Google provide business owners with access to a free tool to help them promote their businesses locally. This tool is called Google My Business.
Business owners are encouraged to create a profile confirming such things as their address, hours of business, core services and so on, which they should then keep updated to ensure they are represented accurately when their profiles are returned in the Knowledge Panel on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), as below, or Maps.
Google have published some guidelines to help business owners complete their profile, adhere to the rules and avoid a suspension. Whilst this is a page-turner for us, we understand that this may be a little overwhelming for some.
Here follows a digest of the main points – along with some hints and tips – to save you having to read the whole thing.
The overriding rule is that a business can only have a profile if they either have a physical location that customers can visit or they travel to visit customers where they are.
This important distinction informs whether a business should have a regular profile (if they have a physical location that customers can visit during stated hours) or a service-area business (SAB) profile (where they provide their services at the customer’s location).
In addition, quoting from the guidelines, business owners are advised to:
- represent your business as it’s consistently represented and recognised in the real world
- make sure that your address is accurate and precise
- choose the fewest number of categories that it takes to describe your overall core business.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, if you’re unsure about whether or not you can have a profile for your business, or are looking for clarity on what sort of profile you should have, we recommend you message the representatives at Google My Business directly via Facebook or Twitter, where they will be happy to help. Or you could ask the Official Google My Business Community.
Riiiiight, let’s dive in!
Is your business eligible for a listing?
As stated in the intro, your business needs to have a physical location, or must travel to visit customers. Basically Google are looking for you to make in-person, and I’d take this a little further by saying ad-hoc, contact with existing or potential customers during the business hours specified in your profile.
Google name some exceptions, namely ATM’s, video-rental kiosks and express mail drop-boxes. Seasonal businesses can have a listing as long as they have informative signage displayed at the specified location all year round.
They also say that brands, organisations, artists and other online-only businesses aren’t eligible.
Ineligible businesses also include rental or for-sale properties, but the sales or leasing offices for such properties are eligible.
Business owners can’t create listings for their services at a location that they don’t own or have the authority to represent.
Speaking of ownership…
Who owns the listing?
The business owner should own their listing. They can of course assign an authorised representative or representatives to verify and manage their listing. At the time of writing there are three roles they can assign with varying access rights; Owners, Managers and Site managers.
The guidelines go on to explain how authorised representatives should work with the owner to optimise and make adjustments to their profiles, or at the very least, keep them informed as to what they’re doing. Of course they are reminded to follow the guidelines!
Take a trip to the guidelines to read more about the do’s and do not’s for authorised representatives.
What should I bear in mind when completing my business listing?
Let’s assume you’ve either claimed a new listing or taken ownership of an existing listing.
You’re then ready to start optimising it, but – you’ve guessed it – there are several guidelines for doing so.
We’d be mad not to highlight at this stage that we provide services to business owners for optimising and managing Google My Business listings.
Before we go any further I wanted to highlight a couple of things that, from my experience, are particularly important, and aren’t actually highlighted in these guidelines – unless I missed them!
It’s hugely important to complete your business listing i.e. don’t leave any fields blank, and to keep it up-to-date.
Ok, back to how to optimise your listing.
First Google tell us we need to highlight what makes your business unique. I think this is a really important point. This is not a box-ticking exercise. Google need to know how your business differentiates itself from the other players in your market.
We are also told to be upfront and honest with the information provided, which should also be relevant and useful.
We are also told NOT to:
- add low-quality, irrelevant, or distracting content
- focus on specific promotions (the place to do this is through a Google Post)
- display links
- use offensive/inappropriate/unpermitted/private or confidential content (they go on to provide examples, so once again head to the guidelines if you need clarity here
Next they get into the specifics of a business listing.
This should be exactly the same as how your business name is displayed in the real-world through signage, your website or stationery.
We are guided not to include the business address, hours or business categories here. There are separate fields for those.
Many businesses look to take advantage, by stuffing keywords or locations into this field , which is not permitted. If you see it happening in your sector, go ahead and edit the listing to how you think it should be. Bear in mind you may need to do this more than once, as the business owner may well change it back!
Google provide a detailed list of how to populate this field, and how not to, with real-world examples.
You’re not allowed to include any from the list below. It’s just the business name they want, in upper and lower case, unless the business is recognised in the real-world by an acronym. Everyone got that?
- Marketing taglines
- Special characters (unless they’re in the business name of course)
- Service or product information (a common tactic for listing owners looking to beat the system)
- Location information (see above. Some say it’s effective – but perhaps not for much longer – but just to be clear, it’s not allowed).
We know from earlier that the address must be precise and accurate, but what else.
PO Boxes or mailboxes are not permitted on their own, but they can be included as part of the physical address. These are often not the location of the business. Google want to verify the location when the listing is created. If they’re not sending their verification correspondence to the actual, physical, real-world location, the whole thing breaks down.
We are told to include suite numbers, floors, building numbers where appropriate. This ensures that businesses sharing a building, can have their own listing, and that customers looking for a business location within a building, can find the business they’re looking for.
