How to Set Up and Optimize Google My Business for Local SEO
The SMB Owner’s Guide for Google My Business Optimization to Increase Sales
Update: Did you know that Google My Business is now Google Business Profile?
It’s no secret that Google dominates the internet.
And if you own a small business, you need to be visible online to start scaling your company.
After all, 97% of people learn about a local business on the internet before anywhere else.
If potential customers can’t find your business on Google, what chance do you have to grow your revenue?
This is where Google My Business (GMB) comes in. It’s how Google presents and promotes your company on Google Search and Google Maps.
It’s also necessary if you want to get real and not fake Google reviews from customers, which are essential if you want to outrank your competitors.
If your goal is better SEO (search-engine optimization) for Google My Business to expand your online presence, then read on.
In this article, I am going to introduce you to Google My Business and its benefits.
I will also overview how to set up Google My Business and optimize it for search rankings to get more reviews and sales for your local business.
Whether you’re new to Google or trying to figure out how to get more customers in new or existing markets from your GMB profile, then this guide is for you!
Benefits of GMB for Small Business
Getting Google reviews and improving local SEO—i.e., increasing your company’s online search rankings—depends on Google My Business.
And with customer reviews and Google My Business local SEO, you open your business up to more leads and sales.
To kick things off, I’ll outline key benefits of Google My Business for small-business owners.
What Are the Benefits of Google My Business?
- Get customer reviews
- Generate more leads
- Control your business information online
- Interact with potential customers and create calls-to-action
Get Customer Reviews
If you’re not convinced about the power of online customer reviews, then you’re missing out on a huge marketing opportunity.
Without positive reviews to show off to your potential customers, your chances of booking a job or closing a deal drop.
Plus, customer reviews empower reputation marketing—the practice of leveraging reviews as social proof in your marketing campaigns.
Social proof reviews, such as sharing testimonials in ads, on social media or on your website, go a long way in winning more sales.
Finally, reviews help with lead generation too. All other things being equal, a company with at least ten reviews can expect 10-15% more website visits than a competitor with no reviews.
Without Google My Business, you can’t collect—let alone manage or respond to—customer reviews on Google. It’s that simple.
Generate More Leads
Remember when I said Google dominates the internet?
Well, according to NetMarketShare, Google owns over 80% of the worldwide internet traffic for search engines.
With this kind of influence, your local business will struggle to get ahead if such a large share of potential customers can’t find you on Google.
An important first step is to ensure you have a lead-generating website.
This is required to appear in “traditional” Google Search results, but a website also bolsters your Google My Business rankings (and gives something for leads to click on!).
But look at the below screenshot of when I searched "vancouver electrician" in my city of Vancouver. Notice how far down the page the first “traditional” result is?
So far down, to fit the first result on the screen, I had to zoom out so much that a lot of the screenshot is unreadable.
Google My Business listings are how you get found on local search. They’re the first thing potential customers see that you don’t have to pay for (unlike for advertisements).
Even if you opt to pay for ads, Local Services by Google for instance, the first options at the top of that screenshot, require a GMB listing in the first place.
And if your business can’t appear on the first page at all, then your chances of generating new leads virtually drops to zero.
That’s because when looking for a local business on Google, 92% of potential customers choose an option on the first page of results.
So ranking in the “Local 3-Pack”—the three GMB listings displayed underneath the map in the above screenshot—is critical for more leads.
Local 3-Pack listings attract roughly one-quarter of all clicks on the first page of Google Search from potential customers looking for a local company.
No matter how you’re promoting your business on Google to get more leads and customers, it all starts with Google My Business.
Control Your Business Information Online
Controlling and managing your business information online is a huge deal.
You want accuracy in your business name, company photos and product/service descriptions when leads search online for what you sell.
But there are also technical benefits with controlling your business information on Google.
First of all, there’s something called NAP, which stands for Name, Address, Phone Number.
Ensuring your NAP is accurate and within your control improves the visibility of your company’s online presence.
Think of NAP as the “Yellow Pages of the internet.”
Google looks at and stores this information, using NAP’s accuracy and relevance to influence your business listing’s rankings.
Google also takes your GMB info to index your business details across Google Maps and Google Search.
Lastly, inaccuracies or inconsistencies with your NAP or GMB info will negatively impact search rankings.
