If you are a local business, your Google My Business (GMB) listing could become the main driver of targeted leads that will allow you to grow and sign up new customers or clients.
Keep in mind that your SEO company (if you work with one) might be able to help you with some or all of the steps below.
Set it up right and your listing will rank for relevant local keywords which potential customers are actively searching when looking for someone offering exactly what you specialise in.
Example of a local clients Google My Business visibility over the last 3 months.
Set it up wrong and you won't be found online.
This article will show you how to set up your maps listing to give it the best chance of ranking and identify what to avoid whilst attempting to increase your local reach.
Each section relates, in some way to the three factors that Google's documentation says influences how local listings are ranked: relevance, distance and prominence.
Creating or Claiming?
First, you need to work out whether you need to claim an existing listing or create a new one.
This is important as you don't want to create a duplicate listing (doing so will hurt your local visibility).
Search for your business in Google and in Google Maps (via https://www.google.com/maps/ or the Google Maps app) and check if any listings come up.
If you see your business listed, move on to the 'claiming your listing' section.
If you don't see your business, follow the steps in the 'creating your listing' section below.
Creating Your Listing
When there is no information or listing being returned about your business, it means one hasn't been created.
You will need to create a new listing in order to add your details and get it verified.
Claiming Your Listing
If you do see a result returned when searching for your brand but you don't have access to it, you will need to claim the listing (if there are multiple results all for your business, you will need to claim all of them).
To claim your listing, create a new Google My Business account as you would in the 'Creating Your Listing' section but, when you search for your business name in the first step, request ownership of the existing one.
Optimising Your Listing
A huge part of optimising your GMB listing is just making sure that the basic information about your business is accurate and up-to-date.
The sections below offer details on making sure that each of these basics is covered and this is the minimum that you will need to do to start seeing increased local visibility.
First, you will need to verify your new listing (if you have claimed an existing one, odds are it is already verified although you should check that it isn't necessary to re-verify it now that you are the owner).
There is the option to verify the listing later but, providing you have added all the relevant information, it is best to verify it now so you can move on to the next steps.
Verify by Postcard
Before you have confirmed that you are the owner (or working on behalf of the owner) of the business, you will see a notification at the top of the page when you log in to the Google My Business dashboard asking you to verify this. Click the notification and you will be taken to a page asking you to verify your ownership via post.
Make sure that they have the correct business address and request that they send the postcard. In a few days time it will be delivered and contain a verification code that you can login to GMB and submit.
Verify by Phone
Google allows some businesses to verify their listing via phone.
If you are eligible to do this, you'll find a 'Verify by phone' option on the request verification page.
After making sure that Google has the correct business contact number (and you are able to answer calls to that number now), request the verification and you will get an automated call containing the verification code.
Submit the code on the verification page to complete the process.
Verify by Email
If your business is eligible you will also see the option to verify the listing via email.
To do so you should select the option and make sure that Google has the correct business email on record (and that you have access now to that email address).
Simply request the verification code, open the email account and copy and paste the code into the GMB verification page.
Now that you have verified your listing, you will have a bit more control over what information is displayed to those searching for your business (or related keywords that your listing ends up ranking for).
Make sure that you add as much useful and relevant information as possible.
Although the description could fall under the basics above, you want to take time to craft the best possible description for your listing.
This is one of the first things that people might see when searching for your brand so you want it to be accurate, informative and persuasive.
You should include your most important keyword(s) without going over board. You don't want your description to seem overly aggressive or spammy.
Make your description clear, succinct and concise and include what makes your business unique and special.
You will also want to include a call to action at the end to encourage searchers to get in touch or click through to your website.
Google's own documentation shows that reviews on your listing can play a part in where it ranks in the local results.
You should be proactive in encouraging your customers to leave reviews on your Google My Business listing.
You can do this by finding your review short link and sharing it with customers after your transaction or contract with them has come to an end (or once they've had enough interaction with you and your business to leave an accurate review).
It is important that you don't pressure and/or incentivise customers to leave positive reviews on your local listing. Doing so could put your profile at risk and lead to unforseen consequences.
Finally, regularly respond to and interact with reviews left on your listing. Positive or negative, this shows that you care about your online reputation and allows you to offer more details and context about the transaction (leave out any sensitive information whilst doing this).
Images & Photos
To make your listing more appealing, you should add high-quality images of you, your team and your products or services.
Adding a friendly face to your brands name can lead to more and better interactions with your profile.
You should also consider adding any images related to awards and/or certifications your business holds.
If you serve customers at your office or location, it is a good idea to add a few images of the exterior and interior of the building. Such images can help potential customers find you and feel more comfortable visiting.
Products & Services
Completing the products and services section is a great way to add more detail to your listing whilst potentially increasing conversion rates.
If people can find details on the specific products and/or services you offer (like pricing, lead times, what they involve etc.), and book or buy them more quickly, you could see a better return-on-investment (ROI) from your listing.
