Meetup Summary

Did you know that Google Maps business listings with more than 100 images get 520% more calls than the average business or that 91% of questions posted to Google Maps listings have been not been answered? Some have even said that Google is the new homepage for a business. How can you take advantage of Google’s free tool that populates Google Maps (Google My Business)? COVID-19 is the perfect time to optimize your Google Maps profile and get more bookings when lockdowns are lifted. You’ll hear from experts who will share simple tips on what to do to get a leg-up on your competitors in searches for “things to do in [city]” or “where to stay in [city]” and get more customers.

Guest Panel

Webinar Video Recording

Key Takeaways

  1. Your Google My Business (GMB) property is nearly as critical as your own website; it powers your listings on Google Maps, allows your listing to show in local searches and greatly influences how users perceive and interact with your brand on Google.
  2. Your GMB ranking in local/map searches is most influences by the following factors: Business name, category(ies) and reviews.
  3. If there is a field in GMB that may be relevant to your business or could be used to provide relevant information, use it!
  4. Your reviews on Google not only influence your rankings, they have a dramatic effect on how users perceive your brand. The best practice is to proactively request reviews and to make sure you respond to reviews.
  5. Google has added tools in GMB to notify users of temporary changes related to COVID-19.

Resource Links

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Meetup Transcript

[Carl] Welcome, everyone. This is Carl Lefever, one of the hosts for the Accelerate Tourism Marketing Meetup. Thank you for joining us today. If this is your first time at the meetup, this is a virtual meetup for business leaders that are serving the tourism industry. So this includes people that operate the business, people that are marketing for the business, as well as other people that have businesses that focus specifically on tourists. We focus on sharing tourism marketing ideas through guest speakers and open discussion. We’re planning to hold these weekly for now during the lockdown period, and then hopefully you’ll all be busy running your businesses after we get outta lockdown, so we’ll shift this to more of a monthly sequence after that. So we wanna just welcome all of you. I know we’ve got some new folks on the call today, as well as some folks that have been with us since the beginning. We appreciate all of you and hope you’re looking forward to some good discussion today. Our topic today is how to optimize your Google Maps listing to get more bookings. We’re gonna be talking about all the different ways that you can manage your property on Google. We’ve got two experts on with us today, Darren Shaw, who is a recognized local SEO expert and founder of the company Whitespark, and Justin Mosebach who’s a member of the Improve & Grow team who’s also recognized as a local SEO expert, and we’ve got some questions for them today just to help introduce the topic like we usually do. And they’ll be sharing some practical advice, tips, ideas, and we’ll also be opening it up to the group for questions. So, I would encourage you as we’re talking here, if you’ve got burning questions, things you don’t understand about the way Google My Business works, questions about some of the things that Darren and Justin share, throw those up in chat. Sam, wave Sam. Sam’s gonna be moderating chat and taking questions there, and… Like I said, Darren and Justin are, have a ton of experience in this area, so feel free to ask them hard questions. All right, guys. So hey Darren, thanks for joining us today.

[Darren] Hey, thanks for having me.

[Carl] You bet. So Darren, just since probably a lot of the folks on the call aren’t familiar with the company that you own, just talk a little bit about Whitespark and what you do.

[Darren] Yeah, so Whitespark has been around since 2005. We started as a web development company. In 2010 we launched a software system called The Local Citation Finder, which helped you kinda analyze your business listings and your competitors’ listings, and it shows you opportunities of where you can get listed online. And then we just kind of became a local search SaaS company from that point. And so we’ve launched software and services, we do business listings, like we’ll actually build them for you, clean them up. We’ve got a GMB service where we’ll manage your GMB listing for you. So, that’s Whitespark. I do a lot of research and writing. We’re kinda known for kinda researching and understanding local search and then I speak about it at a lot of stages across the U.S. And so yeah, we’re just all about local SEO, you know, Google My Business optimization, getting you ranking in local packs and that kinda stuff, and optimizing that as much as you can. So that’s the company. That’s what we do. That’s what I do.

So needless to say, you’ve got a lot of experience with Google My Business.

[Darren] Yes. Yes, absolutely.

[Justin] And he lives in an Amish house too, hence his background.

[Darren] Right, yeah, yes I’ve got a nice Amish setup here today.

[Carl] So Darren, I mean most of the people on our call are at least familiar with Google My Business but may bot be familiar with all the different aspects of it. So just give us a quick overview, like what is Google My Business? How does it relate to Google Maps? How does it relate to Google search?

[Darren] Sure yeah, so Google My Business is the sort of portal you log into to manage your listing on Google, and that listing shows up in a number of places. And so if you did a branded search for your business name, you’ll see it come up on the right hand side. We used to call that the knowledge panel. Now we call it the business profile. Google officially named it. So, that’s your business profile and you’re gonna see it’s got photos, your name, address, phone number, a link to your website, you know, a whole bunch of features. And so the thing that most people, they haven’t looked at that listing for so long, but there’s so much awesome new stuff in Google My Business, lots of great features that have been added that businesses aren’t taking advantage of. And so over the past couple years, really since they divorced local from the Google+ thing, then that team started really focusing on building up GMB, Google My Business, and so it’s been, there’s a ton of stuff in there that’s really awesome. So that, your listing also shows up in Google maps. So anyone that’s using the Maps app looking for something, that’s powered by your Google My Business listing. It shows up in just general search. If you type in, you know, things to do in whatever, you’re gonna get a knowledge panel, or a local pack sometimes, or you’ll type in “bed and breakfasts in Lancaster”, you’ll get a local pack, and so that’s all powered by Google My Business too. So it’s a great opportunity to optimize and… not only for rankings, but also optimize for conversions. I think that’s a big thing a lot of people miss. It is that, yeah, you can definitely impact your ranking by messing around with your Google listing and optimizing it, but you can also drastically increase your conversions by using all of these awesome features. Make your listing stand out. Like, imagine you’re looking at two different websites, one website is just like a one pager with just basic plain text on it, the other website has images and videos and it looks awesome. Like, which company are you gonna go with? You have that same opportunity right now in the local listings by really enhancing your Google My Business listing. So, you know, that’s a big part of what we advocate at Whitespark right now.

