You know that Google My Business is a powerful tool capable of growing your customer base and attracting new business—and with 60% of smartphone users relying on Google to locate and directly call the companies that matter to them, your Google profile is more important than ever. But how do you make sure your profile is driving results?
In this special interview with Joy Hawkins, a local SEO expert and founder of Sterling Sky, you’ll discover ways to boost your search rankings, highlight your business’ best offerings, and the five fields that most impact your business’ search performance. Listen to this month’s Smart Route episode below.
About Joy Hawkins:
Joy is the owner of the Local Search Forum, LocalU, and Sterling Sky, a Local SEO agency in Canada & the USA. She has been working in the industry since 2006, writes for publications such as Search Engine Land, and enjoys speaking regularly at marketing conferences such as MozCon, LocalU, Pubcon, SearchLove, and State of Search. You can find her on Twitter or volunteering as a Product Expert on the Google My Business Forum.
You can see Joy speak again at the LocalU Advanced Marketing Seminar on November 30th.
Resources Referenced During the Episode:
- Timeline of Local SEO Changes in 2021
- The Ultimate Guide to Fighting Spam on Google Maps
- How Many Leads Does Google My Business Drive?
- Do Google My Business Identity Attributes Impact Ranking?
- 4 Google My Business Fields That Impact Ranking (and 3 That Don’t)
Hello and welcome. You’re listening to Smart Route Episode 9: The Good and Bad of Google My Business. I’m your host Courtney Tyson. This is an extra special episode because we are streaming live during CallTrackingMetrics Annual Summit.
Our special guest with us today is one of our most valued partners Joy Hawkins. Welcome joy, and thanks for being here with us live.
Thanks for having me, Courtney.
So being here live today means that this will be an interactive session, we encourage our listeners to ask questions using the Q&A feature. We’ll address those questions at the end of the discussion. Additionally, our team will be sharing helpful links in the chat throughout the episode as well.
So this is actually Joy’s second summit appearance. Last year, she joined us as a panelist, and our audience learned so much from her that we just had to have her back again. Joy is the owner of the Local Search Forum, Local U, and Sterling Sky, a local SEO agency in Canada and the US.
So to kick things off, Joy, can you please share a little bit more about yourself and your company strength sky and why you built an organization focused on local and SEO?
Yeah, so I basically started in this industry in 2006 and self-taught myself, most of most of what I know about. Look, last year today I just found it really interesting to try and dove in and figure out exactly what made Google choose the order that they did when it comes to the local pack results.
So I kind of learned early on that the algorithm was different for the local pack results than it was for the rest of Google, and I wanted to try and figure out what those differences were and how they worked.
So I love doing tests and running experiments and eventually figured out that I wanted to start my own agency. So I started Sterling Sky four years ago and kind of wanted to focus on hiring other experts in the space that had kind of an equal passion and desire to learn about local as mine.
So we’re calling this episode, the good and the bad of Google My Business. Let’s start with the good. What makes Google my business the default center of local search?
So I say the good is just how much traffic it drives we’ve seen over the years, this just continues to go up. So if you’re like a local plumber and you’re trying to figure out, you know, how do I bringing calls to my business, like there are very few advertising methods you can use that will bring as much volume as Google my business. So we posted an article recently on the Sterling Sky blog about a week or two ago that talks just gave a few examples of clients of ours and just what we’ve seen over the last few years as far as lead growth and how much is coming from Google.
My business and just it continues to go up at a much faster rate than even like the organic results on Google are driving.
Yeah, I think that Google, my business is something that we all use without even realizing we’re using it. When you’re googling your local pizza shop on a Friday night, you’re likely looking at their Google my business profile, right?
And you had mentioned that a lot has changed in the past few years. So how is assuming that kind of means COVID has changed a lot, right? So how has COVID and everything that’s happened over the last couple of years changed Google searches and Google my business?
Yeah. So I think, you know, there’s definitely some trends to keep on track of, but there are a lot of things that Google rolled out like feature wise that were kind of came out because of COVID. So, you know, they added a lot more attributes.
They added the ability for businesses to open different types of hours to be listed because they realized, you know, hey, like maybe this shopping centers opened earlier for seniors or this and that. So Google is pretty fast to adapt to some of that.
And the list of things they’ve changed in the last year and a half, it’s it’s really long. So we actually keep a list on our website. We have a page that tracks all the updates that happen every month and we just list them out there.
So it’s like a good resource that’s free on this growing sky site if you want to check it out. But there’s there’s way too many to list the malls. So I know something they’ve been kind of focusing on as of late is identity attributes.
