The poet Burns once observed that the best laid plans “gang aft agley.” At Moz, we were about to publish our State of Local SEO industry report, based on our local search marketing survey to which hundreds of you generously replied. Then the public health emergency unexpectedly arose, and we decided to pause in our planning.
The findings of the survey, as they currently stand, contain valuable and surprising insights which are as relevant today as they were pre-COVID-19. Yet, in order to reflect the substantial changes the local business community is currently weathering, we are reaching out to you with a timely additional request.
If you market local businesses in any capacity, whether in-house or for an agency, please take our quick, supplementary six-question survey. Your answers will help everyone gauge the impacts of the past few weeks on our industry, and hopefully help in planning for the future. We would be so grateful for just a few minutes of your time to be sure the final report reflects the full picture of local business marketing.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” — Fred Rogers
This quote is one I find myself turning to frequently these days as a local SEO. It calls to mind my irreplaceable neighborhood grocer. On my last essential run to their store, they not only shared a stashed 4-pack of bath tissue with me, but also stocked their market with local distillery-produced hand sanitizer which I was warned will reek of bourbon, but will get the job done.
When times are hard, finding helpers comes as such a relief. Even the smallest acts that a local business does to support physical and mental health can be events customers remember for years to come.
While none of us gets to live in Mister Rogers’ idealized neighborhood, the adaptations I’m seeing local businesses and organizations make to sustain communities during COVID-19 are a meaningful expression of caring worthy of his humanitarian vision. Almost any brand, large or small, has the chance to be a good neighbor. Please use the following industry and platform examples to spark local business creativity when it’s needed most so that brands you care about can stay helpfully productive during the public health emergency.
Inspirational local business pivots and plans
Everyone at Moz is full of admiration for the way different industries are responding in a time that’s not business-as-usual. My thanks to the many teammates who contributed to this roundup of examples we’ve been personally encountering, and we hope you’ll find an actionable path for your business here.
Food and hospitality
1. From fancy to fundamental, famed Seattle restaurant Canlis quickly transitioned from fine dining to offering drive-thru bagels, family meal delivery, and community-supported agriculture (CSA) boxes from local farms.
2. From pizza place to pantry, multiple restaurants and caterers are putting their supply chain to work for their customers. California Pizza Kitchen is delivering meal kits and pantry staples as a pop-up market.
3. Caterers with big hearts like Kay Catering asked parents whose schoolchildren she normally feeds whether they’d be willing to donate unused lunch fees so her company could cook for families in need. Through the generosity of these parents, Kay Kim is now serving dinner to the residents at the Sand Point Public Housing Center at Magnuson Park as part of Seattle Public Schools’ overall effort to feed its students.
4. Pike Place Market on your doorstep is the offering of Savor Seattle, which has shifted from offering tasting tours to aggregating the iconic products of an entire marketplace for home delivery and curbside pickup.
7. Caring for our most vulnerable community members, grocery stores large and small are setting senior shopping hours. Raley’s is offering curbside pickup of $20 “Senior Essential Bags” filled with fresh and dry goods. Kroger-owned stores are donating $3 million to deploy groceries to food-insecure communities via their Zero Hunger/Zero Waste program.
8. Looking to the future, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieg has launched SaveOurFaves.com, an San Francisco Bay Area directory of restaurants hosting the purchase of gift cards to keep cherished eating spots afloat. These gift cards, meant to be used later, are in the nature of a small business loan.
9. Serving up support for displaced restaurant workers, Food Network star and restaurateur Guy Fieri has created a relief fund.This Bay Area celebrity has repeatedly come to the rescue in disasters, cooking for impacted communities, and now, offering $500 in cash to unemployed restaurant employees on a first-come, first-served basis.
2. Cleaning services are making tough decisions about whether to remain operational. Some, like Molly Maid, are still cleaning residences while implementing increased safety practices, but others are diversifying into the commercial cleaning space, cleaning offices that are temporarily empty. Meanwhile, professional biohazard cleaning services like Aftermath are creating new pages on their websites to describe their in-demand practices for disinfecting impacted properties.
3. Computer repair services are adapting, where state regulations allow, to 100% mobile operations and are fixing issues over the phone where possible. One independent shop, DreamNet Computers, created this page to explain how they are sanitizing devices being picked up or dropped off, and how they can repair some computers remotely if they can connect to the Internet.
5. The National Association of Bar Executives offers abundant guidance for legal professionals via their pandemic preparedness resource. They are hosting roundtables, publishing lists of tech vendors appropriate to the industry, and highlighting government and philanthropic news.
6. Personal care professionals may be struggling most, with hair stylists, manicurists, massage therapists, and related practitioners having no way to replicate their work via the Internet. Kaleidoscope Salon in Chattanooga, Tennessee held a fundraiser offering a prize of a full year of hair services in order to meet its payroll during its closure. Professionals seeking to maintain client relationships during this pause in business can head to YouTube, like R’s Just Hair Salon’s chief hairstylist Ruchi Sawhney, to demo do-it-yourself beauty tips. Stay-at-home orders are making it harder for people to access personal care products. If your salon has inventory, consider curbside pick-up of health and beauty supply kits, as is being offered by Sally Beauty.
2. Major clothing retailers like Macy’s and Kohl’s have closed their stores, but continue to sell online. Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette has stated that the fewest employee furloughs have been in their digital operations, and that they hope to start bringing workers back on through a staggered process in the future. Meanwhile, smaller basic clothing retailers like the Vermont Country Store have temporarily shuttered their premises, but are continuing to ship with the proviso that an overload of orders has slowed down shipping speeds.
4. Plant nurseries are finding themselves inundated with customers eager to plant food crops in any gardening space they have. In my state of California, agricultural businesses are considered essential. Many nurseries and garden supply shops remain open, but — like the San Francisco Bay Area Sloat Nursery chain — are taking steps to limit the number of customers allowed in at a time, and also offer curbside pickup and delivery. Nurseries should be growing as many veggie starts and stocking as much vegetable seed as possible right now.
5. Home Improvement and hardware stores offering free delivery, like Home Depot, and free curbside pickup, like Ace Hardware, have a good chance of weathering this storm so long as customers can afford to improve their dwellings, in which they are now spending so much more of their time. In a related category, large home furnishings brands like Crate & Barrel are selling online and have their design consultants working from home with clients via phone and web chat.
About a decade ago, local SEO experts were strongly promoting the idea of creating hyperlocal blogs to engage communities. Bloggers who were up to the challenge now have platforms in place through which the most recent and useful information can be quickly communicated to neighbors, as in this excellent example of the West Seattle Blog. If your community lacks a hyperlocal resource like this, your business could be of great help in creating one now. If such a blog is already in place, see if your business can contribute content.
Hyperlocal business association sites
If you don’t want to go it alone in creating a blog, joining with others in a local business association like the West Seattle Junction or Chamber of Commerce will enable many hands to lighten the work. Community hubs like this one are publishing vital information including PSAs, updates on which businesses offer delivery and pickup, and highlighting local merchants. If your neighborhood has platforms like these, contact them to see how you can contribute content. If no such resources exist, contact your neighboring business owners to discuss what you can create together.
If you aren’t in a position to build a hyperlocal website or blog right now, Facebook may be your next best option. The Yurok Tribe of California is inspiring in their use of Facebook for continuous dialog with their community. Many tribes are role-modeling how to support one another, and particularly the most vulnerable, in these times. The above example shows how one tribe is phoning its elders and has created a hotline to ensure they’re receiving vital services. I came across another example in which a tribe’s Facebook post instructed elders to hang something red in their windows if they needed any help from younger members of the community. Now is a good time to double down on Facebook with any supportive information your local business can broadcast. Of note, Facebook is offering $100 million in small business cash grants and ad credits.
Nextdoor is a particularly lively community hub and this is a very good time to join it as a business. It should go without saying that publishing anything that could seem self-serving would be a poor choice. Instead, take inspiration from the spirit demonstrated in the above example of a neighborhood converting their Little Free Library into a mini dry goods pantry, or this independent restaurant using Nextdoor to offer a discount to anyone in their industry who may have lost their local job. This is a good, ready-do-go platform for outreach to your community.
