Many people are confused by what they see when they perform a Google Search, particularly when they are looking for their own business and think that it is missing from the search results. Scam operators capitalize upon this confusion and offer so-called search engine optimization (SEO) services that generally accomplish little more than obtaining your credit card number. To protect yourself from falling prey to these scammers, it is helpful to understand how Google search results are presented.
Combined, Google and Bing dominate well over 90% of the global search market share. Although Google’s market share has slipped slightly while Bing’s market share has correspondingly increased, Google still maintains nearly 85% of the total. The remainder goes to minor players such as Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, and the heavily censored Yandex and Baidu search engines that are used in Russia and China. Although Bing should not be ignored (and will be explored in a future column), the bulk of your search presence is coming from Google.
Just as cable, satellite, subscription and streaming services might all be thought of as “television” today, many people think that everything that appears on Google is part of the same “search” results. That may have been the case years ago, when most searches were performed on computers, and the results consisted of organic search results (the results based upon SEO) preceded by paid “Sponsored Search” results. Today, two thirds of searches are performed on phones, and many of us search for “(type of business) near me”. We don’t even type in those searches with the same frequency as we did a few years ago, now that we can simply tap the little microphone icon in the search box then search using spoken words.
Google Business Profile
Due to the way that those searches are performed, along with Google’s “mobile first” indexing, the first search results seen are the Google Places results that are accompanied by a Google Map with business markers. These results are based upon your Google Business Profile and your location in relation to the search, such as “campgrounds near me” or, for example, “campgrounds near Paducah KY”. The results should show three campgrounds that are closest to that downtown location upon which the map is centered. In this case, there are three campgrounds that appear in the initial view, and a fourth park – a KOA that is slightly more distant from downtown Paducah – only appears, along with several other properties, if you click on the “More Places” link or drag the map. This is despite the fact that the same KOA appears first in the actual organic search results.
That situation can be frustrating when you think of your business as being “near” a particular city, town, or landmark. It gets even more confusing when you consider that “near” is a relative term, where over 50 miles might be “near” in Montana or North Dakota, while less than 5 miles might be “near” in Connecticut or New Jersey. Most importantly, if you have not created a Google Business Profile, you are essentially not near anything! Drop what you are doing and check to see if you have a GBP by doing a Google search for your business by name. If you do not see that profile to the right of the search results on a computer or at the top of the search results on a mobile device, it is time to create that profile. Alternately, if you see a GBP that contains a link that says “Own this business?”, it is time to take control and complete the profile that has been auto-generated. To understand the importance of this, bear in mind that many people do not scroll beyond these Google Places to see the actual Google Search results!
If you do not see a Google Business Profile – which will frequently be the case with a new business – go to https://www.google.com/business/ to get started. It is free to create this profile, you should do it yourself, and – most importantly – you do not need to pay anybody to provide this service. As the page says, “Take charge of your first impression”. When you manage your profile, the first thing you want to do is to check for and add any missing information, such as your website URL, phone number, correct address, and most appropriate business category. You will next be able to add your logo, photos, and attributes – such as your business being veteran-owned, if that is the case. Once this has been done, it is time to use your GBP to truly interact with potential customers. Post special offers, publicize events, respond to Google Reviews, send and receive direct messages, and create a set of frequently asked questions and answers.
If you do not see a green check mark next to the name of your business on your GBP, click on the “Get verified” link that should appear in its place. If your business has a Google Search Console profile, you will qualify for instant verification. More likely, you will have to utilize one of the standard verification methods, typically a phone call, text, or an email. Less commonly, you will have to use mail verification, where your code will arrive on a postcard within about 7 days or so and must then be entered before it expires in 30 days. Whichever method is being used in your instance, do not edit any of your business information until after the 5-digit verification code has been received and entered. All of this is easier than it may sound, if you just follow the instructions step by step. As I have warned, there are scam companies out there that will also offer fee-based “GBP optimization” services, but beware of those alleged services just like the fee-based SEO outfits. Claiming and verifying your Google Business Profile is something that must be done, and you can easily do it yourself!
This post was written by Peter Pelland