We’re told not to:
- create an additional listing for a virtual office in alternative location to the primary location for the business, unless is it staffed during the hours stated
- stuff keywords into the address fields
- create more than one page for each business location
Individual practitioners, are allowed to create their own listings, and there are individual guidelines for those, which you’ll find further down this page.
If Google don’t recognise your location when you’re populating these fields, you’re encouraged to pin your location manually.
The guidelines then go on to introduce the topic of service-area businesses (SABs) which we mentioned earlier. Whilst this is the right place for them to talk about this alternative type of listing, it feels worthy of its own heading within this section, so here goes…
What is a SAB?
Assuming your business is eligible, you have two options when it comes to creating a listing. If you have a physical location where you welcome, ad-hoc customers and prospective customers during stated hours, you can have a ‘regular’ listing (I don’t think Google have another way of describing these default listings, so I’m going with regular).
If a business provides a service at their customers location, once again during stated hours, they should list themselves as SABs.
There is a third alternative. Businesses do have the option to include a physical location, but in addition they provide a service to customers at their location. In the guidelines, Google use the example of a Pizza restaurant that offers a delivery service too.
SABs must specify which locations they serve on their profile. We sought clarification on this and were relieved to hear that in the UK, stating the counties served is sufficient, instead of specifying the towns or cities within each.
Websites and phone numbers
We are told to provide a direct line for the business rather than a centralised number. I’d argue – although it’s not in the guidelines – that businesses should include a local number rather than a mobile number too, except perhaps SABs who are more likely to respond to calls on a mobile.
The url you provide, obvious as it seems, should be for your website. If you don’t have a website you could include a link to your Facebook page perhaps. If you offer appointments, you can complete the additional field (see below), with the page where they can make one.
In this prominent field on the Knowledge Panel – i.e. where all the information you provide ends up – we are guided to state the regular customer-facing hours of operation. For regular listings this should match to the stated hours of opening at your location. For service-area businesses, this should be the hours you’re available to customers at their locations. Saying you’re available seven days a week from 7am to midnight just doesn’t work here, unless by some miracle those are your true business hours and you limit downtime to those five hours each day (or should I say night).
If you can’t specify your hours from week to week, we are told not to include them.
The guidelines go on to provide examples for specific business types, so if you want to read more, go and take a look.
Businesses have the opportunity, and are usually prompted to edit their business hours for seasonal holidays, and we’d definitely endorse the importance of doing this, although Knowledge Panel’s generally include a disclaimer stating that the visitor shouldn’t necessarily trust opening hours 100%, during these periods.
Google tell us that the category or categories we choose for our listings help your customers find accurate, specific results for the services they’re interested in.
The categories you assign to your listing play a huge part in determining whether or not your business ranks in the local pack (that’s the map part of the SERP, as below) for the searches relevant to your business.
Our advice here is, don’t skimp on the time you allocate to this.
Be specific. Be relevant. Describe your business holistically. They provide the useful tip to complete the statement – “this business is a …”, rather than “this business HAS a …”
As far as I can tell you can only see a list of categories when you edit your profile. How useful an updated list of all the categories would be, but I’m not aware of one, are you?
The other tip here is to keep an eye on categories, as they are known to change. When you’re checking out your competitors, or generally looking at the SERPs, keep an eye on the categories returned on the local pack. It might be new ones are introduced that are relevant, you’re not aware of.
There are two kinds of menu. A menu of food and/or drinks from a restaurant for example, and a menu of services for a SAB listing.
SABs can add a list of services to their profile – which at the time of writing are visible on mobile-only. You don’t have to include a price for each service.
The guidelines then take a sharp left turn and highlight some of the things business owners need to know if their businesses are chains, have internal departments or include individual practitioners.
We’ll address each in turn…
Consistency is the key here. Business names and categories must be consistent across all the business listings in the chain. Not should, must.
The business name should be the same as the name displayed to the public and should not include the location, unless the location is included in the aforementioned signage. It’s pretty clear to me why they specify this in their guidelines. Including the business location in the business name field provides a clear advantage over competitors in the same location (who haven’t).
We see this all the time. If you see it in your market, then go ahead and edit their listings to how they should be, it’s only fair.
This section of the guide refers to departments within other businesses, universities or institutions. Publicly-facing departments that operate as distinct entities from the main business in which they are located – are advised that they can have their own Google My Business listing.
They generally will have their own entrance and distinct categories and their hours may differ from the location in which they reside.
A good local example of this would be Starbucks at Sainsbury’s. Their opening hours differ and they have a separate entrance – and of course their categories are quite different.
Individual practitioners are public-facing professionals, typically with his or her own customer base. The guidelines cite the following examples – doctors, dentists, lawyers, amongst others – and that they can include their qualifications as acronyms within their business name, and that they must be contactable directly within the stated hours at the location.
For us the term public-facing professional is a little ambiguous. Our advice if you think this might include you or your client? Check with Google.
That – he said with a reasonable amount of confidence – is all you need to know.