Whether you’re looking for a new restaurant to visit, or just checking store opening times before heading down, Google is a valued resource for many to find the information they need about a local business. And most of the time, they’re going to look at the information Google provides on the SERP, rather than visiting lots of different websites. That information is provided by a business’ Google Business Profile, and the more information that’s on there the more eye catching it is for potential customers.
Formerly known as Google My Business, Google Business Profiles are great tools for any store, especially if you have a brick-and-mortar outlet. It’s easy to set up and maintain, it’s a great source for information for customers, it benefits your SEO, and best of all it’s totally free. After all, what better way to boost your SEO than to use the tools Google themselves give you?
Why it’s important to optimize your Google Business Profile
Local SEO is a key area of search that any merchant should be concerned with. In a survey by Brightlocal, 81% of consumers said they use Google to evaluate a local business and 78% use the internet to find more information about a local business every week. Similarly to online-only customers finding your store, search plays a huge role in discovery for local customers. When customers use Google to discover a new business or learn more about one, they’re likely to see the Google Business Profile first before they click any links.
In the below example from The Sill’s Upper West Side store, we can see a lot of details without even leaving the results page. We can see their opening times, photos of the store, delivery options, reviews and more. Frequently, a local search user won’t leave the results page if they can find the information they need from the Google Business Profile, so it’s clear then why you may want to add as much information as possible.
Moreover, by optimizing your Google My Business profile, you’re making the chances of Google ranking your store in the local pack that much better. This is where perhaps a search user isn’t sure of exactly which store they want to visit, rather they’re looking for a type of product. Here’s an example of the local pack SERP feature when you search for “houseplant stores in Manhattan”:
The local pack for this search appears even before any links to other websites. This means that Google has determined this information is the most valuable for their users. You may notice in this example, The Sill’s store appears here and has some condensed information such as the time they close the day the search is performed, along with their additional services. The result directly below it has not been optimized for GMB, listing only the name and address. Consider how this would impact your own choice in which to visit, especially if you’re new to the product or brand. Remember local SEO is going to affect not just your local customers, but those who may visit from out of town.
So, your GMB profile is essentially a free boost to your store’s local SEO. Now let’s look at how you can ensure your profile is well optimized and ready to catch the attention of your local audience.
Step #1 - Verify your profile and cover your basics
If your business is already listed on Google, then your first step is claiming and verifying it. In doing so, you’ll be able to add all the details you want, access analytics, and respond to customers on behalf of your business. It’s important for visibility on Google, and is simple to do. Google will send you a postcard with verification instructions, and then you’re ready to go.
From there, you want to nail down your basics:
Name - This should be consistent with your website and any other places online your business is listed. For example if you’re the Good Coffee Company on your website, don’t abbreviate it to Good Coffee Co.
Address - This one is self-explanatory; just make sure it’s correct!
Phone number - Make this the number customers can call about that store specifically, rather than another you may have for wholesale customers or online orders.
Opening hours - These are essential for local users, so make sure they’re accurate!
Website - This should be your usual website URL, however if you have more than one location then you may have separate landing pages on your site for these stores that detail events, in-store information etc that would be more useful.
The above shouldn’t take you too long to add to your profile, and they’re definitely the most essential for obvious reasons. Once these are completed, you can start digging a little deeper.
Description - This is going to act as a summary for Google and users about your store. The limit is 750 characters, so keep things succinct and straightforward. Give a brief bit of background to your store, detailing what it is that you sell along with one or two target keywords. Keep things fairly neutral, so as to communicate your brand and value proposition to your audience without too much branded language to avoid confusion. And as always, be careful not to keyword stuff, as this will be penalized by Google.
Category - This may take a bit of extra consideration so that you choose the option that best fits your business. You want to choose one which broadly describes what your business does, rather than the products you sell. To use the example of The Sill from before, they sell houseplants, plant care products, and some homeware items. They’ve chosen “Plant Nursery” as the business category, as this best describes what they do. They may have the choice between that and something like “Garden center” however “Plant Nursery” is more appropriate.
Services offered - These will be anything your customers can take advantage of such as in-store pick-up, local delivery, etc. These make it easier for customers looking for specific services, for example if they don’t just want to know where they can buy a pair of running shoes locally, but specifically where they can order a pair to collect locally in-store.
With all of this information covered, local search users will have plenty of information about your business and will be more likely to discover and visit your store - users are 2.7 times more likely to do so if you have a complete GBP.
Step #2 - Enrich your profile with photos and products
Now that you have your basics set-up, it’s time to add even more value to your profile. After all, the more detail you give here, the more customers will be able to see on SERPs. Photos can add a lot of value to your GBP listing, as they give users a better idea of what your store is actually like and also if they may recognize your branding. Add a profile picture and cover image consistent with your website’s branding, so that it’s clear to users who may visit your retail outlet after first visiting your online store that it’s the same brand. Then, add images that illustrate your store and products - external shots, interior images, etc. Make sure these are high quality, and to a professional standard. You can even add video if you have some high quality videos showcasing your store and products.
Adding products is also a good way to catch the attention of users and search engines. These will list on your GBP listing, along with pricing, availability and other key details so customers can see exactly what you sell. If you have a large catalog, you can select your bestsellers for that retail location to showcase. These will also allow Google to better understand your store and business, so they can include your store in other relevant SERPs.
Step #3 - Engage with and respond to users
Did you know that 77% of search users regularly read reviews when looking for a local business? That may not be so surprising, but this might be - 89% say they’re more likely to buy from a business that responds to online reviews, and 57% say when a business does not respond to reviews it makes them unlikely to buy something. Engagement is a big part of running your online store from customer support to social media, and the customers looking at your Google Business Profile needs that same care and attention.
There are three primary methods through which you can engage with your customers:
It’s simple really - a customer leaves a review, you respond. Every review is an opportunity, whether positive or negative. Positive reviews give you the opportunity to show appreciation for your customers, whereas negative reviews allow you to reach out and offer the chance to remedy the experience the customer has which can turn their bad review into a positive one.
Whether they choose to take you up on the offer or not, it can also allow you to elaborate further on the situation for other customers to see. Plus, 53% of customers expect brands to respond to negative reviews within a week, yet over 60% say they haven’t received a response to a review and 89% say a negative review has convinced them not to make a purchase.
Google Business Profiles allow customers to directly ask you questions about your store. These can be a valuable channel for engagement, as you can provide them with the correct, most up-to-date answer. That kind of engagement from a brand can have a positive impact on their brand perception and that of future customers who may see the response when they look at the Questions section on your profile.
Other users are also able to answer questions, however by doing so yourself, you’ll be ensuring that not only is the information accurate but you’re taking the opportunity to engage that user and build trust.
Your Business Profile allows you to post updates similarly to how you might on social media. These can be valuable for engaging users, posting updates about new products, events, and other in-store information. They can aid in catching the attention of search users with specific types of intent, for example if someone is interested in a local business running a promotion.
Engaging with search users through your GBP will build trust with users, and demonstrates a commitment to accuracy which can have a positive effect on your local SEO.
Step #4 - Regularly make sure your profile is up-to-date
One of the pillars Google uses to determine high quality content is accuracy. Inaccurate information about a business leads to a poor user experience, and this can then harm your local SEO. Perhaps your store is closed for a holiday, or you’ve updated your phone number. Whenever there is a change that may impact customers, you need to update your Google Business Profile. This ensures that Google can provide their search users with accurate information, and lead them to have a positive experience.
It’s also going to be beneficial to foot traffic to your brick-and-mortar store. If you forget to add temporary opening hours and a customer decides to visit your store only to find it’s closed, there’s a strong chance they won’t come back. It’s different to someone visiting your website, as they don’t have to physically go anywhere to do so. You’ll likely have a store opening calendar planned in advance that takes holidays into consideration, so be sure to add these to your Google Business Profile as soon as possible. This also applies if you have special opening hours, for example in the run-up to the holiday season. You may be opening later, and this can attract customers who may be looking for stores with late closing times to shop for gifts. Either way, your store can be a trusted listing for Google to show to search users.
Local SEO is a big area of opportunity for merchants, especially those with physical outlets. By optimizing your Google Business Profile, your store will rank higher for local searches, be discovered by more search users, and see higher interest and engagement from local customers.