Google My Business (GMB) is one of the best free tools for helping business owners manage their online presence. While having a GMB profile is a great first step to garner some local exposure, Google My Business optimization takes your profile to the next level.
In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know to get started with Google My Business and make the most of local search in your marketing efforts.
In 2021, Google announced that it changed the name of Google My Business to Google Business Profile. To date, there have been minimal changes to the tool beyond its new name.
These recommendations for optimizing Google My Business are still relevant to the newly renamed Google Business Profile platform. However, since most people still search for this information using the old name, we’ve kept it in the article.
Why Do You Need Google Business Profile?
Potential customers frequently start their buying journey with a Google search. Whether they want an eco-friendly carpet cleaner or some stationary, Search has become the go-to for finding products and services that help alleviate their pain points.
Google reports that 46% of all searches have local intent. That means there are potential consumers in your area who need what you offer, and they’re using Google to find your products or services.
Oftentimes, these local searches will return three Google Maps results, called the local 3-pack. Clicking on these results will open a business’s GBP. But if they’re not finding you in local search results, they’re most likely finding your competitors.
To increase your chances of appearing in these critical search engine results, you need to have a Google Business Profile and you must optimize to make it easier for your target audience to find you.
How To Find & Claim Your GMB Listing
If you’re not sure whether you already have a listing with Google Business Profile, the first thing you’ll want to do is google your business name to check. If your business has been around for a while, there may already be a listing associated with it, which makes claiming it easy.
One of the easiest ways to claim your business is through Google Maps:
- Open Google Maps.
- Type your business name into the search bar.
- Choose your business from the results.
- Click “Claim this business.”
- Select a verification option, and follow the steps you see on-screen.
You can also use the above method in Google search. Just make sure you’re signed into the Google account you want associated with your business.
If your search comes up empty, then it’s time to create your Google My Business profile. If you run a service business without a set address, then you’ll also need to claim your profile through the following method.
Set Up Your GMB Profile
To set up a Google Business Profile, make sure you’re signed into the Google account you want associated with your business, then visit business.google.com. (If you don’t have a Gmail address associated with your business, start there.)
Type in your business name. If your business appears, click on it. Otherwise, click the selection that says “Create a business with this name.”
Next, select your business category. Start typing the category you think is correct, and Google will show several options.
When you choose a business category:
- You’ll be easier to find in discovery searches. Google will match your category to relevant search queries, so choose carefully. Think “coffee shop,” “restaurant,” “clothing store,” “grocery store.”
- You can highlight category-specific features. Google will automatically present special features specific to that category, such as the ability to include a menu or customer ratings. The more your prospective customers can learn about you from your Google Business listing, the more likely they’ll choose you over the competition.
Be as specific as Google allows! Google offers more than 4,000 business categories, so keep searching until you find the category that most accurately describes your business.
If your business falls into more than one category, simply set your primary category to match your main offering (e.g., grocery store) and then choose additional categories that apply, like “organic grocery store,” “grocery delivery service,” etc., once you’ve completed the initial setup.
Click “Next” when you’re satisfied.
If you have a location, select yes on the next screen. Now it’s time for businesses with a location to enter their address.
If you’re a service provider without a location, select no.
Continue working through the screens to set up your profile. You’ll be prompted to enter your phone number, website URL, available amenities, and business hours. You’ll also be tasked with adding a business description.
Fill out your Google Business Profile carefully and thoroughly. The more info you provide in your profile, the better Google can match your business to local search queries, and the more your potential customers can learn about you from your business listing. Make sure all of your information is accurate, and keep it up-to-date.
A few things to keep in mind:
- You’ll want your business name to match your store signage to avoid confusion.
- Enter your address exactly as it appears in other places on the web, like your website and social media pages. Google can be particular about inconsistencies that make your business seem less credible.
- List your regular and holiday hours. It’s important to be meticulous about indicating changes in your store hours. If your business listing suggests that you’re open on Sundays and a prospective customer shows up to find your doors locked, you’ve not only lost a sale, you’ve lost credibility.
If you don’t have a physical address associated with your business, you can choose a service area. This is helpful for landscapers, repairmen, and other service businesses that primarily work at their customers’ homes. To start, select your primary service area, like Los Angeles County, CA.
Then you’ll be prompted to add additional business information, such as your hours.
Write Your “From the Business” Description
The description that appears just under the name of your business is an editorial summary that Google provides. There’s nothing for you to change here.
Further down your listing is the “from the business” section. Here’s the first place you have the opportunity to make an impression.
How to Optimize Your Google My Business Description:
- Use all 750 characters available to you, and load key information in the first 250 characters. Make sure your description details what makes your business unique.
- Consider repurposing content from the “About” section of your web page.
