Whitespark’s Super Fantastic Guide to Optimizing Google My Business

  Last Updated: February 8, 2019 (Original Publish Date: June 14, 2018).

Changes: GMB Messaging.
New: Products (Beta), Google Assistant Testing, and respond to reviews on desktop in Maps now.

A Google My Business (GMB) listing is critical to any local company wanting to show up in Google search results or Maps. Having your business on GMB plays an important part in how users find your business online.

A lot of businesses or SEO’s find the constant changes in this product to be both confusing and frustrating (hopefully this post helps alleviate some of this). We’ve put together this guide to optimizing your Google My Business listing so you can take advantage of this product to benefit your business, own your branded search results, and ultimately earn more customers.

Getting Started

Create a Listing

If you’re a new business (or existing business) but not sure if you have a listing. Start by completing some general searches.

  • First do a general search of your “Business Name” + “City” to see if you can trigger a branded Knowledge Panel.
  • Also do a few searches in Maps. If you have had previous Business Names, Addresses, or Phone Numbers (NAP) then search using those variations as well. It is possible a listing could exist under past business data.
    • Business Name + City, or
    • Phone Number, or
    • Business Address
  • If you really want to go the extra mile in your search for an existing listing for your business you can take your search efforts further by using a tool.
  • Another option too – is to go into Google Business, add a business, and type in the business name to see if anything comes up (the only issue is if there is a pre-existing listing that you didn’t catch, you potentially run the risk of creating a duplicate listing).

If you can’t trigger a branded local Knowledge Panel or any Maps results, then you will need to sign up and create a new listing. Follow the steps Google provides you with to create the listing and verify the information. The two most common verification methods are either by phone or postcard (mail).

For some select businesses there is the option to verify instantly via Search Console, by email, and we’ve also encountered (in November 2018) Video Verification! If you qualify for video verification it’s completed via a video call with a Google specialist from either your workplace or your vehicle (think service area business owner -ie. say you’re a plumber, you video chat in your branded work vehicle). Based on your business category the verification method will usually be determined by Google, and sometimes you get the option to select your preference.

Once the listing is verified the information goes live and you can start utilizing additional features.

Claim/Verify a Listing

If you search for your business and a listing comes up, but you don’t own that listing, you are going to have to claim ownership. For some business owners it seems absurd that a listing can exist without them having created it, but any Google user can create a listing! This is why it’s important to take control of your information and claim/verify the listing. When a listing is not verified there is a greater chance for incorrect details being published.

Example of an unclaimed listing:

Controlling your business data and showing up in search results are the main reasons why you want a GMB listing, however, there are a bunch of additional features you can access when you have a verified listing. An unverified listing means no access to GMB posts, the ability to respond to reviews and questions & answers as the business, direct booking, or messaging.

Request Ownership of a Business Listing (Hey, Gimme Back My Listing!)

If you have discovered that a verified listing already exists, but you have no clue how this is possible, let alone who the current owner is, you’re going to have to take charge and try to get it back!

To request ownership of an existing listing, you will have to fill out a Google form. You can find the instructions in this help section broken down by type of business (storefront or service area).

The process was automated in 2017 in an effort to assist SMB owners better with managing their listing(s). Check out this article on the updates to see how it works from the user side to the owner side.

You will receive an email confirming that you have requested access and that it will take 7 days for the process (keep this email). Sit tight and wait until the time has passed. In a week you will either be provided access or denied.

If denied, you will receive an email that states:

“Your request to access [Business Name] on Google My Business was rejected.”

There should be an option at the bottom of the email that give you an option to “Appeal” the decisions, by clicking on this link it will take you through steps to verify the listing and take it over. In most cases, it will be a phone or postcard verification. In some instances there may be a request more information.

Bulk-Feeds

If a listing has been created and verified via a bulk-feed then ownership gets a little more complicated. The request ownership process will not work the same way, instead you will need to become a manager of the listing. This requires that you know who owns the listing or verified it in the first place. If you’re a franchise it’s very likely that the corporate head-office has ownership of the listing (here’s great example), in these cases be sure to get added as a Manager to the business listing which will grant you full access.

Tip: If you’re at a loss for where to start when trying to figure out “who” owns the listing, re-trace the steps when you first tried to claim ownership of the listing (before you filled out the request form) there’s a little message that says X*****.com has ownership of the listing, if you know the email address (assuming it’s connected with your business) you should get in touch via that email to request access as a Manager.

Suggest an Edit

On all GMB listings there is a Suggest an Edit link.

This feature is available to any searcher who wishes to report, update or attempt to change information about a business – it could be anything from the business closed, business hours, suggesting a different primary category, and so on. This kind of user access can be harmful to your business, especially if you have not claimed the listing.

We tested this out by getting someone we know who rarely uses their Gmail account and has zero local guide points or authority to suggest an edit on our listing, and report that our business was closed. Our listing very soon after was marked as closed. We did receive a notification alert of the change, and because we have a claimed/verified listing, we could easily revert the change.