Do not be tempted to list products or services that you don't yet offer or stuff keywords into each one to get more visibility.
Being overly aggressive in your product or service section could make your listing appear spammy and unprofessional. Also, in general Google doesn't take kindly to those who spam their services.
Citation builder campaign in the Bright Local tool.
Citations are mentions of your brand alongside your business name, address and phone number (NAP).
They help reinforce where your business is located and they can help Google better place your business and verify what industry you operate in.
You wouldn't buy thousands of links from low-quality websites (hopefully) and you shouldn't buy hundreds of citations from directories and websites which are low-quality and/or not related to your business either.
Search for your competitors brand name in Google and see where they have citations. Then create your own listing on these websites if they are relevant to your business.
The best citations are relevant, on high-quality sites and even have the potential to send you referral traffic (especially if the directory/website already ranks for some of your target keywords).
Make sure your NAP is consistent across all of your citations and matches the details found on your website. You can use third-party tools like Bright Local to help with this.
More Than Just Local Directories
When people talk about citations, directories are often the first thing that comes to mind.
However, the best citations will come from highly trusted online sources which are not what most people think of when they think about building citations.
For example, a Companies House listing with your business name and address would be considered an accurate source of information about your business.
Making sure these details match those found on your website is vital.
Relevant local government sites can also provide top-tier citations and they aren't always easy to get.
Some of the best citations that we have built for clients have come from us picking up the phone and speaking with a real person working on the website that we are trying to get a citation from.
So, start with the directories that your top competitors have listings on but quickly move on to the more authoritative, trusted and high-quality citations that others don't have.
Google's documentation on how to improve your local ranking on Google says that standard SEO best practises and your position in the web results can effect your local ranking.
This means that you will want to ensure that everything from your technical SEO to your content marketing is the best that it can possibly be.
I suggest hiring an experienced digital marketing company to help with this.
They will be able to help with all aspects of your SEO and ensure that your website is positioned to perform well in the search results.
Examples of links earned for our clients. See up-to-date examples here.
As an extension of the standard SEO best practises and web rankings influencing how and where your GMB is shown, links are also important when it comes to your local visibility.
The Google documentation linked above also states that links can be involved when looking at the prominence of a business (and that the prominance of the business can effect local visibility).
So, like you need high-quality links to rank for competitive keywords in the standard search results, you will also need high-quality links to rank highly in the local results for competitive keywords.
Some citations will include links back to your site, others won't.
Outside of these though you will need to earn high-quality links to your site whilst remaining within Google's guidelines.
One of the most effective ways to do this is by investing in high-quality digital PR campaigns.
A digital PR agency like Reboot will earn high-quality links to your site whilst positioning you as a thought-leader in your industry and increasing overall brand awareness.
Now that we know what we should be doing to help our Google My Business listing rank, we can get to work implementing it!
Below we address some common mistakes we have seen being made when it comes to Google My Business optimisation.
By far one of the most common mistakes we see being made when it comes to a businesses local listing is an inconsistent NAP.
For example, a business might have several citations using one address, and another handful using a new address that they have relocated to.
Sometimes the address and contact details listed on the website won't match any of the citations (usually following a fairly recent office move).
These inconsistent details can cause confusion as to where the business is actually based and mean that your local visibility is stifled.
Addresses on Service Area Listings
Many business owners aren't aware that if you mark your listing as a service area business (meaning customers don't visit you at your office/business premises, instead you visit them), you should not display your address on your listing.
So, if you are visiting customers at their location, don't add your office address to your listing.
It it also common for a business to end up with duplicate listings.
For example, if you previously worked with an SEO agency it is possible that they created a listing and you or a new employee has created a second one not knowing of the first.
The issue is that if multiple listings exist for the same location and business, Google can't be sure which is the most relevant one to rank in the local results. As a result, both listings will suffer and neither will rank as highly as they might have if only one existed.
Some SEOs and business owners have a habit of stuffing keywords into their content wherever possible.
Not only is this not effective at increasing your rankings (in the local or traditional search results), but it will also come across as spammy and could damage your businesses reputation.
You should use your target keywords in your Google My Business listing where relevant and natural.
Incorrect Opening Hours
Finally, make sure that you are regularly updating your Google My Business listing where neccessary.
Opening hours can change dramatically (as the recent pandemic has shown) and Google wants to surface the most up-to-date and relevant results.
When your opening hours change make sure that you update your GMB listing with the new ones.
For many businesses, local SEO is an after thought and certainly not a priority.
However, your Google My Business profile is one of the few things that you can control about how Google displays your content in the search results.
By using all of the local SEO tools and opportunities at your disposal, you can enhance your online visibility and generate more targeted local leads.
So, spent some time developing your GMB listing and/or invest with an experienced SEO company to take your local and national organic visibility to the next level.