So they released a, you know, Latino owned attributes to try and highlight that for Latino businesses. They released the black owned attribute last year. So I think they’re trying to kind of come up with different ways for businesses to highlight different things about the business that show up directly in the search results, which is kind of cool
So yeah, that’s the that’s something to watch.
Working with our clients directly at camp, I definitely notice that throughout COVID, there was a rise in interest in Google, my business, the need to track the activity from a business’s profile. And it was a couple of months ago I went through Google Certification Training or product coach Jessica Michaels hosts it here a couple of times a
year. And when I went through the GMB portion of the training, I was really impressed with all the different options that it gave business owners to build their profile and really help them to customize it and allow it to stand out.
So, you know, they make it really easy to create and manage a profile. Anyone can do it. Can you talk us through what are what are those those must use, as well as what should businesses be avoiding when they’re building their GMB profile?
Yeah. So things to definitely take advantage of Google posts can be really good for certain business types, so definitely we see like they go further with certain types of businesses than others. So if you’re a business that has like specials or discounts or things like that, Google posts are definitely something you want to look at.
We did a huge study earlier this year on Google posts, also on our site that just looked at like what types of Google posts perform better than others and there are some clear winning patterns. So, for example, offer posts are the best type of posted of all the different options that you have, and they don’t necessarily have
to be like a sale that you have one on shoes or something like that. You can get creative with the uses for offer post for service type businesses. We also looked at like images of what types of images to use and found that like if you have an image, that’s a unique image to your business, not a stock photo, and you put a small amount of text on it. So for example, if you were offering 50 dollar off coupon, you can actually put that in the image part. So like an image with a small amount of text that performs best for four clicks.
But as a feature, I would say that I would I would use if I was business as far as what to avoid. We have seen an increase, especially in the last week in suspensions. So it’s really easy to accidentally trigger a suspension of your listing, which if you’re not familiar with what that is, that’s essentially what Google takes your listing off Google. So it’s gone. It usually doesn’t appear anywhere and you have no access to it, so you want to avoid that as much as you can. And one of the biggest things we see that can automatically trigger those unintentionally is if you change too much about your business all at once.
So if you were to go in there and update your address, then also update your phone number that could easily trigger a suspension because it looks to Google like you’re trying to hijack a listing like you’re kind of doing something that’s not normal.
So if you’re changing a whole bunch of information because your business rebranded or something like that, I would space out those edits over several weeks because that is definitely one of the things that we see people accidentally doing what they didn’t need to.
OK, that’s great information, so again, using the Google posts feature really helps, does offer posts you mentioned are the best news images do not use stock photos, but some text on those images that could certainly help with engagement too.
I know I personally love looking at images like if I’m going to go to a restaurant, I kind of want to see what it looks like on the inside or if they have outdoor seating and what that feels like.
And you said avoid making multiple updates in a short period of time because that could lead to suspension of a profile. So all good things. So let’s talk about things that impact ranking and the things that don’t. We talk through some things there.
Yeah. So I actually did a whiteboard Friday for Mars. I think this year was last year this year, but in the last year and in the whiteboard Friday, I just basically go over the four fields inside Google, my business that do impact ranking.
Since we made that video, we actually did find a fit. So I’ll I’ll just highlight those some things that do impact. Where do you rank? Are your business name? Unfortunately. So, you know, for example, if your storage business and you have the word self-storage, it’s like Joy’s self-storage me having the word self-storage in my desk and saying
will help me write for queries like self-storage. It’s an unfortunate truth that has been around for as long as I’ve been doing local search. second thing is your categories, this is huge. There are a lot of business types like H-back, for example, where you have like seven different categories that apply to your business, and choosing the right
ones can be very impactful. We’ve seen this time and time again with clients of ours where you know they come onboard and they’re not using the right categories and we switched them up and like has a huge impact where they rank.
The other thing with categories is Goop was constantly refining that list, so they constantly add categories and delete categories. Every year is about 4000 of them ish in the US. So we we also keep a list of those in the updates to those on our website.
Update that every month, if there’s month with nothing listed, it just basically means Google didn’t add or delete any of that month. And then the third thing would be the website that you link to. So, you know, usually for businesses like I want to link to my home page, but some businesses are multi-location, so sometimes it’s better
to link to your home page. Sometimes it’s better to link to a location page. It really depends on the business and how their site is set up and which pages Google is ranking organically. So it’s not always a clear cut answer, but that does influence ranking for sure.
