If you wanted to boil down marketers’ fears in the digital economy to one single idea, you might argue it would be loss of control.
How your brand is being presented and talked about across all the various sites, channels and platforms out there can sometimes feel entirely out of your hands. There’s always that lingering concern that potential customers will be misled, either through malicious reviews or inaccurate business information that pushes people toward your competitors.
Google My Business (GMB) has been one path to help brands solve the latter issue. GMB serves a similar function to business listings, much like Yelp or Yellow Pages, but has the added benefit of being tied directly to the tech giant’s search engine.
Customers search for your business, and Google My Business returns a customizable listing to go along with other search results. Information like location, store hours and customer reviews is available right from Google’s search engine results page, giving users a more direct line to your business and eliminating potential barriers to engagement.
Over the years, it hasn’t been all unicorns and rainbows for Google My Business. As I’ve noted previously, GMB’s service for enterprise brands left a fair amount to be desired, with pretty significant gaps in geocoding and its ability to extract traffic insights from the platform.
For instance, if Google Maps generated the wrong geocode for a particular location, GMB users would need to go into that store’s listing and manually make the switch. If several stores — maybe even hundreds, in some cases — have inaccurate geocodes, a relatively simple process becomes an arduous time sink.
A similar store-by-store limitation affected a brand’s ability to pull metrics and analytics at scale, as users would need to pull this data from each location separately, rather than have it all easily available from a wider repository.
Even so, Google My Business continues to show a lot of promise for businesses interested in converting online visitors into brick-and-mortar shoppers. To Google’s credit, the company has done a lot of work since the last time I discussed the platform, adding enhancements and new features, as well as building out its overall functionality. There’s still room for improvement, of course, but it’s made some impressive strides.
So, what’s new with Google My Business over the past 12 months? Plenty, as it turns out.
One of the more exciting developments is Google’s new Posts feature. Posts allows Google My Business users to build out the type of information included in your SERP sidebar beyond location, store hours and so forth.
Brands can take advantage of this platform to promote the latest sales and offers directly from Google’s search results. Individual store managers could go in and add location-specific promotions as well, helping them build awareness with a digital audience.
If you need further reason to take advantage of Google Posts, consider how it is presented on mobile formats. Post content appears at the top of SERPs when displayed on mobile devices, so it will be among the first things users see. It’s a good way to grab the attention of mobile users with the latest deals and offers.
In recent weeks, Google has also added a Q&A feature to GMB to address frequently asked questions before customers even visit your site. These questions could include everything from what credit cards are accepted at a particular location to the best places to find parking.
What’s unique about this feature is that it’s both crowdsourced and curated by the merchant, so users can give a “thumbs up” to helpful questions and answers to push them higher up in the listing, while the business can add its own responses.
The one downside to the Q&A feature is that, as of now, it’s only compatible with Android devices. Everyone else is just going to have to wait for Google to roll it out to other platforms.
Another recent feature that has turned some heads is Google My Business’s chat capabilities. Although still in pilot mode, this program allows customers to communicate with businesses in real time straight from the SERP. Want to clarify holiday store hours, check available stock or hold an item for a customer? It can all be done through Google My Business without picking up a phone or going through a dedicated web portal.
That level of responsiveness is good for business and your brand image. If customers are able to speak directly with store associates at any time during business hours, they’ll associate your brand with convenience. It’s just another way for companies to bridge the gap between digital and in-store experiences.
Other noteworthy GMB updates include:
Google My Business isn’t perfect, of course. Some of my earlier criticisms still stand, and I’m still waiting for Google to do something about those metrics oversights.
That being said, what Google’s done in the past 12 months is show that it’s committed to making Google My Business work, building out the core functionality with new features that help brick-and-mortar stores engage digital users and guide them to their location.
It’s a heck of a start. Let’s see if Google can keep it up.