Check out how the Downtown Business Association of Edmonton is using Twitter to promote virtual local events and a new directory they’re building on their website specifically highlighting operational local businesses. The instantaneous communication capacity of Twitter is a resource your company should consider right now, even if you haven’t done much tweeting in the past. Follow and share the content of other local businesses to create a stronger community with timely messaging for the public.
This excellent Los Angeles Times article by Randy Lewis reminds us of how radio remains a strong resource even for those in our community who lack Internet access. People are tuning the dials for hyperlocal information about the availability of resources, for comfort, and hope. If your business is doing something that would help local customers, consider calling into the nearest radio station to share your story. Obviously, avoid being overly-promotional, and do consider whether this might be a good time to invest a little more in formal radio advertising.
Almost any town with a newspaper is printing abundant information about community resources right now, including lists of operational companies like this one in the Marin Independent Journal. Reach out with your news and volunteer to be interviewed to spread the word about how your business is serving the community. These unstructured citations from trusted online news outlets can help local searchers find your business and even boost your rankings. Consider paid news ad spots as well, if it’s in your budget.
Local television and video media
I thought this multi-location appliance company, Airport Home Appliances, did an excellent job with their local TV ad spot regarding their current operations, which they also posted to YouTube. Your audience is mainly homebound now, and Nielsen finds that local TV is becoming the preferred choice for accessing news and information in the United States. If it’s in your budget, even a basic local television ad could reach many customers at this time. If now isn’t a good time for your brand to invest, get something up on YouTube and embed it on your website.
Local, regional, or industry podcasts
If your area or business category is lucky enough to have a good podcast, reaching out to the podcaster to share what your business is doing could help you broadcast your offering to a wider audience. Check out this episode of the Tennessee Farm Table (theme song guaranteed to get stuck in your head), in which podcaster Amy Campbell gives a running list of Appalachian businesses providing local food to residents. Whether you simply get mentioned or take the next step of being interviewed by a podcaster, this medium is one to embrace. And, if your area has no local podcast, think about launching one to create a more connected community.
Being the helpers
I hope you’ve seen something in this article that could help support your local brand’s goals to sustain itself in the coming months. A commonality across all the examples I’ve reviewed of COVID-19 business adjustments is that regular, open communication with customers to understand and meet their needs is simply essential right now. Your customers’ stated requests are your best playbook for this unscripted moment.
It’s my heartfelt wish that you’ll see the fruits of today’s extraordinary efforts in tomorrow’s customer loyalty. My teammate, Dr. Pete, recently shared an article with me in which the author described how Marks & Spencer’s provision of clothing during Great Britain’s World War II textile rationing earned decades of devoted patronage because customers felt the retailer had “been there” for them when it mattered.
Being there at the present may mean transitioning some operations online, onto street curbs and parking lots, or into delivery vans, and how you communicate availability matters more than ever before. I’m inspired by seeing the ingenuity and kindness of the “helpers” Fred Rogers spoke of, in community after community.
There’s no denying that this is a challenging time for local search marketing, and yet, at the same time, local promotional skills have never been more critical. Take a second to imagine our communities if we were still limited to once-a-year phone book updates of business information, and I think you’ll quickly see just how vital a resource the local Internet has become.
Can you be a helper today? Please, comment about your own business, your clients’ brands, or any company in your town that you’re seeing make a special endeavor to serve communities. Your story could spark a new idea for a local business owner to keep a neighborhood or even an entire city afloat. Thanks for being a helper.
How should I get listed in Google My Business if I’ve got multiple businesses at the same address? How many listings am I eligible for if I’m legitimately running more than one business at my location? What determines eligibility, and what penalties might I incur if I make a mistake? How should I name my businesses at the same address?
The FAQs surrounding this single, big topic fill local SEO forums across the web, year after year.
Today, Iet’s quickly tackle the commonest FAQs that local business owners and marketers raise related to this scenario, and if you have further questions, please ask in the comments!
Q: I have more than one business at the same address. Can I have more than one Google My Business listing?
A: If you are legitimately operating multiple, legally distinct businesses, you can typically create a Google My Business listing for each of them. It’s not at all uncommon for more than one business to be located at a shared address. However, keep reading for further details and provisos.
Q: How do I know if my multiple businesses at the same address are distinct enough to be eligible for separate Google My Business listings?
A: If each brick-and-mortar business you operate is separately registered with appropriate state and federal agencies, has a unique TAX ID with which you file separate taxes, meets face-to-face with customers, and has a unique phone number, then it’s typically eligible for a distinct GMB listing. However, keep reading for more information.
Q: Can service area businesses list multiple businesses at the same address?
A: Google has historically treated SABs differently than brick-and-mortar businesses. While no official guideline forbids listing multiple SABs — like plumbers and locksmiths — at the same location, it’s not considered an industry best practice to do so. Google appears to be more active in issuing hard suspensions to SABs in this scenario, even if the businesses are legitimate and distinct. Because of this, it’s better strategy not to co-locate SABs.
Q: What would make me ineligible for more than one Google My Business listing at the same address?
A: If your businesses aren’t registered as legally distinct entities or if you lack unique phone numbers for them, you are ineligible to list them separately. Also, if your businesses are simply representative of different product lines or services you offer under the umbrella of a single business — like a handyman who repairs both water heaters and air conditioners — they aren’t eligible for separate listings. Additionally, do not list multiple businesses at PO boxes, virtual offices, mailboxes at remote locations, or at locations you don’t have the authority to represent.
Q: Will I be penalized if I list multiple ineligible businesses at the same address?
A: Yes, you could be. Google could issue a hard suspension on one or more of your ineligible listings at any time. A hard suspension means that Google has removed your listing and its associated reviews.
Q: Will suite numbers help me convince Google I actually have two locations so that I can have more than one GMB listing?
A: No. Google doesn’t pay attention to suite numbers, whether legitimate or created fictitiously. Don’t waste time attempting to make a single location appear like multiple locations by assigning different suite numbers to the entities in hopes of qualifying for multiple listings.
Q: Can I list my business at a co-working space, even though there are multiple businesses at the same address?
A: If your business has a unique, direct phone number answered by you and you are staffing the co-working space with your own staff at your listed hours, yes, you are typically eligible for a Google My Business listing. However, if any of the other businesses at the location share your categories or are competing for the same search terms, it is likely that you or your competitors will be filtered out of Google’s mapping product due to the shared elements.
Q: How many GMB listings can I have if there are multiple seasonal businesses at my address?
A: If your property hosts an organic fruit stand in summer and a Christmas tree farm in the winter, you need to closely follow Google’s requirements for seasonal businesses. In order for each entity to qualify for a listing, it must have year-round signage and set and then remove its GMB hours at the opening and closing of its season. Each entity should have a distinct name, phone number and Google categories.
Q: How should I name my multiple businesses at the same address?
A: To decrease the risk of filtering or penalties, co-located businesses must pay meticulous attention to allowed naming conventions. Questions surrounding this typically fall into five categories:
If one business is contained inside another, as in the case of a McDonald’s inside a Walmart, the Google My Business names should be “McDonald’s” and “Walmart” not “McDonalds in Walmart”.
If co-located brands like a Taco Bell and a Dunkin’ Donuts share the same location, they should not combine their brand names for the listing. They should either create a single listing with just one of the brand names, or, if the brands operate independently, a unique listing for each separate brand.
If multiple listings actually reflect eligible departments within a business — like the sales and parts departments of a Chevrolet dealership — then it’s correct to name the listings Chevrolet Sales Department and Chevrolet Parts Department. No penalties should result from the shared branding elements, so long as the different departments have some distinct words in their names, distinct phone numbers and distinct GMB categories.
If a brand sells another brand’s products — like Big-O selling Firestone Tires — don’t include the branding of the product being sold in the GMB business name. However, Google stipulates that if the business location is an authorized and fully dedicated seller of the branded product or service (sometimes known as a “franchisee”), you may use the underlying brand name when creating the listing, such as “TCC Verizon Wireless Premium Retailer.”