Most of what goes into where you rank on Google is from your site like the huge majority, so there’s not as much you can fill in on the Google my business side that impacts where you rank. The fourth thing would be reviews, so simply like volume of reviews mean we can can have an influence on ranking.
And I think this is more of a click through rate kind of thing. So it’s I think it’s it’s both indirect and direct factor. But like, you know, if you’ve got a business with 1000 reviews and then the next two have like ten, it’s kind of a clear choice on which one the consumer’s likely to interact with
and click through. Rate is a ranking factor. So if you can do something to help increase your click through rate that will help your business rank higher. And then the fifth one that we added on after I did that.
VIDEO Identity attributes do impact rankings. So for example, if you put the women lead women own sorry attribute on your listing, if somebody’s searching for like women owned businesses, then you are likely to rank higher for that. It’s not going to help you rank for like “Plumber near me,” Google’s not like favoring women, but it will help you rank for those types of queries, OK? Everything else that I didn’t mention, we found, does not actually directly impact free rank.
It’s more information giving options in that regard. So the five fields again that you had mentioned that do impact ranking are the business team, the categories that you’re choosing. The website link reviews help quite a bit, which you know we do.
We actually did an episode on the value of reviews and how impactful they are, so that’s great. And then identity attributes. So all good stuff. And if you make it interesting enough and you have a high click through rate, of course that’s going to help as well.
So, all right, so you know, nowadays we’re all pressed for time. I’d like to hear from you about what are best practices for managing a listing you had mentioned. Don’t update it a lot, right? Especially in a short period of time.
But how often should a business be looking to just kind of maybe edit? Check on their listing, what are resources that businesses can tap into for help with managing their listing?
Yeah, I mean, as a business owner, the number one thing I would prioritize for the business owner because it’s something a marketing company really can’t do for you is soliciting reviews. So I actually spoke to a real estate agent the other day who was like, I’ve spent $30,000 incentivizing my staff to get Google reviews.
That’s a lot of money, but think about it in context of how much a real estate agent will make off of the home sale, right? Like, they don’t actually have to sell very many homes to make that money back.
And if they can dominate their market by getting lots of reviews, that’s a great strategy. So what this agent said is—you’re not allowed to offer incentives to customers or users actually legal issues with that with the FTC.
So don’t ever do that. And also, Google has guidelines against it. But if you’re incentivizing your staff to try and get them to ask for reviews more, that’s OK. As far as I know, there’s no really, I’m not a lawyer.
There’s none of that. But basically, that’s what this real estate agent did. She went to her team and she was like, All right, for every ten reviews that you get us on Google, like they’re trying to hammer this into their stuff because their staff are the ones kind of talking to the customers on a regular basis, you
have to get your staff to care. Otherwise, it makes it a lot harder. So like, OK, every ten reviews, I’ll give you $1,000. You’re just imagining, like telling.
You, that’s nice.
Right? Like, who wouldn’t go for that? It’s a really aggressive that’s probably like the most extreme. I don’t think most people would give that much, but it makes sense for real estate agent because of how much they would make off of a single sale.
So definitely not saying you should just go do that, but it was a really good smart strategy. And I think that is the one thing that every business owner can prioritize that should prioritize. That’s kind of anybody can do it.
That makes sense. Now what happens if you know there’s a fake listing out there? How do you deal with a fake listing?
Yeah, we run into this more so in certain industries, not so fake listings like as a whole. If you were to ask Google and look at their studies that they put out every year, they’d say, Oh, we’re doing a great job and they’d pat themselves on the back.
And it’s true if you were to look at all listings across the board on Google. There’s not a large amount of fake listings, however, when you get into certain industries, if you work in the garage door industry or the HVAC industry, there are insane amount of fake listings like it’s crazy how many marketing companies will go out there and just create listings for non real businesses that are just named like Plumbers Sacramento. And then you call it, and they sell that lead to a real plumber and they get it to rank because it’s got like an exact match keyword name.
And this is a tactic that’s been around as long as I’ve been in this industry, against Google’s guidelines. But people figure out ways to get around Google’s guidelines because that’s what they do. So this is a big problem for some industries, but not all.
Like if you’re a hotel, this is a non-issue. So it’s very much on the industry specific level that spam becomes a problem. So if you are in an industry that’s like a service business that is home based, you are likely going to be impacted by this.
And there’s a whole slew of like how to figure out if it’s a fake listing, how to report it to Google. I did an article on this on our site that talks about like, it’s like the ultimate guide to fighting spam on Google Maps or something like that.
And it goes into like the specifics of like, Do this and this and this, but you can definitely report these listings to Google and get them removed. And for some industries, this can be insanely impactful. So I would definitely suggest.
