Claim it or leave it – could Google My Business boost your marketing?

Often overlooked in marketing, Google My Business is a straightforward, easy and free tool that helps small businesses raise their local profile in Google’s search results.

Guide

15 min read

1. Overview

During the current pandemic, many businesses are changing opening hours, how they operate or what they offer, so now is a good time to take a fresh look at how this tool could boost your local marketing.

2. Is this relevant to you?

You first need to determine whether local search is relevant to your type of business. 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.

But unlike many other marketing tools, you do not own your Business Profile and you do not have full control over it. This means that:

  • A Google Business Profile on your business may exist without you ever creating or claiming it.
  • Even if you do claim your Business Profile and update it, you cannot fully control the content in it.

So, before you go any further you must decide:

  • Do you proactively claim a Google Business Profile for your business?
  • If one is already there, should you claim it?
  • If you do, then how many of the available features within Google My Business do you use to market your business?

As with most marketing, there are some opportunities and risks involved in using Google My Business. We will take you through these to help you make an informed decision on whether this is the right tool for your business.

3. About ‘local’ search

Before going any further, it’s helpful to understand a bit more about local search.

When people search for geographically specific businesses in Google, this is considered to be a ‘local’ search - they are looking for a business within a specific local area.

Google’s aim is to make their search results as useful as possible for the person searching so they can easily find the local businesses they need.

Google considers that people will need ‘local’ search results when they:

  • are searching for face-to-face business categories that Google considers will need to be local, such as restaurants, launderettes or hairdressers.
  • have specified a location as part of their search - e.g. ‘hairdressers Glasgow’ or ‘hairdressers near me’.
  • have searched for a specific business name.

Google displays the information in different areas:

  • Lists of businesses in the search results
  • List of businesses in Google Maps results
  • Business Profile panel

Search results

When users in a given area search for a business type or search specifying a location, Google very helpfully displays results for businesses in their area. For example, if a customer is in Edinburgh and they search for ‘tyre repair’, then Google will sensibly display a list of tyre shops or mechanics in Edinburgh, as the searcher is more likely to need this rather than a range of options across the UK.

On a mobile, these results appear in the search results at the top of the page, usually below a map. On a desktop they’ll appear on the left hand side below a map.

Similarly, if a user searches for a business type within Google Maps, a list of businesses near them or in their searched area appear.

Business Profile panel

When a user searches Google for a specific entity (such as a celebrity, a seasonal festival, a country, a book, etc.), then Google will often display a summary ‘knowledge panel’ to help the searcher out as much as possible.

It is the same for someone searching for a named business. This knowledge panel - called a ‘Business Profile’ when it relates to a business - will contain key information on that business that might be useful for customers. This profile appears very prominently on the right hand side of the page on desktop. On mobile, a shorter version of this panel appears at the top of the page, before the standard search results.

This panel includes information such as images, opening hours, address and contact details, as well as questions and answers and maybe reviews. There will also be buttons linking to the website, social profiles and maps for directions.

This information is collated by Google and taken from a range of sources, including:

  • Google’s own data (including any information added to Google My Business, but also Street View images, user frequency data, etc.),
  • the business’s own website and social platforms.
  • third party websites that mention the business.

Various people may also have asked questions about the business and submitted answers or reviews.

What most searchers don’t realise is that the business itself, may or may not have proactively input any information into this. Furthermore, many businesses are amazed when they do a search on their name and find a panel dedicated to their business - as many have done absolutely nothing to create it!

4. The benefits of local search listings and profiles for businesses

Local search is clearly an important marketing channel for many local businesses. To help manage this, ‘Google My Business’ is a tool that businesses can use to confirm and edit a lot of their information that appears in Google Search results, Maps and their Business Profile Panel.

After you’ve set up a Google My Business account, you can use your dashboard to confirm your key information, input new information, and edit what’s there. As Google describes it, it’s a “free business listing that appears on search results”.

The opportunities

First let’s look at the opportunities. Local search results and profiles can help businesses:

  • Grow their visibility
  • Make it easy for their customer to find them
  • Build trust
Grow your visibility

For small or local businesses, having prominence in the search results can make a huge difference in reaching new customers. 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.

