Of the many important sources for your local online business information, Google My Business is the most critical. This is considered the “First Stop” for many online directories when it comes to “scraping” your NAP (name, address and phone number) information for the purpose of creating citations.
The information in the listing is what is displayed by Google when your business is referenced directly in a Google search or when you appear as the result of a search for your category. This information is displayed in the “Google Blended” results as well as Google Maps results, and Google Plus Pages.
Most of the data that is shown can be accessed and updated through your Google My Business dashboard. This includes:
- Your business NAP information.
- Your business website address
- Your hours of operation
- Business description
The single most important aspect of a Google Business listing is verification. A Google My Business listing that is verified is authoritative and is trusted by Google for the purpose of displaying information in Google search results, as well as giving the listing weight in how it is ranked.
A verified listing carries more weight more than one that is not verified. Google will limit the information shown in the Knowledge Panel and Maps Display until the listing is verified. Online directories will not “trust” the unverified listing and, therefore, will not redistribute your business citation.
Now that we know where the information that Google uses for your business comes from, the next step is to acquire access to the account that holds this information. This can be very tricky, depending on how the listing was most recently managed, or mismanaged. The value of maintaining the credentials that authenticate the account cannot be stressed enough. If you lose access to the account, getting it back can be a real pain!
The approach varies according to the status of the listing and access to the account. There are four possible scenarios your Google My Business account and listing could have. If you can determine the status of your listing right away, most of what needs to follow can be accomplished in the following four ways.
1. You already know where your verified listing is accessed and know how to log in.
This is the preferred and best case scenario and little effort is required to start managing your information.
2. You do not yet have a listing to access, one has not yet been created for you and does not exist when searching for your business.
This is usually the case with a brand new business, although it is very rare that Google would not create a new blank listing for a business that has existed for longer than a few weeks or months. In this case, creating a new account with Google My Business is required and entry of the information is up to you. This is the second best scenario, as you now have the opportunity to create the business listing from scratch, ensuring that all the data is correct from the beginning. It’s your opportunity to begin anew and make the listing the way you want it, without needing to manage inaccurate data or unwanted content. In short, this is a fresh start scenario.
3. Your Google My Business listing is not verified and you do not have access to the account.
This is still an easy scenario to work with, as it allows you to easily claim the listing into a new account and then verify the listing. We will discuss this verification later in this article.
4. You already have a verified listing and do not have access to the account.
This is not a good scenario, but not impossible to work with. Creating a new account and requesting ownership from that new account is required. Once ownership is requested, Google will attempt to reach out to the current account holder indicating that you are wanting the access. If no answer is received within seven days, Google will inform you and allow the listing to be unverified with your permission, either through a direct phone call or by answering with your domain email address. Once the listing is unverified, you are now able to claim it into the new account and proceed with re-verifying the listing. If the request for ownership is denied by the current account holder, the process to gain access becomes infinitely more complicated, the procedure for then acquiring the listing varies and Google is constantly making changes to this procedure.
If you are required to verify the listing in any of these scenarios, it will typically be performed through the receipt of a postcard sent from Google to the business address listed on the GMB account. This postcard will contain a code that, when entered into the Google My Business dashboard, verifies the listing. Some select GMB listings will also have a phone verification option, whereby an automated phone call to the business phone number is generated upon command. The phone call will also contain a code that, when entered, verifies the listing.
If the phone call option is not available, and the postcard is not received or is lost, a new postcard can be sent. There can, in some cases, be a manual verification, but the process to manually verify is not documented by Google and is subject to constant change. Manual verification should be avoided at all costs.
Now that you have acquired the right access to your Google My Business verified listing, you can begin to optimize the information.
The most important aspect of the GMB listing is the NAP (name, address and phone number) information. When entering your NAP information, every effort should be made to standardize the format you are entering. That is, your GMB listing should match the NAP information listed on your website verbatim. Abbreviations are acceptable, Ave. for Avenue, St. for Street, etc.
What is not acceptable are additional words and phrases in the business name that are not part of your legally registered business. Google will sometimes not verify a listing that has violated this guideline. Placing geo-descriptors and marketing adjectives in the company name field is prohibited. One example of a violation would be the following.
Your Company Name
Address Line 1 of your Company
City, State, Zip Code
Your Company Name - City (different name)
Address Line 1 of your Company
City, State, Zip Code
The unacceptable example shows the distinction in how even the smallest deviation can cause issues. In addition to this not being an acceptable practice for Google, the distribution of the poor GMB citation could conflict directly with citations being built on search directories that do not contain the additional descriptors.
