile takes less than 10 minutes to do, especially if you know what information you want to put in in advance.

Here’s a preview of what you’ll be asked and a few things to consider.

1. Go to https://www.google.com/intl/en_uk/business/

Click ‘Manage Now’.

2. Sign in to your Google Account

Create an account if you don't have one already.

3. Add your business name

In this step, add the trading name of your business, as customers know you.

Then, you’ll be asked to check the terms of service and privacy policy. As always you should do this and only click ‘Next’ if you’re happy.

4. Add a business category

Now, you have to select a main category for your business from Google’s predefined categories and click ‘next’. (Google uses the word ‘category’ in the way you might use ‘sector’ or ‘industry’).

  • Be as specific as possible with your category (e.g. ‘Italian Restaurant’ instead of just ‘Restaurant’).
  • Select the category that describes your business overall, rather than lists products/services/attributes that you offer. (As Google suggests, think ‘my business is a…’, rather than ‘my business has a …’.)
  • Primary category is a key ranking factor used by Google to determine which search terms you should rank for (among other factors) so select carefully - what searches would you ideally like to rank for?

If you can’t find your exact offering in the list of categories select the closest one - i.e. instead of Marketing Consultancy select Marketing Consultant. (If your products or services cover more than one category then you can add these later on as secondary categories). Some categories also have category-specific features (such as class ratings for hotels). For more information on categories click the ‘Learn More’ link.

Remember, if you have different locations with different categories, then once you’re properly set up, you will be able to tailor this for each premises - e.g. one health and beauty premises which is salon only and one which includes a cafe.

5. Tell Google if you have customer-facing premises

Next you will be asked “do you want to add a location that customers can visit like a store or an office?”. If you do, select ‘yes’.

However, if you don’t have customer facing premises (for example if you work from home) and you don’t want to enter this address - select ‘no’.

6. Add your location

If you have customer facing premises

If you clicked ‘yes’ in the previous step, you will be asked to enter the address of your premises.

Enter the address and click ‘next’.

You will then be asked whether you serve customers outside this location (e.g. if you deliver to a set area). If you do, you will be asked if you want to select the area in which you serve your customers.

If you don't have customer-facing premises

If you clicked ‘no’ in step 5, you’ll be asked if you want to select the area in which you serve your customers. This step is optional but if you do only serve a specific area, add it here.

7. Add contact details

Next you need to add your business contact details. Add your business phone number and your web address.

If you don’t have a business phone number, you probably don’t want to add your personal number here to be visible on Google, so just add your website URL. (If you don’t have a website then we’ll come to that later.)

8. Select your marketing preferences

If you want updates from Google, then click ‘yes’. Obviously if you don’t want these you can select ‘no’, but it is recommended to click yes so you can receive any updates about your listing.

9. Complete your set up

The next step is to click ‘finish’. At this stage nothing is set in stone, and you can click through from here.

10. Verify your business

Once you click finish, the next step in setting up your listing is to ‘verify’ your business. This ‘verification’ is how Google ensures that you are genuinely the business owner.

There are a few different methods for verification:

Verify by mail

This is the standard method of verification available to all businesses.

  • Enter your business premises address or your home address if you don’t have premises (don’t worry, this address is not published, it is needed so that Google can send your verification code on a postcard). Note that PO boxes are not accepted.
  • Google states that most postcards arrive within 14 days. It’s important not to edit your business name, address, category, or request a new code while you're waiting as this could delay Google’s verification process.
  • Once you receive the postcard, follow the instructions and enter your verification code.

Verify by Phone (available to some select businesses)

  • If your business is eligible for phone verification you will see this option.
  • In this option you can enter your business phone number, for an automated message to be sent with a verification code. You must be available to answer it immediately. You can then enter your verification code and continue.

Verify by email (available to some select businesses)

  • If your business is eligible for email verification you will see this option.
  • Enter your email address (ensuring it is correct and that you have access to the email address shown) and Google will send your verification code via email.
  • Check your emails after clicking and enter your verification code.

Verify Instantly (available to some select businesses)

  • If your business has a Google Search Console account and you have already verified your business’s website through this, you might be able to instantly verify your listing. (Although please note that this option is not available to all business categories).
  • Make sure that you’re signed in to Google My Business with the same email account that you used to verify your site with Search Console.

After selecting your verification method and starting that process, you will be taken to your dashboard, where you can start populating and optimising your business listing.

7. Populating and optimising your listing

Once you have set up your initial profile to claim your business and you have verified your business, the next step is to start filling in all of your business information. (Remember not to change your business name, address, category, or request a new code until you are verified).

Google use many different factors to determine which listings will appear at the top of search results, including:

  • Distance from user’s location or searched location.
  • Prominence and ‘fame’ of a location, venue or brand.
  • A listing’s relevance to the search term.
  • And also how comprehensive your listing is, in terms of information entered, engagement and features used.