Without having to spend any money, small businesses which use this feature properly, can see very positive results.

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 in your 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. 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.

Think of the outside of any cafe, shop or beauty salon. Which would you trust most? Probably the business with the carefully designed sign, the freshly painted walls and the clean windows.

Online, your search results are the digital equivalent of your physical shop front. Incomplete or inaccurate information, a blank profile, unprofessional images or unanswered questions and reviews may create the impression that you do not care.

However, you don’t own or control the listing

It’s clear that there are many benefits to having a strong presence on local search results.

However, before going any further, it’s important to be aware that businesses do not actually own the information that appears in Search results, Maps and the Business Profile panel. Therefore, you do not have full control over the information displayed, even though it relates to your organisation.

Any person can suggest edits to the information within a business listing or profile - including key information like opening hours - and Google can make this live at any point without your knowledge or input.

Users can also upload photos of your business that they have taken, leave reviews on your profile and ask or answer questions about your business.

However, any business that formally creates a Google My Business profile, will at least have more input into what information and images appear.

5. Determining your local search approach

As mentioned at the start, if you are considering Google My Business, you need to decide how to progress:

  • Do you proactively claim and populate a Google Business Profile for your business?
  • If one is already there, should you claim it?
  • If you do, then how many of the available features within Google My Business do you use to market your business?

6. Does your business already appear in a profile panel?

The first thing to check, is whether a Business Profile already exists for your business. Head to Google and run a search for your business name. If you haven’t claimed and verified a Business Profile within Google My Business, there are two possible outcomes for this search, there will either be:

No panel. This means Google hasn’t found out much information about your business from other sources - perhaps because you:

  • Don’t have physical premises open to the public.
  • May not have a website or an established social media presence.
  • Don’t have a high volume of searches for your business name.

A panel which names your business. This could contain:

  • Very little or no information.
  • Some information and images - which may or may not be correct.

Even if you haven’t claimed and verified your Google Business Profile, then as explained in the previous section, Google has managed to collate information on your business from a range of other sources or users have input information. Therefore, the first information that most of your potential customers see about you, is created purely by Google and the public.

The information in this panel, (if there is one) supports the content that appears about your business in the general search results listing and Google Maps, which is why it’s helpful to look at this first.

7. Should you claim your business profile?

If no panel appears for your business at the moment

Option 1: Set up your profile now

For most local businesses who need new custom, having a proper Business Profile appearing in local search results will be very helpful. It will just be a simple case of setting it up within Google My Business. It’s quick, free and easy to do. A detailed step-by-step guide is available here.

However, before you begin, it is important to understand that, as explained in the previous section, you will never fully control the information that appears about you. Claiming your business and setting up a profile is just part of the process. You will also need to:

  • maintain and manage it.
  • respond to reviews and reviewing and edits.
  • make changes as necessary.
  • deal with any false reviews or changes.

For most businesses, the benefits outweigh the time involved in doing this, and the improved visibility balances the risk of receiving negative as well as positive reviews, however the decision and commitment is yours to make.

Option 2: Leave it for now

You may decide that you do not want to claim and populate a Business Profile. You either would prefer not to manage one or you may not need the exposure. It is possible that a business has no real need to raise its profile on Google because:

  • It is currently operating at capacity, maybe with a waiting list, and can’t cope with any new business.
  • Most new business comes from word of mouth and recommendations.
  • The business doesn’t take on new clients from ‘cold’ leads - perhaps because it is a complex service that a credible customer won’t use Google to find.

There are fewer businesses that fall into those categories, but if you’re one of those, then there may be absolutely no benefit to pursuing a higher profile, especially as it will need regularly monitored and updated.

But, before dismissing it out of hand, there’s a few other things to consider:

  • At any point in the future, Google may collate enough information (correct or incorrect!) about your business to display a profile of it in a Business Profile panel - without your involvement. Therefore, it would be worth diarising a monthly check to search Google for your business name and see what appears, to be sure that incorrect information and unanswered reviews are not visible without you doing what you can to manage them.
  • Although Google runs a verification process for anyone claiming a business profile, it might be better for you to claim it, rather than run the risk of someone else attempting to claim it.
  • One day, you might want to rank higher than competitors in local search when a user searches for your business category, rather than your business name e.g. ‘gift-shop near me’ instead of the specific ‘Sally’s Gifts’. If you haven’t already claimed and maintained your business profile, it might take longer for you to be properly represented within the search results.

