One Phone Number for Multiple Google My Business Pages: Can It Cause Problems?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikedixson/14602606799/

I tend to suggest using a different phone number for each location of your business, but exactly what’s the downside of using the same number on all of your Google My Business pages? 

Google’s guidelines don’t tell you to use a location-specific phone number.

Merged” Google pages don’t seem to be a problem these days – and even when they were, a shared phone number probably wouldn’t have caused pages to merge.

I’ve seen businesses use one number for many locations and rank just fine – and you may have observed that, too.

Google My Business forum Top Contributors don’t indicate that a shared phone number is a big problem (though it’s “not ideal”).

Some of my fellow local-search geeks suggest using separate phone numbers – and I agree with that advice, generally.  But I haven’t seen anyone spell out exactly what might happen if you use the same number everywhere.

Here’s one possible downside: Google may not verify one or more of your pages.

That happened recently to a multi-location client of mine.  They chose to use the same phone number for their 5 (or so) Google My Business pages in different major cities across the US.  Though I’d suggested getting and using different phone numbers – one for each location – their choice also made sense in their case.  They’d had a couple of GMB pages up for a few years, and created the others in recent months.

They verified all their GMB pages without incident, except for one page.  The client got on the phone with GMB support (always a good time), and they were told that the problem was that the phone number wasn’t unique to that one location.  Of course, that was also true of the other pages, which had been verified A-OK.

After some back-and-forth and presumably a little groveling, the client got Google to wave the page through.  All’s well that ends well.

But what about your situation?  If you’re multi-location, should you use a unique number for each of your Google My Business pages?

I wouldn’t say a multi-location phone number is like giving your rankings a Kent Micronite.  If you get all your pages verified, your visibility will depend on the usual suspects.

Still, I recommend using a unique phone number, if at all possible.  You’ll make it a little more apparent to Google and to searchers that you’ve actually got people in all the places you say you do.

What’s been your experience with using the same phone number (or different numbers) on Google My Business?

Have you heard of any specific problems resulting from using the same number across the board – or heard any strong advice?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

How to Feed the Google My Business Messaging Feature into Your Landline

https://www.flickr.com/photos/101951515@N07/17356259048/

If you enable Google’s new “messaging” feature, customers who pull up your business in Google Maps can contact you via their favorite chat app.  Whether that’s a good thing for your business (or it drives you crazy) is for you to decide – maybe after a test drive.

But let’s assume for a minute that you want to use the Google My Business messaging feature.  Let’s assume some customers/clients/patients you want to attract would find it useful.  Do you now have to carry around an extra phone, or stay glued to another screen, or task someone who works for you to do so?

No.

This post is from Dr. Emily Beglin, an general dentist whose husband is an orthodontist in Carson City, Nevada, and who runs the orthodontists’ directory SelectBraces.com.  Here she describes a MacGyver-like way to feed the Google My Business messaging feature into your existing landline, so you can stay on top of any “messaging” leads without having to stay on top of more devices.

 

In the last decade, there has been a massive shift towards people of all ages using their mobile phones for just about anything, and texting is a huge part of this. It, therefore, makes business sense to add some type of texting capability to your business to make communicating with current and potential new customers faster and easier. I’m going to tell you about two great options that can work well together or separately.

When we started using two-way messaging in our orthodontic practice, our primary objective was to improve our overall patient experience by engaging patients in the manner that best suits their needs and desires. This allows us to provide them with customer service that sets us apart from our competition and the response has been stunning. Our patients love the feature and tell all their friends about it. In a round-about manner, this has led to an unexpected increase in word-of-mouth referral business to our practice.

Our practice was already engaging in Facebook messaging, which is how we came to realize people’s desire to message us, rather than pick up the phone. There are many advantages to allowing your customers to communicate with your business via text and I think just about any type of business that currently communicates directly with customers via phone will benefit from it.

After evaluating a couple of platforms, we chose to go with Text Request. Text Request makes it easy for any business to manage live, two-way text conversations by text-enabling a business’s existing, local landline number to send and receive texts, all from an online account. Text Request is cloud-based so you can send texts through a web browser or from your smartphone.

