Greg Gifford espouses the value of your Google Business Profile and explains why, for many SEOs in 2023, that profile should be the cornerstone of everything you are doing in local SEO – so it needs to be thoroughly optimised.
Greg Gifford says: “If you’re a local business that faces customers at a brick and mortar store, serves customers face to face, or you don’t do face-to-face but some of your queries pull a local Map Pack which makes Google think that a query has local intent - it’s important to be doing local SEO. If you don’t have a physical storefront or you’re a service business, you won’t be eligible for a Google Business Profile.
For those who do local business, your Google Business Profile will be the cornerstone of local SEO. It’s what allows you to show up in the Map Pack or in Google Maps. It’s hugely important for that proximity factor in Google’s local algorithms. You need to fill out everything that you can, and maximise your opportunity for showing up in local searches by optimising the heck out of your Google Business Profile.”
What does optimising the heck out of your Google Business Profile look like in 2023?
“Lots of people will still add additional keywords to the business name, which is really against the rules and can get you suspended. You should instead include your actual business name, local area code phone number, and call tracking number. You should then fill out all of the other appropriate categories. Though there are ten slots for categories, that doesn’t mean you’ll have to fill out all ten. Just pick everything that applies to what you do. This will probably be at least three or four for most businesses.
There’s a great list at PlePer.com - where there’s a Google My Business category with an interactive list. Here you can put in a category and it will show you all the other categories that are commonly selected alongside that category. You can also use the GMBspy plugin to see what categories your competitors have chosen.
It’s all about picking the correct categories and being strategic about which category you pick first. That initial category will carry a lot more weight in the algorithm. You should upload a tonne of photos because the more good photos you have the more likely you’ll be to get clickthroughs. You should write a killer description and pick all the business attributes that apply to what you’re doing. If you’re in a vertical that gets specific rules - for example, hotels or car dealerships - you can do some things that other people can’t do. You must ensure you’re doing everything you can for your particular vertical. This will include putting preloaded questions into the Q&A section and answering those questions. You should monitor the Q&A section and make sure that the owner’s answers are always the ones with the most thumbs up. They will then appear as the primary answers.
You need to be doing Google posts on a regular basis. Google posts used to be a once-a-week kind of thing because they would disappear after seven days. Now they last for six months. You won’t have to do them weekly, where a lot of people do them incorrectly and approach them like social media. You really need to treat it like a free ad that appears in your profile. That’s why you need to write something compelling there.
Look at your Google Business Profile like a novice. If you’ve got your blinders on and assume you know everything about your business, take those blinders off and look at your profile from an amateur perspective. If you were someone who’d never done business with you or bought anything from the business, is all of the pertinent information there that you would want to see as a customer? If you do all of these things, your profile will be more likely to show up often in searches and you’ll get more business from local customers.”
What about reviews and customer photos, are these tied into your Google Business Profile?
“This gets confusing for a lot of businesses. People can leave a photo along with their review, or they can take a photo and tag the business. This will show up in the public group of photos for that business. Because many businesses don’t do much with photos, customer photos are often the only things that show up when people go to look. You want to control that customer experience and upload high-quality, professionally-shot photos that have a bit of an edge - and show up more often than mobile phone photos. Customer photos will show up in threes, which is why it’s really important to upload a lot of high-quality photos so you can have better control over what people see.
It’s all about upholding your reputation management. You’ll want to have lots of awesome reviews and be proactive with your reputation management strategy. Ask every single customer to leave a review. Make it easier for customers to leave a review and then monitor those reviews. Get responses as quickly as possible for both positive and negative reviews. When you’re responding to negative reviews, remember that response is not for the person that left the bad review. You should be dealing with that person offline in the real world to fix the situation. Your response to the negative review is for every potential future customer that’s going to look at your reviews and see how you handled that situation.”
Has the way your profile is claimed changed? Ten years ago you’d receive a postcard, is it still done the same way?
“Though it’s crazy to think about, this is still the primary way. When you request a postcard, that code is only valid for thirty days. The postcard has to come from Google in the US, so it will need to be sent overseas. If mail is delayed, you might end up receiving your postcard late and having nowhere to enter it because the code has expired.
Google is testing some new things. Hopefully, they’ll end up getting rid of the postcard but who knows what they’re planning. There are now two ways to do video verification if it’s offered. However, you can’t request it because you can only do what Google offers to you. If asked, you can do a live call that’s scheduled on your phone. Somebody at the Google verification team will call you via video and you can show them the necessary things.
Sometimes Google offers the chance to record a video and upload it. In that case, you’ll have to prove you’re located where you say you are. You’ll have to show the inside too, and show some sort of access that the general public wouldn’t have. If you didn’t have to verify the building, people could steal those listings away. Google wants to make sure you have access to the building and show you’re in the office logging onto your computer. You would need to show something that some random person couldn’t do to show that level of access.
Video will potentially replace postcards one day because it’s much more efficient and faster. Right now it takes 12 - 14 business days for a postcard to arrive, which could easily be delayed and leave you not being able to do anything. It’s much better if you can do instant verification via call. Your vertical will play a huge role in the verification method you’re offered.”
It’s important to establish a wonderful Knowledge Panel and have a great Business Profile that can feed into that. Which elements do Google typically take?
