Google. For the average searcher, it’s a noun, a verb, and a godsend that makes everything in life just a little easier. But for a small business owner, it can be a word that brings on rants and feelings of anxiety, victimization, and anger. After all, It’s Google’s game. Google makes the rules, Google changes the rules, and business owners are often left to figure it out, without much of a rule book.
But the reality is: You gotta play ball somewhere. And if you play with integrity, stay on top of the changes, and anticipate the next move, Google can be a really good thing for your business.
Google Brings The Crowd
According to Statista, Google accounted for about 62.5% of all search queries in the U.S. in January 2020. That means if you’re not making your business visible on Google, you’re not sticking it to Google, you’re sticking it to yourself.
Whether at home or out and about, people are searching for local businesses on their phones, and apparently the majority of them are using Google as their preferred search engine. So, you need to make sure you’re bringing your A game and playing on Google’s field, because Google’s bringing the crowd..
Covering Your Bases
So what does bringing your A game to Google mean? What are some plays that can help you win, even though it’s not a home game for you?
Google My Business profile
Claiming and managing your Google My Business profile is one of the easiest and most important things you can do when you’re playing ball with Google. This is essentially your in-search website, and Google wants it to provide searchers with all the basics, like your phone number, your address (if you have a business people can visit), your hours, the locations you serve, your website URL, and your services.
There are new features coming and going all the time (like Google Posts, Q&A, etc.) so don’t just look at your GMB profile once and leave it at that; get the app and check it regularly to make sure everything’s up-to-date.
Speaking of your GMB profile, you can add Google Posts to that area, including photos and videos. It’s a (currently) free way to easily showcase your work, your employees, and your specials, and put a little extra personality and incentive in front of searchers who are looking at your business, but haven’t yet clicked through to your website. Posts are super easy to do, and if you have the GMB app on your phone, you can literally throw one together on your lunch break.
Even though Google has a bit of a fake review problem, the need for great, authentic reviews hasn’t waned. 82% of people look at a business’s reviews before making the call or visiting the website, and with Google showing the star rating right in your GMB profile or in Maps results, it’s an easy(ish) way to make yourself stand out. So make review generation a routine part of your service, by using tools like GatherUp or implementing other tools or strategies.
You often hear that it’s a pay-to-play world online these days, and while that’s not your only option, it is a good option. Adding Google Ads to your marketing strategy can help get your business out in front of more eyes, and since Google Ads get favored placement in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), people on mobile don’t even have to scroll down to find you.
Ok, ok, but isn’t it incredibly expensive? It all depends on your market and competition. Google Ads uses a bidding system, so if you have some big competitors and you’re in a super saturated market, it can be hard to compete with those bigger budgets. But that’s not always the case. There are other factors that determine which ads get shown other than just the highest bidder.
If you’re curious about Google Ads and want to see if they might be a financially feasible option for you, give us a call. We can take a look at your market and competition, and figure out if it’s something that would work with your budget.
Google Local Service Ads
Google Local Service Ads are ads that show up even above traditional PPC ads, but they’re not fully rolled out to every market and every industry. They’re also a little bit different from traditional ads.
These feature a “Google Guarantee” badge, and Google has also tested a “booked X times near you” feature. The point of both is to encourage people to feel confident in choosing the business, because they know 1.) Google vouches for the business 2.) Everyone else is doing it.
While Google Local Service Ads are still new-ish, a lot of people are seeing great results and finding that the average cost-per-click is actually lower than that of Google Ads. But these ads come with additional rules as well, so be sure to get the run down before you get started.
Organic Search Results
While Google Ads and Google Local Service Ads (if they’re rolled out in your vertical and in your area) take up a lot of space on the tops of the SERPs, they’re not the only places people are looking and clicking. In fact, according to the latest BrightLocal Local Services Ads Click Study, organic search results still account for the most clicks, even when Google Local Service Ads are present. In other words, organic still matters.
So how do you make sure your bases are covered here?
- By making sure you have accurate and consistent listings created for your business on all of the relevant players. That means places like Google, Yelp, Facebook, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and niche sites related to your industry. If you’re in home services, for example, you may want to have listings on Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, Porch, and similar sites.
- By making sure your website is well-optimized, mobile-friendly, and filled with relevant content and keywords. Google’s slightly obsessed with E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness), and it will look at things like the quality of the content on the site and the bounce rate of searchers that visit your site to weigh in on that. It’s also important to have authoritative links pointing to your site, especially local links if you’re a local service business. Obviously, you want to get these links naturally, so get involved in your community, sponsor events and local sports teams, and look for link opportunities.