Having a claimed and verified listing will help immensely when it comes to combating incorrect and potentially damaging updates. While the Suggest an Edit link remains a feature, if you own the listing you should be notified of the changes, and be given the chance to review and update/revert or fix the change in your dashboard. Make sure you select to receive email notifications for updates.

There is no guarantee that you will get notified (sad trombone), but at the very least it is one extra step in ensuring that your listing has the correct information posted. Regularly logging in to GMB, using the available features, and ensuring your listing is accurate is your best defence to counteract bad user edits.

Note: Very recently (June 6 2018) the Suggest an Edit feature now requests the user to identify whether they are an employee or customer. Your options include – I am the business owner or manager, I am an employee, I am a customer, other, skip

Know This Place?

This is another crowd-sourced feature that encourages users to answer questions about a business. The questions are auto-generated by Google.

Questions I have seen in the past:

  • Is this place kid friendly?
  • Is this a place to go for coffee?
  • Does this place serve dessert?
  • Does this place attract a trendy crowd?
  • Are high-chairs available?
  • Is there an all-you-can-drink option?
  • Does this place accept credit cards?

You get the gist.

Again, it’s good practice to ensure your listing is fully optimized, in order to answer these questions before having it crowd-sourced. It’s a great feature if someone has the correct answers, but could become an issue for your listing if incorrect information is being added.

Optimize the Bejesus Out of Your Listing

Maximize the benefits of your listing by filling out ALL of the information possible. Here are our best practices and recommendations when it comes to your listing:

Business Name
This is the business name that you use in the real world – the one on your signs, and business cards. Your Doing Business As Name.

Don’t keyword stuff. Don’t add city names. Yes you may be located in Seattle, but if your business name is not Seattle Donut Shop – we recommend you don’t use the city name. This is considered spam. This can create Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) consistency issues and messy data. That being said, some people still add the city name to their business and get away with it. In the end it’s up to your discretion.

Keyword stuffing is still a problem because, well, it works. Fight the urge and help #StopCrapOnTheMap.

Primary Category & Categories 
Your category selection is very important and does have an impact on local ranking factors. Your primary category tells what your business is (Law Firm, Dentist, Plumber, Hair Salon, etc). It is also the only category that will be published publicly.

Use the additional categories to your advantage and be sure to add all of the ones that are applicable to your business. Check category options regularly as they are often updated and new opportunities may be available for your business (H/T to Joy Hawkins).

Also step up your game and use this GMB category hack to find out which categories your competitors use:

  • Go to their maps listing,
  • Right-click and view source,
  • Ctrl-F for and search for the primary category (enter the category name that is listed on their GMB listing).

Address
Physical Location Businesses – If customers can visit your store/office then you may publish your address.

Current recommended practice for suite numbers is to place it on the second address line and enter it like #300. Google completely ignores suite numbers. They do not factor suites into consistency in any way, no matter where you put them. But, they are important for getting your customers to your store/office in the least hassle free way. So adding the suite number is for customer experience.Google also normalizes data, which means there are acceptable abbreviations for standard address data (ie. both of these are okay: Junction = Jct) – here’s a list if you’re not sure what’s an a-okay variation.

Service Area Businesses
If customers do not come to you then you are now going to set a service area based on the regions, cities, or Zip/Postal Codes that you serve. You no longer can set a radius around your business. For businesses with an existing GMB listing, you are going to have to login and update your information. Google suggests:

When updating your business information, you have the option of entering your, service area, or both.

(1) If you don’t serve customers at your business address, leave the address field blank and only enter your service area.

(2) If you serve customers at your business address but also have a service area, enter both your address and service area.

This new Service Area setup was released around October 31, 2018. Right now there does not appear to be a limit on the number of Service Areas that you can add to your listing. That may or may not change with time. If you’re a service area business and want to dive deeper into this topic, check out this forum discussion – there’s a lot of really good questions and content about this topic.

Hours
Add your regular business hours. Also make sure to use the Special Hours feature that you can prep in advance for holiday hours, or irregular/one-off changes in business hours for team days, events, and so on.

Searches want to be informed with data they can trust, and the most accurate business hours. There is nothing worse, than checking a business’ hours and planning a visit, only to find out it’s closed once you arrive.

Hours For Appointment Only Business
Right now there is no feature available for appointment only businesses. If you don’t run regular hours at your location, or if someone can’t just come visit at a specific set time you will need to leave the hours section blank.

Phone Numbers
Add your primary/main business line. Also add secondary numbers like toll-free numbers. You can also add a call tracking number here as well, and put your main business line as a secondary number. Learn more about how to add call tracking numbers in GMB.

Website
Where you link your listing to will depend on how many locations you have. We recommend that you link to your homepage if your business has 3 or less locations. Be sure that you equip your homepage with content that relates to your primary category, top keywords, and business. This can make a huge difference in your ability to rank in the local pack. If your business has more than 4 locations, then you should consider creating individual location landing pages.

Tip: Don’t forget to add tracking – https://www.YOURDOMAIN.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=local&utm_campaign=gmb_listing

Appointment URL
Use this. Especially for businesses that are appointment only! You can link to a contact page, your appointment calendar, or if you have multiple locations, create a special appointment landing page with all the details associated with that specific location. For some businesses you can incorporate a booking/reservation button within your listing if you use one of the approved partners (scroll down to learn more about that feature).