“That’s the really cool thing about the Google Business Profile experience. You’ll literally have a direct interface to Google’s Knowledge Graph and the information Google has about your business. Lots of people get confused and think it’s feeding the Knowledge Panel, but if you’re a local business you won’t really have a Knowledge Panel. You’ll have a Google My Business Profile panel that pulls all of the pertinent information into the Knowledge Graph. It’ll pull things like business name, address, and map pin location.
Often, people don’t check the actual location of the pin and it may not be accurate to what your address is. Sometimes in crowded urban areas, it can be a little bit off. All of your business hours and attributes will get pulled in. That’s another reason why it’s important to be very diligent and fill everything out correctly.”
The Google My Business App was replaced in 2022 by Google Search and Google Maps. What does this mean, practically, for businesses?
“Lots of people freaked out when they got the email saying the Google Business App is on its way out. Everybody assumed their Google My Business profile was going too but, in reality, they were just renaming it as Google Business Profile. Now, there’s an in-search editing experience where if you only have a single location you can’t go to the dashboard and you can only edit it right there.
Basically, you’ll have your panel pop up and there’s a little link that you can click. You can then edit all of those elements right there in the search experience, as opposed to on the old dashboard or app. Now, if you’ve got multiple locations for your business or if you’re an agency or freelancer working for multiple clients (providing you’ve got more than one), you’ll still be able to go to that old-school dashboard. This is easier than having to look up multiple businesses and edit there. You can do a search for your business and your panel will pop up with everything there to edit right in the panel. This is a lot more user-friendly. However, many people are freaking out because it’s a different experience than they’re used to.”
If you work in a big enterprise with lots of different physical locations, has this changed the way that services like these work?
“All of the services still work the same way, because they all have a direct API into the backend of Google Business Profiles. All the services still work. If you’re using Yext or any reputation management platform, it’ll allow you to edit your Google Business Profile information.”
What’s next for Google Business Profile? Is there anything that’s likely to change what SEOs should be looking at to get ahead of the competition?
“Within the car dealership industry, something called Cars for Sale has been introduced. This allows dealers to have an inventory feed and display their inventory in their Google Business Profile. This is only available in the United States, but most US dealers are getting involved as they continue to iron out the bugs.
Hopefully, they’ll roll this out to the rest of the world and something similar will be available for all industries. Google is investing more in the editing experience in search results. We’re going to see more functionality and more features there as things go on. Other than that there’s not really anything big upcoming.”
Should you try to make your feed as friendly as possible for search engines? Then, if a service like Google Business Profile supports that information, you can immediately take advantage of it in future?
“For sure. Any marketers reading this will appreciate the fact that many business owners don’t pay attention to what’s going on with Google. It’s worth paying attention to the Google Business Profile side of things at the very least. Then, if something new does come out, you can take advantage of it.
There were lots of updates during the lockdowns to help businesses that were struggling to stay open. In the car dealership industry, they released additional attributes like curbside pickup, senior-only hours, brunch hours, and other things that didn’t exist beforehand. There are still lots of businesses out there that don’t know about these things. Most business owners or managers go in and set up a Business Profile but never really go back and do anything there. Pay attention to all the features that are available. If you’re paying attention to whatever updates might be coming from Google, at least log into the editing interface once a month to see if there is something new that wasn’t there before.
Take advantage of everything you can, because your Google Business Profile will be your new homepage. It’ll be your first impression with customers. People don’t have to go to your website to get your phone number, address, pictures, and testimonials. They can do all of that right there through your Google Business Profile in the search results. That’s why it’s important to do everything you can to stand out from the rest.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“People give horrible SEO reports. Reports that include everything that possibly matters without considering whether it matters to clients. If clients come to you with a problem and decide that you are the solution to that problem, the solution needs to be reflected in the report. Just because we monitor what we’re doing on the SEO side doesn’t mean it’ll matter to the client or the client’s bottom line.
We need to simplify our reports and stop overloading clients with thirty pages of meaningless data. We need to pay attention and give reports that are easy to understand and that tell a story with the data. We can customise those reports for clients. We don’t do the same SEO for every client, so we shouldn’t give the same report to every client.
Another big pet peeve of mine is content marketing. It continues to grow and has taken on a life of its own. Everything is content, content, content - but you can’t just do content and expect to do better. You’ve got to create helpful content and remember that, if you want to show up in a search result when someone types in a particular phrase, you need to have a page about that concept on your website.
People are still covering multiple concepts within blog posts, pages, and product pages rather than honing in on a specific issue. Keep it to one concept per page as part of the local SEO strategy. You don’t have to write the best answer on the internet, but you do need the best answer in the local area that the potential customer is asking. Writing the best answer means answering that initial question but also thinking ahead and answering possible subsequent questions. This will be hard to do in the short format most small businesses use for blog posts and pages of content. You’re not going to show up well with a few hundred words because you won’t be writing the best answer in your local area.
With content marketing, people continually focus on producing more content. The problem is they skip straight to keyword research to figure out what they’re releasing content for and how they’re trying to show up. Always look at the question you’re trying to answer and the problem you’re trying to solve. This is the first step, then you can plan your content, and create and publish it. You can then optimise your content accordingly.
Don’t just pay for content and risk it not performing well. Don’t just churn it out for the sake of it. Content is important, but it’s only a small piece of the massive puzzle. If you’ve got 5 puzzle pieces from a 1,000-piece puzzle, you’re not going to solve the problem. You need the whole thing.”
Greg Gifford is the Vice President of Search at Search Lab Digital and you can find him over at searchlabdigital.com.
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