The Highlight Reel
Playing ball with Google may never be as fun as real baseball, but don’t throw down your bat and sit this one out. You can’t afford to. Pair up with a marketing company that watches Google’s every move, has studied every hypothetical playbook, and can signal you when you step up to the plate. With a little help and a little focus, you’ll knock it out of the park, and win on Google’s turf.
The world of search and SEO can be confusing, but if it’s all Greek to you, you’re not alone. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions answered by Client Relationship Manager, Chris Pitts. If you have questions you’d like Chris to answer in the next round, please leave them in the comments section and we’ll do our best to get to all of them in time!
#1 How Do Rankings Work & What’s The Difference Between Organic & Maps?
There are three places on a Google Search Results page that are completely independent of one another where ranking comes into play.
The first section (at the top of the page and sometimes at the bottom as well) is Google Ads. These are marked by an “ad” symbol and are determined entirely through the Google PPC (Pay-Per-Click) advertising program. These spaces are not subject to the Google algorithm and instead depend on how much a company is bidding per click, as well as quality score (relevance of the content on the landing page to the search) and competition. You will not show up there if you aren’t in the Google Ads PPC program.
The second place is Maps. Maps results are delivered to a searcher when they are searching for a business or service “with intent.” What “with intent” means is that Google has determined that the searcher is looking for a business near a physical location. If you expand the Maps results, it will take you to Google Maps, which shows a much larger bank of results within a given area.
The problem with Maps is that it is built for brick and mortar stores, not service businesses. Despite this, Google still shows Maps results for service searches, which muddies the water a bit. Because results are so tied to physical location, you will not show up in the Maps pack if you are not physically located near the area the searcher is physically searching from or near the central area the searcher has put into the search bar. All ‘near me’ queries are treated as a search for a brick and mortar location.
There has been a rich history of people spamming Maps by creating listings in places other than physical locations (i.e. P.O. Boxes and UPS Stores). This is against Google guidelines, but Google is spotty with how they treat spam, so while it’s risky to operate this way, we do see companies have success doing this from time to time. Of course, you risk losing your Google Maps listing altogether, which means losing all of your reviews as well, since they are housed within Google Maps. Not worth it in our opinion!
The third section is organic. Organic rank is determined mostly by the content, quality, and markup on the site itself. Several factors go into this determination, but some of the biggest ones are:
- Site speed (page load time)
- Relevance and readability of text content on the page (Google works because it delivers results that are relevant to the searcher. Text content is the only way for Google to determine this, outside of the coded information we send to them)
- SEO Titles/Meta Descriptions (the titles and descriptions on the back end of the page that make up the snippet that shows in search results and gives Google an overview of the content on the page)
- Relevant links to the page from high-quality sources
Each page of a site can be indexed separately, so you may see several pages from the same site come up for searches.
When you’re dealing with organic rank, specifically on a home page, you have to take into account NAP info (Name, Address & Phone Number), and potentially competing websites. If your business has more than one website (especially if each website has a different phone number or address associated with it), Google will get confused, and could drop your ranking on both sites. Keeping your NAP info consistent on all sources online helps keep your organic ranking up. Any place your NAP is incorrect or inconsistent can be seen by Google and lowers your site’s trust rating. After all, if there’s conflicting information, how can Google be confident that it’s presenting the correct information to the searcher? It can’t, so it will drop your organic ranking.
#2 What Does NAP Mean & Why Is It So Important To Be Consistent?
NAP info stands for Name, Address & Phone Number. When it comes to information Google is looking for from your business, these are the big three. Why? These are the three things that Google believes a searcher will be looking for most often. They want to know your name (for obvious reasons), they need your phone number for scheduling or questions about products/services, etc., and they need your address to actually get to you if you are a brick and mortar store. Google treats all businesses as if they were brick and mortar stores in most respects, so even if you are a service business, Google still views NAP information as very important.
Because Google indexes sites all over the web, it has access to almost every place your business is listed online, whether you know it’s listed there or not. If you have different phone numbers, addresses, or versions of your business name online, Google loses trust that the information presented is accurate.
Google only works because the search results it presents are accurate and helpful to the searcher. If the searcher can’t trust the information Google is presenting, he or she will stop using Google — and Google doesn’t want that.
