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5 Important Ways to Update Your Business Listings in an Emergency

When emergencies happen, it’s important to keep your business information up-to-date so customers know when and how to access your products and services. Here’s a checklist of action items to help ensure your online business information remains accurate and reliable when a health crisis, natural disaster, tragedy, or other emergency affects daily operations. These recommendations are based on the features available in Google My Business (GMB).

Please note: If you are a business that is affected by COVID-19, you can learn more from Google Support about handling your Google My Business listings.

Update Store Hours

If an emergency has disrupted your normal business hours, change your store hours to reflect your new open and close times.

Tips for Handling Unique Store Hours

  • GMB Special Hours: For short-term changes in business hours, you may use Google My Business “special hours” to show that this adjustment is temporary.
  • Appointment Only: If your business cannot remain open to the public but you’re still conducting business, share this information by adding it to your business description (more below). Google does not provide an “hours by appointment” option at this time.
  • Dedicated Hours for Certain Patrons: More businesses are adjusting their hours to give the elderly and other at-risk people exclusive access to their business at certain days and hours. The best way to communicate this message is through your business description (see below), email marketing, social media, and a post on GMB.

Use Alerts

Add an alert banner to your website and location pages communicating information about changes customers can expect during this time. Website visitors may want to know if you are still operating during the emergency, how your business is making adjustments, and if they can expect delays in receiving your products/services.

Use an alert banner to drive traffic to a page that addresses customers’ most common questions. For example, with the increase in to-go and takeout orders, people want to know: Is it safe to order from [Restaurant]? And what are the restaurant’s employees doing to ensure the safety of my food?

A dedicated FAQ page with answers to customer questions is a great way to maintain customer trust—and potentially business—during a risky time. Turn to your social media profiles or customer service team for insight into the most commonly asked questions.

Update Your Business Description

Your business description is a summary (up to 750 characters) that appears when a user searches for your local business or checks out your listing on Google. Use your description to share how your business is handling the emergency. Here are some ideas to help you craft your emergency business message:

  • Explain why you are adjusting your business hours.
  • Share extra precautions you’re taking to mitigate risk.
  • Communicate new or extra services during this time.
  • Highlight any delays customers may see.
  • Give readers a timeline on when they can expect your business to resume its normal operation.

Use Google Posts

Google Posts allow you to post content directly into the search engine results pages for your business listing. Think of it like a social media post for your business listing. You can write a quick note, add an image, and link to a more extensive webpage or blog post that shares a complete overview of how the emergency is impacting your business and what customers should know.

Manage Store Closures

On March 15, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that businesses now have the option to mark themselves as ‘temporarily closed.’

You may use this setting to let customers know that though your business is temporarily shut down, they can expect to see your business return after the resolution of the emergency.

Top Tips for Managing Business Information in Evolving Emergencies

Be on Standby for Evolving Changes

As emergency situations evolve, so will your business information. Be on standby to make online changes that’ll help customers stay up-to-date on how to access your products and services.

Prioritize Location Pages and GMB

Update your owned location pages and GMB listings. Anticipate that consumers may look in both areas for information.

Understand GMB Limits

Google My Business is an amazing tool for spreading information about your business, but it has limits. Depending on the nature of the emergency, Google may choose to prioritize updating one business’s information over another’s. For example, Google is prioritizing health-related businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak, so critical edits (like hours, business description, etc.) to health-related businesses will be reviewed by Google before edits to other businesses. Also, new reviews and Q&A posts are on pause in an effort to protect businesses from ill-informed reviews.

If you have questions or need guidance on how to update multi-location business information online, please contact GPO.

Man holding phone with street in the background and Google Maps pulled up on his phone

Google Maps Is the Ruling Local Search Tool

Google is the Big Cheese. The Kahuna. The Sultan of Swat. (Okay, so that last one is Babe Ruth, not Google.) But did you know that Google Maps, in particular, might be the reigning Titan of Terror? Many clicks are shifting away from WWW sites and traditional SERP listings in favor of Google Maps.

We’ve been tracking this shift in our clients’ monthly analyses.

Engagement with Google business listings (GMB) continues to show growth YoY, including a record number of calls, direction requests, and clicks to clients’ websites from GMB. Map views and discovery searches are also at all-time high levels.

Survey confirms Google Maps preference

A new survey* found that 77% of respondents use Google Maps to find “near me” business information before they turn to other sites. After Google Maps, users turn to Facebook (38%) and Yelp (35%).

The survey also found that the majority of people (81%) use their smartphones for “near me” searches—no surprise there.

What’s interesting, however, is that people aren’t searching on their phones when they’re “on the go!” Most local searches are happening while people are at home (59%). Among those who performed local searches at home, 54% said they would go to the business either right away or on the same day, and 46% said they would visit the business within the next few days.