If an owner is starting out with several new businesses at the same location, it would be a best practice to keep their names distinct. For example, a person operating a pottery studio and a pet grooming station out of the same building can lessen the chance of filters, penalties, and other problems by avoiding naming conventions like “Rainbow Pottery” and “Rainbow Pet Grooming” at the same location.
Q: Can I create separate listings for classes, meetings, or events that share a location?
A: Unfortunately the guidelines on this topic lack definition. Google says not to create such listings for any location you don’t own or have the authority to represent. But even if you do own the building, the guidelines can lead to confusion. For example, a college can create separate listings for different departments on campus, but should not create a listing for every class being offered, even if the owners of the college do have authority to represent it.
Another example would be a yoga instructor who teaches at three different locations. If the building owners give them permission to list themselves at the locations, along with other instructors, the guidelines appear to permit creating multiple listings of this kind. However, such activity could end up being perceived as spam, could be filtered out because of shared elements with other yoga classes at a location, and could end up competing with the building’s own listing.
Because the guidelines are not terribly clear, there is some leeway in this regard. Use your discretion in creating such listings and view them as experimental in case Google should remove them at some point.
Q: How do I set GMB hours for co-located business features that serve different functions?
A: A limited number of business models have to worry about this issue of having two sets of hours for specific features of a business that exist on the same premises but serve unique purposes. For example, a gas station can have a convenience market that is open 6 AM to 10 PM, but pumps that operate 24 hours a day. Google sums up the shortlist for such scenarios this way, which I’ll quote verbatim:
Banks: Use lobby hours if possible. Otherwise, use drive-through hours. An ATM attached to a bank can use its own separate listing with its own, different hours.
Car dealerships: Use car sales hours. If hours for new car sales and pre-owned car sales differ, use the new sales hours.
Gas stations: Use the hours for your gas pumps.
Restaurants: Use the hours when diners can sit down and dine in your restaurant. Otherwise, use takeout hours. If neither of those is possible, use drive-through hours, or, as a last resort, delivery hours.
Storage facilities: Use office hours. Otherwise, use front gate hours.
Q: Could the details of my Google listing get mixed up with another business at my location?
A: Not long ago, local SEO blogs frequently documented cases of listing “conflation”. Details like similar or shared names, addresses or phone numbers could cause Google to merge two listings together, resulting in strange outcomes like the reviews for one company appearing on the listing of another. This buggy mayhem, thankfully, has died down to the extent that I haven’t seen a report of listing conflation in some years. However, it’s good to remember that errors like these made it clear that each business you operate should always have its own phone number, naming should be as unique as possible, and categories should always be carefully evaluated.
Q: Why is only one of my multiple businesses at the same location ranking in Google’s local results?
A: The commonest cause of this is that Google is filtering out all but one of your businesses from ranking because of listing element similarity. If you attempt to create multiple listings for businesses that share Google categories or are competing for the same keyword phrases at the same address, Google’s filters will typically make all but one of the entities invisible at the automatic zoom level of their mapping product. For this reason, creating multiple GMB listings for businesses that share categories or industries is not a best practice and should be avoided.
Q: My GMB listing is being filtered due to co-location. What should I do?
A: This topic has come to the fore especially since Google’s rollout of the Possum filter on Sept 1, 2016. Businesses at the same address (or even in the same neighborhood) that share a category and are competing for the same search phrases often have the disappointment of discovering that their GMB listing appears to be missing from the map while a co-located or nearby competitor ranks highly. Google’s effort to deliver diversity causes them to filter out companies that they deem too similar when they’re in close proximity to one another.
If you find yourself currently in a scenario where you happen to be sharing a building with a competitor, and you’ve been puzzled as to why you seem invisible on Google’s maps, zoom in on the map and see if your listing suddenly appears. If it does, chances are, you’re experiencing filtering.
If this is your predicament, you have a few options for addressing it. As a measure of last resort, you could relocate your company to a part of town where you don’t have to share a location and have no nearby competitors, but this would be an extreme solution. More practically speaking, you will need to audit your competitor, comparing their metrics to yours to discover why Google sees them as the stronger search result. From the results of your audit, you can create a strategy for surpassing your opponent so that Google decides it’s your business that deserves not to be filtered out.
There’s nothing wrong with multiple businesses sharing an address. Google’s local index is filled with businesses in this exact situation ranking just fine without fear of penalization. But the key to success and safety in this scenario is definitely in the details.
Assessing eligibility, accurately and honestly representing your brand, adhering to guidelines and best practices, and working hard to beat the filters will stand you in good stead.
There are times when your digital marketing agency will find itself serving a local business with a need for which Google has made no apparent provisions. Unavailable categories for unusual businesses come instantly to mind, but scenarios can be more complex than this.
Client workflows can bog down as you worry over what to do, fearful of making a wrong move that could get a client’s listing suspended or adversely affect its rankings or traffic. If your agency has many employees, an entry-level SEO could be silently stuck on an issue, or even doing the wrong thing because they don’t know how or where to ask the right questions.
The best solution I know of consists of a combination of:
Client contracts that are radically honest about the nature of Google
Client management that sets correct expectations about the nature of Google
A documented process for seeking clarity when unusual client scenarios arise
Agency openness to experimentation, failure, and on-going learning
Regular monitoring for new Google developments and changes
A bit of grit
Let’s put the fear of often-murky, sometimes-unwieldy Google on the back burner for a few minutes and create a proactive process your team can use when hitting what feels like procedural dead end on the highways and byways of local search.
The apartment office conundrum
As a real-world example of a GMB dead end, a few months ago, I was asked a question about on-site offices for apartment complexes. The details:
Google doesn’t permit the creation of listings for rental properties but does allow such properties to be listed if they have an on-site office, as many apartment complexes do.
Google’s clearest category for this model is “apartment complex”, but the brand in question was told by Google (at the time) that if they chose that category, they couldn’t display their hours of operation.
This led the brand I was advising to wonder if they should use “apartment rental agency” as their category because it does display hours. They didn’t want to inconvenience the public by having them arrive at a closed office after hours, but at the same time, they didn’t want to misrepresent their category.
Now that’s a conundrum!
When I was asked to provide some guidance to this brand, I went through my own process of trying to get at the heart of the matter. In this post, I’m going to document this process for your agency as fully as I can to ensure that everyone on your team has a clear workflow when puzzling local SEO scenarios arise.
I hope you’ll share this article with everyone remotely involved in marketing your clients, and that it will prevent costly missteps, save time, move work forward, and support success.
Step 1: Radical honesty sets the stage right
Whether you’re writing a client contract, holding a client onboarding meeting, or having an internal brand discussion about local search marketing, setting correct expectations is the best defense against future disappointments and disputes. Company leadership must task itself with letting all parties know:
Google has a near-monopoly on search. As such, they can do almost anything they feel will profit them. This means that they can alter SERPs, change guidelines, roll out penalties and filters, monetize whatever they like, and fail to provide adequate support to the public that makes up and interacts with the medium of their product. There is no guarantee any SEO can offer about rankings, traffic, or conversions. Things can change overnight. That’s just how it is.
While Google’s monopoly enables them to be whimsical, brands and agencies do not have the same leeway if they wish to avoid negative outcomes. There are known practices which Google has confirmed as contrary to their vision of search (buying links, building listings for non-existent locations, etc.). Client and agency agree not to knowingly violate Google’s guidelines. These guidelines include:
Don’t accept work under any other conditions than that all parties understand Google’s power, unpredictability, and documented guidelines. Don’t work with clients, agencies, software providers, or others that violate guidelines. These basic rules set the stage for both client and agency success.
Step 2: Confirm that the problem really exists
When a business believes it is encountering an unusual local search marketing problem, the first task of the agency staffer is to vet the issue. The truth is, clients sometimes perceive problems that don’t really exist. In my case of the apartment complex, I took the following steps.
I confirmed the problem. I observed the lacking display of hours of operation on GMB listings using the “apartment complex” category.
I called half-a-dozen nearby apartment complex offices and asked if they were open either by appointment only, or 24/7. None of them were. At least in my corner of the world, apartment complex offices have set, daily business hours, just like retail, opening in the AM and closing in the PM each day.
I did a number of Google searches for “apartment rental agency” and all of the results Google brought up were for companies that manage rentals city-wide — not rentals of units within a single complex.