(One of the other platforms we looked at is zipwhip. The people there are friendly and professional and the product seems sound. However, we found the zipwhip software to be far too complicated for our purposes. At the time of our evaluation, they offered the features we liked the most (custom signatures, group texting, multiple users, saved responses and the widget embed for our website) but only with the higher priced plans. With Text Request, a business can enjoy all the features and instead pay only by the volume of texts they use each month.)

Besides the functionality of two-way texting with our patients, by far my absolute favorite feature is the “embed” widget we use on our website.

On desktop, it displays in the header like this:


When displayed on a smaller screen (like on a tablet or smartphone), the user sees this:

  

Clicking on the, “Click to Text,” button, opens the user’s texting app with the default number to your business:

It’s human nature in the text-o-sphere to expect an immediate response, so we use a customizable autoresponder that looks like this:

 

For businesses with HIPPA-compliance requirements who do not use a server configuration or software that ensures HIPPA compliance, an autoresponder message stating not to relay personal health information(PHI), would be advisable. This is an ever-increasing issue for healthcare providers. If you really want a scare, check out this article about the penalties for non-HIPPA compliance. Yikes! In any case, don’t take my word for it. Make sure your business is HIPPA-compliant in all communications.

Google My Business Messaging feature 

Messaging with customers is a relatively new Google My Business (GMB) feature that has recently been made available in select countries. To configure this feature is pretty straightforward.

  1. On mobile, the GMB listing looks like this before enabling messaging:

 

  1. After logging into your GMB dashboard, click the blue edit button on the upper right:

 

  1. Then click Messaging on the left menu:

  1. You will then be asked to verify your number:

 

  1. Then click Save:

 

  1. It is immediately live on mobile, with the option to message in two places!

The beauty of adding messaging to your GMB listing is that it is seamless. If your business already has a text-enabled number through Text Request or another service, you don’t need to configure anything else.

If you don’t have a text-enabled landline, a business can verify and use a personal or business mobile number.  If you don’t have either a text-enabled landline or a mobile number, Google does say you could use their Allo app, rather than a mobile SMS, but to do that, you will have to download the app and your customers would also have to use it. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not an option and will only complicate, rather than simplify the process.

Although there are other services like Text Request, I love the fact that they have different plans depending on how many messages you send per month, starting from as few as 400, all the way up to 20,000. This means that you only pay for what you use, yet can scale it up as your business grows and as more of your customers choose to reach you via messaging. I also like the fact that there is no monthly contract. That way, if it’s not working out for your business, you’re not on the hook paying for something long-term that your business is unable to use.

We love having two-way messaging for our practice and adding it to our Google My Business listing is the frosting on the cake! It would be useful for all types of businesses, albeit for different reasons, but it works very well for orthodontists and for dentists, or any kind of business where customers make appointments for specific times. For dentists, it’s perfect for filling cancellations. Staff can send out a blind group text to everyone on their waiting list for a specific procedure such as a cleaning. This is a faster way to get the word out about an opening on the schedule and gets a much quicker response than sending emails and leaving a bunch of voicemail messages and then waiting to hear back. This dramatically frees up staff time and easily fills same-day cancellations, which can be costly to any business.

Another benefit of accepting text messages at our business is it allows patients to conveniently reach out to us when the thought is fresh on their mind to contact us. They don’t have to think, “Oh, they’re closed now – it’s Sunday. I need to remember to call them when I get to work tomorrow.” We all know how that goes…

Anyway, I look forward to hearing how messaging works for your business!

Emily Beglin, DDS

Any questions for Doc Beglin (or for me)?

Have you tried the GMB messaging feature yet – and maybe even set it up to feed to your landline with something like TextRequest?  Why or why not?

Leave a comment!

Can’t Add a Google My Business Appointment URL? Try This Hack

In my last post I described what Google My Business “appointment” URLs are, and covered some facts and pointers worth knowing if you’d like to use one.

But what if you don’t see in your Google My Business dashboard the option to add an appointment URL?  Turns out there’s a workaround.

Based on what I’ve seen in clients’ accounts, I’d say there’s a 10% chance Google hasn’t rolled out that feature to your industry yet.  How does Google know what industry you’re in?  In this case, mainly by the categories you pick.  To get your appointment URL to show up, you need to do a little footwork with your Google My Business categories.