And I guess that would be a very big benefit to businesses in certain industries who are affected by this and working with someone like you and Sterling Sky that you guys can really help to combat those fake listings and help that business really to to get the spotlight on them and get some quarters.
Yeah, it’s in certain industry. Google’s been making some headway. Like, I think in the insurance industry, I see a little less of it than I did a year ago. Definitely with lawyers, we don’t see as much as obviously three years ago, but people are man.
These people are creative. Like the people that create these listings, they are always finding new ways.
So, yeah, it’s interesting. I mean, I just learned something new. I had no idea that it would start easy to create a fake listing and.
You know, not easy. But if it’s like what you do for a living like this, there’s a whole thing to look like SEO. This is what they do. They are way ahead of Google, like Google’s kind of caught on to their tactics, but they’re already moved on to another tactic, by the way.
Well, I guess Google wanted to do something about that. So looking ahead, what are the new features that Google my business has? Our listeners should be aware of and are there any upcoming to that they should be aware of?
Yeah, I think nothing that I’m aware of, you know, usually Google doesn’t announce these things ahead of time, right? But I would say like the main things that have come out in the last year that I would pay attention to the products feature didn’t.
That was about two years old. But a lot of people think that they can’t use products because they’re, you know, a service based business. But you can find creative ways like we do this for real estate agents. They don’t have products that we lost their homes on there or areas or neighborhoods that they’re selling homes in because it’s a really noticeable feature on desktop. So it looks really nice. You can use images just a nice way to get and make your your listing kind of stand out attributes. The really the main thing that Google keeps launching more of.
So they’re constantly rolling out attributes to different business types. So that is something that I would just keep an eye on. Like, they have like, you know, online appointments on site services like there’s a whole bunch. They have a lot of wheelchair specific attributes gender, racial, all kinds of stuff, and they keep coming up with more and more of those.
All right, so we talked about using the products, feature attributes, being aware of, you know, if any of those apply to your business, get those on your listing, be aware of if there are any upcoming get those added, all good stuff.
So we’re just about at the end here. But Joy, did you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share with our listeners around GMB?
Yeah, I would just say, you know, it’s important to keep up with updates, kind of know where Google’s headed with this stuff, so something I would pay attention to. And then policies too, like Google’s policies on listings is another thing that it’s really helpful to know as a marketer.
So just being really aware of Google’s guidelines and how they change, they had definitely changed over the last few years. So that is another thing to kind of keep track of.
And it seems to you that, you know, the stronger a GMB listing is, the more trust the consumer has a map from that business. Would you say that that carries some truth?
Yeah, I think that like one thing Google is trying to make headway on is fake reviews are big problems still on Google. So I know there was like a study released recently, and I think it was overall. Hopefully, I’m not remembering that talked about like fake reviews and how basically Google has more on their platform than any
other platform. So I think they’re combat that recently has been to kind of tighten up their filters around reviews. So we’re seeing a lot of people that are unfortunately having a lot of their legitimate reviews, not publishing, which is like Google’s effort to combat fake reviews, always has this an undesired consequence, right?
So I think that is something that we’re going to see more of in the future from Google is just like new ways for them to try and combat this. That will have unfortunate consequences as well. Gotcha.
All right. Well, it was there anything that you wanted to plug with our listeners to before we end today?
Yeah. So one of the companies that we own local you is putting on events in the couple of weeks, so locally advanced. It’s really an event for people that know a decent amount about local and Google my business, but want to learn more.
We usually run them three times a year and they’re all virtual, so definitely check that out. It’s happening November 30th.
Great. Now we’re going to be sharing this episode on our website on social media. So all of our listeners will have access to Joy’s properties, getting to her website and checking these things out. We’re also going to highlight to the links that we’ve been sharing in the chat, which are all really great resources from Joy and Sterling Sky.
This was great. We really appreciate your time and your expertize and just sharing all this knowledge with us today, Joy. Really, you’ve educated us quite a bit on Google my business, the good and the bad. So thank you again for your time.
Not a problem.
22:09:10 – 22:29:04
And thanks to our listeners to whether you’re listening in live or recorded episode, we truly appreciate your support. Please enjoy the rest of our annual summit. Up next is Hidden Gems with Jessica Michaels and Kate. That’s all of our recordings for our sessions will be available on our website, I believe, early next week.
22:30:01 – 22:43:22
Keep up with our podcast, and we’re constantly posting about updates, new episodes on social media, on our website. So please stay engaged and stay up with us. And just thanks for your time as well. We’ll talk to you soon.