So, I was now convinced that the business was right: they were encountering a real dead end. If they categorized themselves as an “apartment complex”, their missing hours could inconvenience customers. If they chose the “apartment rental agency” designation to get hours to display, they could end up fielding needless calls from people looking for city-wide rental listings. The category would also fail to be strictly accurate.
As an agency worker, be sure you’ve taken common-sense steps to confirm that a client’s problem is, indeed, real before you move on to next steps.
Step 3: Search for a similar scenario
As a considerate agency SEO, avoid wasting the time of project leads, managers, or company leadership by first seeing if the Internet holds a ready answer to your puzzle. Even if a problem seems unusual, there’s a good chance that somebody else has already encountered it, and may even have documented it. Before you declare a challenge to be a total dead-end, search the following resources in the following order:
Do a direct search in Google with the most explicit language you can (e.g. “GMB listing showing wrong photo”, “GMB description for wrong business”, “GMB owner responses not showing”). Click on anything that looks like it might contain an answer, look at the date on the entry, and see what you can learn. Document what you see.
Go to the Google My Business Help Community forum and search with a variety of phrases for your issue. Again, note the dates of responses for the currency of advice. Be aware that not all contributors are experts. Looks for thread responses from people labeled Gold Product Expert; these members have earned special recognition for the amount and quality of what they contribute to the forum. Some of these experts are widely-recognized, world-class local SEOs. Document what you learn, even if means noting down “No solution found”.
Often, a peculiar local search issue may be the result of a Google change, update, or bug. Check the MozCast to see if the SERPs are undergoing turbulent weather and Sterling Sky’s Timeline of Local SEO Changes. If the dates of a surfaced issue correspond with something appearing on these platforms, you may have found your answer. Document what you learn.
Check trusted blogs to see if industry experts have written about your issue. The nice thing about blogs is that, if they accept comments, you can often get a direct response from the author if something they’ve penned needs further clarification. For a big list of resources, see: Follow the Local SEO Leaders: A Guide to Our Industry’s Best Publications. Document what you learn.
If none of these tactics yields a solution, move on to the next step.
Step 4: Speak up for support
If you’ve not yet arrived at an answer, it’s time to reach out. Take these steps, in this order:
1) Each agency has a different hierarchy. Now is the time to reach out to the appropriate expert at your business, whether that’s your manager or a senior-level local search expert. Clearly explain the issue and share your documentation of what you’ve learned/failed to learn. See if they can provide an answer.
2) If leadership doesn’t know how to solve the issue, request permission to take it directly to Google in private. You have a variety of options for doing so, including:
In the case of the apartment complex, I chose to reach out via Twitter. Responses can take a couple of days, but I wasn’t in a hurry. They replied:
As I had suspected, Google was treating apartment complexes like hotels. Not very satisfactory since the business models are quite different, but at least it was an answer I could document. I’d hit something of a dead-end, but it was interesting to consider Google’s advice about using the description field to list hours of operation. Not a great solution, but at least I would have something to offer the client, right from the horse’s mouth.
In your case, be advised that not all Google reps have the same level of product training. Hopefully, you will receive some direct guidance on the issue if you describe it well and can document Google’s response and act on it. If not, keep moving.
3) If Google doesn’t respond, responds inexpertly, or doesn’t solve your problem, go back to your senior-level person. Explain what happened and request advice on how to proceed.
4) If the senior staffer still isn’t certain, request permission to publicly discuss the issue (and the client). Head to supportive fora. If you’re a Moz Pro customer, feel free to post your scenario in the Moz Q&A forum. If you’re not yet a customer, head to the Local Search Forum, which is free. Share a summary of the challenge, your failure to find a solution, and ask the community what they would do, given that you appear to be at a dead end. Document the advice you receive, and evaluate it based on the expertise of respondents.
Step 5: Make a strategic decision
At this point in your workflow, you’ve now:
Confirmed the issue
Searched for documented solutions
Looked to leadership for support
Looked to Google for support
Looked to the local SEO industry for support
I’m hoping you’ve arrived at a strategy for your client’s scenario by now, but if not, you have 3 things left to do.
Take your entire documentation back to your team/company leader. Ask them to work with you on an approved response to the client.
Take that response to the client, with a full explanation of any limitations you encountered and a description of what actions your agency wants to take. Book time for a thorough discussion. If what you are doing is experimental, be totally transparent about this with the client.
If the client agrees to the strategy, enact it.
In the case of the apartment complex, there were several options I could have brought to the client. One thing I did recommend is that they do an internal assessment of how great the risk really was of the public being inconvenienced by absent hours.
How many people did they estimate would stop by after 5 PM in a given month and find the office closed? Would that be 1 person a month? 20 people? Did the convenience of these people outweigh risks of incorrectly categorizing the complex as an “apartment rental agency”? How many erroneous phone calls or walk-ins might that lead to? How big of a pain would that be?
Determining these things would help the client decide whether to just go with Google’s advice of keeping the accurate category and using the description to publish hours, or, to take some risks by miscategorizing the business. I was in favor of the former, but be sure your client has input in the final decision.
And that brings us to the final step — one your agency must be sure you don’t overlook.
Step 6: Monitor from here on out
In many instances, you’ll find a solution that should be all set to go, with no future worries. But, where you run into dead-end scenarios like the apartment complex case and are having to cobble together a workaround to move forward, do these two things:
Monitor outcomes of your implementation over the coming months. Traffic drops, ranking drops, or other sudden changes require a re-evaluation of the strategy you selected. *This is why it is so critical to document everything and to be transparent with the client about Google’s unpredictability and the limitations of local SEOs.
Monitor Google for changes. Today’s dead end could be tomorrow’s open road.
This second point is particularly applicable to the apartment complex I was advising. About a month after I’d first looked at their issue, Google made a major change. All of a sudden, they began showing hours for the “apartment complex” category!
If I’d stopped paying attention to the issue, I’d never have noticed this game-changing alteration. When I did see hours appearing on these listings, I confirmed the development with apartment marketing expert Diogo Ordacowski:
Moral: be sure you are continuing to keep tabs on any particularly aggravating dead ends in case solutions emerge in future. It’s a happy day when you can tell a client their worries are over. What a great proof of the engagement level of your agency’s staff!
It’s totally okay if that question occurs to you sometimes when marketing local businesses. There’s a lot on the line — it’s true! The livelihoods of your clients are a sacred trust. The credibility that your agency is building matters.
But, fear not. Unless you flagrantly break guidelines, a dose of grit can take you far when dealing with a product like Google My Business which is, itself, an experiment. Sometimes, you just have to make a decision about how to move forward. If you make a mistake, chances are good you can correct it. When a dead end with no clear egress forces you to test out solutions, you’re just doing your job.
So, be transparent and communicative, be methodical and thorough in your research, and be a bit bold. Remember, your clients don’t just count on you to churn out rote work. In Google’s increasingly walled garden, the agency which can see over the wall tops when necessity calls are bringing extra value.
“To receive everything, one must open one’s hands and give.” – Taisen Deshimaru, Buddhist philosopher
A woman stands in a busy supermarket checkout line. The shopper in front of her realizes that they don’t have enough money with them to cover their purchase, so she steps in and makes up the balance. Then, when she reaches the checkout, her own receipt totals up higher than she was expecting. She doesn’t have enough left in her purse.
A bystander snaps a photo and posts the story to Facebook. The story ends up on local radio and TV news. Unstructured citations for the grocery store start crackling like popcorn. National news takes notice. A scholarship foundation presents a check to the clerk. When asked how he felt about it, the clerk said:
“Personally, I think it’s undeserved attention. Because she did something so good … I felt like it was my responsibility to return the favor.”
In the process, if only for a moment in time, an everyday supermarket is transformed into a rescue operation for hope in humanity. Through the lens of local SEO, it’s also a lesson in how good deeds can be rewarded by good mentions.
Studying business kindness can be a rewarding task for any motivated digital marketing agency or local brand owner. I hope this post will be both a pick-me-up for the day, and a rallying cry to begin having deeper conversations about the positive culture businesses can create in the communities they serve.