Google My Business is the central platform where you control your company info across Google. So staying on top of it is important for more leads and sales.
Interact with Potential Customers and Create Calls-to-Action
The most direct benefit of Google My Business is your ability to communicate with and promote your business to potential customers.
What does this communication look like in practice though? Let’s look at a few specific examples.
Create Posts with Offers
When potential customers find your business on Google Search or Google Maps, they can see any posts you publish.
You can post about anything, no different than on social media.
But the types of people likely to see GMB posts are high-intent potential customers. So your GMB posts have a strong chance of driving value—and revenue!—for you.
Google My Business lets you add offers and calls-to-action in your posts that potential customers can interact with.
Take Phone Calls and Messages from Google My Business
Did you know that you can set up Google My Business to take phone calls and messages from leads and customers?
With messages, customers can click a “Message” button right on your profile.
Google will notify you when new messages come in. You can even customize automated welcome messages and attach photos as well.
And GMB listings have one-click functionality for leads and customers to call you directly. This makes it easy for them to get in touch with you.
You can also track basic call data in your account. Google is expanding this info, recently launching “call history” insights in Google My Business for even more data.
Respond to Customer Reviews
Not only does Google My Business allow you to get customer reviews, but you can respond to them too.
When potential customers search for local businesses, they see reviews, ratings and interactions with customers who wrote reviews.
Replying to positive reviews shows you’re grateful for feedback, which everyone loves. But responding to negative reviews is just as important.
That’s because potential customers perceive your business as trustworthy when you reply to negative complaints.
In fact, almost half of consumers report that they’re more likely to choose a business if that company responds to its negative reviews.
Now, I know, I know. Responding to and receiving negative reviews can scare any SMB owner.
NiceJob’s reputation-marketing software can help with the anxiety.
We make it easy to reply to customer reviews and get more positive reviews to help bury negative complaints should they pop up.
How to Set Up Google My Business
So now you’re aware of all the amazing benefits of Google My Business for local companies and SMB owners.
Let’s dig into exactly how to create a Google My Business account so you can take advantage of these benefits right away.
Google My Business Setup Step-by-Step
Mosey on over to <google.com/business/> to get started and click on the “Manage now” button.
You’ll need a Google account if you don’t already have one. If you already have a Gmail address for your business, then you’re set.
If you do have a Google account and you’re not already logged in via your browser, then Google will prompt you to sign in. It’s that simple.
But don’t worry, if you don’t have one, Google will give you the chance to create one when you click on the “Manage now” button.
1. Claim or Create Your GMB Profile with Your Business Name
Once you’re in, the first step is easy. All you have to do is enter your business name.
To walk you through this, I’ll navigate the same process and pretend I own the local business Bob Trodd’s Plumbing. (Yes, “Bob Trodd” is my favorite go-to fake internet name!)
By the way, your local business might already have a Google My Business profile even if you didn’t make it.
Google creates “unclaimed” profiles when they have enough data to know that your business exists.
So Google will first ask you to search for your unclaimed profile before creating a new one from a scratch.
Claiming it involves the same verification process for new profiles as well (which I’ll discuss below), so there’s no extra hurdles involved.
Data suggests that as many as 56% of all GMB profiles are unclaimed.
That’s a lot of businesses without the ability to control and manage their profile—so make sure yours isn’t one of them!
2. Choose Your Business Category
Google has over 3,000 GMB business categories to choose from to identify your business type.
You can select up to ten categories, with one serving as the primary category.
Make sure your primary category is accurate and specific. It will impact how well and for what your business ranks.
3. Enter Your Business Location
Entering your business location is one of the most important steps for setting up a Google My Business profile.
Your company’s location plays a large factor in local SEO for Google My Business—i.e., ranking well for when leads search for businesses near them.
For this test business, we’ll pretend that Bob Trodd’s Plumbing operates in Bangor, Maine.
(What better city than the inspiration for the fictional setting of several Stephen King novels? Even evil clowns have sinks that need fixing too!)
4. Define Your Service Area in Google My Business
Once you’ve set your location, you can also define what your service area is. In other words, what’s the geographical area where your business services customers?
If you provide a home service, such as being an electrician, a carpet cleaner or a plumber like Bob Trodd, setting your service area is very important.