Yeah, I know a lot of us have seen that Google’s really trying to expand the real estate on the search engine, like four branded searches. Google’s really making a lot more space there for the brands, they’re adding lots of ways. And you know they’re really trying to keep people in the search engine, so they’re trying to make as much information available to the user as possible. And so they’re giving businesses tools to be able to do that which is really cool. It can sometimes feel hard to keep up with. So… You know, one thing that might be important is, you know, like sometimes listings just pop up, sometimes the information, you see it, but you’re not sure how to edit it. Just give us the quick, kind of like one, two, three on how do we edit a listing and what do you consider to be the most important items to fill out?

Yeah, so if you… If you don’t already have access to your GMB listing then just searching your brand name will bring up the business profile on the right hand side and there’ll be a link that says “Own this business?”. You click that, you can claim the listing, and you’ll be able to manage it. So the claiming process is typically by phone or postcard, so they’ll either call your business, or they’ll send you a postcard and then you’ll have to enter a pin number. Once you’re in there, from a ranking perspective, there’s really only a few things that you can control. There’s a bunch of stuff in there, but everyone’s tested it and they don’t impact rankings. So the things that do impact ranking though, absolutely are you categories. So your primary category is a major driver of ranking, so you’ve gotta get that category right. Find what is the number one thing that your business does and make sure that your primary category is the best match for that. After that, add any other possible categories that relate to your business. They have to be related. You can actually hurt your rankings if you’re picking weird things. Like let’s say you were… You know you were doing… You were a bed and breakfast, but then you also put hat shop and, you know, a proctologist, and all these weird other categories that are totally not related to your business. You put a whole bunch of weird stuff in there then it can actually hurt your ranking, but as long as the categories are related, categories are the number one, sort of thing you can do to optimize your listing. Hm. After categories, it’s really reviews. So getting lots of Google reviews can definitely have a positive impact on your ranking. So review strategy, I think we’re gonna talk a little bit about that, but it’s huge. And so getting lots of reviews driven to Google My Business can have a very positive impact. So if you’re a business that’s focusing on, let’s say TripAdvisor or Yelp, and you’re not investing your time into trying to get Google reviews, I think that’s a bit of a miss, and I would encourage you to really start focusing on your review strategy on Google. There’s great opportunity there to drive your rankings up through reviews. But the other thing, which you’re not really supposed to change, it should just be your primary business name, is that the business name field can really impact ranking as well. So, if you had keywords in your business name that’s very helpful for you. I’ve actually seen people change their official business name just because of the massive ranking benefit you can get from having keywords in the business name. So, you’re not supposed to stuff keywords in there and it’s one of the things that, you know, people that are called spam fighters are doing all the time. They’re looking at businesses who’re stuffing keywords and trying to take them out, but it’s not overly policed by Google, so, I don’t know, if you wanted you could try to get away with it for a while. Some people do that. So those are the things that impact ranking. Then there’s a ton of other stuff in there that are just really focused on making your listing stand out and convert, which are Google Posts, Products, filling out all the services. My general advice is if there’s a feature or a field in GMB, fill it out. Whatever you can put in there and make it look good. So. Get really going to every feature and adding as much as you can to it, that has a really great impact on your ability to convert.

[Carl] Yeah, just to add to that, we’ve seen, like what you said about the categories, I thought of an example right away where we work with a company that has a couple of different services. So they have like a campground, they offer some outdoor tours, and they also do some other things, and we’ve seen some very dramatic differences with what they choose as their primary categories. You’ve really gotta think through that. And great tip on not adding extraneous information that doesn’t actually relate to your business. It’s not gonna help you at all. That’s awesome

Yeah.

Justin, I’m curious, you do a lot of day-to-day work and ground-level work on helping people really show up with their Google profiles. What kind of other areas would you mention are big ones to fill out on the Google My Business profile?

[Justin] Yeah, I think Darren did a really good job covering the major things, some of the other things I would just point out would be that with images, you can also upload videos. So what we’ve done is even taken some of our client’s YouTube videos and uploaded them there. You can add… And you want to make sure that you set your cover photo, they call it, and your profile photo. It doesn’t guarantee that that’s what’s gonna show up in the Google search result, or Google Maps for that matter for your listing, but it can definitely… It can definitely help and sometimes Google does choose that. Some other things I would mention would be… I think Darren’s gonna talk about Products in a little bit here, but services, if anybody’s a service business that gives tours or anything like that, you can list your individual… Whether it’s tours or other types of services that you offer there. Maybe you’re like a hotel for example, and you give a tour of the area for free to guests who stay with you. You can add those there as a service.

[Carl] Yeah, I like that. And something Darren said made me think of that when you mentioned the services, that, you know, you could go kind of the general way and say we offer outdoor tours or we offer a bed and breakfast, but you can also break it down into specific things, and each of those will create additional blocks and additional pieces of content that users can see. And then Google will surface that in the search results in the knowledge panels. So, to kind of echo what you’re saying and what Darren was saying, just filling out every available field and making, basically anything that is worth sharing with potential clients or customers or people that are searching you out, making it available on Google both makes it possible for it to show up there, but also makes it available to Google so they can understand your business better. So, we’ve seen… I know we’ve seen that the more time you spend optimizing the profile and putting good information there, we’ve seen that have kind of an indirect effect on how the website ranks as well. So there’s some side benefits for a website and for general search engine optimization, or at least we believe there are.

