Google My Business Refresher Course: 2019 Edition

google my business course
We wanted to make a refresher course for people that might be new to Google My Business, or old school SEO’s that might need to brush up on their Google My Business skills. The one thing we won’t cover in this course is signing up / verifying your GMB listing. This post assumes you already have your GMB setup and verified.

If you are looking for any type of black hat secrets for GMB I’m sorry to say this is not the place for it. I’ve learned quickly in my SEO career that while some of these tactics may work, they aren’t viable for businesses that are in it for the long haul. Almost always, they end up backfiring. I will however offer some tricks and insights I’ve learned optimizing GMB listings for the past decade or more.

So let’s go!

Table of Contents

Printable Resource: If you are working on a Google My Business listing and want to make sure you’ve checked all the boxes, download and print this.

What is Google My Business?

If you’ve gotten this far I’m sure you already know this, but Google My Business, or “GMB” for short amongst us SEO’s is a free tool provided by Google that lets you manage how your business looks on Google Search and on Google Maps. Google My Business can be used by business owners to manage their own listing, or shared by business owners and their agencies by sharing management access to the accounts.

The evolution of Google My Business has been almost constantly changing since its inception in the early days of Google Places, and later Google+. It seems as though Google has finally found there footing with their naming convention.

Do I really need Google My Business?

If you have a location where customers come to visit, yes. If your customers do not visit your location then then you still may want to have a Google My Business listing. I personally like to peek at what local competitors are doing and follow suit. If you are a brand new business and aren’t sure, you can always wait a bit and open a Google My Business listing later.

Google My Business Basics

The name of the game with Google My Business basics for optimization is filling in all of the blanks with attention to detail, this includes at the very least:

Here is a birds eye view of the GMB dashboard on desktop:

Phone Number & Address

Pretty self explanatory. You definitely want to use your main company phone number, you can also add a 2nd phone number such as an 800 number, customer support number etc. Same with address, make sure that the address is filled out in its entirety. If you’d like, you can add a call tracking number which we will talk about later in this course.

Hours of Operation

Fill in your hours of operation. If you are a 24/7 business indicate it there as well. If you’d like, you can add special holiday hours as well. Google will generally send you a reminder a few days or maybe a week before major holidays to let you know to inform your customers about holiday hours.

Website

Obviously a key ingredient in your GMB listing. Ideally your customers won’t dwell on Google for too long, and will click your website to learn more about your company. Most of the time you should just use your base URL, some companies make a special Google Maps style landing page.

Description / Information

Another very key ingredient. You only get 750 characters (about 8-12 sentences) so make it count. Be sure to add location specific keywords, but resist the urge to stuff keywords into this section, try to be natural. Take a step back from your marketing role and put your customer hat on for a second. What do your customers want to see when they look at your GMB listing? Personally I like to write a custom GMB elevator pitch for each one of my listings. Remember that after a few sentences your description gets cut off, so make the first few sentences count.

Category

Choose a category of your business. You can start typing and it will make suggestions, or you can choose from this massive list that I found floating around on the web. You can add several categories if you want. For instance if you are a pet store, but you also do dog grooming you can add “pet store” and “pet groomer.” Choose wisely, and as GMB says inside the dashboard: “Categories describe what your business is, not what it does or sells.” Kind of cryptic, but it makes sense if you think about it.

Once you are sure that all of these fields are filled out and showing up on Google, you can start working on the more advanced fields such as services, highlights, and photos.

If you’ve only taken one thing away from this course so far, fill out all of your information in Google My Business with as much detail and accuracy as possible.

Your Knowledge Panel

When searching for a business on Google.com, the area to the right of the search results is known as the “knowledge panel.” Knowledge panels are a collection of information taken from both Google My Business and other sources from around the web.

Take this example below, the address, hours, phone number and website are all taken directly from Google My Business information. “Reviews from around the web” are taken from, as you may have guessed, reviews from other sites on the internet.

Like most aspects of Google search engine, different businesses have different types of knowledge panels. Some knowledge panels are tiny bits of basic information, other knowledge panels contain droves of information about a company.