One way to help your chances of appearing prominently in relevant searches is to tell Google as much about your business as you can. Add complete and detailed business information to your listing and keep your listing maintained and your information up to date.

Below are key pieces of information to add to your listing to get you started.

Opening hours

First, fill in your opening hours. Once your set hours are confirmed, you’ll have the option of adding ‘special hours’. This is where you can add any exceptions in advance like public holidays.

(Please note that during the coronavirus lockdown phases you can update your COVID-19 hours via the COVID-19 section).

Categories and attributes

Remember to include any secondary categories you operate in (to supplement the primary category you added in the original set-up). For example, if your business is a cafe with a delicatessen, your primary category on set up would be ‘cafe’, with an additional category ‘deli’ added here.

Depending on your categories, Google might invite you to add relevant ‘attributes’ such as payment options, wi-fi availability or wheelchair accessibility.

Be sure to fill these in if you have any as they can help you to appeal to prospective customers.

Description

It’s important to write an accurate and compelling description of your business

You’ve got a maximum of 750 characters including spaces, so be concise. Make sure you write a short description that describes your business well and succinctly. Things to think about including:

  • Mention your best selling point or what makes your business unique.
  • Mention any awards or accolades that you have.
  • Describe the geographical area you serve if you don’t fall into one of Googles’ defined local areas.

But remember, don’t exaggerate. Google invites input from customers, so any unjustified claims are likely to be publicly flagged and/or edited. Also, be aware that Google can review information you input and edits you make for quality before publishing them which means that sometimes your information won’t be updated if it doesn’t meet Google's guidelines.

Images

Using images is a great way to polish your Business Profile - do can do this from the ‘Photos’ link on the left hand side of your dashboard. In text heavy search results, attractive images really stand out, so photos and images are a key component of a successful Google My Business listing. According to Google “businesses with photos are more likely to receive requests for driving directions to their location, as well as clicks through to their websites, than businesses that don't have photos”.

Google does not guarantee that photos you add will be the most prominent images displayed of your business (it pulls images of your business from many other online sources), but by adding them and regularly updating them, there’s a good chance they will appear.

You can add a few different types of photo to your business listing. Select from:

  • Logo
  • A cover photo (this appears prominently so select a photo that best shows off your business)
  • Other business photos (add some other photos to highlight your business and help convince customers to use you)

Make sure the photos you add are great quality and show the best of your business. According to Google your photos should be 720x720 pixels in size and in JPEG or PNG format. To gain standout and show your business well, your photos should be clear and in-focus, and not too dark. Also, make sure they accurately represent your business - doctored photos are against guidelines.

Images to consider:

  • Your logo
  • If you have physical premises, include a good image of your shop front - ideally on a bright day, without cars blocking it and with your windows as presentable as possible. This image creates the first impression but also helps customers find you if they’re coming to you for the first time. It will also be much better than the standard Street View image that Google pulls through.
  • If you have physical premises also add images from inside - showing a range of products if you have them, or showing where customers will do business with you.
  • If you offer a physical service, add images of your completed jobs.
  • With their permission, you could also add images of team members at work.
  • If you are a consultancy or freelancer, add any images of awards you have received or any photos or you or team members speaking at events, etc.
  • If you have products you can add product photos, Google now gives you the option to add specific products with their product editor. Find out more on Google Support.

For more ideas on images, check out this great table that Google has created on business-specific photos.

Videos

You can also add a short video (no more than 30 seconds) to tell the story of your business. If you do add a video, make sure it is high resolution and looks professional. Don’t worry if you don’t have one, images are more important, and this is something you can always come back to in the future.

Ongoing updates

Ensure that you update your business profile with any key changes to your business, such as new opening hours, new attributes, new contact details etc.

With the coronavirus lockdown, Google My Business added new functionality to help businesses manage the details or any new service hours or temporary closures, which we will talk more about later in the guide.

The updates are on top of the general maintenance you need to do to monitor your business profile.

8. Managing customer reviews and suggested edits

It is important to remember that people can suggest edits to your listing to Google if they feel the information is inaccurate and that Google can set these changes live at any time.

People can also leave reviews about your business. Therefore, once you have completed your listing, it is essential that you regularly log in to your dashboard and keep an eye on the information on your listing and any edits and reviews that have been left.

Use the Google My Business app

To help you keep on top of reviews, you can download the Google My Business app which sends you alerts whenever a review is left and allows you to respond. (There is a link to the app on your Business Profile dashboard.)

Responding to reviews

Ensuring you respond to all reviews when you receive an alert from the app is vital.

On the public forum, you will want to acknowledge and thank all reviewers - whether the review is positive or negative.

Positive

For a positive review, acknowledging the review is a great way to build relationships and it will also help that positive review stand out in your listing.

Negative

On the flip side, if someone has left a negative review, it is essential that you respond to show users how you have dealt with the situation. Responding shows that you take all feedback seriously and that you are putting steps in place. Also, if you feel that the feedback is unfair you can put your point across - but this must be done gently and respectfully and not defensively.