[Justin] Yeah, and I guess I misspoke with the services, hotels. I’m looking at a hotel listing right now and you can’t do services for them, but you can… Google has a specific section called “Hotel Attributes”, so even if you’re a bed and breakfast, this is likely showing up in your listing. So I would make sure to go in there and fill it all out. It’s gonna ask you questions like do you have wifi available everywhere? Do you have a public internet work station? Do you have a restaurant in your hotel? What’s the check-in time, check-out time, payment types? Do you have beach access? Shuttle service, all sorts of, all sorts of stuff in there. So definitely make sure that you fill all that out because if somebody’s looking, for example, and we’ve seen this a lot, and search, you know, “hotel with indoor pool” or “hotel for kids with indoor pool”, that type of thing. You’re gonna have a lot better chance to rank, just to show up in general, if you have those amenities filled out. So definitely fill out those attributes. And hotels aren’t the only type of company that has attributes, but they’re the ones that have the most options.

[Carl] That’s great tips. I know something you and I have talked about before that was really important to me, is even, you know, you can kind of take the position, hey this information’s on my website, I just wanna get them to my website, but taking the time to fill that out, Google’s gonna give priority to listings that are complete and that’ll help Google surface your listing when people are doing specific searches like the one you mentioned, “hotel with an indoor pool”, is a great tip. Thank you. Darren, Justin mentioned it a little bit and you did as well, the products. Do you wanna talk a little bit more about Products? And I think we have an example up here that you wanted to mention.

Yeah, so, Products are one feature of GMB that I’m pretty excited about right now. I’m seeing a lot of businesses use it very creatively. The main thing that is awesome about Products is that they have such high prominence on the knowledge panel on the business profile. So the example that you’ve put up in the slide deck there, what you can see is that when someone searches your brand there is this section called Products which is very visible. And so this a gift shop. They have put lots of stuff related to COVID to try and continue to surface some of their services that they’re still offering. So they’re doing curbside pick-up. They’re doing, they’ve set up an online store so you can shop online. They’re even doing like remote design services and if you click through to that it’s gonna show you, like, you know, they’ll kind of walk around your house with a FaceTime and they’ll offer services. And so a lot of businesses can do that by using this Products section. A lot people don’t realize, Products can be actually used for anything. It’s not just an actual physical product you sell. You may be a service company and you don’t have any actual products, but you should definitely take advantage of this section and feature some of the different things that you’re doing. You can really put anything in it. It’s got great prominence. You can link it to any specific page of your website. So, if you have… Let’s say you were a tour company, and you have different packages, I’d put each one as a separate package in there. Or, you know, that kind of stuff. Or if you’re a bed and breakfast, you could talk about, well, actually, I really need to say something that’s super important. Sadly, the hotel category, and bed and breakfast, and lodges, and those categories, there are a lot of really awesome features in GMB you’re gonna see in here, in this sort of webinar that we’re doing, that you don’t have access to, and it’s really unfortunate. Hotels almost have a completely separate team that manages their listings because Google, of course, through the OTAs is trying to monetize everything, and so they’ve really kind of stripped GMB for hotels and you won’t have access to it, to Products, you won’t have access to Google Posts. And that can be very frustrating for you that you don’t have these features that we’re gonna talk about, but anyone who has a business that’s not a hotel will have access to these features. And so Products is one of them that I think lots of businesses should take advantage of and that’s a great example there of how you can use it.

[Carl] Cool. Darren you talked about reviews earlier and I think I caught you correctly, like if we kind of order it in orders of priority, like just having a listing with accurate information about your business name and address, like that would be the number one factor otherwise you can’t even show up. Number two would be having the correct primary and supporting categories so that you can show up for specific searches. I think I heard you rightly that you would almost put as the third priority, and once you get those first two things nailed you don’t really have to change them that much, so this really becomes more of an ongoing priority, is the reviews. Is that right?

[Darren] Yeah, I would say the reviews probably are more important even than like regularly doing Google posts. Focusing on your reviews will have a huge impact from two perspectives. One, of course, it definitely impacts rankings on Google. So, the more reviews you get, generally people mention specific things that they experienced with you, and all of that gives great keyword content for Google to understand your business. When that content is coming from, is crowdsourced from your actual customers, it has a better impact on your ability to rank. And so getting reviews on Google is massively valuable. The second reason why it’s really valuable is that as you get more reviews, you surface up higher in the rankings, but you also end up, people that are searching for this will read those reviews and they’ll be much more likely to convert. And so it’s a massive conversion factor. I have seen businesses completely transform, like four times their sales over a course of three years just because of a real attention on Google reviews. So every client that they work with, every customer, they get the review ask, and by building up the reviews on Google, they improved their rankings and they massively improved their number of calls coming from Google because people that are shopping around read them and are like oh, this looks like an awesome company. Of course, if you don’t care about customer service, and you don’t do a good job, you’re reviews could be negative. That’s actually even another reason why you should focus on it cause the main thing that happens is, if you don’t ask for reviews, you’ll trend towards the negative side. Only people that are gonna leave you one are going to be people that had a bad experience. If you ask everybody for a review you’re gonna trend to the higher side because almost every business I know has a higher percentage of happy customers unless you run a terrible business. You have a higher percentage of happy customers and so, all the happy customers are not overly inclined to just go and leave you a review unless you did something absolutely stellar to impress them. But when you ask if they had a good experience, they’ll be likely to leave you a review and so then your reviews will skew towards the positive. And so there’s huge benefits to reviews. And… I see a lot people actually, in tourism, that focus on TripAdvisor, or they focus on Yelp, and they kind of ignore their Google listing. I think there’s a great opportunity there to focus on it.