What’s the big deal?

Online research still results in offline purchases—it’s just difficult to track. (Google’s latest patent aims to track AND increase offline purchases. Check it out if you’re ready to get a little creeped out.)

The best way to secure your spot in Google’s Map Pack is a threefold approach.

  1. Claim your Google My Business listings and ensure the data (name, address, phone number, hours, latitude and longitude, etc.) are accurate. This isn’t a “one and done” thing. You will need to manually triage and correct listing information on an ongoing basis.
  2. Create local content pages for every business location and geographic area your company serves.
  3. Link your local content to your Google My Business listings.

This last step is especially important. It closes the loop for Google and shows the search engine exactly who you are, where you do business, and what you sell/do.

You can also further optimize your Google Maps listing by adding images, getting reviews, and optimizing your business description.

Reach out to GPO for help improving your presence in Google Maps or closing the loop on your local search presence. The Titan of Terror isn’t going anywhere. 😉

*The survey included a little over 1,000 responses from U.S. adults; 53% female; 47% under the age of 45.

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Get Appointments, Orders and More Right From Your Google Listing

Get Appointments, Orders and More Right From Your Google Listing

Store hours on a Google Business Profile listingMore reservations, more appointments, more menu views…it can all be yours! Customers can now interact more with your business, right from your listing in Google.

In the past, Google only allowed Google My Business (GMB) owners to add one landing page URL per location, which typically took the user to the main brand page or a local landing page for that specific listing. You essentially had to choose one action over another. Did you want reservations or orders? Appointments or homepage visits?

Over the past few months, Google has released a number of updates to GMB, the first of which was the ability for restaurants to add a menu URL to their local listings to drive users back to the brand’s domain as opposed to a third-party site, like OpenTable.

The most recent update has extended this feature to include landing page URLs for a host of other business types and actions. Check out local search expert Mike Blumenthal’s screenshot, left. Businesses can now add multiple URLs to make it more convenient for customers to:

  • Book an appointment
  • Place an order
  • Reserve a table
  • Search for items
  • View a menu

Here’s the thing: local listings are evolving into an extension of a business’s website, making strategically optimized (and accurate) GMB listings more important than ever. This update makes it easier for your customers to take action directly from Google Search or Maps. Customers can already chat with a business right from a business listing. What will they be able to do next? What do you want them to do next?

GPO can help you find out which landing page URLs are available for your business type. Local business URLs are currently available at the enterprise level and through bulk updates. View Google’s Help page on Local Business URLs to explore on your own!

Glowing, out of focus Google sign

Get Ahead of Customer Q and A on Mobile Search

Get Ahead of Customer Q and A on Mobile Search

Google Business Profile with Q&ADo you have gluten-free options that are safe for a Celiac?

Where’s the nearest free parking lot?

Can I tie my Great Dane up on the outdoor patio?

Is there space to park a baby stroller?

Will I need my iPhone flashlight to view the menu?

Phew! Whatever questions your customers may have called or emailed to ask in the past, they can now ask within your business’s Knowledge Panel on Google Maps for Android, Android Chrome, and through an iOS mobile search. Google is calling it: “Questions and Answers” or “Places Q&A.”

Google feels that users have a lot of place-specific questions that aren’t getting answered, says Tim Capper of Online Ownership. With this feature, Google hopes users can make better, quicker decisions about a place. Businesses can now add frequently asked questions and answers to their GMB listing, answer user-submitted questions, and “thumb up” questions and answers from other people to acknowledge helpful contributions.

So what? While this feature is currently only available on Google through mobile devices, it could soon be available on desktop, too. Effectively embraced and managed, this new feature can help a business. Ignore it and you run the risk of incorrectly crowdsourced answers, the spread of misinformation, and frazzled would-be customers.

“Like reviews, there is no way to hide from this,” says Mike Blumenthal. “You are better off being proactive and getting ahead of it. It may be hard but take a deep breath and start planning now.”

Here are a few ideas to give your business the best opportunity for success and accuracy in Places:

  • Get ahead of user-submitted questions and more importantly, answers. Identify your top FAQs and post them to your business listing.
  • Consider designating a point person at each business location to regularly monitor Places Q&A and respond on behalf of your business. One option is to monitor Q&A on the Android Maps app, as you can receive notifications through the Android Maps app when a new question has been posted.
  • Answer questions in a timely manner. Wait for crowdsourcing and you leave room for errors and misinformation.

Q&A is currently available on the Google Maps app for Android, Android Chrome, and through mobile search on iOS devices, though the details on how businesses are notified and can respond to questions is a little fuzzy. Q&A is not accessible through a GMB dashboard. Our Presence Management team anticipates that this is a phased rollout, or even a beta, and will end up eventually on Desktop as well as the Google Maps app for iOS (not just Android). Learn more about adding questions, answering questions, and getting notified from Google and stay tuned for more information!

