Your Google Business Profile is the single most important part of local search engine optimization. It’s so important it’s often referred to as your “second website.”
This post is an introduction to optimizing your Google Business Profile to get more customers in 2022. I talk about your website — and the importance of local content — in the next post in this series. Google Business Profile is one of the four building blocks of local SEO.
If you don’t have one yet, the first thing to do is claim your Google Business Profile. It’s free, but you’ll need to verify your physical location by postcard, video, or other means before you can use it. Only businesses with an actual storefront (and service area businesses that operate from a location) are eligible to have a Google Business Profile.
What is a Google Business Profile?
If your website is your online store, Google Business Profile is like your store window. It’s what people see from the street as they’re searching, providing a 24/7 glimpse of what’s inside. It’s your first impression.
It can invite visitors into your online store or lead them to your physical location. More than three in four local searches lead to a visit within 24 hours, and more than a quarter result in a sale. Google Business Profile is largely responsible for that.
According to the latest annual study by Whitespark, Google Business Profile is the single most important ranking factor in whether you reach the local pack (aka map pack) and local finder (36%), which is where you want to be: displayed prominently at the top of the organic results. (Ads will always appear higher; sorry.)
It was called Google My Business until Google abruptly changed the name in December, throwing the local search community into a brief tizzy. That’s why you’ll still see it called Google My Business; search engine blogs are using the new name but not always updating their old blog posts.
What Does “Optimizing Google Business Profile” Even Mean?
The word “profile” makes it sound one-and-done, but that’s misleading.
Optimizing a Google Business Profile means keeping the information on it:
- complete, and
to increase your visibility in local search results for people looking for what you have to offer.
That’s what we’re doing here: keeping it correct, complete, and current.
Why Optimize Your Google Business Profile?
The world of local SEO is always evolving, and so is Google Business Profile. As a result, optimization involves both chores (maintenance) and opportunities.
GBP features come and go frequently, or get merged with something else, to meet the changing habits of people searching “near me” or “nearby” or “open now.” Some changes affect only mobile or desktop search results.
Other changes focus on local business owners, making it easier to use GBP. Since December, you access and manage your GBP directly from a search engine results page (SERP) instead of logging into a dashboard. Search for your business name and a panel with editing controls appears above your results (if you’re logged in to your Google account).
In other words, Google Business Profile is not a static profile but an interactive tool to manage your local marketing and customer service, useful for:
1. Boosting your rankings.
Google Business Profile instantly tells the algorithm whether your business meets the three main criteria for ranking in local search:
- Distance. This is why your correct business name and address or service area are critical. This is local search, after all.
- Relevance. Your main category, posts, and products and services all signal whether your business meets the searcher’s needs.
- Prominence. Reviews signal how well your business is regarded. You can collect, manage, and respond to them right in GBP.
2. Responding to customers.
Reviews and user-generated content can have a major impact — good or bad — on your business and rankings. More on this below.
3. Marketing your business.
Finally, Google Business Profile is a simple (and free!) tool for ongoing marketing and promotion of your business in local organic search. Adding content like photos and posts on a regular basis sends a signal to the local algorithm that your business is relevant and may deserve to rank higher.
In short, optimizing your Google Business Profile is one the most important parts of an effective local search strategy. But how to do it? That’s what I’ll share with you next.
I find it helpful to organize the various tasks of optimization by frequency — by how often the situation requires attention or updating. But first we need to consider the goals of GBP optimization.
Two Goals of Optimization: Rankings & Conversions
We tend to focus on the importance of Google Business Profile for local rankings, but often overlook that it’s equally about conversions.
Surprisingly, only three elements — literally a few lines — of your GBP actually contribute to your rankings: your business name, address, and main category. In a flash, the local search algorithm uses GBP to determine how close your business is to the searcher and how likely it is to provide a relevant answer to his or her query.
The remaining GBP elements are geared toward conversions: answering questions about your products, services, amenities, or other aspects of your business. The top 10 converting elements on a Google Business Profile include reviews, photos, and the ability to book an appointment or message your business directly through GBP.
Depending on your business, Google makes available different options for visitors to engage with your GBP, especially on mobile devices. A hotel or restaurant will have different needs than a hair salon or clothing store.
How to Optimize Google Business Profile
To create a GBP monitoring and update schedule, I find it helpful to organize the information into three basic areas:
Some things don’t change: your business name, address and phone number, main category, and website. Possibly your scheduling or messaging links if you have them. In principle, and the majority of cases, you can set them once and then forget about them.
Not always though. Visitors to your Google Business Profile can submit changes even to this core business information. You still need to monitor. More on this in a minute.
And even though your scheduling and messaging links may never need updating, the appointments and messages they generate may need your attention every day. Hopefully.
Other parts of your GBP need to be monitored or updated regularly — and perhaps frequently. These include the many options provided to describe your business: amenities, service options, shop hours, health precautions, ownership, and more. The ability to post on-site Covid-19 practices has been an especially popular feature with both merchants and shoppers.
Updating your hours (holidays, etc.) and other attributes goes a long way toward helping visitors choose your business. “Complete information” is one of the top 10 conversion factors on a Google Business Profile.
But no matter how well you’ve completed your profile, visitors to your GBP can — without your permission — upload photos, change your hours, amenities, even core information about your business like its name and address.
User-submitted edits are meant for well-meaning customers to provide helpful updates, and most changes are benign or even positive.
But unscrupulous competitors can use them to cause havoc with your rankings, conversions, and business itself. Some industries are beset by malicious changes and GBP spam, which can take time and energy to fix.
Finally, I haven’t even mentioned reviews yet, one of the most important elements of all: 4 of the top 10 conversion factors involve reviews. It’s critical to respond to reviews well and quickly, and you can do it directly through GBP.
In short, a lot can happen to your Google Business Profile that needs a response, sometimes daily but maybe only once a week or month. And changes to your hours, facilities, health precautions, and other attributes need to be reviewed about as often.
Finally, business updates and information about your products and services provide another way to inform and engage visitors. They’re easy to do.
Posts and photos enable you to showcase your business, employees, community, offers and specials, or other news and updates. To be clear: posts, photos, and attributes (see section above) don’t have any effect on your rankings. But they can have a powerful effect on who clicks through your GBP to your website or driving directions.
How Often Should You Optimize Google Business Profile?
There’s no one “right” schedule for optimizing a Google Business Profile. It depends in large part on your business and even your industry; some are especially beset by spam problems, for instance.
And it depends on your resources, how much time you’re able to devote to, say, posting updates and photos. You can post weekly or month or in between.
Local SEO expert Claire Carlile offers a great free template to use (as I do) for creating your own GBP management schedule.
The purpose of optimizing your Google Business Profile is both to get your business found and make a good first impression, so that a searcher/customer makes the click to take the next step.
Above all, that means creating a good user experience, including:
- correct, complete, and current information about your business,
- interactive features that make it easy to contact your business.
It’s important to stay on top of this. The world of local search changes constantly and rapidly; Google Business Profile keeps up with it.
Read the whole series introducing local SEO to small business owners:
- 7 Reasons Why Local SEO is Important for Your Small Business
- How to Do Local SEO: The 4 Building Blocks of Success
- How to Optimize Google Business Profile to Engage More Customers (this post)
- How to Boost Local SEO with Local Blog Content
- It’s Your Reputation: How to Manage Reviews (coming soon)
- Citations: Should You Get Listed in Online Directories? (coming soon)
Submit the form below to get notified of new posts and receive The Local SEO Report each month.