Updated 13 January 2021
With ongoing changes made by Google in 2019 and 2020 and Google’s desire to keep you in search rather than going to webpages, Google My Business continues to grow in importance for businesses. The great news is it lets small businesses with no marketing budget compete with big business.
Front page of Google for free*
Many small businesses comment how they’d love to get to the front page of Google. The easiest way to do this for free, is to set up a Google My Business listing. If there are multiple listings, you will appear in a map with three other businesses (and maybe an ad too), or you may miss the front page and be in the More places link immediately below those listings. In some cases (including when you look up your business name), you can appear in the side bar with a whole block of information just about your business!
*If you don’t make the side bar or the ‘three pack’ then your listing will be in ‘more places’ so unfortunately not on the front page. The good news is following these tips, you can work on your listing to try and make the three pack.
Claiming your business on Google My Business
The first step is going to Google My Business in your local area and claiming your business. Google My Business has been previously known as Google Places. Google My Business will ask for some basic details to get going.
Note for business name you can add some keywords to your name (Google may change this, but they currently allow it within reason). Consider adding location or industry e.g. The XYZ Group | Human Resources Timbuctoo.
Be sure to choose the best fit category for your business, and choose other labels to support the categories with which your business most relates. If you notice a category can’t be selected but is used by another business on their Google My Business Listing, you can ask for the category to be added to your listing.
Your business address
A prime reason many home-based business owners are reluctant to take up a Google My Business listing, is because they must provide a physical address. However, this is simply not a good enough reason, as it can generate many, even hundreds of queries and thousands of views a month. You will see in my listing, the number, or even the whole street address is left off. Why? Because I selected the option to only service customers at their address. You can see here I chose a large range, because I can service clients worldwide, but some social ‘experts’ suggest leaving this range smaller. Try both and see what works for you.
Google does not allow PO Boxes as addresses. You could consider using a virtual office service, if you are really concerned about disclosing your home address (it’s probably already displayed on your business registration anyway). These addresses do currently work, as they are manned and you will be allocated ‘Suite 999’ rather than PO Box 999. The code will be sent to this address in about 10 days.
Delay in receiving verification and alternative
* DECEMBER 2020 * Unfortunately since COVID saw Google temporarily cull their Google My Business team, they have been SLLLOOOOOWWWW getting these verifications out! In September wait time was 6-8 WEEKS. A client who ordered hers in mid October only received hers 13 January 2021. This indicates a blow out to about 12 weeks! Please be patient, as asking again cancels the original code and you’ll keep going around in circles. Alternatively you may try a video interview option, though people have been having some issues with this new option. Make sure you are clear of the time due to different timezones.
More than one business at one address
Google seems to think one residential address should only have one business. As if in this day and age! I know so many people with more than one business, let alone a household of entrepreneurs! To overcome this, issue each business should sign up with a different email address and ideally phone number though this latter one may cross over. Therefore, it’s important to have the address different. This is easily done by adding something like Suite B to the address (worked for me!).
With the closure of the ill-fated Google+, many content options have been added back into Google My Business. This is great for business owners. Apart from standard details like phone number, website link, a description (about us) section, and opening hours (remember to update for holiday hours and changes to your business hours), you can add lots of photos, make posts lasting a week more visibly (great for weekly specials or announcing new features), add Q&A, and add your services and products.
We know Google includes reviews as part of it’s algorithm, but let’s face reality. Do you often see businesses ranking in the ‘3 pack’ on Google Maps even though they have no reviews, or even worse BAD reviews?! Yup! So we know they actually currently (at January 2021) simply don’t count as much as some people let you believe!
Most countries have laws against business owners and family members rating their own businesses (or at least you need to disclose your relationship and have actually used the business). Do not create fake reviews – you are breaking the law. Sad I should need to say this, but after seeing a lawyer do it, can’t put it past some people!
When you receive reviews (Google will notify you), make sure to reply to every review. For positive reviews, it makes the people recommending you feel appreciated, and they’re more likely to continue to recommend you. With bad reviews it’s even more important to reply as this is a massive marketing opportunity. Many people will read bad reviews. Make sure your reply is empathetic and without over the top defensive emotion!
Handling a bad review
If you get a genuinely fake business review (for instance before you have even opened!) then politely ask them to remove their review. For instance, ‘Thanks for taking the time to place a review. Unfortunately you may have us confused with someone else, as we haven’t started trading yet. Please can you remove the review. When you need these services again, we’d love to help you.’ If they remove all good, if they don’t, people can see it’s not right. You can also report the fake review to Google. Sometimes if you look at the reviewer you can see they placed five bad reviews on the same type of business as you. Often these are threatened competitors, and should be reported to Google.
If the review was fair enough, then accept responsibility – we’re all human after all. ‘Thank you for taking the time to leave a review. We’re sorry you didn’t experience us at our best, and we’d love the opportunity to rectify the situation. Please call our Manager XXXX and we’ll see how we can provide a satisfactory resolution.’ Always get it offline, and don’t enter into a war of words. Stay calm and polite. If they start going off, people will see they’re a difficult customer, so just leave them to rant. Generally one reply is all you should do.
