(This column originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer)
Many small businesses rely on the internet to attract new customers, and Google is still the primary place where most searches are done. Unfortunately, it can be costly for a small business to get its listing at the top of a Google search. The good news is that there’s an easy way for customers to discover your small business online without your having to spend lot of money on online marketing and search engine optimization. In fact, it’s free.
You just need to make sure your business has a Google Business Profile.
“Google Business Profiles are the number-one form of free marketing any local business owner could use,” said Mac Frederick, who, as the founder and CEO of Philadelphia-based online marketing firm Momentum Digital, has helped “close to a thousand” businesses create and manage online profiles. “It is more important than your website, your Instagram, or your LinkedIn profile.”
Dan Kogan, who owns and operates the Philadelphia digital marketing firm 1Digital® Agency, also says that setting up a Google Business Profile is “one of the simplest things that you can do.” For Kogan, the concept is no different from a Yellow Pages listing from back in the day and is a must-do for any small business looking to get found online.
“It is a very underrated tool,” he said. “I’ve found that most local businesses do not pay enough attention to it and are missing out.”
Google Business Profiles are driven by Google’s focus on providing local results to local businesses. According to a 2022 survey from marketing research firm Bright Local, a whopping 99% of consumers used the internet to find information about a local business in just the last year. That’s a staggering number, particularly when you consider that 78% of them performed these local searches more than once a week, which is up from 69% in 2020. Google says that four in five consumers want search ads to be customized to their city, zip code or immediate surroundings.
Clearly, local advertising is the key challenge to getting found online. And a Google Business Profile can be a big part of the solution.
A Google Business Profile is what you normally see on the right hand side of a Google search page when you’re searching for a specific company, product or service. If it’s created properly, your profile will show a visitor all the pertinent information about your business including hours of operation, location, contact info, photos and videos that you’ve posted, and — most important — reviews from your customers, as well as your responses.
Restaurants can display menus and take delivery and takeout orders through Google Business Profiles. Retailers can show the products they offer. Car dealers can list their current inventories. Tour operators can sell admission tickets and beauty salons can schedule and manage appointments. If you identify as an LGBTQ-owned business or as a business owned by people of color, you can add that label to your profile.
Your profile will also give you the ability to chat with online visitors.
A new function will allow you to create up to 10 frequently asked questions with automatically generated answers. If you’re writing blog posts on your website or social posts to Facebook or Instagram, you can also repost snippets to your profile with links to the original post.
Setting up a Google Business Profile is free. Google wants your business online so it can collect data and encourage you to spend more on advertising to boost your products. But even if you don’t spend any money, you’re still going to have to invest time and effort to maximize your profile’s effectiveness. Search experts recommend checking in regularly to make sure your profile is complete, accurate and up to date.
That means you can’t set it and forget it.
Frederick tells his clients to update their profiles at least two or three times a week “just like you would with social media because it’s a ranking factor.” He advises that the more you post and manage your listing the more your profile will rank above your competitors for similar search keywords so it will be displayed.
“We recommend that our clients have high quality photos and videos that show off their products,” said Kogan. “And we also encourage our clients to ask for — and respond to — customer reviews because Google may list your business higher in search results depending on how many positive reviews you have.”
Once you get your profile fully set up, you’ll need to use the analytics tools provided to track — and act on — important metrics like the keyword queries that people used to find your business, the number of unique visitors to your profile, how many people requested directions or clicked to your website, as well as the total and type of interactions you had. Based on this information, you can tailor your profile to make it even more effective in generating new business.
“I pretty much built a few of my own businesses on the backbone of using the Google Business Profile,” said Frederick, who blogs frequently on the topic. “If you have a business where people could search for your products or services online, then you need to have one setup.”