- Here’s the perfect place to add the keywords your audience might use to find a business like yours. For example, if you’re an optometrist, you may want to include phrases like “eye exam” or “walk-in eye exams.” Optimizing Google My Business with relevant keywords increases your chances of being found by prospective customers. (Don’t have keywords selected? Learn how to do local keyword research here.)
- Talk about what sets you apart from your competitors and what customers like most about your business. Do you have same-day appointments? Offer easy online booking? Let everyone know!
- Don’t mention sales or pricing. This is against Google My Business policies and can lead to a profile suspension.
- Don’t include links or HTML.
How To Verify Your Google My Business Listing
After creating your profile, Google needs to verify your listing. The most common way it does this is charmingly low-tech. They send a postcard with a verification code to the address listed in your profile. It can take up to five business days to receive it, but Google won’t display your edits until your verification is complete.
Once your business is verified, you’ll gain access to insights, analytics, and reviews. You can find out more about the verification process from Google here.
Some businesses may be eligible for alternative Google My Business verification. If you’re a service business without a physical address, Google may let you verify your business listing by phone, email, video recording, or with Search Console. Unfortunately, you won’t know the verification methods available to you until you complete your profile.
After you’ve verified your business, Google will publish your new or edited profile.
How To Optimize Google My Business
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to improve how your business ranks in local search results. What follows are just a few Google My Business SEO tips. Combine these with your local SEO strategy to increase your chances of ranking relevant searches.
1. Find & Fix Duplicate Google My Business Listings
At Victorious, we think the logical place to start optimizing for local search is to make sure there’s nothing that stands in the way of our customers’ ranking, such as duplicate listings.
Duplicate Google My Business listings aren’t, in and of themselves, a negative ranking factor. My primary concern with multiple listings is that they can put you in the position of competing with yourself to be found in local search.
In most cases, when there’s a duplicate listing, it’s been neglected and lacks robust information, reviews, and posts. Since Google doesn’t know which one of your multiple listings is the one you want served, it could choose a less robust listing, which impacts how your business is ranked in search and how potential customers perceive the value of your offerings.
Duplicate listings are also against Google My Business guidelines. Failing to merge your duplicate could lead to one or both of your business listings being suspended. Before plowing ahead to merge duplicate listings, make sure there aren’t reviews that need to be migrated over to your one, true listing. Google has a valuable tutorial that walks you through how to move reviews across business profiles.
How To Merge Two Google My Business Listings
There are different ways to merge two business listings in GMB. To decide how to move forward, you’ll start with which of these categories your business falls into:
- Service area business
How To Merge Duplicate GMB Listings for a Storefront
If your business has a physical location and the duplicate listing has the same address as your preferred listing, there are a few different factors that will impact what you do next.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. Have both of the listings been verified?
Google cannot merge two verified listings.
2. Do you own both listings?
If you have back-end access to each of the listings, you’ll want to un-verify the listing you no longer want and skip down to question four.
3. Are both listings verified, but you only own one?
If you want to merge a listing that you don’t own, the first thing you’ll want to do is claim ownership over it. Try to claim the duplicate listing. Then Google will direct you on how to get control from the existing owner.
4. Is only one listing verified?
If only one of the duplicate listings is verified, get the URL of each from Google Maps, select the “support” link on the bottom left of your Google My Business dashboard, choose “contact us,” and ask Google to merge the two listings. (Supply the Google Maps URLs you collected.)
If the duplicate listings have different addresses, follow these steps.
1. Does the duplicate listing feature a former address of the business?
Contact Google My Business and ask them to mark the old listing as moved.
2. Does the duplicate listing have an address that was never correct?
Go into Google Maps, “Suggest an Edit,” and choose “Doesn’t exist here.”
How To Merge Duplicate GMB Listings for a Service Area Business
This is a similar process as described for storefront listings above, with a few differences.
If both of the listings have been verified, one will need to be unverified before they can be merged. If you don’t own both of the listings, contact GMB to claim ownership of both listings and request that they be merged.
If only one listing is verified, find the duplicate in Google Maps and “suggest an edit” as described in step two above. Switch the toggle beside “Place is permanently closed” to “yes,” and select “Private” as the reason.
2. Add Photos
Photos are the best way to give prospective customers an inside view of your business and inspire them to visit you in person.
In addition to a cover photo and a logo, I recommend you consider adding the following types of images:
- Exterior Photos: Capture your storefront from different angles to make it easy for customers to recognize your business. If you’re open during both daylight and nighttime hours, upload photos of both.
- Interior Photos: Show searchers what it’s like inside your store. Capture the atmosphere they’ll enjoy when they visit you.
- Product Photos: Share photos of some of your most popular items with would-be customers.
- Action Photos: Capture your staff interacting with your customers, providing service with a smile, or helping pick the perfect gift.