If Google is getting mixed signals from all over the web with different phone numbers, addresses, and variations of your business name, it will suppress your business in search results in order to prevent a potential searcher from getting the wrong information. This is critically important and is often overlooked by businesses. Many companies use tracking numbers to determine where business is coming from, but when these are used incorrectly, it confuses Google. This is where many companies slip up.
Note: It’s a bit different if you’re a business with more than one location.
#3 Why Don’t I Show Up In Maps Anymore & How Can I Change That?
Google Maps is an ever-changing landscape. As Google changes its Maps algorithms, companies find ways to exploit it and spam the system. Every time this happens, it forces Google to re-examine the algorithms to try to combat these spammy tactics. This is the largest factor contributing to changes in Maps rankings — however, it is far from the only one…
Every day, more and more people are using their phones and tablets to search for businesses and services. As this shift happens, it changes how Google delivers results and what those results are. Fifteen years ago, people didn’t have the Internet on their phones, and tablets weren’t even a thing. All searches were being performed from desktops in the home or office, which meant that people had to put the location they were searching for directly in the search bar. As technology advanced and people were empowered to search on the go, the whole system changed. Now people are looking for things close to their physical location, which can be derived from a phone or tablet’s GPS location. They are also generally looking for something more immediate, and many times, they’re not willing to dig as far into the search results. This shift has caused Google to shift things a bit in terms of how they present Maps results.
The Maps views themselves zeroed in as the majority of the searches were deemed “on the go” and needing to be tailored to the physical location of the searcher. This change also eradicated the need to include location keywords in searches. Now, instead of searching for “coffee shop Nashville, TN,” (a search that would center around downtown Nashville), a searcher might search “coffee shop near me,” or even simply ask their voice assistant to “find a coffee shop nearby,” which centers the search around the searcher’s physical location. This means that every searcher will get a slightly different Maps result.
What does this all mean?
The big takeaways are that your physical location is key to showing up in Maps. If you’re not physically located near where most of your clients and customers are searching from, you may not show up in their personalized Maps results. The other important factor here (and the one you, as the business owner, can actually control) is reviews. Reviews are housed within Maps and are the most important factor in a potential customer choosing you over your visible competition. If you focus on getting good reviews and responding well to bad ones, you will stand out among anyone else that shows up in the same Maps space. It doesn’t matter if you are one, two, or three — if you have 100 more positive reviews than the other two, you’re likely to get the customer.
#4 How Do I Get Reviews?
Ask everyone for a review! Obviously if you have a visibly unhappy customer, you may not want to ask that person, but in that case, you should be doing things to correct the situation and leave them satisfied. Outside of those small instances, you should be asking everyone for a review. Explain how important reviews are to you as a business owner, and that you value feedback, both good and bad. You want to know how your people did and, because you have confidence in your company, you aren’t afraid for that feedback to be public.
Many people don’t think their opinion is important enough to take the time to leave a review, and many often don’t know how to leave you a review even if their opinion does matter. Familiarize yourself with the review process so that, if a customer asks you how to do it, you can tell them with confidence. Some other things you may want to try:
- Have physical collateral available to give to customers that explains the process and the importance of reviews.
- Invest in tools that help you get reviews from your clients.
There are two big DON’Ts though:
- Don’t publicly incentivize reviews. This is strictly against Google guidelines, as they don’t believe incentivized feedback is legimiate. If a customer puts “thanks for the gift card” or something to that effect in the review, you risk losing all of your reviews and maybe your listing altogether.
- Don’t leave reviews for your own business. The only people who should be leaving you reviews are people who have actually used your services or visited your store. If you are a service business and you start getting reviews from family members several states away or get one from an account that is tied to your business, you could lose all of your reviews and your listing. It’s not worth it!
The last thing I will say is, don’t be afraid of negative reviews. You can’t please everyone all the time — it’s just not realistic. A negative review with a well thought out, amicable response is worth 10 five-star reviews. Many times a searcher will look at negative reviews first, so this is your chance to make a great first impression on a searcher. Don’t ever underestimate the power of a well-answered one-star review!
And while this may sound counterintuitive, a few three- or four-star reviews mixed in with many more five-star reviews boosts the overall credibility of the other five-star reviews. They look more authentic and genuine because people trust that the reviews there were not incentivized in any way to create a “perfect” star rating.
#5 Do I Need To Respond To Both Positive & Negative Reviews? How Should I Respond?
Definitely respond to negative reviews. Every negative review that comes in should have a written response. My advice is to post it the day after it comes in, if possible. You don’t want to respond the second you see it, because oftentimes, when it’s that fresh, emotions are high. Let yourself calm down and revisit it the next day when you have a clear head.
Try to take the conversation offline — you never want to go tit for tat with a reviewer. A good response might look like this:
Hello, my name is __________ and I’m the business owner. I’m so sorry you had a bad experience. It is very important to us that we deliver a level of service that meets your expectations. Please give me a call on my direct line ***-***-**** at your earliest convenience and let me know what happened and what we can do to make it right.”
This takes the conversation offline and offers a well-reasoned, measured response for other people who may come behind and see the negative review.
Some other things to remember when responding to negative reviews:
- DO admit when you’ve messed up. Everyone makes mistakes — don’t be afraid to admit that you messed up. Many customers love that admission, because it shows your commitment to the work you do and ensures them that, if they have a problem, you will work to make it right.
- DON’T get angry online. Even if you know you’re right and the customer is being unreasonable, a third party looking at the conversation online won’t have that knowledge. When you go tit for tat with a reviewer online, it’s your word against the customer’s, and that usually doesn’t go in the business owner’s favor.
- DON’T use the same response for every negative review. If you have a canned response, it shows a lack of empathy, and it could send the message that you get so many negative reviews, you had to standardize the process (which is never good).
As far as responding to good reviews, that’s up to you. It’s never a bad thing to do, but if you are doing your job of asking everyone for a review, you may find that this is a difficult thing to keep up with. Do what feels right for you and fits with your flow.
#6 Why Does A Business With Less Reviews Rank Higher Than Me On The Map?
Reviews, although important, are not the only factor or even the main factor in Maps ranking — location is. Maps is all about physical location. The closer a business is to a searcher, the more likely they are to be #1. The important thing to remember here is that Maps ranking, to some extent, doesn’t really matter. Don’t think of it as a first, second, and third place. If you’re being shown in those top three spots, all ground is essentially equal.
What sets you apart when you do show up in Maps is your reviews. The majority of people will not click on a business just because it’s listed first if the second and third business has 100 more five-star reviews. If you focus on getting good reviews, it doesn’t matter where you are in the Maps three pack.
#7 Does PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Really Work For Service Area Businesses?
Yes, IF it’s used correctly. I’m speaking on Google Ads specifically here because it is by far the most popular option for PPC. Here are a few things you need to know:
Google Ads works on a bidding system, so it’s very competition driven. Different keywords in different industries in different markets have wildly different costs-per-click. This can make the question of “Is it cost-effective?” very difficult to answer, without really digging into your specific business. That being said, when Google Ads IS done correctly and the ads point to a quality page on a quality site, it can generate a lot of leads.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make (even PPC management companies) is using location specific keywords, without actually defining the areas in which the ads are to show. In this situation, a company might use “chimney sweep Nashville” as their keywords, but because they didn’t confine the ad area to Nashville, the ad would show to people searching from all over the country. You’re guaranteed to get useless (and costly) clicks from way outside of your service area if you run a nationwide campaign as a service business, no matter how many location keywords you tag onto your search terms.
It’s also important to target your campaigns very intentionally. Running campaigns for every service you do but not bidding enough to get on the first page is useless. Instead, you’ll benefit more by picking a few services (maybe some that are seasonally appropriate) and making sure you’re bidding enough to be shown on the first page.
Another factor that influences both your cost-per-click and the user experience (which is tied directly to leads) is the relevance of the content on the landing page. If you’re running a chimney sweeping ad and you’re taking those who click to a gutter cleaning page, you will pay more per click than someone who is sending people to a page with content that’s relevant to the ad.
Also, consider that, if a user lands on your page after clicking the ad, but they can’t easily find a way to contact you, they’ll likely hit the “back” button, which means you’ve just lost money on a click. A common practice among some PPC management companies is to set up specific landing pages as stand alone sites that serve only as landing pages for AdWords campaigns. These will often have a tracking number associated with them, so you can track exactly how many calls come through that campaign.
The problem with this is that these pages, when set up incorrectly, will interfere with the organic ranking of your main site and the tracking numbers will be seen by Google as NAP inconsistency (if they are on the pages themselves). This does not mean, however, that all tracking numbers are bad. Using a tracking number in the ad itself is not picked up by Google’s algorithm and will not count as NAP inconsistency, so long as it remains ONLY in the Ads system and does not find its way onto an indexed landing page.
Key Takeaway? Google Ads is a powerful tool, and like any tool, it can be very helpful or very dangerous. Proper training and understanding is required to leverage Ads effectively in your business.