10+ evocative examples of business kindness
“We should love people and use things, but sadly, we love things and use people,” Roger Johnson, Artisan
As a youngster in the American workforce, I ran into some very peculiar styles of leadership.
For instance, one boss gruffly told me not to waste too much time chatting with the elderly customers who especially loved buying from me…as if customer support doesn’t make or break business reputations.
And then there was the cranky school secretary who reprimanded me for giving ice packs to children because she believed they were only “trying to get attention” … as if schools don’t exist to lavish focus on the kids in their care.
In other words, both individuals would have preferred me to be less kind, less human, than more so.
Perhaps it was these experiences of my superiors taking a miserly approach to workplace human kindness that inspired me to keep a little file of outbreaks of goodwill that earned online renown. These examples beg self-reflective questions of any local business owner:
I only know about these stories because of the unstructured citations (online references to a local business) they generated. They earned online publicity, radio, and television press. The fame for some was small and local, for others, internationally viral. Some activities were planned, but many others took place on the spur of the moment. Kindness, empathy, and gratitude, flow through them all like a river of hope, inviting every business owner to catch the current in their own way. One easy way for local business owners to keep better track of any positive mentions is by managing and monitoring reviews online with the New Moz Local.
In Demark, schoolchildren learn empathy as a class subject. The country is routinely rated as one of the happiest in the world. At Moz, we have the TAGFEE code, which includes both generosity and empathy, and our company offers internal workshops on things like “How to be TAGFEE when you disagree.” We are noted for the kindness of our customer support, as in the above review.
According to Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki, people “catch” cooperation and generosity from others. In his study, the monetary amount donors gave to charity went up or down based on whether they were told their peers gave much or little. They matched the generosity or stinginess they witnessed. In part two of the study, the groups who had seen others donating generously went on to offer greater empathy in writing letters to penpals suffering hard times. In other words, kindness isn’t just contagious — its impact can spread across multiple activities.
Mercedes-Benz CEO, Stephen Cannon, wanted employees to catch the kindness bug because of its profound impact on sales. He invited his workforce to join a “grassroots movement” that resulted in surprising shoppers with birthday cakes, staff rushing to remote locations with spare tires, and other memorable consumer experiences. Cannon noted:
“There is no scientific process, no algorithm, to inspire a salesperson or a service person to do something extraordinary. The only way you get there is to educate people, excite them, incite them. Give them permission to rise to the occasion when the occasion to do something arises. This is not about following instructions. It’s about taking a leap of faith.”
“Organizations that trade in kindness allow their employees to give that currency away. If you’re a waitress, can you give someone a free piece of pie because the kid at the next table spilled milk on their foot? If you’re a clerk in a hotel, do you have the authority to give someone a discounted rate because you can tell they’ve had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?”
There may be no formula for teaching kindness, but if Zaki is right, then leadership can be the starting point of demonstrative empathy that can emanate through the staff and to its customers. How do you build for that?
A cared-for workforce for customer service excellence
You can find examples of individual employees behaving with radical kindness despite working for brands that routinely disregard workers’ basic needs. But, this hardly seems ideal. How much better to build a business on empathy and generosity so that cared-for staff can care for customers.
I ran a very quick Twitter poll to ask employees what their very most basic need is:
Unsurprisingly, the majority of respondents cited a living wage as their top requirement. Owners developing a kind workforce must ensure that staff are housing-and-food-secure, and can afford the basic dignities of life. Any brand that can’t pay its staff a living wage isn’t really operational — it’s exploitation.
Flexibility in both hours and location to create a healthy work/life balance
Ethics in company technology, practices, and transparency
Equity in pay ratios, regardless of gender
Empathy in the workplace, both internally and in having a positive societal impact with customers
It’s just not very hard to connect the dots between a workforce that has its basic and aspirational needs met, and one possessing the physical, mental and emotional health to extend those values to consumers. As I found in a recent study of my own, 70 percent of negative review resolution was driven by brands having to overcome bad/rude service with subsequent caring service.
Kindness as currency, with limitless growth potential
“I wanted a tangible item that could track acts of kindness. From that, the Butterfly Coin emerged.” Bruce Pedersen, Butterfly Coins
Maybe someday, you’ll be the lucky recipient of a Butterfly Coin, equipped with a unique tracking code, and gifted to you by someone doing a kind act. Then, you’ll do something nice for somebody and pass it on, recording your story amongst thousands of others around the world. People, it seems, are so eager for tokens of kindness that the first mint sold out almost immediately.
The butterfly effect (the inspiration for the name of these coins) in chaos theory holds that a small action can trigger multiple subsequent actions at a remove. In a local business setting, an owner could publicly reward an employee’s contributions, which could cause the employee to spread their extra happiness to twenty customers that day, which could cause those customers to be in a mood to tip waitstaff extra, which could cause the waitstaff to comp meals for hungry neighbors sitting on their doorsteps, and on and on it goes.
The most priceless aspect of kindness is that it’s virtually limitless. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be quantified. The Butterfly Coin idea is attempting to track kindness, and as a local business owner, you have a practical means of parsing it, too. It will turn up in unstructured citations, reviews, and social media, if you originate it at the leadership level, and share it out from employee to customer with an open hand.
If you’re a digital agency, chances are you have your sights set on a huge variety of clients — from entertainment and automotive, to travel and finance — all with their own unique SEO needs.
So how do you attract these companies and provide them with next-level SEO? By using a flexible tracking solution that delivers a veritable smorgasbord of SERP data every single day. Here are just four ways you can leverage STAT to lock down new business.
1. Arm yourself with intel before you pitch
The best way to win over a potential client is to walk into a pitch already aware of the challenges and opportunities in their online space. In other words: come armed with intel.
To get a lay of their search landscape, research which keywords are applicable to your prospect, load those puppies into STAT, and let them run for a few days (you can turn tracking on and off for however many keywords you like, whenever you like).
This way, when it comes time to make your case, you can hit them with hard data on their search visibility and tailored strategies to help them improve.
Walking into a pitch with deep insights in just a few days will make you look like an SEO wizard — and soon-to-be-new clients will know that you can handle any dark magic unleashed on the SERPs by a Google update or new competitors jumping into the mix.
2. Look at your data from every possible angle
As an SEO for an agency, you’re vying to manage the visibility of several clients at any given time, and all of them have multiple websites, operate in different industries and verticals worldwide, and target an ever-growing list of topics and products.
So, when prospective clients expect individualized SEO recommendations, how can you possibly deliver without developing a permanent eye twitch? The answer lies in the ability to track and segment tons of keywords.
Get your mittens on more SERPs
To start, you’ll need to research and compile a complete list of keywords for every prospective client. When one keyword only returns one SERP, and people’s searches are as unique as they are, the longer the list, the greater the scope of insight. It’s the difference between a peek and peruse — getting a snapshot or the whole picture.
For example, let’s say your would-be client is a clothing chain with an online store and a brick-and-mortar in every major Canadian city. You’ll want to know how each of their products appears to the majority of searchers — does [men’s jeans] (and every iteration thereof) return a different SERP than [jeans for men]?
Next, it’s time to play international SEO spy and factor in the languages, locations, and devices of target audiences. By tracking pin-point locations in influential global markets, you can keep apprised of how businesses in your industry are performing in different cities all over the world.
For our example client, this is where the two keywords above are joined by [jeans pour hommes], [jeans for men in Montreal], and [jeans pour hommes dans Montreal], and are tracked in the Montreal postal code where their bricks-and-mortar sit, on desktop and mobile devices — giving you with 10 SERPs-worth of insight. Swap in “in Quebec City,” track in a postal code there, and gain another 10 SERPs lickety-split.
Unlock multiple layers of insights
While a passel of keywords is essential, it’s impossible to make sense of what they’re telling you when they’re all lumped together. This is why segmentation is a must. By slicing and dicing your keywords into different segments, called “tags” in STAT, you produce manageable data views with deep, targeted insight.
You can divvy up and tag your keywords however you like: by device, search intent, location, and more. Still running with our earlier example, by comparing a tag that tracks jeans keywords in Montreal against jeans keywords in Vancouver, you can inform your prospect of which city is bringing up the rear on the SERPs, and how they can better target that location.
