Many sites publish local business data, but only a handful are vital to local presence management. Although citation consistency across these sites is important, its impact on visibility has decreased in recent years. Google, Yelp, Facebook, Bing, and Apple are the heavy hitters combined with industry-specific vertical leaders; however, Google reigns supreme when it comes to local search visibility. Google My Business (GMB) is the single most important factor influencing local search ranking.

Considering that 91 percent of consumers turn to local search to find information about businesses near them, a fully optimized GMB profile is critical. Not only does a GMB listing increase the chances of your business appearing in search and maps results, but it can also appear in the Knowledge Panel displaying rich business details when a user searches by business name.

GMB is in a constant state of evolution that has accelerated even more due to the coronavirus pandemic. What was once a method for distributing a static local listing within the marketplace is now becoming increasingly engaging and transactional. Having a robust GMB profile will help your business be found and communicate accurate information to consumers during the pandemic and beyond.

Critical Local Listing Updates During the Crisis

GMB has played a crucial role in helping businesses keep their customers informed of changes to their business as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. During the crisis, Google slightly relaxed its guidelines for listings, temporarily allowing unique services like virtual visits, appointment only, drive-thru, or curbside pickup to be added to business names. As the pandemic subsides and operations begin to gradually reopen, businesses will need to revert back and adhere to standard name guidelines.

Businesses have also used GMB to communicate temporary closures, altered hours, and other changes to operations. Updated business descriptions help inform consumers of additional or specific products or services being provided, changes to the purchase or return process, modifications to cancellation policies, any expected delays, etc.

Google also launched COVID Posts designed for announcements related to COVID-19. These posts appear at the top of the business profile in local search results and remain visible for 14 days (or more). Every business, regardless of category, has the option to add these posts to note things like updated hours of operation and closures, changes to regular service, safety precautions and hygiene practices, and stock announcements for the availability of high demand products.

On the Other Side of COVID-19

As we begin to emerge on the other side of COVID-19, it will become even more difficult for multi-location businesses to provide accurate information to consumers as states, and even individual counties within them, reopen at a different pace. Lockdowns and stay at home orders are no longer uniform as restrictions are being eased in many areas. Businesses must communicate clearly and provide thorough, up-to-date location reopening information to customers. A fully optimized GMB profile can keep customers informed and enhance visibility in local search results.

How to Optimize Your GMB Profile for Reopening

  • Provide all requested profile data, paying special attention to hours of operation. Be sure to include a thorough business description, list all products and services you offer and include pricing information, if possible.
  • Use categories and attributes. The business category determines which attributes will be available for your profile. There are two types of attributes: factual (like payment options) and subjective (like whether your business is popular with locals). Subjective attributes are based on feedback from Google customers that have visited your business.
  • Customers want to know what the physical experience of interacting with your business will be like in the “new normal.” Clearly communicate what they can expect. Continue to share information on the actions you are taking to address safety concerns to keep customers and employees safe. For example, if you offer curbside service explain how the process works. If your business is enacting social distancing protocols, limiting capacity, modifying traffic flow, requiring masks, etc. include this information in your profile.
  • Include a cover photo and secure a short name. The short name allows customers to find your listing easily and can be used to drive traffic to your GMB profile. Also include photos and videos to show how your business is accommodating changes in regulations and what customers can expect when they visit your business.
  • Replace special COVID Posts with regular Posts to share messages directly on the search engine results page. Posts appear for seven days and are an easy way to drive e-commerce or share offers, products, news, and events. Historically, API support has not been available to help businesses with more than 10 locations manage updates. However, it is currently available on a temporary basis and is expected to eventually become standard.
  • Monitor reviews. Although temporarily disabled at the height of the pandemic, reviews have started to reappear on listings. Don’t ignore them! Google is the single most important local review site and review signals are the third most significant local ranking factor. Reviews will become even more impactful during reopening as customers seek validation that a business is safe to visit and is fulfilling their consumer promises. Be sure to respond to reviews – both good and bad – in a timely manner.
  • The Q&A section is another important area that is often neglected by businesses. As a result, the majority of questions are answered by Local Guides, which can lead to inaccurate responses. This section provides an opportunity to proactively provide information by seeding questions, similar to an FAQ.
  • Leverage Google’s expanded transactional tools for booking, food ordering, quote requests, and messaging to maximize additional commerce opportunities.

Keeping location information updated is important under normal circumstances and even more imperative as your business prepares for the long-awaited comeback. Complete, accurate local listings are a must. However, for multi-location marketers, managing local listings at scale can be a challenge. A partner like SOCi can streamline the process of updating local listings for hundreds or thousands of business locations across multiple channels.

 

The blog was written by Carrie Thompson, Marketing Specialist at Mindstream Media Group, a full solution media agency designed to fast-forward business.

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