Services
This is a newer feature in GMB that is available to only service businesses.

If you fall in one of these categories (or other service categories), it should be available in your dashboard:

  • lawyers
  • dentists,
  • hotels,
  • pest control,
  • jewelry stores,
  • marketing agencies,
  • construction equipment suppliers,
  • insurance agencies.

You can create categories of the services you provide, list each specific service with a full description of up to 1,000 characters, and indicate the cost.

If the Service feature is available in your GMB dashboard use it to showcase all of  your current services and any specialty services available. This feature can really enhance your listing with rich details and information about your services that the business description doesn’t allow for.

Right now this feature only shows up live in the Google Maps app. Once you add all the details and update your listing, go into the Maps app, pull up your business, there will be a “Menu” section.

When you click on “Menu” it will take you to the Services area.

If you don’t have the Services option in your dashboard, check out this post for a hack to get it – we can’t promise that it will stay.

Products (Beta)

Currently in beta, the Products Menu (similar to Services) allows businesses that don’t have the ability to integrate product feeds via Google Merchant or Pointy to add their inventory or items manually.

If the Products feature is currently available in your GMB dashboard, take full advantage and start testing it out. To add products simply:

1. Create a Collection (ie. Top Picks, Convertibles, Must Have Winter Gear)
2. Add Product Name
3. Add an Image (it should be 250 px X 250 px)
4. Add Product Description
5. Add Price
6. Add a Collection Description

Right now there is no option to add a call to action or link directing the searcher to the product on your site. The beta products feature automatically adds the Call button to the collection, and the call will go to the primary number added to your listing.

Once you publish your product collection the results will display in Mobile browsers (we have yet to see the feature show up in Google Maps App or Desktop browser results). 1 = collection view, 2 = when you click call button, 3 = product view (note there’s no CTA or link here).

For product leads where you can create a call to action that directs a searcher to a specific URL you can alternatively use the Google Posts feature and create a Product Post, which is available for most GMB accounts.

Attributes
Add as many attributes to your listing that are applicable to your business, and that are available. Depending on your business type you will be provided with different attribute options.

The attribute categories include:

  • Offerings
  • Crowd
  • Highlights
  • Popular For
  • Atmosphere

Description
The description field is back and live in branded Knowledge Panels.

When it comes to writing your description make sure you:

  • Don’t keyword stuff.
  • Don’t add links.
  • Don’t use all caps.

The description does not have an impact on rankings, and it’s not factored into the ranking algorithm (so stuffing it full of keywords and location terms isn’t going to give you a leg up in search results or on your competitors. These 750 characters give you a chance to provide a searcher with a quick paragraph about your company, what you offer, why you’re awesome, etc. If you want to explore the description field further, check out this video on how-to “optimize” your description.

Photos
According to Google My Business, businesses with photos get 40% more requests for directions, “photos are a conversion factor but not a ranking factor.” Photo optimization is the cheapest way to get more mileage from your Google My Business listing. No photos, no appeal. No sense of the company.

Add Images

  • Identity – Business logo, cover image, etc.
  • Team
  • Storefront
  • Inside office or store
  • Anything that showcases your business

Get inspired by these examples of businesses that have awesome photos:

Virtual Tour – 360° Interactive Tour 
The value of a virtual tour will depend on the type of business you operate. If you’re a service area business (SAB), it’s going to be 0 (you won’t even have the option in your dashboard), but if you’re a restaurant, hotel, beauty salon, spa, or any business where being clean, cool, trendy, etc is important, then investing in a virtual tour could help convert searchers to customers. People like to know what they can expect, especially if they are looking for services where the atmosphere, design, and environment are part of the experience.

For local businesses just starting out with their local marketing, a virtual tour is also a low investment that can have a high-return. If you’re uncertain in the value of a virtual tour for your business, check out this case study, and their argument for how tours can impact behavioral signals, social signals, increase engagement, generate more traffic, and ultimately help you convert.

SAB photo dashboard will look like this:

If you are a brick-and-mortar type business, where customers come visit your location, then your photo dashboard will look like this:

When you have an interactive tour, here’s how it will appear in Maps for searchers:

Learn more about this feature here and if you want this for your listing, you can hire a Google approved professional.

Videos
The video option is still a relatively new feature (it was officially launched in January 2018). Both businesses and users are able to upload videos to a listing. A lot of businesses have yet to take advantage of this feature, however; it  does seem to be popular with customers; local attractions appear to have the most videos, like farmer’s markets, building towers, museums, etc.

According to Google’s current video guidelines:

  • Duration: Up to 30 seconds long.
  • File size: Up to 100 MB.
  • Resolution: 720p or higher.

Note: We have seen videos added that are up to a minute and a half in length, so it may be the case that the 30 seconds long is the recommended duration, and you can still go over this length of time…

What you need to know:

1. Your videos need to be filmed at your place of business. They cannot be stock videos or a compilation of cheesy stock photos with music over it (please don’t do that).