STAT also lets you to segment any SERP feature you’re interested in — like snippets, videos, and knowledge graphs — allowing you to identify exactly where opportunities (and threats) lie on the SERP.
So, if your tag is tracking the all-important local places pack and your prospect’s brick-and-mortar store isn’t appearing in them, you can avoid the general “we’ll improve your rankings” approach, and focus your pitch around ways to get them listed. And once you’ve been hired to do the job, you’ll be able to prove your local pack success.
Monitoring a client’s site is one thing, but keeping an eagle-eye on their competition at the same time will give you a serious leg up on other agencies.
With an automated site syncing option, STAT lets you track every known competitor site your prospect has, without any additional keyword management on your part.
All you need to do is plunk in competitor URLs and watch them track against your prospect’s keywords. And because you’ve already segmented the bejesus out of those keywords, you can tell exactly how they stack up in each segment.
To make sure that you’re tracking true search competitors, as well as emerging and dwindling threats, you should be all over STAT’s organic share of voice. By taking the rank and search volume of a given keyword, STAT calculates the percentage of eyeballs that players on the SERPs actually earn.
When you know the ins and outs of everyone in the industry — like who consistently ranks in the top 10 of your SERPs — you can give clients a more comprehensive understanding of where they fit into the big picture and uncover new market opportunities for them to break into. They’ll be thanking their lucky stars they chose you over the other guys.
4. Think big while respecting client budgets
As an enterprise SEO, having economies of scale is a critical factor in beating out other agencies for new business. In order to achieve this, you’ll want to collect and crunch data at an affordable rate.
STAT’s highly competitive per-keyword pricing is designed for scale, which is precisely why STAT and agencies are a match made in heaven. Thinking big won’t break anyone’s bank.
Plus, STAT’s billing is as flexible as the tracking. So, if you only need a few days’ worth of data, whether for a pitch or a project, you can jump into STAT and toggle tracking on or off for any number of keywords, and your billing will follow suit. In simpler terms: you’re only billed for the days you track.
And with no limits on users and no per-seat charges, you’re welcome to invite anyone on your team — even clients or vendors — to see your projects, allowing you to deliver transparency in conjunction with your SEO awesomeness.
If you’d like to do any or all of these things and are looking for the perfect SERP data tool to get the job done, say hello and request a demo!
Your agency recommends all kinds of useful tactics to help improve the local SEO for your local business clients, but how many of those techniques are leveraging Google Business Profile (GBP) to attract as many walk-ins as possible?
Today, I’m sharing five GBP tweaks worthy of implementation to help turn digital traffic into foot traffic. I’ve ordered them from easiest to hardest, but as you’ll see, even the more difficult ones aren’t actually very daunting — all the more reason to try them out!
1) Answer Google Q&A quickly (they might be leads)
It looks like Coast Nissan has a customer who is ready to walk through the door if they receive an answer. But as you can see, the question has gone unanswered. Note, too, that four people have thumbed the question up, which signifies a shared interest in a potential answer, but it’s still not making it onto the radar of this particular dealership.
Nearly all verticals could have overlooked leads sitting in their GBPs — from questions about dietary options at a restaurant, to whether a retailer stocks a product, to queries about ADA compliance or available parking. Every ask represents a possible lead, and in a competitive retail landscape, who can afford to ignore such an opportunity?
The easiest way for Google My Business (GMB) listing owners and managers to get notified of new questions is via the Google Maps App, as notifications are not yet part of the main GMB dashboard. This will help you catch questions as they arise. The faster your client responds to incoming queries, the better their chances of winning the foot traffic.
2) Post about your proximity to nearby major attractions
Difficulty level: Easy
Imagine someone has just spent the morning at a museum, a landmark, park, or theatre. After exploring, perhaps they want to go to lunch, go apparel shopping, find a gas station, or a bookstore near them. A well-positioned Google Post, like the one below, can guide them right to your client’s door:
This could become an especially strong draw for foot traffic if Google expands its experiment of showing Posts’ snippets not just in the Business Profile and Local Finder, but within local packs:
With a little help from SWIS and Pointy, your retail clients’ GBPs can become the storefront window that beckons in highly-converting foot traffic. Your client’s “See What’s In Store inventory” appears within the Business Profile, letting customers know the business has the exact merchandise they’re looking for:
I’ll reiterate my prediction that SWIS is “next big thing” in local, and when last I spoke with Mark, one percent of all US retailers had already adopted his product. Encourage your retail clients to sign up and give them an amazing competitive edge on driving foot traffic!
4) Make your profile pic a selfie hotspot
Difficulty level: Medium (feasible for many storefronts)
When a client has a physical premise (and community ordinances permit it), an exterior mural can turn through traffic into foot traffic — it also helps to convert Instagram selfie-takers into customers. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, a modest investment in this strategy could appeal to the 43–58 percent of survey respondents who are swayed to shop in locations that are visually appealing.
If a large outdoor mural isn’t possible, there’s plenty of inspiration for smaller indoor murals, here.
Once the client has made the investment in providing a cultural experience for the community, they can try experimenting with getting the artwork placed as the cover photo on their GBP — anyone looking at a set of competitors in a given area will see this appealing, extra reason to choose their business over others.
Mark my words, local search marketers: We are on the verge of seeing Americans reject the constricted label of “consumer” in a quest for a more holistic view of themselves as whole persons. Local businesses that integrate art, culture, and community life into their business models will be well-placed to answer what, in my view, is a growing desire for authentic human experiences. As a local search marketer, myself, this is a topic I plan to explore further this year.
5) Putting time on your side
Difficulty level: Medium (feasible for willing clients)
Here’s a pet peeve of mine: businesses that serve working people but are only open 9–5. How can your client’s foot traffic achieve optimum levels if their doors are only open when everybody is at work?
So, here’s the task: Do a quick audit of the hours posted on the GBPs of your client’s direct competitors. For example, I found three craft shops in one small city with these hours:
Guess which competitor is getting all of the business after 6 PM every day of the week, when most people are off work and able to shop?
Now, it may well be that some of your smaller clients are already working as many hours as they can, but have they explored whether their hours are actually ideal for their customers’ needs and whether any time slots aren’t being filled in the community by their competitors? What if, instead of operating under the traditional 9–5, your client switched to 11–7, since no other competitor in town is open after 5 PM? It’s the same number of hours and your client would benefit from getting all the foot traffic of the 9–5-ers.
Alternatively, instead of closing on Saturdays, the business closed on Mondays — perhaps this is the slowest of their weekdays? Being open on the weekend could mean that the average worker can now access said business and become a customer.
It will take some openness to change, but if a business agrees to implementation, don’t forget to update the GMB hours and push out the new hours to the major citation platforms via service like Moz Local.
Your turn to add your best GMB moves
I hope you’ll take some of these simple GBP tips to an upcoming client meeting. And if they decide to forge ahead with your tips, be sure to monitor the outcomes! How great if a simple audit of hours turned into a foot traffic win for your client?
In the meantime, if you have any favorite techniques, hacks, or easy GMB wins to share with our community, I’d love to read your comments!
Google My Business (GMB) is one of the most powerful ways to improve a business’ local search engine optimization and online visibility. If you’re a local business, claiming your Google My Business profile is one of the first steps you should take to increase your company’s online presence.
As long as your local business meets Google’s guidelines, your Google My Business profile can help give your company FREE exposure on Google’s search engine. Not only can potential customers quickly see your business’ name, address and phone number, but they can also see photos of your business, read online reviews, find a description about your company, complete a transaction (like book an appointment) and see other information that grabs a searcher’s attention — all without them even visiting your website. That’s pretty powerful stuff!
Google My Business helps with local rankings
Not only is your GMB Profile easily visible to potential customers when they search on Google, but Google My Business is also a key Google local ranking factor. In fact, according to local ranking factor industry research, Google My Business “signals” is the most important ranking factor for local pack rankings. Google My Business signals had a significant increase in ranking importance between 2017 and 2018 — rising from 19% to 25%.
Claiming your Google My Business profile is your first step to local optimization — but many people mistakenly think that just claiming your Google My Business profile is enough. However, optimizing your Google My Business profile and frequently logging into your Google My Business dashboard to make sure that no unwanted updates have been made to your profile is vital to improving your rankings and ensuring the integrity of your business profile’s accuracy.
