When you start a small business you may realize how much it is important to get an online presence. Some people give much importance to having a website, others will focus more on social media presence or on having both. Still, there is an element which I think is the most important at all: having a good presence on Google Maps, through a business listing. Local searches are vital for small shops looking for customers in the nearby, making it a good idea to put everything into an optimized business listing on Google, which is maybe even more important than everything else. Google is still the most used search engine in many countries of the world, that is the best reason why you should optimize your presence for local results on Maps.
Google My Business, Your Free Door To Online Presence
Google My Business is a free service which allows owners of shops and companies to list their business on Google Maps and manage every aspect of their presence on the service. Through My Business it is possible to upload photos, reply to reviews, write posts and update information like opening time, menu, description of your business, links to external resources like booking or food delivery platforms. In addition it is possible to answer people writing you private messages or asking questions publicly. If used to the full potential, Google My Business can act like a basic social network, with the ability to write posts and interact with your customers. The same, Google My Business can be a perfect replacement to having a website, with the additional advantage of being available directly in one of the most used services in the world when it comes to looking for local places: Google Maps. People love their comfort zone: having a website may be an additional tool which can help you enforce an even stronger online presence, still you should not undervalue the opportunities of Google My Business, as your potential customers would surely love to find what they need to know just within the apps they most use, like Google Maps. If I had to choose between having an always updated website and a completely abandoned listing on Google Maps, or having a perfect listing on Google without a website, I would choose the second option: the third alternative is to have both, by still making sure your listing on Google is always updated.
The sentence above is more or less my personal opinion about attitude many businesses have towards establishing an online presence. We are growing with the recurring sentence 'every business need a website' just because of stereotyped ideas we have nowadays about the web: 'without a website you don't look professional', 'having a website means having something you can control', etc. The reality is not always how described by people who essentially want to sell you their services: in my opinion, having a website and never updating your opening time on Google Maps business listing makes you no more professional than a business that always cares about their listing, maybe without having a website. Talking about the idea of 'owning a website', this is a myth too: we don't own the web, unless we manage to set up at least our own web server (I am trying to imagine a small cafe featuring server racks in the back shop just because 'owning a piece of the web' seems a matter of life or death), and this would be still far from the real meaning of 'owning something', as your website is not online just because of the web server. This does not want to mean that having a website is useless: if you think a website may add value to your online presence ('if you think' means it's something you truly believe basing on the specific business you run and not something told you by someone who wants you to sell a super expensive website providing no more information than what already present in your Google maps listing), it is surely a good idea to have one, but still without forgetting about social media and your presence on Google Maps. If a customer is looking for your business on Google, he would be happy to see updated opening time and all the information they need to know directly inside your business listing, without taking an extra step and clicking on your website: denying this would mean denying the fact we all love our 'comfort zones'. Google Maps is surely a comfort zone for many people who essentially love to discover businesses easily within few steps. A business listing lacking updated information makes you no professional, independently from how cool your website may be. But how you can make a good Google Maps listing?
Add basic information about your business
This is certainly the easiest step: always update your opening time on your Google My Business listing. This also means setting special time whenever you are closed for some reasons or whenever you are delaying opening or anticipating closure of your shop for some reasons: a customer who is looking for a pizza restaurant in the exact time you on vacation would still see your business as open, unless you set special time for the specific days you are on vacation through your Google My Business page. Writing a post on your website about your vacation and forgetting to set special time on your My Business page means a customer who stopped at the Google Maps search result, without wanting to take an extra click and open your website, would still get the same information: 'your business is open', even without being it true. Updating business opening time is a matter of few taps on the My Business app for your smartphone. There are also other information you should always keep updated: phone number, description of the place, external links (for example to your website, booking or food delivery platforms) are among the most important.
Add your menu or list of services to your Google Maps listing
Owning a restaurant and wanting your customers to easily look at a digital menu? Having a hairdressing salon and needing to show your customers the services you offer? Google My Business allows you to add all of these to your listing, so that your customers, by clicking on 'Menu', will be able to view all the information they need. This will both improve your listing, which will look richer, and the customer experience when it comes to look at your services in seconds without leaving the Google Maps app and without the need of making a phone call just in order to ask if you make gluten-free pizza or if you have a great selection of wines at your restaurant.
Always interact with your customers
Interaction with customers is very important: it shows you care about them. Enabling Google Maps messaging system is a good idea so that users will be able to get in touch with you even when they are unable to make phone calls for some reasons. Answering to questions asked on the Q&A section of your business page is another great way to interact with your customers and this also helps other people in finding information about something asked by others previously. Finally, replying to reviews is very important: expressing gratitute to positive reviewers and replying politely to bad reviews, by showing you are willing to accept critics and to improve your service, makes you look like someone who puts everything in accomodating customers. This also means writing genuine and friendly replies, writing like a human and not like a pre-recorded machine that copies and paste standard replies just in order to do some good marketing with little sincere attention to the customer.
Thanks for your review. We are glad you liked our pizza and we hope you and your friends enjoyed your party. Happy birthday again from all of us!
— A friendly reply to a review written in an informal way: it shows you care about your customer
On behalf of COMPANY NAME we would like to thank you for having chosen us and for the good review. Our company values attention to the customer and our mission is to make any experience at our shop an unforgettable experience. Our company achieved great popularity thanks to the good service we always provide to our customers. Being at the top is our philosophy and the meaning of our brand. You are welcome again.
— When marketing and copy-pasting standard replies are more important than your customer
Write posts within your Google My Business listing
Already used to update your customers with exciting stuff from your shop and managed to run a website, Instagram, Facebook, maybe even TikTok accounts in order to post nice looking stuff about offers, new items, a new dish or other things you want to promote? That is surely a good way to keep everyone updated and to show your business online is always on the piece. Why not doing the same within your Google Maps listing? My Business allows to write posts that will show directly inside your listing and search results that lead to it. These posts appear directly within the Google interface, without making the customer have to open your website or other platforms.
Add great quality photos and videos to your business listing
Last but not least: photos are very important. Your photos are what customers will mostly notice when looking at your business page. The more the pictures are good looking, the more they can attract your potential customer.
Do not undervalue other two kinds of stuff you can add to your listing: videos and 360 pictures. With videos you can add even more interesting stuff: you can show, for example, the moment in which you end decoration of a cake, just like you can show a short panoramic of your shop. Videos are definitely great in order to talk about your shop in a new way, while 360 pictures are another great way to let your customers see your shop like if they are inside.
© 2020 Alessio Ganci