[Carl] Yeah, that’s a great point. I mean I think it’s, it’s not like either or, right? Like I would think you wouldn’t say don’t get good reviews on TripAdvisor, don’t focus on getting good reviews for Yelp, but don’t forget about Google because, you know, Google has the largest share in the US and across the world, but particularly in the US with share of the search market. And Google surfaces those reviews in a lot of ways. We’ve definitely seen significant improvements in click-through rates for businesses that have good reviews, and as you pointed out that leads to better bookings. I’ve also seen some pretty compelling stats about the percentage of, you know, overwhelming majority of people that are doing online searches. They’ll do an online search to find a new brand, but then they’ll go and check out the reviews before deciding whether to consider that brand. So–

Yep.

Even if you show up prominently for search, you know, don’t assume that that’s all you need to do. The reviews will really help win people over that don’t already know who you are. That’s awesome points. What about responding to reviews? And specifically, do you recommend responding to negative reviews?

[Darren] So, if it’s negative, my recommendation is to always respond to a negative review. I also generally recommend responding to all positive reviews, but if you are a business that gets a massive stream of reviews then you might, it might be too much. If you’re getting like a thousand reviews a month and it’s too much to manage, and it almost can look not genuine because you kind of have the same response to everybody. And so, GatherUp actually just published a really great post about, it’s got like 100 templates for review responses which I think is a fantastic resource to be shared. You can look at those templates and that way you can make your review responses not look so templated, even using these templates. Cause there’s so many variations, right? So I think it’s really valuable to respond to every review. One huge reason why you want to respond to every review, not just the negative ones, is because like a year or something ago, Google started notifying people when your review gets responded to. So if I went and left a review for your business then that could be the end of the conversation. But if you respond to the review, I get an email back saying “hey, business responded to your review.” It becomes more of a relationship at that point. You’ve built something with that client. That customer went to the trouble of leaving you a positive review and then didn’t get a thank you, didn’t get anything. So, responding to the review actually, it’s really valuable to help continue to build loyalty and trust with that particular customer. And so responding with a basic thank you, it’s common courtesy. If someone, you know, was standing in front of you and gushed about your business and said all these wonderful things, would you just sit there silent? No, you’d respond. You’d say thank you. And you would maybe engage them in some kind of conversation. That’s what you should do with your review responses now too because those customers will get a notification that you did that and it really helps to solidify that relationship, and potentially turn them into a repeat customer. So, definitely respond to all reviews if you can. If you’re getting thousands then mix up your review response templates as much as you can, and try to personalize the reviews. If it’s negative, I think it’s worth talking about strategy on negative reviews. The big don’t that I see all the time is getting defensive in a negative review. Starting to get into the details about it being like, oh, well we didn’t actually do that, you are totally mistaken. Cause you’re gonna get some crazies. Crazies exist, and they’re gonna review your business and that person is like oh my god, I don’t know what they were thinking, but uh-oh we got a crazy. And so when that happens, you need to not, you need to take it offline. Get it out of the review thing. Your best move is to just be like hey crazy person, I’m really sorry you had such a terrible experience. I wouldn’t say “such a terrible experience.” I’m really sorry that you, you didn’t have the best experience. We always strive to do the very best that we can. I care about your comments here and I would love to discuss this further with you. Here’s my phone number. Here’s my email. Let’s talk about this and see if we can sort it out. And sometimes, when they’re not totally crazy, you can actually turn ’em around. We have an example on the Whitespark website. Someone had a complaint. They didn’t even like contact our support about it. They had a complaint. They left a negative review. And so we of course contacted them and we talked to them, and they changed their one star review to a five star review because we handled it so well. So that can actually happen. So obviously you definitely need to respond to every negative review, and if it’s handled really well, and you address their concerns, you can often see those reviews get updated from a negative to a positive.

Very cool, great tips.

[Justin] Oh, sorry. And just to add on to that, one of the most helpful pieces of advice I’ve received about that is to keep in mind that the audience for the response to the review is not… It’s mainly not even the customer that you’re replying to, it’s everybody in the future that’s gonna look at that. So keep in mind when you’re frustrated and upset, maybe take a day to respond to the negative review and then… And then do that. But keep in mind that you’re setting the tone for what other people, potential clients and current customers who are looking at your reviews are gonna think of your business and how much you care about your customers and customer service in the future.

[Carl] Cool. Thank you Justin. Justin, um… As soon as like lockdown started happening and COVID-19 started happening, I know a lot people were just focused on taking care of their business, taking care of their employees, taking care of their families. But a lot of businesses have had to change their business hours, shutdown completely, change the way that they offer their services, how is Google helping businesses with that and what tips would you offer for that?

[Justin] Yeah, so… Put a link in the chat here and we’ll have it in the notes as well. Google’s got a page dedicated to different things that you can do. Some of those are making sure that you keep your business hours updated and accurate. If you’re temporarily closed, they recommend that you do that. I’m not convinced that marking your business as temporarily closed is a good thing because people might be planning for, you know, several months in the future to come to the area that you’re in and if you’re marked as temporarily closed now that’s gonna probably decrease how you show up in Google Maps. So you wanna be, I’d be really careful about doing that. But some of the other things that you can do if you have Google Posts as an option, they now have a COVID-19 specific post type. So you can put information about how your business is functioning, if you’re offering curbside pickup, all sorts of stuff. They also ask sometimes, some specific questions depending on the categories of the business. I know with restaurants they’re asking, you know, do you offer curbside pickup? Do you offer delivery? Other sorts of questions along those lines. So there’s some new features in Google My Business right now, for COVID specifically, that will probably go away in the future, but who knows. I would definitely go in and take a look and make sure that you’re communicating clearly. And then set yourself a reminder so that when everything does open back up, you go and remove that stuff. You wouldn’t want to be leaving information on your Google My Business listing about you being mostly closed down right now if you’re not actually mostly closed down.