2. Users seem to be able to add any style of video to a listing (Example 1, Example 2, Example 3). Uploads from customers will be marked with their user name. With anything, user contributed content has the potential to be awesome or the worst. A lot of customer videos are going to be taken on their phones, you can see from the examples above that they are often lower quality, and don’t have great sound.

3. Users and business owners can report videos for removal.

If the video isn’t removed after you flag and report it, you can take your request further by reaching out to GMB support via Twitter, or the community forum to seek f assistance/advice from a top contributor or other users.

Google can review and remove videos if the content isn’t related to your business at any time as well.

4.When videos are added they will show up under the Photos section in the listing. The photos have to be selected/clicked to get to the videos. If 2 or more videos are added to the listing, it will trigger a Videos tab (that again is accessed via the photos). There is also a By Owner tab and videos added by the business can be accessed in that tab too.

Ideas for videos:
Taking into consideration the duration of 30 seconds from Google, if you’re just starting out with videos keep it simple with:

  • A welcome video.
  • Talk about why your company stands out versus the competition.
  • A quick history of the company.
  • The company mission, and goals.
  • What to expect. A tour of the store.
  • Video of daily operations, with customers ordering or getting a service done.
  • A  customer giving a testimonials.
  • Interview with owner, employees, or customers.
  • Tackle quick FAQ’s.

Google Assistant (Testing)

Google Assistant makes phone calls on behalf of searchers for booking a reservation, an appointment, or confirming business information (ie.store hours) on a GMB listing. Google Assistant calls your business using an automated voice-calling technology (Duplex) and asks questions and confirms information based on the customer’s request. When the call starts, the person who answers is advised that the Assistant is calling, and then follows a series of questions based on what the searcher/client wanted to accomplish (ie. dinner reservations for a Tuesday evening or store hours during an upcoming holiday).

This feature is still being tested, but it is available for some listings. You will see a Google Assistant Calls box in your Info section within the GMB dashboard, and by default it will automatically opt in your business to participate in this program. For some businesses you may not want this feature for your listing, so you can login and opt out by unchecking the box. For other businesses this may be something you have been waiting for! Businesses also have the option to also opt out when they receive an assistant call by saying, “please remove my business from your list” or “please, stop calling my business.”

Advanced Information Settings
Since you’re already on top of having the ultimate optimized listing, take it further by adding advanced info to keep your listing(s) organized

Store Code (optional)
If you are a multi-location business the store codes you create will help you stay organized and keep on top of your locations. You control how you want the code to appear. For instance, if Whitespark had 3 locations in Edmonton we could label them:

  • WS-1, WS-2, WS-3, or
  • WS-Glenora, WS-Whyte, WS-Oliver, or
  • WS-T5J, WS-T6E, WS-T6G

You get the picture. Decide how you want to uniquely identify your locations for ease of management.

Tip: Google best practices suggest that if your business moves locations, be sure to give it a new store code and delete the old one. Don’t recycle codes.

Label (optional)
If you’re using AdWords and incorporating local ads into your marketing mix, this label will be a major help in keeping you organized in AdWords. The label allows you to easily sync your GMB listing to an AdWords campaign, and take advantage of the location extension for your ads. It’s really to help multi-location businesses and agencies to seamlessly manage PPC campaigns linked to GMB.

AdWords Location Extensions Phone (should use if using AdWords)
If you’re investing your money in AdWords, then you should ensure proper tracking methods. By adding a call tracking number in this field, you will have conversion data for how many users are clicking to call from your ads, and know how successful your ads really are. If you choose to leave this field empty, then by default AdWords will user your Primary Phone Number and you’ll lose the chance to properly track your click-to-call campaign.

One Listing to Rule Them All

Now that you have a verified, fully optimized GMB listing, you have access to additional features that give you the ability to enhance your branded search results.

Google Posts

The Google Posts feature allows you to engage with searchers directly in SERP’s and on Maps. You can create compelling content, share images, events, offers, and various different calls-to-action.

Types – Officially there are 4 post types :

  1. What’s New:These are posts that share more general happenings or updates. They could be specific about your business, a new blog post, topic specific, or even showcase a customer review or testimonial.
  2. Events: Promote an event you are hosting, involved in, or supporting. All events require a title, start & end dates, and time. Add a description and details too.
  3. Offers: If you are having any promotions, sales, or coupons, you can use this post type to showcase them. Like events, offers also require titles, start & end dates, and time-frame. The “View offer” CTA is automatically added.
  4. Products: This post is designed to promote any of the products or services that you sell.

Text: Each post can have up to 1,500 words (that’s a blog post :), however; only approximately the first 16-20 words (around 75-100 characters give or take on desktop – less on mobile) show up in your Knowledge Panel results. So make the first few sentences count.

Number of Posts: You can have up to 10 live posts at once. They are published in a scrolling carousel.

Timeframe: Posts expire in 7 days. Unless you set up your post as an “Event” in which case the post expires on the event end date. You can choose to make any post an “Event” 😉 If you want to hack your post and prevent it from expiring after 7 days, check out this post on how to do just that.