Google My Business features that make your profile ROCK!
Google offers a variety of ways to optimize and enhance your Google My Business profile. You can add photos, videos, business hours, a description of your company, frequently asked questions and answers, communicate with customers via messages, allow customers to book appointments, respond to online reviews and more.
One of the most powerful ways to grab a searcher’s attention is by creating Google My Business Posts. GMB Posts are almost like mini-ads for your company, products, or services.
Google offers a variety of posts you can create to promote your business:
Posts also allow you to include a call to action (CTA) so you can better control what the visitor does after they view your post — creating the ultimate marketing experience. Current CTAs are:
Posts use a combination of images, text and a CTA to creatively show your message to potential customers. A Post shows in your GMB profile when someone searches for your business’ name on Google or views your business’ Google My Business profile on Google Maps.
Once you create a Post, you can even share it on your social media channels to get extra exposure.
Despite the name, Google My Business Posts are not actual social media posts. Typically the first 100 characters of the post are what shows up on screen (the rest is cut off and must be clicked on to be seen), so make sure the most important words are at the beginning of your post. Don’t use hashtags — they’re meaningless. It’s best if you can create new posts every seven days or so.
Google My Business Posts are a great way to show off your business in a unique way at the exact time when a searcher is looking at your business online.
But there’s a long-standing question: Are businesses actually creating GMB Posts to get their message across to potential customers? Let’s find out…
The big question: Are businesses actively using Google My Business Posts?
There has been a lot of discussion in the SEO industry about Google My Business Posts and their value: Do they help with SEO rankings? How effective are they? Do posts garner engagement? Does where the Posts appear on your GMB profile matter? How often should you post? Should you even create Google My Business Posts at all? Lots of questions, right?
As industry experts look at all of these angles, what do average, everyday business owners actually do when it comes to GMB Posts? Are real businesses creating posts? I set out to find the answer to this question using real data. Here are the details.
Google My Business Post case study: Just the facts
When I set out to discover if businesses were actively using GMB Posts for their companies’ Google My Business profiles, I first wanted to make sure I looked at data in competitive industries and markets. So I looked at a total of 2,000 Google My Business profiles that comprised the top 20 results in the Local Finder. I searched for highly competitive keyword phrases in the top ten cities (based on population density, according to Wikipedia.)
For this case study, I also chose to look at service type businesses.
Here are the results.
New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Jose, San Francisco, Washington DC, Houston, and Boston.
real estate agent, mortgage, travel agency, insurance or insurance agents, dentist, plastic surgeon, personal injury lawyer, plumber, veterinarian or vet, and locksmith
Surprise! Out of the industries researched, Personal Injury Lawyers and Locksmiths posted the most often.
For the case study, I looked at the following:
How many businesses had an active Google My Business Post (i.e. have posted in the last seven days)
How many had previously made at least one post
How many have never created a post
Do businesses create Google My Business Posts?
Based on the businesses, cities, and keywords researched, I discovered that more than half of the businesses are actively creating Posts or have created Google My Business Posts in the past.
17.5% of businesses had an active post in the last 7 days
42.1% of businesses had previously made at least one post
40.4% have never created a post
Highlight: A total of 59.60% of businesses have posted a Google My Business Post on their Google My Business profile.
NOTE: If you want to look at the raw numbers, you can check out the research document that outlines all the raw data. (NOTE: Credit for the research spreadsheet template I used and inspiration to do this case study goes to SEO expert Phil Rozek.)
Do searchers engage with Google My Business Posts?
If a business takes the time to create Google My Business Posts, do searchers and potential customers actually take the time to look at your posts? And most importantly, do they take action and engage with your posts?
This chart represents nine random clients, their total post views over a 28-day period, and the corresponding total direct/branded impressions on their Google My Business profiles. When we look at the total number of direct/branded views alongside the number of views posts received, the number of views for posts appears to be higher. This means that a single user is more than likely viewing multiple posts.
This means that if you take the time to create a GMB Post and your marketing message is meaningful, you have a high chance of converting a potential searcher into a customer — or at least someone who is going to take the time to look at your marketing message. (How awesome is that?)
Do searchers click on Google My Business Posts?
So your GMB Posts show up in your Knowledge Panel when someone searches for your business on Google and Google Maps, but do searchers actually click on your post to read more?
When we evaluated the various industry post views to their total direct/branded search views, on average the post is clicked on almost 100% of the time!
Google My Business insights
When you log in to your Google My Business dashboard you can see firsthand how well your Posts are doing. Below is a side-by-side image of a business’ post views and their direct search impressions. By checking your GMB insights, you can find out how well your Google My Business posts are performing for your business!
GMB Posts are worth it
After looking at 2,000 GMB profiles, I discovered a lot of things. One thing is for sure. It’s hard to tell on a week-by-week basis how many companies are using GMB Posts because posts “go dark” every seven business days (unless the Post is an event post with a start and end date.)
Also, Google recently moved Posts from the top of the Google My Business profile towards the bottom, so they don’t stand out as much as they did just a few months ago. This may mean that there’s less incentive for businesses to create posts.
However, what this case study does show us is that businesses that are in a competitive location and industry should use Google My Business optimizing strategies and features like posts if they want to get an edge on their competition.
“American business is overwhelmingly small business.” – SBE Council
Small businesses have created 61.8% of net new jobs in the US since the early 1990s. Local business is big business. Let’s celebrate this in honor of Small Business Saturday with 3 strategies that will support independent business owners this week, and in the better future that can be attained with the right efforts.
What’s Small Business Saturday?
It’s an annual shopping event sponsored by American Express on the Saturday following Thanksgiving with the primary goal of encouraging residents to patronize local merchants. The program was launched in 2010 in response to the Great Recession. By 2017, Small Business Saturday jumped to 7,200 Neighborhood Champions (individuals and groups that organize towns for the event), with 108 million reported participating consumers spending $12 billion across the country.
Those numbers are impressive, and more than that, they hold the acorn of strategy for the spreading oak of a nation in which independently grown communities set standards of living, set policy, and set us on course for a sustainable future.
Tips for small businesses today
If your community is already participating in Small Business Saturday, try these techniques to enhance your success on the big day:
1. Give an extra reason to shop with you
This can be as simple as giving customers a small discount or a small free gift with their purchase, or as far-reaching as donating part of the proceeds of the day’s sales to a worthy local cause. Give customers a reason to feel extra good that they shopped with you, especially if you can demonstrate how their purchase supports their own community. Check out our Local Business Holiday Checklist for further tips.
2. Give local media something to report
Creativity is your best asset in deciding how to make your place of business a top destination on Small Business Saturday, worthy of mentions in the local news. Live music? A treasure hunt? The best store window in town? Reach out to reporters if you’re doing something extra special to build up publicity.
3. Give a reason to come back year-round
Turn a shopping moment into a teaching moment. Print up some flyers from the American Independent Business Alliance and pass them out to customers to teach them how local purchasing increases local wealth, health, and security. Take a minute or two to talk with customers who express interest. Sometimes, all it takes is a little education and kindness to shift habits. First, take a few minutes to boost your own education by reading How to Win Some Customer Back from Amazon this Holiday Season.
Unless your town is truly so small that all residents are already aware of every business located there, make 2019 the year you put the Internet to work for you and your community. Even small town businesses have news and promotions they’d like to share on the web, and don’t forget the arrival of new neighbors and travelers who need to be guided to find you. In larger cities, every resident and visitor needs help navigating the local commercial scene.
Try these tips for growth in the new year:
Dig deeply into the Buy Local movement by reading The Local SEO’s Guide to the Buy Local Phenomenon. Even if you see yourself as a merchant today, you can re-envision your role as a community advocate, improving the quality of life for your entire town.
Expand your vision of excellent customer service to include the reality that your neighbors are almost all on the Internet part of every day looking for solutions to their problems. A combination of on-and-offline customer service is your key to becoming the problem-solver that wins lucrative, loyal patrons. Read What the Local Customer Service Ecosystem Looks Like in 2019.