[Carl] Yeah, that’s a great point. I know it’s a good reminder for me that… You know, these days most people don’t type in your URL to get to your website. They type your brand into a search engine and then click on the listing that comes up. And so it’s important to realize that when they do that branded search your Google My Business listing shows up right on the right side panel. It shows up very prominently. So, people are going to see that. They’re gonna look at the information that’s there and they’re gonna interact with that. So, it’s really important. That really is, for many businesses that can be the first impression that people have. So yes, they might be clicking through to your website, but that profile on Google My Business is a big deal.

[Justin] Yeah, and that goes back to what Darren was saying about reviews too and the importance of those. You know, making sure they’re on Google Maps and then making sure also that they’re on Yelp and TripAdvisor, and all those other places. But of course prioritizing Google My Business because I think it’s Mike Blumenthal and David Mim have talked about Google as your new, as the new homepage so to speak. So basically, what you just said Carl. People are typing in the business name and they might not even click to go to your website, they might already find the information that they’re looking for right on the search results page, and Google’s incentive is to actually keep you on Google property. So, Google’s not incentivized to actually send people to your website so, make sure that you’re looking at even the first 10 or so results that show up when you do a search for your business name. I know when I’m looking for a, place to go, I’m typing the business name and then I’m scanning the first page of results to look for those review stars. And even if you’ve got a bunch of positive ones on TripAdvisor, and you’ve got negative ones on Google My Business, the user is still gonna see that. So make sure that whatever listing, whether it’s Facebook, TripAdvisor, Yelp, in addition to Google My Business, that’s on that branded search results page, looks good.

[Carl] Great. Well, um… We’ve got a lot of questions from the group so I think let’s open it up to the group for questions. Sam, I believe you’ve already got some questions in the queue. Um. Would you mind bringing those up?

[Sam] Yeah, okay. So first question we have here is, um… My business is located in a commercial building and there’s a Banana Republic store on the first floor, ground floor. Google My Business is showing that our location is in the Banana Republic. They’ve requested it to be removed, it hasn’t happened. So, what can you do to address issues in Google My Business and Google Maps in these, kind of, business complex or in single addresses that hold multiple businesses?

[Carl] Darren, do you want to take that one?

[Darren] Yeah, sure. I can take that one. So… the… That thing, you don’t edit that through Google My Business, you edit it through basically Google Search. So, if you did a search for your business you’ll see a little link on it that says “suggest an edit”, or “edit this business”, can’t remember exactly what it’s called, but when you click on that you’re gonna get little form that comes up and there’s a little section in there called “Is this business located in another business?”, and that’s where you could suggest that edit, and you could say no it is not. That’s where you could put your message about where it’s located. And then you can also submit a request through Google Support to update that. So email is the best way to get through Google Support right now. Unfortunately, due to COVID, support times are terrible. So, Google Support is not really, you know, they’re not getting back to people very quickly. Our team is saying, okay we’re finally seeing responses coming in from Google. So I think they’ve kind of got their stuff together over there. So it’s getting better right now. But that’s the kind of thing you just have to keep hammering at support on to try and get fixed. So, it’s a real unfortunate problem that located in, make sure that your name isn’t similar in any way or that your phone number’s not similar, or that your website’s URL is not similar. Any of those things being similar can actually make Google think that they’re connected, so trying to update those things. And of course the category too. So it’s really those are the only differentiating factors that Google looks at, is like is this a different business? If it has the same category or the same name or phone or website URL, those things can make it look like the same business. But if those things are all different then that should help.

[Sam] And I believe that question was from Mariska. If you have any additional comments for that I can unmute you and feel free to go ahead, but just let us know.

[Sam] Mariska, it looks like your still muted.

[Mariska] Okay, sorry about that. I have submitted through Google Support and I’ve done it several times. And still am getting nothing. And it does, it looks like my business, it says located in The Banana Republic.

Yeah, and if you want, you can shoot me an email with that and I’ll take a look at it. I’ll see if I have any suggestions. Yeah.

All right, thanks.

[Darren] So my email is Darren@Whitespark.ca.

All right, cool. Um. Next questions we have here, this one’s from Austin. What is the top reason for getting, or basically how can you get in the three pack. Any additional information on that? Um, so any best practices with that, and then additionally there was some conversation with a secondary question about tagging photos with keywords. So, whoever wants to take that. Darren, if you want to start off, or Justin I know you addressed some of it in the chat, but I want to make sure that everybody hears it.

[Darren] Yeah, I think actually one thing that’s interesting about the three pack is that um… A lot of people really focus on GMB optimization. The main thing that’s gonna drive your rankings in the three pack are your business name, the category, and then your reviews, and then after that it’s actually your website content and your links to your website. The strength of your website will push you higher up in the local pack. And so a lot of people don’t have enough content on their homepage, like if you think about what page does your GMB listing link to, that’s the page you need to have really well optimized for basic organic search, and those optimizations you make for organic search will actually lift your rankings higher in the local pack as well. And so having that homepage with a well optimized title tag and lots of good content on the homepage that describes your business, that gets sucked into GMB and it really does impact your ability to rank. And then of course, more links that you have going to your website have a huge impact as well. And so those things people don’t realize. I did notice earlier, a question about proximity, and I think this is a good time to talk about that. Um. Proximity plays a huge role in how you rank in the local pack. So, it’s a real unfortunate thing and it’s, Google, I hope is working on fixing this, but you can really only rank in the local pack in roughly a 5 to 20 mile radius around your business. So, if you service the whole county, of course, and you take, you know, leads from the whole country, people coming into the area, your local pack results are very much focused on your actual location of your business. And so, if you are a tour company where you don’t even have an office, it’s kind of a home base thing, and you’re located in a suburb, what people are searching for, you know, you know, hot air balloon tours in Lancaster, then you could end up never ranking in that in the local pack because you’re so far away. And so, having an office in the city center for any business that is attracting tourism related leads, I think is a valuable thing to do. So you might want to consider actually getting an office and moving your location to a centralized location because people that type in the city, when they add the city to the key phrase then you do tend to rank better around the centroid of the city. So, that’s one thing to consider, that that whole thing, and so let’s say you’re like, well I don’t want to rank just there, I want to rank like all over the place. In the local results you would actually need a physical location. Go and rent an office in all those spots, and don’t use virtual offices cause they’ve got a big bullseye on them from Google. Don’t use PO boxes. They have to be real offices. So it’s like if you went around and actually opened real offices, and according to Google’s guidelines they would have to be staffed. You would have to have someone there that like is available to take customers. So, that’s absolutely unrealistic for most businesses and so in that case, my advice is to, you know, do what you can with GMB and you’re gonna get the, you’re gonna rank in the radius around your business. Don’t worry about GMB for all the other areas you wanna rank in, that’s where you need to focus on your website, and we call them city pages. So, if there are lots of little small towns that you’re trying to rank in, then you can create a page on your website which is focused on that. And then, you’re not gonna rank in the local results for that, but you’re gonna rank underneath for like, you know, things to do in this town, or things, you know, you know, tours in this town. Whatever it is. Whatever key phrase you’re trying to target. So that’s how you actually target multiple areas, so–