Image: Every posts needs an accompanying image (unless you use a video). The image edit used to have forced ratios and cropping was a bit of a pain, Google seems to have remedied this now. Before we found that you had to play around with the dimensions of the images you wanted to use. One previously recommended image size was 1,076px by 815px. Our recommendations is to always test the image, check the preview, and expect that if there is an optimal size that it is likely to change frequently.

Video: For some posts you may prefer to use a video instead of an image. With videos you get the added bonus of having additional content that wont’ fit in the description section.

Call-to-action: CTA’s on desktop appear as blue buttons and on mobile and in the Maps app as text links. You can add a CTA on every single post type and your options range from:

  • Book
  • Order online
  • Buy
  • Sign up
  • Get offer
  • Learn More
  • Call (uses listing’s Primary Number)

Tip: Don’t forget to add UTM parameters when you add your link to your post.

Here’s an example of a business using image and video posts:

The Posts feature can act like a micro-blog for business owners to showcase their latest content, encourage appointments and bookings, highlight specials, events, and more. This feature offers a unique opportunity to get searchers to your website in a time where Google is trying to be front and center for in-SERP interactions. This is one GMB feature that you should definitely be using weekly to enhance your branded Knowledge Panel and increase conversions. Published Posts show up on mobile and desktop search results in the KP, and sometimes in Maps.

Google Posts are incredibly powerful and should be part of your GMB and local strategy. Check out this Google Post Impact Study with Joel Headley, whose clients have seen incremental gains in traffic and conversions (appointments booked) since using and implementing this feature. Other marketers are also seeing gains for their clients by utilizing Posts, it would be silly not to take advantage of this feature.

If you use WordPress, this tool makes it easy to automate Post directly to your GMB listing. Google also released (November 2018) a newly updated Google My Business app that’s free for users.

In the app you will gain access to:

  • Insights
  • Your Followers
  • Latest Posts
  • Posts Photos
  • Reviews
  • Google Analytics (If connected)
  • YouTube (If connected)
  • Google Ads

Features in this app are still rolling out and they are bound to change frequently. One interesting feature is the “Follow” – which allows users in Google Maps to follow their favourite business or venue. Thus alerting the follower of any recent posts or upcoming events. As of November 23, 2018 – I am not seeing this in Canada yet but it has been reported available in the US by Ben Fisher.

Perhaps this is Google’s new attempt at creating a social network since Google+ didn’t quite workout…

Questions and Answers

Launched in August of 2017 the Questions and Answers section is vastly underutilized by business owners. If you are not monitoring this and responding as a business, it can result in misinformation about your business, irrelevant/off-topic questions, or worse create reputation issues; this is a crowd-sourced feature and any user can ask questions and provide answers, the idea is to provide searchers with even more details about a business and help influence their decision to make a purchase or book an appointment.

What you need to know about this feature:

  • This feature has prominent placement in a branded Knowledge Panel.
    It’s crowd-sourced information, so you can’t control what people ask or what other people say in return, however; you can write response from the business. Google moderates the questions.
  • It can become a reputation management issue as some users can spam questions, use it to complain about business or share grievances, and there’s always the risk of Internet trolls.
  • Questions can be “liked” and voted up – so if there are really good questions in there, that you want potential searchers to see, you should “like it” as it can influence it’s position.
  • To ask/respond as the business owner, your listing has to be verified, you have to have Manager access, and be logged in. To use the feature you just go to your branded Knowledge Panel in search results on desktop or mobile.

What You Need to Do as a Business Owner:

1. Monitor & Respond to Questions
You should be monitoring these questions. Make sure you check off the option in your settings to receive email alerts about Q&A’s.

Our Reputation Builder software provides Google Q&A monitoring as well, business owners receive an email alert when new questions and answers are added. You can manage your questions and answers by updating the status to open, closed, or reported, see all the answers, and click to view/respond to a specific question on your listing. Learn more about Google’s Q&A and our Reputation Builder monitoring feature here.

Respond to the questions – provide answers to users, even if someone else has already given the correct information. Seeing a direct response from a business owner will help validate the other responses, and it’s an engagement opportunity with a potential customer.

2. Report Spam, Inappropriate, or Off topic Questions
If you are getting spam, off-topic, or inappropriate questions, report them. The only way to help keep your profile clean is by maintaining it.

3. Address Complaints & Comments
If a user has left a complaint or comment about the business rather than a question, you can approach this the same way you would a negative review. Users have the ability to edit or remove comments, so there’s a chance that once you help in finding a solution the comment/complaint could be removed.

4. Create Your Own FAQs
Get all your FAQs into your listing. If you already have a list of frequently asked questions on your own website, add them to your listing. Source the questions and answers in advance and have them there for searchers.

To learn even more about this feature, watch this Whitespark Weekly episode where Darren gives you a quick guide to the Q&A feature.

Messaging (Optional)

The messaging feature allows searchers to message/text with you directly from your Knowledge Panel in search results. Enabling this feature would mean customers can send their questions to you immediately and get a response from your business.

Should You Use This Feature?

The answer to this question is going to be different for every business owner and business type. If you have the staff and the ability to respond immediately to a chat inquiry and it makes sense for your business then, this may be the ideal feature for you. Two-way messaging can improve a customers experience, especially if it’s a customer that doesn’t want to call to ask a quick question and text is their ideal communication method.