Did you know Google will send you free “review us on Google” stickers for your business? Just navigate to this link, enter your business information, and they will send you a pack of stickers.

Adding Photos to Google My Business

Google has pretty much stated outright that adding photos to your GMB listing will increase visibility. Like most aspects of Google My Business, quality > quantity. Your photos should all be photos of your business, your team, and your office. Do not use stock photos or screenshots, while they might get approved and added to your business they may get removed or flagged in the future.

Try to upload a mix of interior, exterior, and team shots so customers can see a variety of different photos of your business.

Types of GMB Photos

Google My Business Cover and Logo

When Google My Business added the “logo” feature a little while back, I was a bit puzzled. None of my listings seemed to “work.” Meaning, I would add logos, Google would “accept” it but they would never appear on the Google knowledge panel. Shortly after I discovered that the logo really only shows up on mobile.  So if you are looking for your logo on desktop, you probably won’t find it. I checked 5-10 other businesses with very optimized listings and confirmed this.

The logo is a tiny icon that appears right justified to the official name of the business on a GMB listing. The cover is quite simply, a header image that sits at the top of your listing.

Note: just because you designate a logo or a cover image, doesn’t mean Google will use that image in the knowledge panel / search results.

In fact, I would say that most of the GMB profiles I come across have a different cover image than the one they choose. You can increase your chances of getting your cover image chosen by using a high quality image.

What do I do if an ugly photo is showing up as my cover image?

We’ve had this happen recently. A customer uploaded a random photo to a clients GMB profile, and for some reason Google started using it as the cover image. In our case we first were able to get the photo removed. We then re-uploaded a new high quality photo and re-designated it as the cover image. Usually the best case scenario is that Google will use the photo you chose, the worst case is it will use another random photo.

Good practice: Always act as if every photo you upload to Google My Business may be used as your cover photo.

Google My Business Photo Guidelines

Google has kindly given out some photo standards, which are fairly easy to live by. Your photos will look best on Google if they meet the following standards, taken directly from Google:

Image / Photo format: JPG or PNG (sadly Google doesn’t say anything about their own image format WebP, but I haven’t tried either. )

File Size: Between 10 KB and 5 MB.

Minimum resolution: 720 px tall, 720 px wide. (I’ve found that square aspect images work best, but both horizontal and vertical rectangles work great also)

Quality: The photo should be in focus and well lit, and have no significant alterations or excessive use of filters. In other words, the image should represent reality.

Customers love to look at photos before they come to your place of business, especially places like hair salons, restaurants, and coffee shops.

Myth: Does exif data in GMB help my rankings?

Probably not, maybe…I don’t know.  Someone on reddit claimed to debunk this at one point. Maybe it helped at one point in the past, maybe it will help in the future. Bottom line: if you have the time and want to do it, it really can’t hurt you to add exif data to your photos in Google My Business but I would really lower your expectations. The whole theory behind this is that by adding exif location data to your photos, GMB’s algorithm would “give mad props” to photos that belong to the location that you are trying to rank for. While in theory this makes sense, it was probably just another SEO myth.

Removing Photos from Google My Business

Removing photos from Google Maps can be a bit tricky. If you uploaded the photos yourself, it is as simple as going to Google My Business Photos, locating the photo, and deleting it. If you don’t own the photo, flag it and chances are it will get removed. Just be sure to note “other” and say that it is either low quality, or duplicate. You don’t want to get someone in trouble.

In the example above, you can see the photo is of poor quality, and it could be reported for removal (I didn’t really report it).

Google My Business Videos

Adding videos to your GMB listing can definitely give your company an edge over your competition. There is one caveat for GMB videos: your videos must be “shot” at your place of business. Just like photos, you can’t use random videos from around the web, stock videos, or videos shot in a park or a mall. While your video may pass the initial upload test, it could get taken down or flagged.

taken from another website – However, for you marketers out there—there’s a catch. You need to make sure your videos are taken at the place of business, are of people that work at your business or directly pertain to your business. (Google My Business videos is no place for cheesy stock photos, stock videos or marketing bling videos.)