[Carl] One point of clarification Darren is if… If I’m in Maryland but I’m looking for things to do in Lancaster Pennsylvania–

[Darren] Yep.

[Carl] The business in Lancaster could still show up in the three pack even though that user’s in Maryland right?

Yeah, specifically because they typed in Lancaster, right? So if they type that in then it almost like Google says oh, well you’re really looking for Lancaster so we’re gonna sort of focus your results around that area. And so if your physical location… Oh wait, you’re saying the business is located in Maryland.

[Carl] No, no I’m just pointing out to clarify that I agree with you that yes, your business is only really gonna rank in that kind of general radius that you mentioned, but that includes people that are searching for that location. So, you had mentioned earlier that people are serving customers that are coming in from afar, like all over the US for instance–

[Darren] Yeah, they were in Maryland searching. Yeah, exactly.

[Carl] Yeah, so as long as that user is searching for a specific area, Google’s gonna present them with businesses that are in that proximity, but to your point, that proximity is pretty tight, and in some cases, tighter than it should be.

Yeah, and I think they open it up a little bit when it’s a geo-modified phrase where they actually type in Lancaster. Um. And so, if you just go into your browser right now and you type in “dentist”, and then you look at the dentists on the map, they’re all gonna be in like a one mile radius around your physical location. If you typed in “dentists my city”, you’re gonna expand the radius a little bit, but then it actually tends to focus a little bit on the centroid which is why if you have a business that’s mostly focused on the Lancaster area, and your physical location is just like way on the edge, or right on the outskirts of that area, that’s where it actually might make sense to go and rent an office right near the centroid if the actual physical location of your business doesn’t matter, so that you can attract, you know, better search results from it. It’s a hassle, I know. That’s where I would say you’re probably smart to focus on the organic results in that case.

[Carl] Cool. Sam do we have anymore questions?

[Sam] Yeah, what I’m doing is sort of sifting through. There was a number of questions that were around, kind of, I think you called them, Darren you might’ve referred to them as city pages or location specific pages. So I hope that addressed a couple of those questions. Um… Another one here would be… Actually I wanna go back about tagging photos with keywords. Justin I think you had addressed that in the chat, but do you just want to share that with everybody else?

[Justin] Yeah, so basically the question was can you tag photos in Google My Business? And the only real tagging, so to speak, that you can do is options that Google gives you. So you can tag an image as like the interior of a business or the exterior. Just looking at some different options here, food and drink, common areas, rooms, this is for a hotel, team, and then your business identity. So apart from those, no, there’s no tagging of the images so to speak.

[Darren] I just wanna chime in real quick on that. There is this idea that you can edit the EXIF information of a photo and stuff it with keywords and that’ll help your rank. Yeah, we’ve tested that to death. It does nothing. So, if you’ve ever heard people talk about optimizing your photos with geo-tagging them and adding keywords to the EXIF information in the photos, that is a total waste of your time and I would not invest any effort into messing with that. It doesn’t help your rank.

[Justin] Yeah, just saw a question about alt text. Yeah, alt text isn’t… There’s no alt text on the image when you upload it. So.

Yeah, the alt text is, it’s on your HTML code on your website, so images on your website you can add the alt text and a title text, but um, yeah, you can’t in GMB.

[Justin] Now what I would say is when you’re uploading images, don’t just have the filenames be, you know, like DCIM one, two, three, four.

[Darren] Yep.

Um, go ahead and take the five seconds that it takes to say, you know, hotel in Lancaster PA, or whatever.

[Darren] Yeah, there’s awesome stuff that came out recently around images. Google… I’ll find it and, I don’t know, add a link to it. I’d have to dig around, but there’s an actual tool you can use for how Google can understand images. You can run any photo through this little thing and Google’s artificial intelligence will tell you exactly what that photo is. You don’t even have to put any words on a photo, Google knows what photos are now. They can totally understand. I would be like, this is a picture of a cat in a bathtub, like Google knows what it is and it’s got all of this additional information. It’s really amazing how they can identify what’s inside a photo. And they also will show you, oh these are all the other places we’ve seen this exact photo. So this is a reason why to never use stock photos because then it’s not original to you and I think that the, you should always try to use your own photos and know that Google will understand what that photo is, and they’re using information in photos to help… Um. Help understand your business. So, making sure that you have a wide range of different photos that sort of cover the different things that you do would be really helpful to have up on your GMB listing cause it helps associate those key words that Google’s pulling out of the photos with your business.

[Sam] Great, thank you guys. Um, another question here is… Rick, this is from–

[Justin] Darren I found that. I’ll put the link to it in the chat.

[Sam] Great, thank you Justin. This is from Rick. He is currently using Hootsuite for social, but can’t schedule posts to Google My Business. Justin I think you did address this in the chat, but um… The question is, is there a way to automate posting to Google My Business, and you wanna share your answer Justin?

