Last year was a busy one for the Google My Business product development team, who launched a plethora of updates and new features to help local businesses better connect with consumers in the moments that matter.
We kept a timeline of these updates with both a text timeline and a visual representation in this blog post. But exactly where should brand marketers focus your efforts now and in the coming months?
Among the most impactful of the many GMB updates over the past year, we discovered three themes most relevant to enterprise brands:
- The Evolution of the Knowledge Panel
- Map Pack Rebrand for Chains
- An Opportunity to Create and Control the Conversation
In this post, you’ll learn which new features address the unique challenges of chains and offer the greatest ability to manage your Google My Business at scale, across these three themes.
Take Advantage of the Evolution of the Knowledge Panel
“Only half-jokingly, I’d say most sites may as well no-index the business profile of any business that has claimed its Google My Business listing. No one is visiting those pages directly from Google, at least on mobile devices.” – David Mihm
2018 was a year of endless updates to your Google My Business profile. It seemed like every few weeks, Google introduced a new or improved feature or functionality.
After a busy 2017, in the spring of 2018 GMB further expanded their Posts product by adding ‘Offers’. These enabled locations to add sales and special offers that displayed prominently on their listing.
Google Posts “Offers” are rolling out. pic.twitter.com/NkT7BoDEOr
— Colan Nielsen (@ColanNielsen) March 27, 2018
Just a couple of months later, videos were added to Google Posts. Business descriptions were added back to the bottom of the Knowledge Panel. Then came structured events embedded directly into your listing, as illustrated here:
— Raj Nijjer 🐶 (@RajNijjer) July 15, 2018
GMB also added:
- the ability to publish your listing before it opened
- appointments, reservations, classes, and other types of bookings for a specific subset of services that you can see here
- more tabs, enabling searchers to access different types of information without leaving the Knowledge Panel listing
- menus for products and services within the ‘Info’ tab for eligible business categories
- service-area business updates that allow you to remove your address altogether
All of these enhancements and updates served to accomplish two important things: a) they expand your brand’s real estate, dramatically increasing its visibility on the SERP, and b) they improve the utility of your Google My Business Profile for both brands and searchers. How can you make the most of these opportunities?
- Search your brand name and relevant terms in your local markets. Be aware of how your business appears to searchers. What features and functionalities would you, as a consumer, expect to see?
- Search for local competitors and pay attention to how and where their listings appear in search and in the Map Pack. What information do their listings include that yours may not? Are there GMB features they’re using that you could, too?
- Take advantage and optimize every feature and field available to you within Google My Business.
These are only returned when completing a branded search for a chain business. Google determined that showing other brands at this time was irrelevant. This also solved for frustrations when unrelated businesses were appearing for their branded terms. This update enhanced the overall brand profile of chains in a prominent way.
In August, GMB went a step further and began to display the most recent Posts in a new tab between ‘Locations’ and ‘About.’ This gave brands the opportunity to have more in-depth content (with an image and linked CTA) easily accessible from the Map Pack for consumers interested in learning more about your business.
Here, you can see the new ‘Posts’ tab. Clicking on it reveals the content of the GMB Post for searchers from the nearest location:
Over the course of 2018, GMB added more tabs, including Prices and Products. They began linking by adding the ‘See more locations’ CTA directly on your Business Listing profile. They also rolled out the ability to define chain association via API.
Each of these updates is designed to give searchers access to richer, more useful and immediate answers to their needs. Often, they won’t even need to click through to the brand or location’s website to find the information they need and make a decision about visiting in-store.
Of course, the information most useful to motivated consumers can vary across verticals. GMB made industry-specific updates to better connect consumers with the most relevant brand information in their decision-making moments, as well. Take this update to hotel listings, for example. In searches for hotels, GMB began showing cards searchers can sort by ‘Top Choices’ or ‘Guest Favorites,’ among other parameters:
(Image credit: Barry Schwartz)
- GMB’s top priority is searcher experience and yours must be, too. Make the most of industry-specific GMB features available to you. Ensure that all of your location’s listings are complete and kept current, in order to provide the best information possible to searchers.
- Expand your listings and offer richer, more in-depth and timely content with Google Posts. Download the free Google Posts Playbook for smarter, scalable strategy across multiple locations.
- Consumers crave information that helps them decide which location to visit. Use tabs such as Pricing and Products as applicable, as well as long-standing GMB features such as interior and exterior photos, to help consumers make their decision. Helping them understand what a visit to your brand’s store will be like can be the piece that pushes you past the local competition.
Master Conversational Elements to Engage Searchers
Customers are going to talk about your business whether or not you’re involved in the conversation. At a minimum, you should know what they’re saying—but with recent changes in GMB, you can do much more.
Discover the questions people are asking about products, services, and businesses like yours. While the Questions & Answers feature came out in 2017, a November 2018 update to the GMB API included features to help enterprise brands engage consumers directly from their listings at scale. Now, you can create and answer frequently asked questions (FAQs) that will display on listings for relevant queries via API.
When thinking about types of questions to proactively ask, you can begin with ones you’ve actually been asked by customers. However, it can pay off to invest a bit of time in researching the questions, queries and keywords consumers use when searching for products and services like yours.
In addition to Questions & Answers, responding to all reviews promptly and appropriately is critical, considering the visibility and the weight they carry with consumers. Your business needs to be GMB-verified before you can respond, so make sure all locations are claimed and verified. Then you can either have each location manage their reviews, or manage them centrally at the brand level.
Google recommends that businesses apply the following best practices in their review responses:
- Be nice and don’t get personal.
- Keep it short and sweet.
- Thank your reviewers.
- Be a friend, not a salesperson.
In addition to FAQs and reviews, GMB is testing a new way for businesses to converse more directly with consumers. Searchers who find the listing on Google can message the business directly, and the business can respond in turn. This feature is currently available only to “select merchants in select countries.” Once you turn on messaging, customers will see a “Message” button on your GMB listing.
- Messages will appear in the Google My Business app, and you’ll receive notifications for incoming messages.
- You can customize the automated welcome message that customers will see when they message you.
- If multiple people own or manage your Google My Business listing, each one can message with customers.
- Customers may see your name and profile photo from your About me page.
Chains may not find GMB’s new messaging functionality within its app worth implementing immediately, given that many already have chatbots onsite or use apps to facilitate client communications. However, it’s important to underscore Google’s commitment to social.
- Educate your front-line staff about the importance of reviews and providing an exceptional service that customers will review positively online.
- Deploy a Reviews strategy with constant monitoring and prompt interaction so searchers who visit your Reviews tab get the best impression. These can help improve your local visibility and can be integrated into your Local Landing Pages, as well.
- Use tools to research the questions people in your local markets ask when searching for products, services, and businesses like yours. Try Google Suggest (also known as Google Autocomplete) and Answer the Public to generate questions you might like to answer for populating your FAQs. You should also be answering the Questions users are asking on your local listing.
Google My Business is One Important Facet of Your Scalable, Effective Local Strategy
Brands face unique challenges in managing local at scale, but there are lucrative opportunities in using GMB’s features to your advantage across all of your locations.
Want to learn more? See where you stand today and learn how to improve local search visibility, customer experience, and in-store traffic across your hundreds—or even thousands—of locations. Click here to take advantage of Rio SEO’s free Local Audit.