It tells Google where you do business so they know where to show your business listing. It goes a long way in impacting your lead-generation and revenue metrics.
For Bob Trodd’s Plumbing, I’ve added Bangor plus two nearby towns, Brewer and Old Town, that are both close enough and large enough to merit geotargeting.
5. Confirm Your Phone Number and Website
Entering your phone number and your company website are both optional but highly recommended.
Without them, you limit the options for potential customers to contact you via Google My Business, decreasing your lead volume.
If you don’t have a website, Google offers you an option to create one using their own website builder.
But the design capabilities and functionality of Google's website builder are limiting. There’s also no customer support to help optimize the website.
And you can’t enhance the calls-to-action or the user flow to improve your lead-generation rate (i.e., the percentage of website visitors who contact your business or ask for a quote).
NiceJob has your back though. We offer websites for owners of small businesses guaranteed to increase lead generation by at least 10% within three months—or it’s free.
6. Verify Your Business on GMB
This step is a no-brainer.
When you verify your business, you can start collecting customer reviews and have your listing show up on Google Search and Google Maps.
In other words, verifying your listing is essential for Google My Business SEO. You can’t optimize your search rankings for your GMB listing without verification.
How does Google verify companies on Google My Business?
Simply request a postcard to be sent to your business address. The postcard will have a code on it and instructions for submitting the code online to complete the verification.
7. Set Your Services and Hours of Operation
After the verification request, you can set your business services and operation hours.
Business services are a more descriptive and specific version of the business category. They describe the particular services and specializations of your business.
When setting your hours of operation, know that Google may show your listing less often outside of those hours, and when they do, they will label your listing as “Closed.”
8. Add Business Description and Photos
To finish off, write a description of your business and add some photos.
The business description should be compelling, helpful and succinct. Don’t keyword-stuff. Instead, focus on what makes your business unique to stand out from competitors.
With Bob Trodd’s Plumbing, for instance, I tried to keep the description short and sweet.
I emphasized how we are the “top-rated plumbing company” in the region; I identified the service area, “southern Penobscot County”; and I added a benefit (“get an instant quote”).
As for photos, they help fill out your profile listing and they add character.
They tell your company’s story, give you the opportunity to provide visual branding and they also help with GMB SEO (photos can rank on Google too!).
One study on the impact of photos on GMB found that listings with photos are twice as reputable and will drive about 35% more clicks than listings with no photos.
Google lets you label photos as your company logo and as a cover photo too for the proper placement of certain branded images.
How to Optimize Google My Business
Here comes the fun part. What can you do to ensure your GMB listing is as optimized as possible?
To rank well on Google Maps & Search and make your Google My Business SEO impactful, you need to enhance as many details as possible.
Let’s look at the below image to compare an unoptimized vs. an optimized GMB listing. Notice how one listing is a lot more compelling and informative than the other?
The unoptimized listing looks less inviting, is less informative and is less likely to drive engagement. It is therefore also less likely to rank as highly or regularly on Google.
The most important things you can do to cover the basics are going over the steps in the Google My Business Setup list overviewed above.
Claim and verify your business listing. Those are the two essential first steps. The “unoptimized” company from the above image is neither claimed nor verified.
Collect lots of customer reviews, add photos and answer any questions leads or customers may have asked of you (you’ll see these in your GMB account).
With local service areas, especially if you target multiple regions, be mindful of a few things, outlined below.
Important Considerations for Local Service Areas on GMB
1. Avoid Separate Profiles Without Distinct Locations
It violates Google’s policies to have separate profiles for each service area unless you have a physical, verifiable presence in each one.
2. Define Service Areas Strategically
Don’t go out of your way to cast too wide of a net.
For instance, you can enter whole counties, but if your county is oddly shaped or elongated and you're at an extreme end of it, this is a factor to consider.
With Bob Trodd’s Plumbing, for instance, Bangor is firmly in the southern-most part of a county that runs over 150 miles from north to south. So I was careful to not target the county.
And don’t target every little village within driving distance of your location. You’ll dilute your listing appearances by geography.
For the sake of an arbitrary cutoff, highlight towns with minimum populations of 1,000 people. Google is smart enough to piece together your service-area radius.
