I’m a BIG believer in backlinks. And great content. But I’d be lying if I told you those were the only things that matter for local businesses trying to do SEO.
That’s because Google Business Profile (GBP) is, arguably, one of the most important parts of your local SEO strategy.
But when it comes to actual results, there’s a huge difference between simply having a GBP and having an optimized GBP.
Trust me — you need the results a properly optimized GBP can bring. And I’m going to help you set up and completely optimize your profile in a few simple steps below.
But first …
What the heck is a GBP, anyway? Chances are you saw one the last time you searched for any sort of local business on Google:
And in Google Maps:
Google Business Profile, which was called Google My Business until recently, is a free tool from Google. It helps businesses influence how their business appears in search results, Google Maps and even Google Shopping (if you sell products).
Google has a lot of free tools for businesses — why should you care so much about GBP in particular?
I don’t say this lightly:
Google Business Profile is one of THE most important local SEO considerations for small businesses that serve a particular geographic area.
Why? A few reasons:
Convinced? Good. Let’s move on to how to set up and optimize your GBP.
Now, I’m going to walk you through how to set up AND optimize your GBP step by step.
But if you’ve already set up your GBP at some point in the past, you can scan through the first steps, making sure you’ve done them, but start primarily on No. 8. That’s when we get heavy into optimization.
With that out of the way, let’s dive in:
Google may or may not already know about your business. If it doesn’t appear to have an unclaimed GBP listing for you already, head to Google Maps.
There, click the menu icon in the top-left corner. Scroll down the list until you see “Add your business.” Click that.
You should see this next:
If you don’t see the screen shown above, you need to either create a Google business account or sign in. Your browser should prompt you to do either. Follow the steps until you see the image above.
The next step seems simple, but please: Read this section first. You CAN mess this up. So pay attention:
Enter your business name EXACTLY as it appears elsewhere — on your business license, on your website, and so forth.
Why? Because Google likes to see your business name consistently the exact same. Otherwise, you risk creating two or more entities to represent your business, and they will compete with each other for rankings and other Google real estate without you realizing it.
So, take a moment to make sure your business name is EXACTLY right.
The next part, adding your business category, gives a lot of people the sweats. I get it: Multiple categories might describe your business.
For example, if you’re a personal injury law firm, the categories “Personal injury attorney” and “Law firm” both describe your business. But you can only pick one at this stage.
If you have a physical location that you want customers or clients to find and visit, specify your address in the next step GBP prompts you with.
This one is important: Think long and hard before skipping it. Even if you prefer to have client meetings over the phone or Zoom, it’s really, really helpful to let GBP know your physical location.
(Also, you can specify that you’re only available by appointment, to prevent people from showing up when you’re not there.)
Why does this matter so much? Because it’s a big part of how you show up in Google Maps results.
If you’re a plumber, you want your physical address to show up in Maps when someone near you searches for “plumber.” Even if you don’t take walk-ins at your business address.
Let’s say you’re an attorney in one city who serves clients all over your metro area. Not to worry — this is the step where you take care of that.
GBP will prompt you to “Add areas where your business provides deliveries or home and office visits.”
This is an optional step, but it’s essential for most local businesses trying to do SEO. Unless you really do serve a single city or town (and no surrounding cities or towns).
So, be thorough here. Add each and every city or town you serve, no matter how small. This is going to help your business show up for searchers in those areas.
Next up is your contact information. And this one has a hidden benefit for SEO.
GBP will ask you to add your business phone number and, optionally, your website. Here’s the secret: If you’re trying to boost your local SEO, the website part is NOT optional.
This is how you get that sweet, sweet GBP link — the one that, anecdotally, will increase your rankings pretty much across the board. So, add your website. Do not miss this opportunity.
You’re past the basic GBP setup steps, but you’re not quite done yet. GBP is going to want to verify your information, starting with your business address.
I know, I know — you think you’ve already done this part. But this is the address GBP is going to use to verify your listing. (They mail you a postcard as one of your potential verification methods.)
So use an ACTUAL address where you receive mail — and preferably the one you have on your business license.