James Watt of James Watt Marketing in Portland described the workaround in his comment on my last post:

Hi Phil,

I’ve got one more piece of info you might want to add somewhere. I asked the GMB community manager about what to do for business owners wanting to request the appointment URL feature in the profile, and here’s what she said.

Basically, the feature is included entirely based on categories for the business. If you don’t have it available but want it, add an appointment category, set the appointment URL, and then remove the category again. I was a little surprised that that was the answer given, but there it is. Thought I’d pass it along.

So you add a category to the one(s) you’ve already specified, hit “apply,” and see if Google gives you the ability to add an appointment URL.  If not, try a different category.  If you see the option, set your appointment URL, save, and then switch your categories back to what they were.

I tried it on a client just now, and it worked like a charm.  In his case, I had to swap out the “primary” category (i.e. the first one listed), which I switched back as soon as his appointment URL showed up.

Try that workaround.  Please let me know how it goes!

P.S.  Big thanks to James.  He posts often at the Local Search Forum and GMB forum, and I suggest you follow him.

12 Facts to Know about Google My Business Appointment URLs

https://www.flickr.com/photos/762_photo/14036204887/

Google wants people to make an appointment.  Businesses now can add (in the Google My Business dashboard) a link to a “book an appointment” page or similar page.  The link will show up wherever your Google My Business page shows up in the local search results.

The “appointment URL” feature has promise.  Here are a few things you may want to know before you dig in and use it for your business (as I suggest you do):

1. An “appointment” URL probably won’t show up automatically for you, unless you use online scheduling software. Even then, you may not automatically get the link, in which case you’ll probably need to add it manually (if you want it).

2. Appointment URLs are not just for restaurants and medical practices. You can also add one if you’ve got a service business, a law practice, or other type of business.

3. Pretty much every business can add an appointment URL right now. This doesn’t appear to be one of Google’s molasses-speed rollouts of a new feature.  Of the dozens of Google My Business dashboards I’ve looked at, the only ones that can’t yet add an “appointment” URL are for a couple of private schools, an auction house, and a painting company.  I’m sure I’ll see the option available to those guys soon enough.)

4. “Practitioners” can add appointment URLs, too.

5. Some businesses can add a “menu” URL, too. Whether you can add only an appointment URL or an appointment URL and a “menu” URL depends on what kind of business yours is.  But even then, it doesn’t have to be a restaurant.  (I see the “menu URL” option for a chiropractor client of mine.)  Other businesses can get a “Products and Services” URL, but I can’t yet tell how.

6. Appointment URLs don’t seem to be available to businesses outside of the US yet, although restaurants outside the US do get the other URLs.

7. Your URL will go live instantly, or within about 5 minutes.

8. Google will accept invalid URLs. You won’t get an error in your Google My Business dashboard.  You’ll just confuse and annoy customers.  So be sure to click on your link to make sure it works.

9. You can add a URL to your “Contact Us” page, or to whatever page you like. (Mine points to my contact page.)

10. The full URL won’t show up. Google won’t show the subpage (e.g. “yoursite.com/appointment”) or subdomain (e.g. “appointments.yoursite.com”) in the URL.  They’ll just show “yoursite.com.”  It’s a display URL.

11. It’s not publicly editable from Google’s knowledge panel (yet?).  So at least your competitors can’t stick you with a bogus URL (yet?).

12. The rules are ambiguous, at least for now. Experiment in the meantime.  Consider creating a “contact” page on your site that’s only accessible through the “appointment” link; see how much traffic it gets.  Track visitors’ clicking behavior on that page by hooking it up to CrazyEgg or HotJar; see where they go next.  Maybe link to a site where you’ve got a fistful of great reviews (hey, Google didn’t say anything about linking to your site).

I’m guessing Google has big plans for these new links.  Like Yelp and the other local-search players that matter, Google wants to be involved in the transaction as early as possible – as we’ve seen with Google Home Services ads (AKA the “paid Maps” results).  Speaking of which, I wonder when those links will appear in Google Home Services ads.

With Google everything’s an experiment, but the “appointment” URL is one lab chimp probably won’t let die any time soon.

Update: If you can’t add an appointment URL, try this workaround.

Can you specify other types of URLs (like “Products and Services”)?

Where do you think Google is headed with this – and why now?

Have you tried it and noticed any clear benefits?

Leave a comment!

Your Google My Business Page in 2017: How Hard Is It to Mess Up?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/51764518@N02/14550044470/

Google’s local-business pages of yore offered many ways to blow up your rankings – in the good sense or the bad sense.  Lots of customizable fields you could stuff full of keyword powder and watch go “boom.”

In recent years, though, Google has childproofed businesses’ pages.  Usually, when you don’t fill out your page quite the way Google wants, Google simply changes your info for you.  In that way, with the glaring exception of not keeping an eye on what you put in the “business name” field, Google has mostly eliminated the ways you can hurt yourself.  The edges are rounded, the paint doesn’t taste good, and the candy doesn’t make you look cool.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pandora_6666/3079557294/

That’s why I say the term “Google My Business page optimization” is a misnomer at best and deceptive at worst.  There’s very little to “optimize.”  Generally, it’s very easy to get your Google My Business page(s) squared away and then to move on.  (That’s not a good reason to hire a local SEO person.)

In the days of Play-Doh-knife Google My Business pages, getting your GMB page right is mostly a matter of not messing it up.  To that end, here’s my 12-point quasi-checklist of things you should look into:

More-obvious stuff

1. Basic eligibility. Are you taking liberties with the Google My Business guidelines (like using a fake address, or using employees’ home addresses)? If so, you’ll probably get away with it in the short-term, if not longer-term.  But even if your scheme works, you’ll check your rankings every morning to make sure they’re still there.  It’s not worth it.  Play by the rules – and remember that there’s plenty of local SEO without the “map,” and that most of it is just organic SEO anyway.

2. Correct and complete info. Don’t be concerned about minor formatting quirks in the “address” field. Do use the real, official, legal name of your business.  Do make sure your hours are listed on there.

3. Claimed page. An unclaimed page can still rank well, but you want to be able to make changes easily, and you probably don’t want other people’s public edits to be approved easily.

4. No duplicate pages. What constitutes a “duplicate” Google My Business page – especially one that’s harming your rankings – is tricky. Generally, my rule is that if you can (1) pull it up on the Maps tab and (2) it’s not a page for a specific licensed professional (e.g. doctor or lawyer or agent) in your organization and (3) you don’t want it to be the page people see in search results, you should mark it as “permanently closed.”  If you really want to bury it, claim the page and strip out as much of the business info as you can (particularly the phone number and site URL).

5. Categories. Which categories you should pick is a tricky question, but I suggest you pick as few as possible and don’t include any that seem to be a stretch or seem broader than other categories you might pick. Note: Google may change your categories for you if they don’t like them.

6. Accurate service-area settings. If you indicate to Google that you always travel to your customers (rather than meet all of them at your place of business), Google won’t show your address on your Google My Business page. Google used to be touchy if you owned a service-area business and didn’t hide your address for any reason.  Now, whether or not you “hide” your address is not a big deal.  If Google doesn’t want your address showing on your page, they’ll simply change it for you (rather than whisk your page off the map).

7. Map pin in correct place. It should be on your building, and preferably on the specific part of the building your business is in.

Less-obvious stuff

8. Best landing page URL. In my experience, you’re more likely to rank well if your Google My Business landing page is your homepage, rather than another page on your site. If you’ve got multiple locations and want to point each to a city-specific landing page, that’s fine, but you’ll probably need to rustle up some good links to those subpages.  If you’re not willing to go to that effort, you’re probably better off using the homepage on all your Google My Business pages and on most or all of your other local listings.

9. No overlapping service areas. Let’s say you’re a contractor with two valid addresses 10 miles apart. Both locations probably serve customers in some of the same cities, because those locations are pretty close together.  Fine, but don’t include any one city in the “service area” settings of both your Google My Business pages.  Google has a strange rule about that.  You’ll want to carve up the service area between the two locations, or simply not “hide” your address on one of your pages.

