All businesses, big and small, should be using Google My Business to bolster their online presence. Google is the first place people turn for information about a local business, and according to the company’s internal data, a well-maintained Google My Business page gets five times more views than unclaimed listings.
Like many Google products, Google My Business changes constantly, often with little fanfare. Features can appear (or vanish) without warning. Business owners must adapt on the fly to keep up with the latest updates.
Here are some important 2017 Google My Business updates you may have missed, plus a look at the future of the platform.
Google My Business Posts
The most substantial Google My Business update in 2017 so far is the posts feature. You can now publish posts to your Google My Business listing and the knowledge panel on both Search and Maps.
Each post can have an image, up to 1,500 characters of body text, and a call to action button that takes users to a page on your website.
The available calls to action are:
- Make Reservation
- Sign Up
- Learn More
Currently, there are two kinds of posts available: regular posts and event posts. For event posts, you can set a title as well as a start and end date for the event. Regular posts expire after seven days, while event posts last until the event is over.
So, what can you do with Google My Business posts? Since they show up right in the knowledge panel, posts are a great way to share timely content and updates about your business.
For example, you can use posts to draw attention to an upcoming event, a new product launch, a daily special, or a current promotion. You can also use posts to promote your online content, like the latest blog post or video. There are tons of possibilities.
Since this feature is still new, it’s unclear how important posts will be when it comes to search engine optimization. The only data Google gives you is the total number of views on each post, making it difficult to gauge their performance.
What we do know is that posts are free, easy to make, and highly visible in search. If you have a Google My Business page (and if you’re a business owner, you should!), it’s worth your time to explore this feature.
To create a post, sign in to Google My Business (if you have two or more locations, choose the one you want to post to) and click Create Post. Stick to 150 to 300 characters of text, and choose a 720 x 720px image that looks good in both full and thumbnail size. Click Preview to see what the post will look like, and then click Publish to go live when ready!
Local Businesses URLs
One of Google’s aims with its business listings is to give searchers all the information they need right in the search results. To this end, Google has added more options for local businesses URLs in the knowledge panel.
Certain categories of businesses, including restaurants, tradespeople, and professional services like dentists, can now add links that let people take action directly from Google Search or Maps. You can use this feature to direct users to a landing page on your site.
The available actions include:
- Booking an appointment
- Placing an order
- Reserving a spot
- Searching for items
- Viewing a menu
Business owners should note that although adding your own URLs is optional, certain links may appear automatically. According to Google’s support page on local business URLs:
“Links to certain booking and ordering services can appear automatically with your business listings in Google Search and Google Maps. These links are updated automatically via third-party providers. There’s no way to add, edit, or remove these links in Google My Business.
Google works with select third-party providers that provide booking and ordering services for local businesses. If you want to remove or fix a link in your own listing, please reach out directly to the third-party provider in question.”
This saves time for businesses already working with third-party providers, but the fact business owners can’t remove the links could be problematic. For now, it may be wise to keep an eye out for questionable links on your listing.
To add local business URLs to your listing, sign in to Google My Business and click the URLs section. Find the appropriate fields, enter the URLs, and click Apply. That’s it! Now, you can direct customers to a landing page straight from the knowledge panel.
Customer Questions and Answers
Google is always looking to encourage user contribution. Recently, it launched a new way for customers and businesses to interact: customer questions and answers for Google Maps.
This feature adds a new section to the knowledge panel showing user-submitted questions about the business. Both customers and business owners can submit or answer questions, and users can Thumb-Up those they find useful and relevant.
Google is rolling out this feature in stages. At launch, people could only view it on their own listings, giving business owners an opportunity to post answers to frequently asked questions before the rush. Google then opened the floor to Local Guides with level 2 status and above.
Soon, this feature will be available to all users, which presents both opportunities and potential challenges for business owners.
Like Google Reviews, customer questions and answers could become a valuable tool to attract customers and boost your search engine ranking. However, it could also be open to spam and abuse. Businesses can flag inappropriate or irrelevant questions or answers, but they can’t delete them.
Currently, the feature only appears on the Google Maps App for Android devices, but it’ll likely expand to desktops and other devices. To access questions and answers, open the Google Maps app and sign in with your Google account, then search for your business and click “more info.” You’ll see the question box above the photo section.
The Future of Google My Business: It’s All About the Customer
When it comes to business listings, Google has been gunning for more user feedback and interactivity between customers and businesses. This is set to continue with the messaging feature, which will let people message businesses directly via a button on the local knowledge panel.
This feature is already live in the United States, Brazil, and India. We can expect to see it in Canada in the future. Businesses that opt-in to messaging can link their account to a mobile device via SMS or Google’s Allo app to receive notifications and customer messages on the device.
The push for user participation is also evident in the expansion of Local Guides this past year. In March, Google gave Guides the ability to approve edits to local listings, and it recently overhauled the Local Guides system to provide bigger and better perks for users who contribute data and photos of places they visit. Google is working to get more people on board with My Business, and the platform will become ever more important as this trend continues.
Features may come and go, but the basics of Google My Business remain the same: keep your listing accurate and up to date, add photos that show off your best side, and encourage happy customers to write reviews.
Used wisely, these latest features are yet another opportunity to connect with searchers and get noticed.