[Justin] Yeah, so the last I knew when, this was maybe, I don’t know, six months or a year ago? There was a free, and I don’t know if it’s still there, but there was a free ad-on or extension, or whatever you call it in Hootsuite, that you can enable to schedule a post for Google My Business. But there’s also a lot of tools out there right now, so if you just do a Google search for “Google My Business scheduler”, um… I’m sure you’ll find some things. And I know that Whitespark by the way does some, it has a service that monitors GMB. I don’t know, Darren, if you wanted to talk about that at all, but that’s an important thing to do is ongoing monitoring of your Google My Business listing. Some of the things, yeah, sure, they’re set it and forget it like your business name, address, phone number, those type of things, but as reviews come in and other things, you wanna be keeping on top of that.

[Darren] Yeah, our GMB service is kinda like, like imagine if you had hired a company for website maintenance and then they were constantly adding stuff for you and managing it all for you. That’s kind of how our GMB service works. So it’s like we’re managing your Google listing for you. So we do regular uploads of photos, of videos, we do weekly Google posts, we manage your products, we respond to reviews for you, we do spam fighting, so if anyone in the results has stuffed their key words or they have fake listings, we report all that and get it removed so that your rankings can go up. So we manage all of your Google listing for you and the thing that we use for scheduling Google Posts is Publer. We compared like 10 different post schedulers and the one that we settled on was a system called Publer. And so that, it’s a pretty great little application. It’ll cross-post to Facebook and all those other places for you as well. And so we’ve been happy with Publer and yeah it’s good. We’re gonna build our own one of these days here too, so. But right now Publer is the one that we like and use.

[Carl] I’ll put a link to Publer in the chat.

[Sam] Okay, so the next question that we got here, oh looks like it came in via email. Um… What do you recommend, and actually this is a couple questions, in the chat as well. What do you recommend for reviews by people who have not actually experienced your business? I know we might’ve touched on that a little bit and it seems like persistence might be the key, but any other tips or tricks?

[Darren] So, wait, getting reviews from people that haven’t experienced your business? Is that the goal there?

[Sam] Yeah, so, no no no. Like how can you address um–

[Darren] Oh, how do you get those reviews removed? Negative reviews. Okay, so in that case it’s pretty tough. So we have a post on Whitespark, “How to remove a Google review”, and there are some specific rules around it. If it’s defamatory, I don’t know if that’s the word, but, you know, if they’re using slanderous language and that kind of stuff, that’s one of the things. It violates Google’s guidelines. If you can prove that they didn’t experience your business then you can actually get it removed. If you can prove that it was an employee, I think is one of the other things that you can do to get a review removed, but it’s almost impossible. So set your expectations on that one, that it’s very hard to get a Google review removed. You have to really meet the criteria, you have to flag it, and report it. And so, it’s really hard to get it removed. My best strategy with those is, of course, do what you can to get them removed if you can, um, but if it’s, you know, but focus on getting good reviews to push the bad ones down. And so you’re not always gonna be able to get those ones removed, so you wanna just get more good ones so that the bad ones get evened out and they disappear cause they’re getting pushed down. I would still respond to reviews like that, yes. I would still add a little response. And that might be one case where you could at least squeeze in, for all of the future readers that are reading your reviews, being like hey we couldn’t find your information, we’re not sure if you ever actually took a tour with us, um, but we wanna try and help you out. Please call and contact us. So, you might wanna squeeze in a little bit of defensiveness there, but I wouldn’t overdo it.

[Sam] The next question is, um, and we did talk about this a little bit, but the question is about bed and breakfast categories and I think this would be the same thing with hotel categories and things like that where some of the features aren’t available. The person specifically asks or mentions posts. Um… What are some action items you would recommend for somebody who doesn’t have those features available to them? What are some alternative things that they can do?

[Darren] I kind of think Justin really covered that well when he talked about what’s available to hotels. And I would focus on your attributes, that’s a really good one. Your attributes are great. There’s a little, kind of hidden trick that a lot of people don’t take advantage of and we do this as part of our service. On your listing, there’s this little link that says “Know this place?”, and if you click that link it’s gonna start asking you questions about the business, like which photo do you think is more helpful? Does this business have wheelchair accessibility? And it’s almost like crowdsourcing those attributes for you, and so a hotel can actually take advantage of those. We have our team actually crowdsource those questions so that we can really try and feed Google with more information about the business. It’s one of the things that any business can take advantage of, and very few are taking advantage of that. And so, just sitting around and answering your know this place question, asking your friend down the street to do it as well, just really feeding that data into Google can help. But without Posts, there’s not a lot you can do. You can certainly focus on your images and your videos, build those out as much as you can, but you don’t have Posts, you don’t have Products, you don’t have Services, I don’t think you have Services. And so, focus on everything else that you can in GMB is what I would recommend. And I do like answering those “know this place” questions.

[Sam] Is there anything, any… My role isn’t to be in Google My Business listings all day, so I actually was interpreting the question a little bit more from, you know, what are some outside of Google My Business things that you could be doing too. So I don’t know if that’s worth, maybe, throwing out some ideas there for the person that asked this question, but maybe some, you know, what are some things on your website? Are there other directory type opportunities out there for somebody who doesn’t have those features?

[Darren] Sure. Justin you wanna talk about that–

[Justin] Yeah, the closest thing I can think of is… I mean obviously other than using Facebook and Instagram, to use Twitter, even if your just automatically having your posts go from Facebook to Twitter because Google’s got basically access to, as soon as tweets come out they can put it in their search results, and sometimes, depending on the business, and I don’t know if Google tends to do this with hotels or not, but they’ll have a pretty big section on a branded search or a search for a person’s name with a Twitter feed running through there. So that’s the closest thing I can think of to, if you don’t have Google Posts, what you can do to get your message out there.

