Free and easy are two of my favorite words and that's exactly what Google's business listing service promises to be. Having recently set up one myself, and reaped the benefits, I can say I 100% agree with them.
If you haven't signed up yet, here's a step-by-step guide and some top tips based on my own experience. Hope it's helpful.
What is a Google business listing?
A Google business listing - or Google My Business as it was formally known - combines all of the key information about your business. So a brief description, website link, contact details, opening hours, location etc is displayed across Google Search, Maps and Google+, making it easier for customers to find you. It also displays any reviews left for you on Google+ and offers ways for you to interact with your customers by responding to reviews.
Sound good? Even better - as I said above, it's completely free.
Why is it important?
I know that when I want to find something out about a business I'm much more likely to type its name into Google than go direct to the website - even if I know the URL. Having a Google business listing means customers can find up-to-date correct information about you, from what hours you're open to how best to get in touch.
And your listing doesn't just show up if people Google your company name; it will also show up in relevant search results - helping you attract new customers. Try Googling 'coffee shop Chicago'. Right at the top of the results page you'll find three business listings (apparently, there used to be seven, but Google reduced this to three in 2015), along with a map handily pointing out their locations. Clever.
With research showing businesses that verify their information with Google My Business are twice as likely to be considered reputableby consumers, signing up was a no brainer for me.
Setting up the listing
Convinced you need one too? The good news is that setting up a listing is pretty straightforward - here's my step-by-step guide.
1 - If you don't already have one, set up a Google account. You'll need it for the next stage.
2 - Head to Google My Business and select Get onto Google. At this point you'll be asked to log in, so you'll need that Google account you set up earlier.
3 - A search box will pop up. Enter your business name and address. If you're already an established business, you may already exist on Google and a suggested listing will appear for you - just click on it and fill in your details.
If you're a newer business, you'll probably have to create a listing by selecting Add your business and filling in the necessary details.
Remember, the more specific you are with your information, the more useful your listing will be. It also says that you should add your local phone number for each location (not your toll-free one) and that you can't use a PO box address.
4 - Towards the end of the form you'll be asked to choose a Category for your business - this is one of the most important fields as it determines how Google will categorize your business and what search results you'll appear in. There are pre-set categories, so choose the best fit, and you'll get the chance to add up to 4 more later on.
5 Now it's time to play the waiting game while Google verifies that your business is actually where you say it is. You can usually opt to receive your verification PIN by postcard, text or automated phone call. I opted for a text which was almost instant - very handy as it meant I could get straight on and complete the task. But I have heard some businesses say that the "postcard" option was the only one given and that it took much longer for it to arrive than the 1 or 2 weeks that Google states. That's got to be a bit frustrating. I found this blog post that explains how you can get around having to wait for a postcard if you've been shoved down that route.
6 - Once you've got your PIN you can confirm your business and set up a Google+ page to help you manage your listing.
It's as easy as that. And if that's not easy enough, there's a video over on YouTube that will walk you through all these steps.
My experience of setting up a Google business listing was pretty straight forward, but as I researched a few things (like how to get around the postcard issue) it became clear that people often did come up against a few issues. Here are the ones that seemed to be the most frequently cited and the answers that I found about them:
You don't have a location
I put off setting up a Google business listing for months. Somehow I thought that, despite having a local office, as an Agent who's on the road a lot, I wouldn't be able to list myself. Wrong! Admittedly, it was pretty easy for me as I have an office address, but even if you're an individual practitioner, say a dentist, lawyer or financial planner, provided you work with clients and they are able to directly contact you at the verified location, you can set up a listing. You simply use your name as your company name.
If you have an online-only business you'll need a Google+ page instead.
Listing isn't showing
Google has pretty strict guidelines for its business listings and I know a few business owners who've accidentally fallen foul of them. Check out the dos and don'ts before you start creating your listing to help ensure it gets approved.
Not showing on Google Maps
If your listing isn't showing on Google Maps you may have set up a Google+ page rather than a business listing. Easily done.
Not showing up in search results
Sadly, Google business listings are not a particularly well-kept secret anymore so you'll face tough competition from similar companies in your area when it comes to ranking in Google results pages. But there are things you can do to improve your chances:
- The more up-to-date and comprehensive your listing is, the more likely you are to rank highly, so things like adding photos to your listing, regularly updating any changes in business hours (e.g. opening times during holidays, etc) and keeping on top of replying to any reviews sounds important.
- Make sure that your company name, address and phone number (NAP to those in the know!) are consistent across all online media - from your website (if you have one) to any social media channels you're on as well as local directories you're listed in. If you want to check your listings in local directories, there's an awesome free tool over on http://www.yext.com/
Want more information?
There was so much information out there about setting up your listing and how to rank better - I've just skimmed the surface.
It always worth checking out the advice that Google themselves give.
If you're having any problems setting up your page - I found the Google My Business Help Center really useful.
If Google has suspended your local listing here's a great post from Searchengineland.com on what to do.
Let me know how you get on.