If you are not going to be readily available to answer texts for your business and the response time will be delayed, this is not an ideal feature for you. This is an “on-demand” type of feature, which means expectations for a quick response time will be high.

*The Messaging feature is not available for all countries or listings, so if you don’t see it for your business, you may have to wait to gain access.

How to Setup/Turn On Messaging (As of February 2019):

1. To enable the Messaging feature you now have to download the Google My Business App from Google Play or the App Store.

2. Log into your GMB account.

3. If you have multiple locations in your account, click the top business name that appears when you login, and select the business that you want to manage/turn on messaging for.

4. Tap Customers -> Select Messages on the top bar -> then Turn On (if you don’t see the turn on slider right away you may need to click the little “more” icon in the top right corner of the App, and go into Messaging settings).

5. Messaging is now live and active.

What you should know about this feature:

  • Business owners have the option to turn the feature on and off. Ideally you keep the messages on during business hours and turn it off when no one is available to respond (this removed the tab from your KP).
  • Your typical response time also shows up on your listing.
  • You cannot respond to messages in the GMB dashboard on desktop.
  • The person who responds on behalf of the company will share their full name and Google avatar image with the customer.
  • Customers cannot call directly from the chat, this is specifically for messaging.
  • You can create a welcome message of up to 120 characters.
  • There are chat policies that you also need to follow, so if you are going to start using this feature make sure you are current on the rules.
  • Call Rail wrote an interesting piece on what you should know before you enable this feature – it’s worth the read.

Messaging Via SMS in GMB Is Ending

When the Messaging feature was first launched, a business owner could turn it on in the desktop GMB Dashboard and connect via cloud-based text messaging services that are designed for texting as a business, which allowed businesses to send messages via a web browser or smartphone and use an existing landline (Examples – ZipWhip or Text Request). Google even had their own service called Allo – but  Google is discontinuing SMS in the Google My Business dashboard and in doing so leaving large companies in the lurch. this service is ending March 2019. Which leaves a lot of businesses confused about what is going to happen.

Shutting down Allo (March 2019) and messaging via SMS will have the greatest impact on agencies and large enterprisesread more about it here. Presently there is no known solution to this issue for those already using the SMS feature.

**With all of the changes and disruptions to the Messaging feature, if you aren’t already connected via the GMB app or if you are a large multi-location business, you should hold off until there are more details.

Bookings via Reserve With Google

Reserve with Google allows businesses to integrate specific supported booking systems with their GMB listing, which gives customers the ability to make an appointment directly from the listing.

How it looks:

The biggest benefit of this feature is that it allows your customers to convert directly in search results, which helps reduce friction and makes it easy to get customers to book online. Ultimately you are saving them the extra steps of going to your site and trying to book an appointment.

If you’re already using one of Google’s scheduling providers, then this feature is an added bonus and a great way to enhance your listing. If you don’t use a scheduling system, but using one would work for your business, then you may want to consider using one of the Reserve Partners and gain access to this feature.

The Bookings feature is further expanding and the list of partners that are “coming Soon” is almost as large as their current partners.

Note: On October 22 – Mike Blumenthal reported seeing call-to-actions directly in Local 3-Pack search results. This is the first time Reserve with Google is showing up in SERP results, but it won’t be the last. Especially when you consider that large list of partners coming soon. Industry experts have been discussing the shift to transactional capabilities in local for some time, and we don’t doubt that these transaction functionalities will continue to expanded and grow. Which is why, you need to take as much advantage as possible of the FREE and awesome features that are available (while they are still free).

Reviews

For local businesses, it’s no longer enough to rank. Your presence in the SERPs has to stand out in order to attract new customers. Reviews play a critical part in a business’ ability to differentiate from the competition and can impact rankings.

The Impact of Reviews:

  • Listings with reviews instantly stand out because they have the golden stars.
  • Google showcases your reviews in the branded KP and also adds review highlights.
  • Google also features a section of reviews around the web giving your total reviews and average rating, which means if you have reviews from other third party sites (or even on your website) then your KP will expand further.
  • Reviews can bring in more business and provide valuable feedback.

What You Need to Know
While other reviews sites discourage businesses from growing their reviews, Google wants you to grow yours; however, they do want you to be ethical in the methods you use to acquire more reviews.

Content Policies

  • You cannot pay for review or bribe a customer to leave a review.
  • You cannot review gate – if you are using a review platform or any review software to encourage customer feedback, you have to provide all users the option to leave online reviews. No moving the negative/unhappy experiences to a different landing page.
  • You cannot review your own business.
  • You cannot post a negative review about an ex-employer.
  • You cannot post a harmful review about a competitor.
  • Read all of the guidelines here.

How to Ask for Reviews
If you aren’t already asking for reviews, here are a few suggestions to help you grow your Google Maps and GMB reviews.

Ask via Email:
Create your own email template asking for your customer to leave you a review and link to your GMB listing. Things to consider

  • Consider including a question in your subject – “Hey Bob, could you please leave us a review?”
  • Make sure you take the time to personalize the email, incorporate the customer name.
  • Enhance with emoji’s – there’s a real debate on this as some people see it as spam, but you could consider incorporating an emoji.