3. Select the Primary Business Category Carefully
For business categories, make your primary category both accurate and specific but not misleading.
McDonald’s and Wendy’s might sell ice cream, but their locations shouldn’t be categorized as a Dessert Restaurant.
Conversely, don’t pick Beauty Salon if Hair Salon or Nail Salon would be better.
How to Improve Your Google My Business Ranking
So now that you know the basics of optimizing for Google My Business local SEO, what specific things should you focus on?
Remember, the ultimate goal is to rank well on Google Maps and for the Local 3-Pack on Google Search.
And Google My Business is statistically the most impactful factor for those rankings. Just look at the below screenshot for proof.
What the data from this image tells us is that your Google My Business profile plays a larger role in ranking in the Local 3-Pack than anything you do on your website or on social media.
So what exactly is important in your Google My Business profile for ranking well?
According to a study by Moz, the most important individual elements from your Google My Business profile are business name, categories, your website and customer reviews.
Let’s look at each of these in order.
When entering your business name on your profile, try to include a relevant keyterm.
If your business name is All-Star Service and your company cleans windows, consider writing “All-Star Service Window Cleaning” or “All-Star Service Window Cleaners.”
You could also go for a niche search query as this local company does per the below screenshot.
Guess who earned the top spot among pressure-washing companies when I searched for “balcony cleaning”? That’s right, the only company with “Balcony Cleaning” in their name.
Your primary business category (and to a lesser extent, optional secondary categories) plays a large role in GMB SEO rankings.
Again, be as accurate and specific as possible without being misleading.
Don’t categorize yourself as a Pediatric Dentist if you also serve adult patients. But do self-categorize as a Pediatric Dentist if that is your specialty.
If you’re a sole proprietor, then make your category Dentist instead of Dental Clinic. But if you run a practice where multiple dentists operate, then do the opposite.
And don’t select Emergency Dental Service if you don’t run a 24-hour emergency clinic—or you could get a negative review from someone suffering from severe tooth trauma at 3 a.m.!
Of note, services don’t have as high of an impact on rankings as categories do. So when adding services, don’t stress too much when making your list.
How does your company website influence Google My Business SEO?
To start, simply having a website attached to your GMB profile makes a huge difference in Google My Business rankings.
Also try testing different URLs in the website field.
For most local businesses, your website’s homepage will suffice.
But if, for instance, you have franchises or multiple locations—each with their own physical office or mailing address—consider adding a location page from your website for each one.
This one is the big kahuna.
Both review quality and quantity make a big impact on how well your GMB profile ranks both in your locale and further away as well.
It’s difficult to rank outside of your own neighborhood with only a few positive reviews.
Start getting a few more reviews to more easily rank across the whole city.
And after dozens more positive customer reviews, you will rank more frequently in neighboring cities and towns too.
(Of course, keep things in perspective if you're in a large city with lots of competitors. You won’t rank for “injury lawyer” in suburban Joliet if your law firm is 40 miles away in Chicago.)
Set Up Google My Business for Success
To summarize, setting up Google My Business and optimizing your GMB profile are essential to getting more sales and growing your business if you serve local customers.
Following the above steps is a good start to get you on your way, but what can you do on an ongoing basis to keep up the momentum and consistently improve?
I mentioned above the importance of getting Google reviews to gradually increase the odds of your Google My Business profile gaining visibility among potential customers.
Customer reviews are one of the most impactful factors for improving your Google My Business rankings and getting more leads. So let’s explore why Google reviews matter.
Why Google My Business Reviews Matter
Higher star ratings and more customer reviews help with Google My Business local SEO to attract more online leads and grow your sales.
More reviews improve your rankings, the rate of potential customers who click on your listing and your ability to book jobs and close deals.
And it’s no surprise that reviews have such a positive effect.
According to our data on reputation marketing, 87% of people won’t even consider a local business at all without an average rating of at least three stars.
And if your business only has an average of three stars, just 57% of potential customers will consider you. That number jumps to 94% if you have at least an average rating of four stars.
Google encourages review solicitation for a reason. Reviews are powerful forms of social proof that affect Google My Business rankings.
If you’re looking for an easy way for getting Google reviews to improve Google My Business SEO, grow your business and get the reputation you deserve, then check out NiceJob!