Not sure where to begin learning about local search marketing on the web? First, check out Moz’s free Local SEO Learning Center with articles written for the beginner to familiarize yourself with the basic concepts. Then, start following the recognized leaders in this form of marketingto keep pace with new developments and opportunities as they arise. Make a new year’s resolution to devote just 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, to learning more about marketing your small local business. By the end of a single year, you will have become a serious force for promotion of your company and the community it serves.
Tips for an independent business future: The time is right
I’ve been working in local business marketing for about 15 years, watching not just the development of technologies, but the ebb and flow of brand and consumer habits and attitudes. What I’m observing with most interest as we close out the present year is a rising tide of localistic leanings.
Where your company does business may influence your customers’ take on economics, but overall, the engrossing trend I’m seeing is towards more trust in smaller, independently owned companies. In fact, communities across the US are starting to map out futures for themselves that are as self-sustaining as possible. Earlier, I referenced small business owners undergoing a mental shift from lone merchant to community advocate, and here, I’ve mapped out a basic model for towns and cities to shift toward independence.
What most communities can’t access locally are branded products: imported big label clothing, packaged foods, electronics, cars, branded cosmetics, books. Similarly, most communities don’t have direct local access to the manufacture or mining of plastics, metals, and gases. And, very often, towns and cities lack access to agroforestry for raw lumber, fuel, natural fibers and free food. So, let’s say for now that the typical community leaves these things up to big brands so that they can still buy computers, books and stainless steel cookware from major manufacturers.
But beyond this, with the right planning, the majority of the components for a high standard of living can be created and owned locally. For example:
With the right craftspeople, the necessities and luxuries of life can be produced by tailors, glass blowers, blacksmiths, potters, carpenters, masons, and others. Local or regional products can be vended directly or by independently-owned retailers. With some effort, residents can live in, sit on, wear, drink and eat from products made not far from home.
Some cities are experimenting with free community colleges and others are opening local centers for continuing higher education like TechTown which helps local businesses launch and grow.
Finally, there is the full menu of personal services like home services, elder care, beauty, and fitness that are already often independently owned and can continue to grow in a motivated community.
There are certainly some things we may rely on big brands and federal resources for, but it isn’t Amazon or the IRS who give us a friendly wave as we take our morning hike through town, making us feel acknowledged as people and improving our sense of community. For that, we have to rely on our neighbor. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s up to towns and cities to determine whether neighbors are experiencing a decent standard of living.
Small Business Saturday doesn’t have to be a once-a-year phenomenon. Small business owners, by joining together as community advocates, have the power to make it a way of life where they live. And they have one significant advantage over most corporations, the value of which shouldn’t be underestimated: They can begin the most important conversations face-to-face with their neighbors, asking, “Who do we want to be? Where do want to live? What’s our best vision for how life could be here?”
Don’t be afraid to talk beyond transactions with your favorite customers. Listening closely, I believe you’ll discover that there’s a longing for change and that the time is right.
Your local business will invest its all in stocking shelves and menus with the right goods and services in advance of the 2018 holiday season, but does your inventory include the on-and-offline experiences consumers say they want most?
Right now, a potential patron near you is having an experience that will inform their decision of whether to do business with you at year’s end, and their takeaway is largely hinging on two things: your brand’s transparency and empathy.
Meanwhile, after a trying year of fake news, bad news, and privacy breaches, Americans could certainly use some empathy from brands that respect their rights, needs, aspirations, and time.
Today, let’s explore how your local brand can gift customers with both transparency and empathy before and during the holiday season, and let’s make it easy for your team with a shareable, downloadable checklist, complete with 20 tips for in-store excellence and holiday Google My Business best practices:
Your brother eats at that restaurant because its owner fed 10,000 meals to displaced residents during a wildfire. My sister won’t buy merchandise from that shop because their hiring practices are discriminatory. A friend was so amazed when the big brand CEO responded personally to her complaint that she’s telling all her social followers about it now.
Maybe it’s always been a national pastime for Americans to benefit one another with wisdom gained from their purchasing experiences. I own one of the first cookbooks ever published in this country and ‘tis full of wyse warnings about how to avoid “doctored” meats and grains in the marketplace. Social media has certainly amplified our voices, but it has done something else that truly does feel fresh and new. Consider SproutSocial’s findings that:
86% of Americans say transparency from businesses is more important than ever before.
40% of people who say brand transparency is more important than ever before attribute it to social media.
63% of people say CEOs who have their own social profiles are better representatives for their companies than CEOs who do not.
What were customers’ chances of seeking redress and publicity just 20 years ago if a big brand treated them poorly? Today, they can document with video, write a review, tweet to the multitudes, even get picked up by national news. They can use a search engine to dig up the truth about a company’s past and present practices. And… they can find the social profiles of a growing number of brand representatives and speak to them directly about their experiences, putting the ball in the company’s court to respond for all to see.
In other words, people increasingly assume brands should be directly accessible. That’s new!
Should this increased expectation of interactive transparency terrify businesses?
Absolutely not, if their intentions and policies are open, clear, and honest. It’s a little thing to treat a customer with fairness and regard, but its impacts in the age of social media are not small. In fact, SproutSocial found that transparent practices are golden as far as consumer loyalty is concerned:
85% of people say a business’ history of being transparent makes them more likely to give it a second chance after a bad experience.
89% of people say a business can regain their trust if it admits to a mistake and is transparent about the steps it will take to resolve the issue.
I highly recommend reading the entire SproutSocial study, and while it focuses mainly on general brands and general social media, my read of it correlated again and again to the specific scenario of local businesses. Let’s talk about this!
How transparency & empathy relate to local brands
“73.8% of customers were either likely or extremely likely to continue to do business with a merchant once the complaint had been resolved.” – GetFiveStars
On the local business scene, we’re also witnessing the rising trend of consumers who expect accountability and accessibility, and who speak up when they don’t encounter it. Local businesses need to commit to openness in terms of their business practices, just as digital businesses do, but there are some special nuances at play here, too.
I can’t count the number of negative reviews I’ve read that cited inconvenience caused by local business listings containing wrong addresses and incorrect hours. These reviewers have experienced a sense of ill-usage stemming from a perceived lack of respect for their busy schedules and a lack of brand concern for their well-being. Neglected online local business information leads to neglected-feeling customers who sometimes even believe that a company is hiding the truth from them!
These are avoidable outcomes. As the above quote from a GetFiveStars survey demonstrates, local brands that fully participate in anticipating, hearing, and responding to consumer needs are rewarded with loyalty. Given this, as we begin the countdown to holiday shopping, be sure you’re fostering basic transparency and empathy with simple steps like:
Updating your local business listing hours to reflect extended holiday hours and closures
Updating your website and all local landing pages to reflect this information
Next, bolster more advanced transparency by:
Using Google Posts to clearly highlight your major sale dates so people don’t feel tricked or left out
Answering all consumer questions via Google Questions & Answers in your Google Knowledge Panels
Responding swiftly to both positive and negative reviews on core platforms
Monitoring and participating on all social discussion of your brand when concerns or complaints arise, letting customers know you are accessible
Posting in-store signage directing customers to complaint phone/text hotlines
And, finally, create an empathetic rapport with customers via efforts like:
Developing and publishing a consumer-centric service policy both on your website and in signage or print materials in all of your locations
Using Google My Business attributes to let patrons know about features like wheelchair accessibility, available parking, pet-friendliness, etc.
Publishing your company giving strategies so that customers can feel spending with you supports good things — for example, X% of sales going to a local homeless shelter, children’s hospital, or other worthy cause
Creating a true welcome for all patrons, regardless of gender, identity, race, creed, or culture — for example, gender neutral bathrooms, feeding stations for mothers, fragrance-free environments for the chemically sensitive, or even a few comfortable chairs for tired shoppers to rest in
A company commitment to standards like TAGFEE coupled with a basic regard for the rights, well-being, and aspirations of customers year-round can stand a local brand in very good stead at the holidays. Sometimes it’s the intangible goods a brand stocks — like goodwill towards one’s local community — that yield a brand of loyalty nothing else can buy.
Why not organize for it, organize for the mutual benefits of business and society with a detailed, step-by-step checklist you can take to your next team meeting?: