When you’re working with Google Business Profile (formerly known as Google My Business), you’re operating in a continually moving environment. Like Netflix, you never really finish optimizing your Google Business Profile.
Google is constantly adding to, tweaking, monetizing, and retiring features, and there are many factors that are going to affect GBP performance—be that from a ranking or a conversion perspective.
As local marketers, we need to be monitoring our Google Business Profiles so that we can check the progress or quality over a period of time. We also need to make sure we have a process for systematic review and optimization so that we can see what’s working and what isn’t. Monitoring the search landscape is also essential so that we’re aware of any new opportunities and challenges.
Based on my recent talk at LocalU Advanced, this guide will walk you through ten pieces of the GBP puzzle (there are of course many more!) that can and should be monitored for potential optimization. I’ll also share my Google Business Profile monitoring template—read on for access to this!
Why ‘Setting and Forgetting’ Isn’t an Option
There are a number of reasons why Google Business Profiles require ongoing attention and optimization:
- Changes to the appearance of local search results;
- Changes to the way buyers search and make choices;
- Changes to GBP features; and
- Interactivity and user-generated content (UGC).
Changes to the Appearance of Local Search Results
Mary Bowling created this image to show changes to the appearance of local search results over the years:
It shows how the Local Pack looked from 2007 through to 2015. As you can see, the 7-Pack settled into a 3-Pack in 2015.
We’re now used to seeing three results in the Map Pack, but more recently we’re seeing Google using huge maps, as well as a 5-Pack for some queries:
There’s been a lot of talk over the last few years around ‘Google as your new home page’. This concept has grown as Google continues to tweak and add new functionality designed to keep users on the search engine results pages (SERPs). This is largely achieved by presenting the user with more and more opportunities to interact with a business without actually needing to click through to its website.
Changes to the Way Buyers Search and Make Choices
Like any good marketer, we should all be concerned about how customers and potential customers make purchase decisions. We need to stay on top of how world events, technology, and other factors affect the way consumers search and are influenced in their decision-making processes.
We know that mobile phone use has massively shifted search behavior, user expectation, and the way that results are presented. As marketers, we’ve had to take this into account as we plan and implement our strategies.
Voice and Visual Search
Voice search was the hot topic for a while, but optimizing for voice search ended up not really changing much about the way local search marketers operate.
What will come next and what will this mean for us? Maybe visual search will shake things up a bit!
We’re all familiar with how Google makes sense of our written content and schema to serve what it hopes will be relevant results for the searcher’s intent. But we’re not so familiar with the level of processing that Google uses to make sense of our images. Consumers can increasingly use visual search to find the products that they want to research and buy.
The below image demonstrates how using Google Lens to search for a product triggers a 3-Pack:
World events have a huge effect on the way we search and the types of phrases that we use. We need to keep abreast of these changes and make sure that they’re reflected in the words and images that we use to describe our businesses. This starts with our websites and our GBPs.
Changes to Google Business Profile Features
Covid-19 prompted a huge shake-up for GBP in terms of new features. Historically, Google wasn’t quick to respond to the requests for new business features. But the pandemic showed just how efficiently Google can launch useful new features.
Related: How to Create Relevant and Engaging Local SEO Reports – Free Online Course
Many of the new additions provided during the early days of the pandemic are still available for businesses to use today, and may become permanent. These features include Covid-19 Posts, health and safety attributes, being able to mark a business as temporarily closed, and ‘More hours’.
Google continues to surprise us with new GBP features, often without any explanation or fanfare. You’ll likely only notice these updates because of a change in the dashboard or because someone tweets to ask if something is new. You might simply notice that something that used to work no longer does.
Google frequently retires features and sends them to the graveyard, for example, short names.
Interactivity and User-generated Content
A high level of interactivity and UGC is presented in local search results. We don’t control all of the content that appears here, so we need to monitor and optimize everything that’s making an appearance
We’re all very familiar with reviews and understand the importance of reviews for Google Business Profiles. Another user-generated feature that’s less well known is Q&A. Businesses still seem to largely be ignoring it, while users continue to ask and answer questions.
Google messaging is available for many businesses, and it’s increasingly easy for businesses to manage messages via the dashboard or through a third-party provider.
A recent change to the Google Maps app now means that users can add their own photos and comments to the ‘updates’ tab. This has traditionally been an area that only businesses themselves could manage through the use of Google Posts.
Confused about any of the above? Don’t panic—I’ve got your back! Let’s crack on with those ten points for monitoring Google Business Profile.
1. Monitor the SERPs
We need to keep a close eye on the SERPs and ask ourselves the following questions:
- How does my Google Business Profile look in Search?
- How does my Google Business Profile look in the 3-Pack?
- How does my Google Business Profile look in the Local Finder?
- What about my competitors—do they look just as (or more) awesome as me in all of these places?
In the same way that you’d check the responsiveness of a website across different devices and platforms, you need to check how your GBP presents across devices and platforms. You can do this by looking at the following:
- Branded search
- Non-branded search
- Map Pack
- Local Finder
- Google Maps
- Various operating systems
- Various locations
You’re likely now asking yourself, “how can I do this?”
You could do this manually. This would involve making a checklist of the phrases you’re ranking for and where, but you’ll likely run into location and device issues. This method is also going to be hard to scale if you have multiple businesses and locations.
I suggest automating the process using different tools.
BrightLocal’s Local Rank Tracker will check your rankings and keep a SERP screenshot of the results for desktop and mobile, and for Google Maps on desktop:
BrightLocal’s Local Search Grid report will give you a screenshot of the Local Finder results for your search query:
This data can be pulled for the same search query across as many locations as you specify. For example, you can see data from 225 locations if you have a 15 by 15 grid.
I also like to automate this process using Mobile Moxie’s SERP Datalyser. This tool is fantastic for monitoring data across a range of locations and is useful for recognizing disambiguation when you search on a branded term. For example, when your client says ‘I’m seeing my business profile in the top results’ and you need to explain it’s because they’re sitting in their actual location searching for their own business.
2. Monitor the ‘Search Landscape’
Next, we need to monitor the ‘search landscape’. By landscape, I mean the things that affect what we search for, how we search, how the search results look, and how this relates back to us in our jobs as local search marketers
Think with Google is a great place to read about Google’s coverage of research on consumer trends, consumer journeys, retail, and new Google features.
There are some brilliant resources out there to learn about local SEO, such as the Bright Ideas hub. And Sterling Sky has an excellent timeline for staying on top of Google Business Profile changes and SERP features testing.
Brodie Clark (if you don’t already know him) is an avid watcher of and commentator on SERP features—so his new timeline for search feature changes is a must-read. In terms of quickly dipping into search news to check if there’s anything you’ve missed, the tl;dr marketing timeline newsletter is pretty awesome.
If you have the time to go ‘all in’ on learning all things local, I’ve put together a list of people to follow on Twitter, plus podcasts, newsletters, and other resources for local search marketers.
3. Let Google Know You Want All Notifications
We need to let Google know that we want to be told when something happens on our GBPs.
When it comes to Google notifying you that you have things to attend to on your business profile, the notifications landscape feels pretty fragmented.
Email Notification Settings in Google Business Profile Manager
First, on a desktop in Google Business Profile Manager, you can let Google know that you’d like to receive email notifications for certain events. For example, a new Q&A, someone making a booking, or someone messaging your business:
Message Notifications in Chrome on Desktop
You can also get notifications on Chrome if you tweak your Chrome settings to enable push notifications:
Use a Third-party Tool or Automate the Process Using the API
If you’re managing notifications at scale, you’ll likely want to use a third-party solution or get someone to build something for you using the GBP API.
4. Measure Using UTM Tracking
I’m always getting questions from my clients about how Google Business Profile is performing. They want to know:
- What’s working?
- What isn’t?
- What features are driving traffic?
- What features are driving traffic that converts?
- What happens to my conversions when Google moves a feature in, out, up, or down the business profile or the Local Finder?
Google Business Profile Insights give us some useful data about how people interact with our business profiles:
But these insights don’t tell us the full story of how many people a Google Business Profile refers to the business website, and what those people do when they get there.
And that’s where UTM tagging comes in. If you haven’t already set up UTM tagging on your profile, then I wrote a post about it that includes a handy UTM template that’ll tag your links up for you.
Without UTM tagging, traffic from GBP will show in Google Analytics as either organic or direct. Even when it does get attributed to the organic channel, we have no idea which part of the Google Business Profile that visitor came from.
UTM tagging allows us to see revenue attributable to GBP, broken down into which parts of GBP are delivering that revenue, as well as the types of conversions that GBP is driving.
If you’re yet to set up UTM tagging, this video will outline the process and explain more of the benefits.
5. Monitor and Plan for Local Search Justifications
Justifications aren’t a new thing—we’re used to seeing the relevant bolded words in meta descriptions in the SERPs and elsewhere. If you’re not au fait with Local SEO justifications then this Google Business Profile justifications guide by Joy Hawkins will teach you all you need to know.
We all know that search engines operate on a basis of relevance, and their prime aim—besides making money for themselves—is to serve relevant results to the user. For local search, justifications are just another way of highlighting the relevance of that result to the user.
Local justifications make a result stand out, ensuring the relevance of the result is immediately apparent and no doubt influencing click through rate.
I don’t think anyone has done any research on review justifications, but plenty of tests have been done on other rich features, such as how product schema positively affects click-through rate. I’d imagine that local search justifications would produce similar results.
How to Monitor and Optimize for Justification Opportunities
Use Google Search Console to see search queries that your Google Business Profile is appearing for. If you’re UTM tagging your URLs, then you’ll be able to see search data for the non-branded queries that are triggering Map Pack results that you feature in.
Look at data for the last 16 months for queries that don’t include the branded term. In the example below, I’ve applied a page filter so that only data from UTM tagged URLs is shown. You can see the URLs below—it’s the primary website link, the appointment link, and a GBP offer post:
Clicking on the ‘queries’ tab will show you the queries:
Google Business Profile Insights data is a goldmine for finding the types of keywords that could be triggering justifications. A lot of people overlook GBP insights query data—make sure you’re not one of them!
You need to go beyond the core terms and keywords that you’ve targeted once you’ve performed your keyword research. Ask yourself, what are the keyword modifiers that people are likely to use when searching for a product or service that you offer? We’re all familiar with location modifiers but don’t forget all of the others, such as:
- Time modifiers, such as the year or season;
- Buy modifiers, such as ‘cheap’, ‘luxury’, ‘sale’, or ‘offer’;
- Owner modifiers, such as ‘black-owned’ or ‘woman-owned’; and
- Audience modifiers, such as ‘for children’ or ‘wheelchair accessible’.
Attributes can also give us a clue about what people search for and the things that are important to them when they’re making a purchase decision. Check your GBP attributes to see which ones are available for your listing:
This resource by Krystal Taing runs through the entire list of attributes available in GBP for a range of business types. This can give you a clue as to what Google determines to be important for searchers.
For additional clues about modifiers, take a look at what Google is asking about the business via ‘Know This Place‘:
Finally, take a look at the review attributes for your business and competitor businesses. This will provide further clues about what’s important to searchers within your niche.
Once you’ve got your group of local keywords, you can map them out across the sources of justifications. I suggest starting with the ones that are easiest to influence:
- Website justifications;
- Post justifications, including offer posts;
- Services justifications; and
- Review justifications.
They say that “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and we’re all aware that we exist in a very visual internet culture. We curate our images based on what we want people to think about us—both professionally and personally.
So, why do we allow things like this to happen to our business listings?
We all know that we should be updating our websites with current and correct information, and we should be doing the same with Google Business Profile. After all, GBP is often what people will see before—and in many cases instead—of clicking through to the website.
Monitor Customer-uploaded Images
You need to monitor your customer-uploaded images. You can sort by date to see the newest ones first:
If any of those images contravene Google’s photo and video guidelines you can flag them for removal.
Users are also prompted to add photos and comments in the Google Maps app, which then appears in the ‘updates’ tab:
This is what that looks like in the Google Maps app:
Businesses need to monitor this from within the app itself. This involves checking images and comments, and writing responses.
All businesses need to carefully curate and optimize their own images. Ask yourself:
- Do your images reflect the products and services you currently offer?
- Do the images of your staff reflect how they currently look?
- Do your images reflect the season?
- Are you monitoring your images regularly?
- Do you have a schedule for image uploads?
The image that accompanies your listing in the Local Finder won’t always be your cover photo. Google will often serve what it considers to be the most relevant image alongside the written results in the local SERPs.
Look at the A5 oak and pine listing that shows a photo of a table, for the search term “oak table near me”:
Google judged this photo to be more relevant to the search query than this business cover photo, and used it in the search results accordingly. Avoid this by making sure you have good quality images of your important products and services.
Monitoring Google Business Profile Cover Photos
I use Mobile Moxie to monitor Google Business Profile images from a number of different locations. This lets me know when a change has been made:
This image isn’t being populated via GBP, it’s being populated by image search. So the moral of the story is that you need to monitor the main image from your business profile and test it across the devices and locations that are important to you.
7. Google Business Profile Products
Google Business Profile Products allows businesses that don’t have the ability to integrate product feeds via Google Merchant Center to add their product inventory manually.
Access depends on the listings primary category, with the following business types being ineligible:
- Adult entertainment
If you’re yet to set up Google Business Profile Products, then this is a useful guide.
I really like GBP Products because visually they can make your profile stand out. They take up a load of real estate and they can include a link to your website:
Because GBP products are manually curated, they’re rarely one and done. It’s likely that price, availability, URL, features, and images are subject to change.
It’s best to choose evergreen products that are important to the business but that don’t change or go out of stock often
I’ve created this Google sheet—just make a copy and populate it with the details of your products, including the URL. The sheet will then automatically tag up your GBP URLs with UTM tagging. You then just need to go ahead and copy and paste the details of your products into your Google Business Profile.
Now you have a master copy in case you have any issues further down the line, or if multiple people have responsibility for managing GBP products in your organization.
8. Google Business Profile Services
We need to monitor the often overlooked ‘services’ in our business profiles.
The services section is often forgotten because it’s only viewable on mobile. It’s difficult to know how customers and potential customers consume this content, and unlike GBP products, services aren’t linked to your website.
I’m paying more attention to services than I used to, mainly because I’m seeing them pulled in as justifications for my clients. The ‘provides’ justification is populated from GBP services for that business, and I’m seeing a lot of services justifications in the SERPs I monitor.
Services can be a bit of a pain because Google is continually scraping content and throwing it into the GBP services section. You need to monitor and optimize this regularly and delete the changes that Google has made if they’re not accurate.
Also, be mindful of the wording used in the services section. If these services are being pulled through into a 3-Pack as a justification, you’ll want the words to be descriptive and compelling, and to make sense!
I’ve added a ‘services’ tab to the products spreadsheet I mentioned above, so do check it out!
It’s important to keep a master record of your services and the copy you’ve written for this section, especially if you’re having to constantly make revisions when Google keeps updating and changing it!
You’ll hopefully be using Q&A to its full potential because you’re a savvy local marketer, but the number of high-profile businesses I see who don’t monitor Q&A is pretty alarming. If you’re not au fait with Q&A, then this guide will fill you in on the deets.
Get Notified About New Questions and Answers
You’ll want to know when someone asks a new question, so let Google know that you’re interested in new questions and answers in your settings:
Monitor via Third-party Tools
Like most user-generated content, there are Google guidelines that must be adhered to. If you think a question violates these terms, then you can flag it and state why you’re reporting it. I’ve reported a few and they’ve been removed quickly.
To save yourself time, I suggest putting together a common Q&A sheet. This means that when you need to respond, you have a pro forma answer that you can tweak as required.
10. Monitoring Schedule
And finally—number 10! You need to put together a Google Business Profile monitoring schedule for your business or the businesses that you work with.
You’ll need to attend to all of the things we’ve talked about today, as well as all of the other important moving parts of Google Business Profile. Consider:
- Who will stay on top of learning all of the things?
- What else needs monitoring (reviews, messaging, measurement, posts etc)?
- What’s your internal resource?
- Who will monitor?
- How will they monitor (tool usage etc)
- How often will they monitor?
To help you with your monitoring schedule, I’ve put together another resource to make your lives easier. This one includes a range of monitoring tasks along with a suggested frequency:
Work with your team to allocate resources, agree on the frequency, and add any other Google Business Profile monitoring tasks to determine future optimization tasks—good luck!