If a panel appears with some information

This means that Google has collated information about you and perhaps even members of the public have added information, questions, comments and reviews.

There are a few scenarios for what might appear:

  • The profile panel is almost completely blank.
  • There is quite a lot of information that is generally ok.
  • There is some incorrect information and possibly some negative reviews or incorrect answers you weren’t aware of.
Option 1: Claim your business

In this situation, almost all businesses will want to claim their profile quickly to try to take as much control as they can over what appears.

As the business owner you can update information within your profile and respond to questions and reviews as the ‘owner’. You can also liaise with Google from within your account to flag any inaccurate or inappropriate information such as edits or reviews.

Option 2: Ignore it

If you choose to ignore this profile and not claim it, you must be aware of the potential negative impacts from not claiming your profile.

Businesses with mostly blank profiles may be losing business as searchers may conclude at a quick glance that your business isn’t trading anymore.

For those where there is a good amount of accurate information already, it may be tempting to ignore it for now. However, for both these situations, as mentioned earlier, information may eventually flow into this profile that has not come from you and you are not aware of which might include:

  • Inaccurate information about your business.
  • Images which might not present your business as you wish.
  • Poor customer reviews which appear as though you’ve ignored them.

Businesses which have these in their profiles now, or in the future, can face negative impacts to their visibility and reputation.

In the case of incorrect information, think of:

  • The person who arrives at your shop to find it closed because your opening hours were not correct.
  • The job applicant who’s late meeting an interviewer at your coffee shop because they walked past it when the Google image showed your premises before your recent rebrand.
  • The client looking for a post-lockdown manicure who chooses a competitor over you because the images don’t suggest great quality.
  • The customer who decided your business was too risky to book due to unanswered negative reviews or inaccurate or ignored answers.

How many features to use?

If you do decide that claiming your Business Profile and optimising for local search is the best decision for your business, the set up process is easy. It is usually a simple case of setting your account up within Google My Business which is quick, free and easy to do. A detailed step-by-step guide is available here.

(Remember, that as explained earlier, this gives you the opportunity to have input to what appears about your business, but you will never fully control all the information that appears about you).

Once set up, you now need to decide how much of your profile to fill in and which features to use.

Option 1: Bare minimum

It is possible to only add the bare minimum of information while claiming your business, however this is not the recommended best practice. This still doesn't tell Google much about your business and may result in information being more likely to be sought elsewhere.

Option 2: Research and use the features available to you

If you are going to the trouble to claim your business, it is recommended that you take the additional time to use the features available.

Optimise your listing

First, optimise your listing. Fill in your:

  • Opening hours.
  • Categories and business attributes.
  • Business description that is accurate and compelling.
  • Range of high quality images.
  • Any relevant additional information.

Filling out your profile not only gives as much information to your users as possible, it also tells Google more about your business and helps boost your chances at ranking higher in results.

Monitor and respond

Claiming your business and setting up a profile is just part of the process, you will also need to maintain and manage it. You need to update your information whenever things change. However, you also need to log in to your dashboard regularly to monitor any reviews, any suggested edits which may already be live, any questions and answers.

It is hugely important that you respond to reviews appropriately, that you answer all questions, and that you proactively flag any information that is incorrect as soon as you can.

Extra features

Once you’ve claimed your business profile and done the basic information set-up, there are also additional tools that can be very useful for your business. These include:

  • Free website: if you don’t already have one, this might be handy
  • Customer insights: such as how did people search for your business, where they come from and how many phone calls you received from people clicking your phone number in the local search results
  • ‘Create an ad’ functionality: to help you set up ads within minutes, that appear within Google search and Google maps, showing your business address, phone number and website link if you have one.

For more information on Google My Business go to Google My Business Help and check out the DigitalBoost Google My Business guide.

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