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Google Posts: What You Need to Know

Google Posts: What You Need to Know

What are Google Posts?

Google Business Profile screenshotGoogle Posts offer a new way for businesses with brick and mortar locations to be heard online, in real-time.

Released to all businesses with a Google My Business (GMB) account on June 22, this feature allows local businesses to effortlessly create content to display in their Knowledge Panel in Google.

“Your Google listing is the ideal place to showcase what is unique about your business,” says Google, and Google Posts is “an easy way to help attract new customers and build relationships with the customers you already have.”

With a maximum word count of 300 and a lifespan of seven days or less, Posts are built for instant consumption and to drive action. They can be used to:

  • Highlight daily specials or current promotions
  • Promote current or upcoming in-store events
  • Showcase a product or announce a new arrival
  • Drive one-click action, making it easier for customers to make a reservation, sign up, learn more, or buy an item

Take a look at how a jewelry store (above), therapist (below), and secondhand sporting goods franchise (below) are using Google Posts to drive brand awareness and action.

Just Mind Google Business ProfilePlay It Again Sports Google Business Profile

Barbara Oliver Jewelry uses Google Posts to share stories about her customers (Shane and his girlfriend) and send visitors to product pages and customer reviews. Just Mind uses Posts to explain what they do in relation to a certain social problem (in this case, traumatic events) and drive newsletter sign-ups. Play It Again Sports uses Posts to let customers know about the latest and greatest products. Come and get your skateboards while they last!

Why bother with Google Posts?

This feature is essentially a new way to make social media type posts directly in Google Search and Google Maps. As a business’s organic reach in Facebook continues to decline, Google Posts offers an opportunity to be heard in an equally crowded, but just as trafficked space—all in real-time.

Google hopes that this new content will keep users engaged in the Knowledge Panel and search in general, for longer.

No one is yet sure the extent to which Google Posts will be beneficial for search from a long-term perspective, as it’s not clear where or how Posts that have expired will live (if anywhere at all), and whether they will be indexed, searchable, and discoverable in search.

From a short-term perspective, however, Posts could prove to be a powerful way to increase in-store traffic, especially when it comes to generating an audience for an in-store event or limited-time offer. Posts can also be shared directly from Google across Facebook, Twitter, G+, and email.

Ready to try Google Posts?

Now is the time to start brainstorming how your business can leverage Google Posts. Will you promote limited-time offers? In-store events? New product arrivals? Customer testimonials?

Creating a Post for a single location is incredibly simple. Within your GMB dashboard you can add text, an image, link, and select a CTA button (Learn more, Reserve, Sign Up, or Buy). If your post is designated as an Event, it will live as long as the event timeframe. Or, you can schedule up to ten Posts ahead of time and give each a lifespan of up to seven days.

Currently, Posts can only be displayed for one location and cannot be applied to all locations within an account. Analytics is limited to Post views and actions, is not integrated into Insights, and cannot be viewed in aggregate. Google has indicated that this lack of functionality will soon be addressed.

Connect with your Presence Management team or Client Partner for more information on how to utilize this exciting new feature. Are there business goals that Google Posts could help you achieve? Let’s talk about!

Further Reading

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Links Are Hot, Reviews Are Smokin, but Proximity Is Smoldering

Links Are Hot, Reviews Are Smokin, but Proximity Is Smoldering

There are dozens of factors at play when it comes to visibility in local search, factors that seem to ebb and flow in importance with every confirmed (and unconfirmed) algorithm update. In Moz’s 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, industry experts come together to help businesses and marketers make sense of these factors, narrow their focus, and gain a better understanding of what drives local search results.

The survey speaks to what it takes to make it in the local 3-pack and gain high visibility in local organic search results. (And if you’re not sure where these coveted spots are, just take a look at the below screenshot.) We encourage you to grab a cup of coffee and dig into the extensive survey results. While your coffee brews, read on for a quick overview of the survey’s top findings.

Example of local map pack results and local organic results

Local map ranking factors

This year’s results show a shake-up in factors that affect local 3-pack results.

  • Proximity to the searcher is the new number one ranking factor in local search results. If your location isn’t actually close to the searcher, it’s going to be tough to grab a spot in the 3-pack.
  • Proper Google My Business category associations and quality structured citations remain foundational to gaining visibility in the local 3-pack. Accuracy is a must.
  • Review signal importance increased over the past year, suggesting that Google is rewarding businesses with a higher quantity and variety of reviews.
  • Link signals (including the quality and quantity of inbound links to a site) took over as the second most important group of ranking factors.

Local organic ranking factors

Ranking signals for localized organic search results didn’t see as big of a shake-up as local 3-pack signals.