- Food & Drink Photos: Serve up photos that will make searchers drool over what you’re cooking up.
- Common Areas: Got a gorgeous lobby? Cozy couches in your bookstore? Show what it’s like to spend time at your location.
- Team Photos: Upload pictures that highlight the personalities on your team. Photos of yourself and your staff add a personal touch and make you feel like friends before customers even walk through your door.
Technical Guidelines for Google My Business Photos
Follow these simple guidelines to make sure your photos display to their best potential.
- Format: JPG or PNG
- Size: Between 10 KB and 5 MB
- Recommended Resolution: 720 px x 720 px
- Quality: All of your photos should be well-lit, in focus, and filter-free.
- File names: Photo file names are a great place to incorporate keywords relevant to your business and its location.
Geo-Tag Your GMB Photos
If you really want to get a leg up on the competition, go one step further and geotag your images. When you geotag your photos, you add geographical information — like latitude and longitude — to the image file’s metadata.
Adding location metadata to your images helps search engines associate that photo with a specific location.
Why does this matter?
People often add location-based keywords to their search queries, such as, “gift shop, times square,” and establishing a strong association between your business and its location will improve your visibility in local SERPs. Don’t forget that photos also show up in search results, and using a geo-tagging strategy for your images increases the likelihood that yours will top the list.
GeoImgr is a free tool that makes it easy to upload your photos and add geotags (and keywords!) to the files’ EXIF data. I recommend you add this location and keyword data to all of the images you share on your Google Business Profile profile.
3. Add Your Products & Services
Adding products and services to your Google My Business profile allows you to showcase your offerings and increase customer interaction. It’s especially helpful to add products and services if the name of your business doesn’t adequately describe your offering. As far as SEO goes, this additional information gives Google more to evaluate how well your business matches search queries in your area. Learn more about how to add products and services to your Google My Business listing.
4. Post to Your Google Business Profile
Now that you’ve set your GMB profile up for search success, you’re ready to get on with the work of creating a rich and engaging experience for loyal customers and customers-to-be.
How do you do that?
Just like regular posting to your social media accounts keeps customers interested and engaged, posting to your GMB profile is an excellent way to keep everyone up to date on what’s going on with your business. Follow our in-depth guide here.
5. Ask & Answer Questions
Have you ever noticed on a certain online mega-retailer’s product pages (hint, starts with an AM and ends with a ZON) that there’s a section for questions and answers? GMB makes the same feature available to your business.
The ability to ask questions and have them answered may be the deciding factor in whether a customer chooses your business over a competitor. It’s very important to keep an eye on this section since, as you can see in the example above, anyone can answer them. As much as we love local advocates, sometimes their information might be incomplete, inaccurate, or worse, lacking the grace you might employ when interacting with potential customers.
While there’s no way to turn off the Q&A feature of your business profile, there are a few things you can do to stay on top of what’s posted there.
- Set up alerts. Getting notifications when someone asks a question will help you be the first one to provide an answer.
- Seed your own questions to answer. List out some FAQs, then ask, answer, and upvote them on your own profile. Not only is this allowed by Google, they encourage it. Want to know what’s even better? Keep your keyword strategy in mind when asking and answering questions. (No keyword stuffing, please.)
6. Get Google Reviews for Your Business
Google’s official stance on responding to reviews is that businesses should…
“Interact with customers by responding to reviews that they leave about your business. Responding to reviews shows that you value your customers and the feedback that they leave about your business.”
Google goes on to say…
“High-quality, positive reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit your location.”
Responding to both positive and negative reviews builds trust with your customers and with Google. Because Google wants to recommend the most credible businesses to its customers, it puts a lot of stock in business owners who go above and beyond to interact with feedback publicly.
Build a Review Response Strategy
When someone leaves a review for your business, don’t leave them waiting for a response. Having a response plan in place helps you respond quickly and graciously.
How To Respond to Positive Reviews
- Say thank you! Show your appreciation that they took the time to leave you a kind review. “Hi Sam, thanks for sharing your experience. Can’t wait to see you again!”
- Be specific. A generic response is better than no response, but a response that touches on something the customer specifically said in their review helps them feel heard and appreciated. “Those are our favorite donuts, too, Sara! Thanks for stopping by!”
- Invite them to come back. Show gratitude for their support and let them know that you’re looking forward to serving them (and their friends!) again. “So glad you stopped by, Khalil! Looking forward to seeing you and your friends again soon!”
How To Respond to Negative Reviews
- Apologize and thank them for their feedback. Negative feedback is an opportunity to do things better. Sincerely thank them for their input and let them know you’ve heard them.
- Be gracious. This is a public conversation. Being defensive is going to reflect badly on your customer service skills. Don’t argue with customers or blame them for the situation.