Some examples of videos you might want to upload:

Google My Business Services

GMB Services are a new way to showcase your company services to your potential customers. It gives them a way to scroll through your services without having to call you or go to your website. Some people say this is more of a con than a pro, because you want customers to visit your website or call you so it is really a matter of opinion. Adding services is very easy using the GMB dashboard on desktop.

GMB services are useful for lots of different companies:

Once you are in the dashboard, you can see that services are separated by sections. For example, this hair salon has their services separated by eye brows, lashes, hair care, and more. Each section gives you the ability to add services underneath. Fill in as much information as possible, you don’t have to fill in the price or description but it is a good idea to do so.

Check out our good friends over at The Salon Project, their services are on point and allows their customers to easily browse their menu before making a call.

Once you are finished, Google My Business should make your changes live relatively quick. It is easy to see your services live on mobile search:

Again, adding services is optional and more of a matter of opinion if it is helpful or not.

Google My Business Posts

Google My Business Posts are a hot commodity right now. They give you a way to extend your SERP real estate in a very visible way. It is like adding a 1/2 acre yard to your apartment.

There are 5 main types of GMB posts:

Creating a post is easy using the GMB app or desktop dashboard. Find the “posts” section within the dashboard, and click on either add update, event, offer, or product. Once you are there, it is pretty self explanatory:

GMB posts show up prominently on both desktop and mobile. Here you can see a local PR firm promoting a recent blog post on their panel.

The last time I was logged into GMB, Google gave me a few examples of “posts I might like” so I thought I would share them here. The first post is from a web designer, that chose to list their services in a vertical list. The second one showcases their blog posts with a “learn more” button. The 3rd company (a life coaching company) uses a nice call to action with a learn more button.

Helpful tip: you can use the iOS or Android GMB app to add posts directly from your smartphone or tablet. Keeping this app handy on your mobile device can remind you to post to your GMB page. I’ve found most businesses aren’t in the habit of visiting the GMB desktop dashboard very often, so keeping the app open on your phone can really help with consistently making GMB posts.

Highlights / Attributes

Adding some GMB “flair” to your post can attract some attention. Just be warned there are all types of people out there. To some people a veteran owned / woman owned / LGBTQ friendly company is a great thing, for some people it is not. It is of my personal opinion that you should be proud of who you are, and never to compromise or hide that.

Adding amenities such as restroom, free WiFi and parking can also be very helpful to your customers.

Note: not all amenities and attributes are available to all businesses. At times there seems like there is no rhyme or reason to the attributes that you can add, and a lot of them are industry specific.

Adding attributes / amenities / highlights is as simple as going to the GMB dashboard and checking a few boxes. Be honest, if you don’t have an elevator or unisex restroom don’t say that you do.

 

Google My Business Welcome Offers

GMB Welcome offers are a relatively new feature having just launched in late June 2019. GMB Welcome offers are essentially what I call an “expanded post.” It is a GMB post but it incentivizes people to follow you on GMB in exchange for an offer that you define.

I have noticed that the desktop version of GMB is slightly different from the app, and varies from account to account. On one account for instance, I could not see welcome offers at all. In most cases, Welcome Offers are more prevalently available on the mobile app than desktop, so in this example we will use the mobile app.

Adding a Welcome Offer is simple, it is just like adding a post except you need to add a promo code.

In most cases, your post will be live right away. In some cases you may need to wait for anywhere from a few hours to a few days. In the example I created for this post, it was live immediately. This is how it looks on Chrome mobile:

In my case, I could not see the welcome offer on Chrome desktop but perhaps the post overrides it.

Google My Business Service Area

Google recently did a full revamp on the way their service area works. In the past, you could set a “radius” in miles around your business. While some accounts still have this feature grandfathered in, new accounts no longer see this feature. For those looking to learn more about this, Google’s help page on service area explains a lot.

In my opinion, service area is really only vital for companies that have a strict service area. For example, a pizza delivery company that *only* delivers to a specific location will find this feature useful. A restaurant on the other hand might have customers from all over the city, county or state. It is ok to leave this section blank for the time being and go back and change it later.

Google My Business Shortnames

Shortnames give you a way to share a short and memorable URL to your GMB listing page with your customers! GMB short names will give you a link / URL to your GMB listing useful for sending customers to view company information or post reviews. It is essentially a 301 redirect to your GMB page that you can give to your customers.

Our short name for example is:

https://g.page/elitestrategiesllc

which redirects to the very long, complicated, and official URL:

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Elite+Strategies/@26.512558,-80.0903847,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x88d8e00e1d09f609:0xbd5457a18c7a3d68!8m2!3d26.512558!4d-80.088196
A shortname is a short and friendly URL (web link) that you can give to your customers that leads them to your Google listing.

Adding a shortname is easy, here we will give you an example on how to add your shortname using the GMB mobile app, you can also use the desktop version. Navigate to the profile section of the app and scroll down until you see the @ symbol, and edit it. If you have only 1 location, choose something easy to type and if possible something short. If you have multiple locations you may want to hyphenate it like this:

Once you’ve picked your shortname click “apply,” Google will review your choice and in most cases approve it.

Once you’ve picked a shortname, Google will display your new shortname-URL on your profile. In this case you can see on the GMB mobile app how the URL is displayed right under our shortname

Once you are approved, this URL is great to use when sending marketing emails to your customers or for doing outreach.

Even if you don’t think you are going to use the shortname feature, try to reserve your business name anyway. Shortnames are like domain names, first come first serve and when someone takes yours there is very little you can do about it.

Note: I have noticed that not all GMB profiles have the shortname feature enabled. If it is missing, contact GMB support.

The GMB Mobile App

The GMB Mobile app is a great way to keep your GMB listing up to date and to optimize your listing. I’ve found that just by having the app installed on my phone, it sort of “reminds me” to add photos and keep our information up to date. Having the GMB app also allows you to respond to customer questions a lot easier than not having it installed. I’ve noticed so many businesses that have lots of questions being asked, and they are either left unanswered or answered by the community. As a business owner, you really want to be the one to answer questions and not leave it up to a random person.

Installing it is easy on both iPhone and Android.

Google Play / Android install

iOS / Apple install

Once installed, take some time to log into your account and get acclimated with the app. The app is sectioned off into 4 main sections:

Most of your time will be spent under the “profile” section. The “customers” section is useful for viewing and responding to reviews, as well as checking out your GMB followers, which not a lot of people take advantage of.

A quick word on Google “question and answers.” This is not something that can be managed by the GMB mobile app or the GMB desktop dashboard, both users and admins can ask questions and answer them right on the knowledge panel.

If getting more customers through local search is something that is high on your priority list, than it is highly recommended to install the GMB mobile app for Android or iPhone.

Call / Phone Number Tracking With Google My Business

Getting call tracking setup with Google My Business is super simple. For the purpose of this example, I’m going to use my personal favorite, CallRail.

Start by opening 2 tabs on your computer:

Start by going to callrail.com and heading to the “tracking” section. Create a new number:

You are using this number online:

Choose a name, and (very important) enter your current business phone number you want to ring.

Next, choose a number that you want to use as your tracking number. I find with Google My Business and local internet marketing it helps if the area code matches up with the location you are working on.

Add a whisper number if you like, and call recording if you want.

Activate your tracking number, then head on over to Google My Business and change your phone number to the call tracking number to the one you picked in callrail.com

 

Click “apply” and you are done! Once you start getting calls you can check them out on the dashboard, or do a test call to make sure that it works. In fact always do a test to make sure it is working. Note that in some cases changing your GMB number can cause you to have to re-verify your listing.

 

Google My Business Followers

GMB followers are somewhat of a smaller feature in the grand scheme of thing. There is a small subset of feature that believe having more followers equates to better local rankings. Again, that is pretty hard to prove. There are some benefits to having followers on your GMB listing. The primary example is that if someone is following you on GMB, your business and your posts will start showing up on the “for you” tab of Google Maps. This is an excellent branding opportunity and can lead to more exposure and even more customers / sales.

The other reason you may want to attract more GMB followers is future-proofing. In the past, Google has rolled out a feature and you are not quite sure why they are doing it. It is only months or years later you realize that feature has some amazing benefits and you should have been building upon that foundation the whole time.

Bottom line is this: GMB followers are there for a reason, maybe that reason is a test from Google, maybe it is algorithmic, maybe it is an empty feature they are going to later build upon.

Reviews

GMB reviews are a huge source of commentary amongst many small businesses. Some businesses such as restaurants seem as though reviews (both good and bad) just naturally and organically pour in once the ball gets rolling. Other businesses such as b2b really struggle to get reviews. There are also a lot of rules in place depending on where you live. In most cases, it is ok to ask for a review as long as you don’t incentivize your customer (e.g. 10% off in exchange for a review) or offer them anything.

Can I leave a review for myself?

No.

Can I leave a review for my friend / client / family member?

Yes, and no. In my opinion if you genuinely received a product or service from your client, friend or family member then you can leave a review. I would just state in the beginning of the review “full disclosure, I am a friend.” You don’t want to get your profile flagged, and you definitely don’t want to get the business in trouble.  Recently I got a lot of dental work done from my father-in-law who I also help with this GMB listings. He isn’t a full fledged client, but I still noted that I am a family member in the review. When in doubt, don’t leave the review.

Responding to reviews

There are many schools of thought on this, but my main piece of advice is do not respond to a review when you are emotional. At minimum wait 24 hours before responding to a negative review. For positive reviews, it is nice to say a few words of thanks especially if it is a customer that you didn’t meet in person (such as at a restaurant.) People really appreciate being acknowledged. I’ve also seen this backfire, I’ve seen business owners apologize and take ownership for bad things that happened, only for the matter to get worse. In some situations, you just need to “let it be” and use it as a learning experience.

Flagging illegimitate reviews

At times you will have random angry people, competitors, or ex-employees that leave reviews under fake names. When this happens it is just a good idea to ignore them. People see those reviews for what they are, fake. When this happens, you can flag the review for removal using the GMB app. Resist the urge to have other people flag it, that will only come across as shady. Google will either remove the review, or they won’t. If they don’t remove it and it really bothers you, wait 30 days and try again.

No matter what business you are in and no matter how good of a job you do, you will eventually get negative reviews, probably many of them.

Using Shortnames for Reviews

Shortnames as mentioned above are a great way to ask for reviews. Read more about it in the section above.

Quick tip: don’t give agencies logins to your Google My Business account, istead make them a manager via the “users” section of the dashboard.

Don’t do shady things in GMB

Google has spent the past 10+ years battling 10’s of thousands of SEO’s and their shady tactics. They have a whole team of staff, volunteers and watchdog groups dedicated to shutting down any sort of spam or shady tactics. I’ve seen SEO’s paste all 750 characters in the GMB “info” box of straight keywords, that is just a bad look. I’ve seen other SEO’s do massive link building to their GMB URL…not a good idea, mainly because it is just a waste of time.

If you are on SEO forums you might hear about some of these tactics that “work” but I urge you not to partake in them. A tactic that might work today, could get your entire listing and all of your reviews removed tomorrow.

Do I need an address to be on Google My Business?

No, you do not! One common misconception within the SEO industry is that you need an address to have a Google My Business listing. This used to be the case, but a little while back Google made a few tweaks to allow businesses without an address to claim a listing on Google My Business. While you don’t need to display an address on GMB, you still need to have an address to verify.

Get Help with Google My Business

There are a lot of different ways to get help with Google My Business.

For quick questions, my personal favorite way to get help is to tweet them at @GoogleMyBiz. They are generally very responsive and will get back to you with a reply or DM within a day or so. You can do the same thing on Facebook, but I’ve heard the response time is a bit slower.

For urgent matters, you can call them at 1-844-491-9665 to speak with a live person.

You can also open up a ticket or chat with them live by visiting the GMB help site.

If you would like to speak to one of us, our staff is very proficient with all matters relating to Google My Business you can call us at 561-526-8457. Note that we are not Google certified nor do we have any affiliation with Google.

Patrick Coombe
Patrick Coombe is the founder and CEO of Elite Strategies Llc. Patrick takes a hands on approach to managing Elite Strategies and loves to get involved with technical projects relating to clients inbound marketing needs.
Patrick Coombe
Patrick Coombe
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Phone: 561-526-8457
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