  • Link signals remain the most important category of ranking factors in 2017, with “quality/authority of inbound links to domain” surpassing “domain authority” as the primary ranking factor.
  • “Diversity of inbound links to domain” and “quantity of inbound links to domain” both increased in importance.
  • Click-through rate from search results and having a mobile-friendly/responsive site remain two of the top ten ranking factors.

So what? Ah, where do we start! Local search expert Darren Shaw summed up the survey results in plain language pretty well. In his blog post announcing the survey results, he wrote:

“You need to have a physical location in the city you’re trying to rank in, and it’s helpful for it to be close to the searcher. Then, make sure to have the proper categories associated with your listing, and get your citations built out and consistent on the most important sites. Now, to really move the needle, focus on getting links and reviews.”

Moz’s findings underline a business’s need to engage in a variety of activities in order to compete for a few precious spots in the local 3-pack and the first page of organic results. Businesses with higher relevance, stronger link profiles, more reviews, and an impressive accuracy rate will rank in a wider radius around their business and eat up a larger percentage of the local search pie.

Got that cup of coffee ready? Browse the full survey results here.

Blue waves

Play Dead! Google Possum Algorithm Update Shakes Up Local Listings

Play Dead! Google Possum Algorithm Update Shakes Up Local Listings

Ok, so “Possum” isn’t the official name of September’s Local algorithm update, but it’s certainly fitting. This update has caused many business owners to believe that their Google My Business listings are gone, when in fact they’ve just been filtered. They’ve been “playing possum,” aka feigning sleep or death.

Though Google did not officially announce this update, it’s proving to be one of the most significant changes to local search results since Pigeon in 2014. Here are a few of the most important changes, courtesy of our friends at Search Engine Land.

Businesses that fall outside city limits are receiving a boost in visibility

Previously, if a business was located outside of the physical city limits of a particular city, it would be practically impossible for them to rank for keywords that included the city name, even if they had a mailing address within city limits.

For instance, let’s say you run a wildlife control company in Florida that specializes in humanely capturing rabid possum, snakes, and raccoons. While your mailing address is in Sarasota, you’re technically in a census-designated area called “Gulf Gate Estates.” After this update, your business got a massive increase in local visibility for Sarasota related wildlife control searches. That’s a serious win for you, but increased competition for wildlife control businesses that are actually located within Sarasota city limits.

The searcher’s physical location just got WAY more important

Whether you include a local modifier in your Google search (pete’s possum emporium + city) or not, Google cares where you’re geographically located when you type in a search. Search for “pete’s possum emporium in Orlando” from a parking lot in Nashville and you’ll see different results than someone who’s searching for the same thing from deep within Orlando.

With Possum, you can expect the searcher’s geographic location to play an even greater role than before. While “pete’s possum emporium in Orlando” may show up in the first spot in the local 3-pack when searching from Winter Park, FL, the location will drop in visibility the further away from Orlando you get.

Along those same lines, Possum has also “made it less likely that similar businesses clustered together will dominate location-based searches unless the searcher is conducting the search close to the actual location of those businesses,” reports Search Engine Land.

As an example, prior to Possum a search for “chinese restaurants in chicago” would likely turn up a handful of Chinese places located near one another in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood on the south side of the city. Those are helpful results if you’re already near Chinatown, but what if you want something closer to your current location in north Chicago? Now, you’re less likely to be presented with similar businesses that are clustered near one another.

Slight variations in keywords are producing different search results

Google search results for wildlife control orlandoTogether, RankBrain and Possum are making it less and less important to fill your website with the same target keyphrase. While it was once essential to maintain a certain level of keyword density in order to rank for a specific keyphrase, those days are long gone. You can now expect to see slightly different local 3-pack results and organic listings given subtle shifts in your search. Check out this example search for: “wildlife control orlando,” (right), “wildlife control orlando fl” (bottom right), and “orlando fl wildlife control” (bottom left).

Google search results for orlando fl wildlife control and wildlife control orlando fl

So what? There are two takeaways to keep in mind here:

  1. Google is getting smarter with every update, both minor and major. They know where you are when you complete a search and the type of searches you’ve found helpful in the past (yes, it’s all very “Big Brother”). They also know where almost any business is located, down to the side of the street the business faces. Check your physical location settings and clear your search history before assuming that your local listing is playing possum. Or, ask your Client Partner to dig a little deeper if you’re truly worried about a rogue listing.
  2. While being aware of your approximate keyword usage when writing content is an important aspect of creating optimized content, remember that search engines have shifted their focus more towards providing a positive user experience (quality and authority of the content over its use of keywords). Individual location pages with unique, helpful on-page content is your go-to solution for giving Google the ingredients it needs to serve up your listing at the perfect moment, for the perfect prospective customer. You want to be “Nuisance Wildlife Removal,” the only Orlando wildlife control business to show up in all three of our example searches.