Claim your short name to make it easier for businesses to review you. You can send the link, or even place it on your website. For instance we claimed faq-business which means you can review us here: https://g.page/faq-business
Why does my business sometimes appear in a map, the side bar or worse not at all?
Like all Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), the search results will depend on the search conducted, where the search was taken and how competitive the keywords are. When a location is added, then the map listing will nearly always appear. ‘How to’ searches will typically return videos and blogs with no map. If there is only one great result, or hopefully when you search your business name, the screenshots like in this blog will appear in the sidebar, or possibly in the main results.
Map results are based on Google algorithms, which Google give us an indication of, but don’t tell us in full. Sometimes adding more keywords, including in posts, the about and services section can help us appear higher in the map results. HOWEVER images also have a big impact. The more the merrier!
I don’t have a website yet, can I use Google My Business?
Yes you sure can! You can either leave the website link blank (not recommended) or link it to a relevant social media account business page like Facebook or LinkedIn. Remember to update it once you have your website. You can even create a simple website directly from your Google My Business listing. This site can rank on Google independently but it will not have your own domain name (it says ‘XYZbusiness.businesssite…’).
Photos on Google My Business Listing
You may not realise it (until my comment above) but photos have a massive impact on your Google My Business listing. Put up photos of your products and services, behind the scenes, quotes and even values which are core to your business. The business below (Blindman located in Norwest Sydney) had 69,000 views on one old photo! It really helps you get an edge on your competitors when they can see how awesome you are!
Also if you have ugly Google Street View images you can get images reshot and even do things like 360 images. For those with a physical shop and an old ugly photo from Google Street View dominating your listing, consider getting it updated using a Google Street View Partner like Simply 360 (in Sydney, Australia).
Well obviously this won’t get you on the front page of Google, but it can get you on the front page of Microsoft search engine Bing. With very few people using Bing, you may think why bother? Because when we get a new laptop (other than a Mac), it typically comes pre-installed with Bing. Many people suffer with using it until they get sick of it and revert to their preferred search engines like Google Chrome. When I first did this with an old business, I gained 15% of website traffic from Bing (from nothing previously), so it does help, as it’s much less competitive.
Setting up can be easy too if you wait for you Google listing to be verified as it will simply grab most of the information and bring it across. Manually setting up will mean you are up on Bing quicker as their verification code is arriving within a few weeks.
The top 15 Google My Business tips summarised
1. Google My Business is one of the easiest free ways to appear on the front page of Google. USE IT!
2. In the business name field, add a keyword relating to industry, service or location. Use keywords, but don’t overuse throughout your listing.
3. You must use a real physical address to receive the code in the mail (normally takes about 10 days but since COVID hit times have been more like 6-8 weeks, even 12 weeks – be patient)).
4. If you are concerned as a home-based business choose to operate in a service area and/or use a virtual office.
5. Populate as much as you can, and remember to go back in and update holiday hours, add new photos and keep all details current. Updating hours is so important for managing client expectations, especially over holiday periods.
6. You cannot rate your own business as in most countries this is illegal. Fake reviews definitely are illegal.
7. Respond to every business review – good, bad and fake. It says a lot about the way you treat clients.
8. Depending on the search type and the competition you may appear in the map, a side bar, only in the more places screen or not at all.
9. You don’t need a website to join Google My Business (in fact you can create a free basic site from your listing but it won’t be on your own domain).
10. In your Google My Business smartphone app you can turn on messaging. Please note it does seem a little flaky at times in notifying sender and receiver of new messages, so use with caution. Alternatively use the automatic reply to direct the sender elsewhere.
11. Claim your short name, this allows people to leave you reviews easily. For instance we claimed faq-business which means you can review us here: https://g.page/faq-business
12. You can link to the Google My Business Marketing Kit and create social media posts and printable signs and stickers to promote your Google My Business listing and to review you.
13. Create a welcome offer and have people follow you on Google My Business. Check out this feature through the Google My Business app on your smartphone.
14. Diary to add posts every week (they last on the front screen for a week as a tile and then move to past updates section). While there add some photos too (some people get hundreds of thousands of views!). Can also add events.
15. For those with a physical location and an old ugly photo from Google Street View all over your listing, consider getting it updated using a Google Street View Partner.
Not Google, but to appear on page one of search on Bing – remember to also sign up to Bing Places.
These are the sorts of tips you can learn in our SEO Basics training which will be part of our upcoming online business training school.
About the blog writer and Founder Jane Tweedy
Jane loves to help people succeed, and this she primarily does through helping small business owners as a small business advisor, business coach and mentor, and also individuals through job search coaching. She enjoys training, especially in small groups where interactive sessions can be held to bring in the experience of the participants, which always adds an extra dimension to the participants learning outcomes.
Jane currently contracts for Western Sydney Business Centre under the NSW Government Business Connect program roughly 2 days a week. In 2018 Jane launched two businesses – How to Job Search and FAQ Business.
Jane can be contacted via the contact page.