The other thing, if either of you guys don’t mind me jumping in a minute, another thing I would mention is do searches for, if you’re a bed and breakfast in Lancaster as an example, if you’re a bed and breakfast in Lancaster, do a search for that, look what shows up. In most tourism categories, whether you’re a bed and breakfast, whether you’re a restaurant, whether you’re an attraction, whether you’re a museum, in many of those cases there are what we call third party referral sites that are showing up predominantly on that first page of Google. So these are properties like TripAdvisor, bedandbreakfast.com, Yelp, and then sometimes there’s local specific ones, like I know there’s a lot of people from the Kon-Lancaster, there’s places like lancasterpa.com, or last week we had Discover Lancaster on the call, discoverlancaster.com. And for those of you that are outside of the Lancaster area, I’m not as familiar with the different website names and things like that, but you’re tourist board websites. Basically, looking at anybody that’s showing up on the first page that’s not a competitor, those might represent opportunities for you, so especially when they’re free places to list, like TripAdvisor, Yelp, or even if it does require a premium, like where it requires an ad, because of the prominence they have on the first page of Google, those are generally gonna be good investments to make, and that’s another way to surface your business. And it also feeds into Google because Google looks at the websites that show up on the first page and websites that they link to, or websites that are listed on those sites, they will tend to give some preference to because of the relationship there between those websites. So, those are other good opportunities to think about as well.

[Justin] And another thing you could do would be to… Let’s say you’re a hotel, do a Google search for a hotel in New York City, or “hotel Los Angeles”, or something like that, and look at what the businesses are doing that are showing up on the first page either in Google Maps or on the Google search results and see if you can get any ideas from them because apparently whatever they’re doing is working.

[Carl] Great point. Well listen, we’re approaching our time so I know there might still be more questions, but what I would encourage you to do is post those to our Facebook group, we can keep the conversation going there throughout the week and I’ll give you information on that here in a second. Um… And we’ll also make some information available in the video here. We actually highlighted some good examples from different members of doing reviews. Shout out to Nicole at Twin Pine Manor for doing a great job of responding to reviews. Um… And Justin, which property is this one here?

It’s called Embrace Resort, they’re somebody that’s been on the call in the past. They’re using hotel amenities, making sure that’s filled out. That’s what it looks like on the back end, that top screen shot, and then the bottom screen shot is what it looks like on the front end.

[Carl] Great. Yeah, so good example for that. And then shout out to the team at Amish Farm and House for regularly using Google My Business Posts to highlight things that are going on. Here’s a great example of a post there.

[Justin] Yeah, none of those, for the record, are our clients, so. We’re not…

[Carl] Yeah, not promoting our clients here, cool. So, for those of you who have joined in, thank you. Thank you for all the questions. Thank you Darren, thank you Justin, for sharing your knowledge with us. Here on the closing slide, we do have some links that we’re gonna send out to you and include in the show notes. There’s a guide for how to optimize your Google My Business profile that Darren and his team have put up on their blog that we’re putting there for you. They also have a guide for how to manage your Google My Business listing throughout the COVID-19 crisis that might be good. There’s also a link to a support article from Google on that. We offer a tool on our website where you can get your Google My Business profile audited. So, if you wanna take the tips that you’ve learned today, apply them, and if you want kind of a second set of eyes to see if you’ve missed any opportunities or if there’s any other opportunities you haven’t considered, I encourage you to click on that link. Do that. I promise you we’re not gonna spam you or anything like that, we’re just trying to help businesses out during this time, do the best they can with Google. And we didn’t really get a chance to cover this today, but there’s also some interesting tips for those of you, we talked last week about the importance of using Google Analytics just to really understand what’s going on in your website. By default, the activity that happens in Google My Business, even when people come to your website, is not really very transparent. So we’re gonna be putting some links in the show notes for some resources that you can go to that’ll give you tips for how to basically link up the links that are on your Google My Business to your Google Analytics so that you can start to see what’s happening when people are visiting Google My Business and visiting your website from that, just to give some clarity to that so that you can begin to see how important it is. I know we did this for a couple of businesses and I personally was really blown away by just how much activity was coming specifically from that business’s Google My Business profile. And because they were using conversion tracking we could even see that it was resulting in bookings. So, I’ll kind of echo a point that Darren made earlier, which is a lot of people think of optimizing your Google profile as really having to do with getting traffic, and that’s true, but it can also play a really huge component in getting bookings or conversions as well. So thank you to everyone. Next week our topic is gonna be… When we put up a poll for topics a lot of people wanted to hear about advertising. What are good messages? What’s good, creative? What are good ways to target? So, next week our topic will be boosting your bookings with winning messaging, creative, and targeting. We’ll have some guests on that are gonna share on right messages to use in your ads, what kind of creative is working these days, and what kind of targeting techniques are really helping get the most leverage out of the ad dollars that you have. So I encourage you to tune in for that. And just one last reminder, make sure to join the Accelerate Tourism group if you haven’t done that on Facebook. Like even the questions that have come up today that maybe weren’t addressed, we monitor that group and we’ll respond to your questions there. If you’ve got ideas for other things we can be addressing, there’s great, and it’s also a great place to share. Share your business, share your Facebook page, we’re all here to help each other out. We’ve got over a hundred people as part of that Facebook group so let’s crowdsource and help each other get more information and do what we can to help promote each other’s businesses over this time. Thank you everyone. Have a great weekend and we’ll see you next week.

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Meet the Author:

Carl Lefever

Carl Lefever, Founder & Strategist

Carl is the founder of Improve & Grow, LLC, where his primary passion is helping businesses grow by improving their online marketing. He leads the team and is involved in developing and executing internet marketing strategies for our clients. Carl's background is in continuous improvement disciplines, focused on sales and marketing operations. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He is a proud father of 4 girls and loves traveling and supporting missions work.