Here’s an example of a template you could use as a starting point:

Hello [Customer Name]

It was a pleasure working with you on your project. Thank you for your business!

Online reviews from awesome customers like you help others to feel confident about choosing [the business name], and will really help us grow our business. Could you take 60 seconds to leave us a review on [review site]? Here’s a [direct link].

Wondering what to write about?

The best reviews offer a wealth of detail and a helpful tip or two, for others considering our services. Here are some questions that should give you some ideas about what to write about:

  • What service did we complete for you?
  • Which location did you have this service at? (That might help you get city into the review.)
  • How did we do?
  • What do you like about working with us?
  • Have you tried any other products or services?
  • Did you work with any specific people you’d like to mention?
  • How do we compare to other services you’ve tried?
  • Are there any tips you would offer others about our business?

I would really appreciate your review. The more detail you can provide, the better, but we’d love a shortened punch review just as well if you’re short on time or inspiration. Thank you in advance for helping us out.

[Your Name]

Email Signature

If you aren’t certain how to generate your review link, we have a tool that sends your customer directly to the review section of your GMB listing, which helps eliminate a few steps.

Ideas for where to place your review link:

  • You could add it to your email signature.
  • Send it in your review email.
  • Have it on your website.
  • Text it to customers who opt-in to receive texts from your business.
  • Add it to receipts.

Ask via a Company Branded Handout:
We have the Review Handout Generator ( a free tool that we created with Phil Rozek), that generates step-by-step instructions for your customers on how to leave you a review via desktop or the Maps app. You can print this out and give a copy to customers following a transaction or service, or keep as a PDF and send via email. If you wanted to go even further, you could send this handout along with a with a thank you for your business card via mail.

Use a Review Platform

There are a ton of software options on the market to help you grow and manage your reputation. Depending on your business model asking directly may be the best option, however, for businesses that need to scale their review asks, want a benchmark and to increase general feedback while automating the ask process, then a review platform may be the best option.

We have a tool called  the Reputation Builder that does all this for you and will send customers an email or text message to ask for a review or feedback, and you can target your GMB listing.

Encourage Reviews by Showcasing Other Customers Experiences

Google offers another free tool, Small Thanks from Google, to create marketing materials from customers who have left reviews on your listing. You can create posters, stickers, social media posts, and more, that you can use in your place of business. Showcasing your reviews encourages others review your business, offers social proof, and it’s really easy to use.

Google has expanded this tool and it should work for businesses outside of the USA or Service Area Business’ but here is a workaround via a GMB ReviewsMaker tool that will access your listing and generate the same materials for you (if you can’t get Small Thanks working). YAY!

Respond to Your Reviews

Respond to reviews both negative and positive in GMB. In fact Google released an update back in 2018 to notify reviewers when a business responds. If you’re not sure how to respond or need a little inspiration check out this post for ideas. Businesses that respond to reviews enjoy better ratings, see positive impacts in their SEO, and their responses help set the tone for future clients.

Google wants you to respond and reply to reviews, which is why they have expanded the options available for business owners to respond quickly, and from many different apps and locations.

Where You Can Reply to Google Reviews:

  • The Google My Business Desktop Dashboard – sign in and click on the reviews section, and select reply to any review.
  • From your branded Knowledge Panel (Business Profile) in search results –  as long as you’re logged in to the Google account that manages your business listing, you can click on Reviews in the Knowledge Panel, and select reply to any of the reviews.
  • The Google My Business App on mobile devices – allows you to respond under the Customers tab. Again, just select the review and then type your response on behalf of the business.
  • Google Maps on Desktop – as of February 13, 2019 you can respond to any review directly in Maps. Just search your business name in maps, click Reviews, and click Reply next to the review you’d like to respond to.

Additional Tips for Review Management

  • There are issues for spam regulation and fake reviews in GMB, being aware of this is important, but also not every negative review is a fake or spammed review. If you are proactive in managing your online reputation then it’s going to be easier to grow your online reviews, and have more consistent, real reviews from customers that will strongly out number any fake reviews. If you have a legitimate fake review – then you can follow these steps for requesting the removal of the review. Just be sure to have the necessary proof and not a “he said/she said” argument to backup your fake review claim.
  • Be consistent with your request for reviews and feedback.
  • People don’t’ want your business to be perfect, we don’t live in a 5 star world. 3-5 stars is fantastic. Try to remember this in your quest for the best rating.

Support

It’s very likely that you will come across an issue at some point in time with your Google My Business listing – whether you need to dispute spam, report an error, or address other concerns, it’s good to know where help is available.

#1. Call Support
That’s right, GMB has a direct line that you can call for help! +1-844-491-9665.

#2. Reach Out On Twitter
The GoogleMyBiz handle on Twitter is dedicated to providing information, updates and help. You can send a Tweet asking for assistance or guidance with an issue you have or even just a question, and a qualified team member will respond. It usually takes anywhere from 24-48 hours, but in my experience it’s worth the wait.