- Take the conversation offline. Publicly thank them for their feedback and let them know that you’re going to reach out to them directly to resolve the issue. Don’t immediately reach out with a direct response. If you do, the rest of the world thinks you’re ignoring their complaint.
- Keep it short and sweet. There’s no need for a long-winded response. Be polite and concise. “So sorry that we didn’t live up to your expectations, Marta. I would love to make this right. Please call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx to discuss how Il Ristorante can better serve you.”
7. Set Up Messaging
The Google My Business messaging feature allows searchers to send a text message directly to your phone from your Business Profile. This is a great way to demonstrate your responsiveness and commitment to customer service. You can enable messaging from your dashboard. Read the guidelines for using the messaging feature.
8. Monitor Your Results
Keep in mind that there’s no magic formula to optimize your Google My Business profile. As with every other one of your marketing efforts, it’s essential to continually evaluate your results, experiment with new ways to stay top of mind with your customers, and reestablish your position at the top of local search results.
You can see how well your Google My Business listing is performing directly from the Insights section of your profile. You can view and track:
- How many people have visited your website from your GMB listing
- How many people asked for directions to your location
- The search terms used to find your profile (which can help you further optimize your business listing)
- How many people have called your business from your profile
- Other actions based on the buttons in your profile (such as order now, book online, etc.)
What you can track in your business listing may change with time as Google is committed to providing more features.
How To Make Changes to Your Google Business Profile
Keeping your business listing updated is vital for creating trust with potential customers. Google allows you to make changes to your business profile as needed — but it doesn’t enact them instantly.
You can make changes from Google Search or Maps. Regardless of the method you choose, your changes will show up across all Google properties, so there’s no need to submit changes via both Search and Google Maps.
Making Edits Via Google Search or Maps
- Make sure you are logged in to your business Google account, and run a search for your business.
- Open your profile and click on “edit profile” and then “business information.”
- Once you make a change, hit save, and then continue to your next edit.
- Your changes will now be “pending review.”
Any time you change your address, you’ll need to re-verify your business before the edit will go into effect. Your new address will go into effect once you complete that second verification.
For other changes to your profile, Google says it generally reviews Google My Business edits within 48 hours. You’ll receive a notification at the top of your profile account saying that your profile has been updated. If your changes were not approved, you’ll receive a similar notification. However, instead of enacting the changes, Google will show an “updated” status next to the unaccepted changes.
Managing User or Google Edits
Because Google allows all users to suggest edits — and makes edits itself — you may be notified of potential changes to your profile information.
When you look at a Google My Business listing, you’ll notice that each one says “suggest an edit.”
Clicking on it brings up the following box:
Clicking on “Change name or other details” allows users to submit changes for a business’s:
- Phone number
- About section
Clicking on “close or remove” brings up the following prompts:
Thankfully, Google won’t just remove your business listing because someone marks it as closed. Instead, once Google has received user edits or has found information contradicting your current profile, you’ll get a notification at the top of your business profile page.
The information that Google has edited will be color-coded or feature strike-thrus to make it easier to spot. If you see an orange phone number, for example, that means Google is suggesting that change. If you see strike-thurs on your text, that means your data was replaced.
Once you’ve noticed edits to your profile, you can choose whether to apply them or keep your original information.
To avoid user or Google edits, keep your information up to date. Make sure your name, address, and phone number are the same across all of your listings and that your hours are correct.
How To Maintain Your Google My Business Search Optimized Profile
You’ve probably concluded by now that Google local business listing optimization isn’t a one-and-done task. It’s an ongoing part of your local marketing strategy that requires upkeep to continue reaping maximal benefits from it.
Make sure you have a plan to:
- Update information regularly
- Publish posts and upload photos every week.
- Ask for reviews and respond to them.
- Answer questions.
- Respond to messages.
- Keep current with new features.
As with any other part of your on-page or off-page SEO strategy, your Google My Business strategy should begin and end with bringing value to existing and prospective customers. It’s Google’s mission to connect searchers to the best solutions to their needs through detailed and credible information. Everything you do to make it easier for Google to find that information and trust it will ultimately serve your business and customers.
- How To Add Users to Google My Business
- How To Create & Manage Google My Business Profiles for Multiple Locations
- How To Change Your Business Address on Google Maps
- Google Business Profile Suspended? Here’s What To Do
- How To Delete a Google Business Profile
- Improve Your Google Maps Ranking With SEO
- Google Business Insights: Unlock Your Potential
- Make Google Posts To Spotlight Your Business
- How To Add Holiday Hours to Google Business Profile
- Google Reviews SEO: Your Questions Answered
- Local SEO Checklist
Even though Google My Business optimization isn’t difficult, it does take time, and many businesses opt to bring in a local SEO agency to support them.