For more information about responding to reviews, please see this DigitalBoost guide “Responding to customers online”

Responding to suggested edits

Google treats business listings as part of their search results. Although they give business owners the ability to input information through Google My Business, Google wants these results to be as accurate as possible, therefore anybody who feels that the information displayed is wrong, can suggest edits. (This prevents unscrupulous business owners making false claims about their business).

However, this also means that people - even competitors - can suggest changes to the information about your business. These suggested changes could be made live on your listing without you even knowing about it - you must be aware that Google can update the information in your listing and make it live at any time.

This is why it is hugely important that you regularly log into your Google My Business dashboard to check your listing, check for reviews and check for any ‘updates from Google’ notifications.

If the information you have provided has been flagged as incorrect or out of date to Google, then you will receive an ‘Update from Google’ notification within your Google My Business dashboard. You can choose to accept, discard, or edit Google updates from within your dashboard - this does not mean however that you can undo a change by clicking ‘discard’, you will need to edit the changed information back from within your Google My Business dashboard.

Answering questions

It is also important that you monitor your listing for any questions that have been asked or answers provided.

The Q&A section can be a useful place for businesses to interact with customers and answer common queries, giving additional information.

However, with the Q&A function, it is important to note that users can ask questions, and anyone can answer these. (Remember Google wants users to have a good search experience and get all the information they need, so user-generated Q&As help with this). And this is fine, unless the answers given are incorrect or unhelpful or are not on brand.

Therefore, the best way to stay on top of this is to answer all questions as the ‘owner’. To do this review your public listing and check for any questions or answers. Make sure that you are signed in to your account and answer these questions as the ‘owner’. Where possible answer any questions in your response, only linking back to your website if you have to.

If any answers that users have provided are incorrect or inappropriate you can flag these to Google.

Manage and maintain your listing

With the possibility of user generated reviews and also edits going live on your profile, it is important that you actively manage your listing, as you would other review platforms. Log in regularly and check and respond to any reviews and look for any updates made to your profile, editing and alerting as needed.

Do remember that no system is perfect. Spam, fake reviews and malicious behaviour unfortunately can happen - from both the user and the business owner side. However, Google is continually making efforts to keep local search results accurate and free of spam.

9. COVID-19 updates

With the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns across the globe, many businesses with physical premises had to close, at least temporarily, or had different opening hours or service availability.

To help businesses keep their customers up to date, Google encourages users to update opening hours if they have changed and also added new COVID-19 functionality to listings to allow businesses to mark themselves as temporarily closed or to add a COVID-19 post, where businesses could add details of their coronavirus operating conditions.

During the coronavirus pandemic, you may want to review this fortnightly as the situation around businesses opening changes so fast - both in terms of government guidelines and your own ability to stay open with staff shortages, demand, supply etc. There’s a panel on your dashboard specifically for this.

Google also recently added new ‘attributes’ that some types of businesses can use to let customers know of new service options as we progress through lockdown. For example, Food and Retail businesses can now add attributes such as ‘No contact delivery’ and ‘In-store pick up’. For more information, see Google Support.

Just be aware that COVID-19 is impacting Google’s admin time in updating listings and in their help centre, they flag that some support options may be unavailable or delayed.

Free website

The majority of consumers look for businesses, products and services online. According to Google, almost “70% of consumers agree that they are more likely to buy from a business that has a website over one that does not”. However, despite this, many small businesses do not have a website.

If your business does not have a website, when you set up a Google My Business profile you can create your own single-page website for free, through their website building tool. Please be aware that you will still need to buy the domain that it sits on (i.e. your web address - www.yourwebsite.com).

This tool automatically creates a simple and basic website for you, based on the business information and images that you have input to your Google My Business profile. You can then customise the theme, colours, font, copy etc. of your site.

Although a basic site, this option can be a quick and easy way to get a website up and running if you don’t already have one. However, if you do need a website, there are other options available such as Squarespace or Wix, that although not free are relatively low cost. Before creating a website, do consider carefully what you want to say in one and what you hope to achieve.

10. Further Information

For more information on Google My Business go to Google My Business Help.

For further information on digital marketing for your business check out our other DigitalBoost online resources, Podcasts and Webinars.

Get the support you need right now

You can connect with us through the contact form, call us or contact your local Business Gateway office

Contact Us Find my local office

You might also be interested in

Managing and optimising your Google My Business profile

To provide a strong user experience for visitors, ensure your profile is correctly populated, optimised and make use of some of the additional features.



Five top tips for retaining customers after lockdown

Winning new customers is hard work which means retaining them is critical. Here’s five tips to help you put customer retention at the heart of your business.

Finding new customers with digital marketing - a route map

Within the current climate, a key concern for many small businesses is how to find new customers as the economy restarts. Find out which digital channels are the best fit for you.