Inconsistency in citation information will lead to lower rankings and a loss of search engine “trust.” Clean-up of the bad citations is costly and takes an immense amount of time. Think of poor citation distribution like black dye placed into clear water. As the poor information spreads, it colors everything, eventually polluting the good citation information.
The ability to assign Google Business categories is available on the dashboard as well. When selecting categories, be sure that you are selecting the correct categories that truly represent your business, versus the urge to list with as many categories that the dashboard will allow regardless of relevance. If you select categories that are not good for your business, Google could take action limiting your exposure until the incorrect categories are removed.
Hours of Operation
Hours of operation can be edited in the dashboard. If you operate under a “split hours” format, that can be accommodated as well. You should ensure that the information displayed for your hours of operation mirrors the information displayed on your website. Should this information conflict, Google may update the hours so that they are reflected in the same manner as what is listed on the website. We will address Google automatic updates later in this article. Special holiday hours can also be set so that if you are normally open on the day that an observed holiday falls, that day can be accounted for separately, i.e. Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, etc.
The description field is also an important aspect of your GMB information. It is what is displayed in your Google Plus page and it provides a basis for how Google will see you. This field should contain a well written, concise description of your business, its location, products and services and even a brief history is encouraged. Links to your website and specials can be included in the description as well.
Photo content is extremely important, it’s almost worthy of an entirely separate blog piece. Photos should be of the highest quality possible. The guidelines for what Google considers as the acceptable minimum quality should only be relevant when photo content is limited.
Again, photos should be of the highest quality possible. As a minimum, with the exception of the cover photo, all photos should be at least:
- Format: PNG or JPG
- Size: From 10KB to not more than 5MB
- Minimum resolution: 720 x 720 pixels
- Quality: Real, in focus, and well-lighted photos are best, avoid Photoshop too much use of effects and filters.
These are the categories for the Business photos and they will vary according to the categories you’ve chosen in the GMB information. All of these categories should have a minimum of three photos each:
- Exterior photos
- Interior photos
- Product photos
- Photos at work
- Food and drink photos
- Common areas
- Staff photos
The three photos that are distinctly different than those of the above are the:
- Profile Photo
- Logo Photo
- Cover Photo
These photos are the most important photos for your GMB listing because they can be designated as the suggested photo shown when your business is returned in a search result. The Profile and Cover photos can be selected as the recommended photos. These photos must absolutely be of the best quality and of the maximum acceptable size if they are to be acceptable to Google to feature in the search results for your listing. If the Profile or the Cover photo do not meet the requirements, Google will find and select the default photo for you.
Monitoring Health and Wellness
Once you have set the information that best describes your business, it is important to continue to monitor your location for user-suggested updates and Google automatic updates. Any aspect of the above information is subject to Google and User updates and it’s important to make sure any of the updates are accurate.
If the update is not accurate, you can modify the field that was updated to its original intended data, but a further review is prudent to learn why the update was originally made. If information on your website is the source, it must be changed or the updates will continue to be made to your GMB information.
If the request to update was made by a user, it’s less likely that it will recur once you have made the correction back to the intended data. It’s important to monitor these changes and it is recommended that you forward emails from your GMB account to an account that you regularly check. While diligence can be observed monitoring the original account emails, no inbox is checked more regularly than your main email address. If your listing is de-verified for any reason, you must address it very quickly to avoid the unintended consequences of slipping in the search rankings.
Whenever your business receives a review, address it immediately regardless of the rating number. Both good and bad reviews should be addressed, as this shows two important aspects of you as a business owner.
The first aspect is the perception that quality customer service is important to you. Thanking a visitor for a good review is as important as addressing the shortcomings of a poor review. It is also good business to encourage patrons to leave a review if their experience was good.
The only way to address an overall poor rating is to generate, multiple, genuine good reviews. It is, in some cases, possible to make an unhappy customer satisfied again, and it is not out of the question to ask the customer to remove or modify the poor review, but this rare and not as important as generating more positive reviews.
We have touched on the very basics of acquiring and optimizing your Google My Business listing. Adherence to best practices is the only way to ensure that your GMB listing will be in compliance with Google policy and, therefore, not be penalized in the search rankings.
There are more facets to the GMB gem that are worth looking into such as the Virtual Tour, Social Posts and other enhancements such as UTM codes for tracking, but the above are the most important.
Taking care of your Google My Business listing can be overwhelming, but don’t let it get you down because it is vital to your online success.
This article is written by Tim Roberts. He is a Local SEO Strategist at V Digital Services, a leading digital marketing and consulting agency in Phoenix, AZ. Follow him on LinkedIn.