Google My Business is a free service that every small business owner should know about and use. Through Google My Business, you can control the information displayed for your business across all of Google's services, including Google+ and Google Maps. If you change a piece of info in Google My Business, like your hours or location, it will automatically update everywhere. Consistency is essential for SMBs, especially in this era of online searching.
When prospective clients see conflicting information about a business online, it leads them to believe the business in question is disorganized, unprofessional and outdated. Luckily, you can avoid falling into that trap by taking full advantage of tools like Google My Business. Here's how to get started.
Claim and verify your business
The first thing to do is to claim your business. You can sign in with an existing Google Account or create a new one for this purpose. The only caveat about a Google listing is your place of business must be a physical address that customers can visit. This set of tools isn't really geared toward solopreneurs or those who are location-independent.
The first thing you should fill in or verify is the essential information, such as location, hours, website, phone number and other contact details. Be as specific as possible because these details will appear on your Google Maps listing.
Another critical step is to get your business verified on Google. This is a relatively quick process in which Google can validate the veracity of your business. This is usually done through a phone call, but it also can be accomplished via email or even a postcard. When you are finished, there will be a little blue icon next to your listing, so everyone knows it's verified.
Check out the Google My Business dashboard
Aside from the ability to manage your business's information, there are other valuable features you'll want to take advantage of in the Google My Business dashboard.
Images: Through the dashboard, you can view images other people have uploaded about your business and add your own. Prospective customers, especially millennials, expect to see visuals about your business online, including high-quality product shots (or images relating to your services) and/or location images (including 360-degree virtual tours), plus these elements can help steer new customers your way.
Bookings: Using Google Bookings in your Google My Business dashboard, you can set up the ability for clients to book appointments with your business directly on your Google business page. This is especially valuable for service-oriented businesses like spas and landscape companies.
Insights: Google My Business's lightweight dynamic analytics dashboard is called Insights. With Insights, you can see how people are finding your business and gain a deeper understanding of who you're reaching and who you aren't.
Posts: Google Posts are great for letting customers know about new offers and advertising what your business does best. Posting sales and promotions, as well as seasonal events and specials, is a great way to get new business. When users see your business on Google, they will also see your recent posts, so thinking up a catchy headline is key.
How to manage Google reviews for your business
Customer reviews are an integral part of any business; unfortunately, many SMB owners are not adequately trained when it comes to handling and responding to negative reviews. In fact, the problem is so widespread even Google provides tips to business users, but we have a few to add as well.
- Apologizing is fine, arguing is not. If someone has a poor experience, even if you feel they are misrepresenting what happened or is outright lying, it is never a good idea to argue or explain why they are wrong. Remember, your goal isn't to change the mind of one angry reviewer – it's to show the kind of business owner you are to every perspective reader who sees your interaction. It is a huge turnoff and a massive red flag any time a business owner appears defensive online. Instead, apologize for the poor experience and kindly express your desire to do better in the future.
- Brevity is key, as is consistency. If you're going to respond to reviews, establish a standard for doing so. Who in your business will respond and when? Setting up a weekly time to respond to inquiries and reviews is a safe bet. You should also keep your responses relatively brief. Even if your internal tone is calm and kind, a long, multiparagraph response from a business owner often reads as a bit manic and defensive.
- Remember to say thank you. Some business owners forget to thank their loyal customers but write tomes to negative reviewers, and people notice that. If someone leaves a particularly thoughtful positive review, say a quick thank you!
- Pay attention to repeat criticism. The biggest mistake business owners make when it comes to online reviews is taking the positive feedback to heart and dismissing anything negative. The fact is, it doesn't matter if you disagree, disbelieve, or don't see the problem yourself, if multiple reviewers say your staff is rude, your prices are too high, your service is not up to snuff, or anything else negative, then listen. Online reviews are like a free focus group, and you can either stick your head in the sand at the first sign of anything critical or improve your business by listening and adapting.
Additional reporting by Anna Attkisson and Derek Walter.