#3. Take Advantage of Facebook 
If you’re not a fan of using Twitter, then you can also use Facebook to contact a GMB team member to get help. You can click on the Send Message or Create a Post.

#4. Use Google My Business Help
The help forum has a ton of articles to guide you to an answer on your own, and covers a ton of topics. Just search your issue, if you can’t find the answer that you’re looking for you can often click on the Contact Us link and it will prompt you to search further or offer you to Request a Callback or Request Chat.

#5. Ask The Community For Help
The Google community is filled with experts that deal with listing issues all the time, and they are some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry. Sometimes the best help comes from peers. Also if you spend the time looking for answers, you are very likely to come across other business owners or consultants who are dealing with the exact same issues – there’s a ton of great advice, and solutions available. you can also post your own question.

Grade Your Optimization Efforts

While we have laid out everything you need to know about fully optimizing your Google My Business listing, you may not be certain of where to start. If you want even further help to get your listing to 100%, then take the guesswork out of the areas you need to improve with the help of ThriveHive Grader.

This tool analyzes your GMB listing in real time and provides you with an overall grade based on three key measurements: Presence, Reputation, and Outreach. These measurements break-down the different elements and features of GMB, and show you what you’re doing well, and which areas require immediate attention.

The tool highlights what needs fixing, provides recommendations for how to fix it, and guidance if you need more information as to why you should follow the suggestions.

The nice thing about the Grader is that it directly accesses your GMB listing, which means the recommendations they are providing are specific to your listing, and not just generic templated suggestions.

You Are Now Ready To Dominate Google My Business

We hope this guide helps you make sense of GMB, the features available to you, and the factors involved in creating an optimized listing.

We’d love to hear from you about the ways you’re taking advantage of Google My Business to enhance your branded results and dominate in local.

AUTHOR

Jessie Low

Jessie wears many hats here at Whitespark. From curating the monthly newsletter to managing marketing initiatives, and everything in between. She is the go-to helper for all things Whitespark.

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19 comments on “Whitespark’s Super Fantastic Guide to Optimizing Google My Business

  • As ever with you guys at WhiteSpark, a thorough and excellent guide. Well researched Jessie. I’ll add to my end of month round up to our social followers. Might be worth linking out to the Google resource that shows what businesses fall under which categories as that is normally helpful for our clients. But overall, excellent post. Have a great weekend.

    Thanks
    Alistair

    • Hi Alistair,

      I am actually not aware of the “Google resource that shows what businesses fall under which categories as that is normally helpful for our clients.” Do you happen to have a link you could share with me?

  • Hello. Thank you for this comprehensive guide. Do you have a good tip on how to make sure that all listings for your chain display the same image? I have seen some companies, where every single store listing displays company’s logo as the primary image. I know that on the bulk sheet you can specify the preferred photo and GMB dashboard says that your cover photo is the one that will automatically appear on the listing, but it seems that in terms of images – Google is playing a lottery and just chooses for you, regardless of what you have specified.

  • Wow, I attended Local University Advanced two months ago and thought I knew just about everything about GMB features, but I’ve learned much from this article. Very comprehensive and very well organized — thanks Jessie!

  • Thanks Jessie ,

    I think you have written every bit of information that someone looking for . Everything written so clearly that even a blind person can understand with combination of images. This is really good information about GMB( google my business) .

    This article should reach to everyone who is selling product and need a google presence of their business. I will also share it in social media from my end .

  • Great information! It was helpful for me to go through everyone one-by-one, even though I have optimized by GMB profile, before. Things do change, after-all!
    I especially appreciated the hack for checking out your competitors sub-categories. Not totally simple for your average business owner to sort out, but right up my alley. Much appreciated!

  • Thanks for the article Jessie. We are seeing some competitors with map categories in the source code that are not available by default in the GMB interface. They do seem to be properly formatted capital case. Do you have a recommendation on using custom business categories? Or am I missing something on that one?

  • Google My Business is SO important for Local SEO. I’ve seen other articles where GMB is listed as an “advanced” local seo tactic but I think it’s actually the #1 thing to start with because of how much information Google pulls from GMB listings.
    What you’ve put together here is particularly helpful because you also tell people what NOT to waste their time on, such as doing intricate GMB posts. This helps to prevent someone who might think they actually need to perfect it from going overboard. Anyways, kudos on a good and balanced GMB guide!

  • Well explained. From this blog I clear all my doubts about GMB. Merging all the features of Google Maps, Google My Business, Local & Plus, allows businesses to manage their listing with all Google services from one single account.
    it makes easier for business.

  • Some great tips… was also glad you mentioned the newly revised posts aspect of GMB it is a really great tool for adding recent content on the blog and for highlighting promotions or events in a visual and engaging way. I will be looking into the bookings aspect of GMB to see if we can automate a callback booking request for service calls, could be quite useful.

  • Seriously good stuff Jessie. So many new features especially with Moz’s local search ranking factors coming out too. GMB has become increasingly important and changes frequently. Anyway, well done!

  • Another great guide! I can’t wait to optimize for all of our clients! And I also try to grade one of the GMB page we are managing. There are still many place we could do better for sure! Thank you!

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