You may opt for another verification method, but the postcard method is often the fastest method with the least fuss.
Once you’re past the verification steps, you get to a really juicy part for local SEO: This is where you add your services.
The GBP interface will populate this step with some service areas based on your business type. But you can add more by clicking “Add custom service.”
Try to add as many of the pre-populated services as possible. These are the ones that have some traffic volume.
But add ALL of your services, even if they’re custom. Think of each of these services as keywords — if you add it to your profile, you’re that much more likely to rank for it when someone in your area searches for it on Google.
Past this step, you’ll also get some questions about business operating hours. Be precise with this step, but pay the most attention to your business description.
You get 750 characters to describe your business. Be as accurate as possible. And be as descriptive as possible in the space allowed.
This is another place where you can work in keywords related to your business.
You don’t have to worry about location-based keywords, but DO focus on adding keywords related to the services or products your business offers, as well as the problems you solve for your customers.
This is an important juncture to audit the work you’ve done so far to optimize your GBP. More specifically, you need to make sure you’ve been 100 percent consistent with your name, address and phone number (NAP) information.
That’s because Google wants to see this stuff presented in exactly the same way across its properties and the internet at large. Your GBP is an important place to start paying close attention to your NAP info.
Take a look:
If the answer to any of those questions is no, fix it as soon as possible.
GBP makes a point of making images optional, but you should consider them mandatory.
I’ve seen it too many times to count: Google rewards business profiles that have lots of high-quality images.
More specifically, the images need to show your business. Show the inside, the people who work there, and so on.
Give people an idea of what to expect if they choose your business.
Google loves that. So, take some time to take some good photos. And if you can’t take good photos, hire a photographer for a few hours. Trust me — it’s worth it.
Upload the photos, and be sure to upload more from time to time. Be consistent and upload new photos any time something important about your business changes.
Ah, yes — another social media platform to worry about. I know it gets exhausting, but I’m here to tell you that posting to your GBP is more important than posting to many other social media platforms.
So, if you have limited bandwidth, make room for regular GBP posting instead of regular Instagram posting (or whatever platform). No other social media platform will have direct SEO benefits the way GBP will.
What should you post about? Your business — the products or services you offer, the problems you solve, the people you work with, the people you employ. Go into depth and include photos.
This is a two-parter:
First, you need more reviews because the vast majority of consumers look to reviews before making a purchase. And your GBP will be the first touchpoint most potential customers have with your reviews.
Second, your reviews are text that Google reads. When you get more reviews, Google has more content to work with — more content to associate with your GBP and keywords to rank you for.
So, ask your customers for reviews. And ask them to be specific.
When you get reviews, respond to them. In your responses, use keywords related to your business. And be polite and professional, of course.
GBP also has a built-in FAQ function. This is a great opportunity to optimize your GBP.
Think of the most common questions you get from customers. Write them down and answer them. Then publish those to your GBP.
You may also generate some questions from Google users organically. Don’t sit on those — answer them as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
You can probably guess why this matters:
Google wants to see your profile completely built out. But it also wants to know when to serve up your business as the answer to a query. The more text you feed the Google machine, the better it can answer that question.
The last bastion of optimizable GBP features is a little grid with check marks. It’s a list of highlights and attributes that you can add manually.
Now, this is probably less important than many other GBP aspects we’ve discussed so far when it comes to SEO. But it IS important for converting GBP viewers to customers.
So, add as many attributes and highlights as you can think of. GBP will have a pre-populated list based on the type of business you have. It’ll include things like “in-store pickup,” “delivery,” “wheelchair accessible,” “women-owned” and so on.
The more, the better. But be honest — Google doesn’t like a dishonest business.
Local SEO is a constellation of factors and strategies, and GBP is one of the core ways you make sure the stars align around your business. I’m telling you: It’s a mistake to leave your GBP unoptimized and gathering dust.
Just follow the steps above to start. Then, keep at it — answer reviews, make regular GBP posts, keep your information updated, add photos and videos. This is the stuff that moves the needle for GBP optimization over the long term.
Again, I’m a big backlinks guy, but GBP is a key part to making those backlinks work to their full potential for your business website.