10. Google Street View indoor photo shoot. If you’ve got a bricks-and-mortar store or office, it’s bigger than a closet, and doesn’t look like hell inside, consider hiring a Google-trusted photographer to shoot a virtual tour. If you’ve got multiple locations, consider getting a photo shoot for each.  It’s smart marketing and may be a ranking factor.

11. “HTTP” vs. “HTTPS” in the “website URL” field. If you’ve got an SSL certificate for your site (not necessary for most “local” businesses), it’s probably a good idea to update the “Website URL” field of your Google My Business page and maybe your important other listings (e.g. Yelp, Facebook, YP) to point to the “https” version.

12. Transferred Google reviews. Do you have Google reviews showing on an old page, or on an otherwise incorrect page? Ask Google to transfer them.  (In my experience, they’re pretty good about it.)

Did I forget any important checkup points?

Any points you learned about the hard way on your Google My Business page?

Any questions?

Leave a comment!

Will a Tracking URL Hurt Your Local Rankings in Google?

You may have considered building a tracking URL and putting it in the “Website” field of your Google My Business Google Places page.

You’d do this so that you could see in Google Analytics how many clicks came from people how found you in the local 3-pack (as opposed to in the organic results).

But maybe you didn’t try it because you there was a chance it would mess up your rankings or a client’s rankings.

Well, no problem.  I made myself your lab rat and put a tracking URL on my Local Visibility System page.

As I suspected, it doesn’t seem to have hurt my visibility in the search results.

That’s what I see in the Google My Business “Insights,” which you have to take with a fistful of salt.  So I checked Analytics, too, and I don’t see a loss in traffic.

I don’t pretend that this is a scientific test.  Like the experiment I did back in October (“Do Longer Business Hours Help Local Rankings in Google?”), it’s just one case-study.  I could try it for other businesses and my results might vary.

But what I have concluded is that there’s no inherent harm in using a tracking URL on your Google page, so now I’m more comfortable with using tracking URLs for clients.  That squares with what Dan Leibson mentioned in his great post on the topic.

Have you tried using a tracking URL on a local page (yours or a client’s)?

If so, what have you seen?

Any concerns I didn’t address?

Leave a comment!

10 Reasons to Get a Google Business View Photo Shoot

Since 2010 Google has let business owners hire a “Google Trusted Photographer” to come to their store or office, take a bunch of photos, and splice them together into a virtual tour.  That tour is called Google Business View.

The walkthrough tour and photos get uploaded to your Google Places page.  You can also feature them elsewhere, like on your website or Facebook page.

You can’t get a Google Business View photo shoot it if you’re a service-area or home-based business.

It may not be a good idea if you know your place of business just gives off the wrong vibes.

But otherwise, you’d be smart to fork over a few hundred dollars to have a photographer come out.

Here are 10 reasons you should get a Google Business View shoot:

1.  Potential customers, clients, or patients want to know what your place looks like. If it’s a nice environment, it can be a selling point.  But even an dingy little hovel can have a certain charm, and it’s usually wise to let people know what they’re in for.

2.  The photo shoot may encourage more people to click through to your Places page or website. It shows up in your knowledge graph and in the Maps tab.

 

3.  It may be a ranking factor. Trusted photographer Jeff Finkelstein explored that possibility in a nice Moz post last year, and he offered some good insights in my follow-up post.  My guess is that a Google Business View photo shoot by itself is at most a very minor ranking factor, but can help your rankings more indirectly, because it can get more people to click (and Google knows when someone clicks).  Again, just a hunch.

4.  The “See inside” view is front-and-center when you view the Google Places page on a smartphone. (It’s even more prominent than it is on desktop.)

5.  You can embed the photo shoot on your site.

6.  You get 10 professionally-taken still photos.

7.  Someone else is taking the time to take photos. That saves you time – especially if you’re picky about your photos.  To take good photos is rarely quick or easy, because it’s a numbers game.

8.  You can reuse the still shots elsewhere – on your site and on your non-Google business listings. You own the photos for good.  You can do whatever you’d like with them.  And if you don’t have a good cover photo yet, maybe you just found one.

9.  It can be the start of a quid pro quo with your photographer. Google Trusted Photographers often have other online-marketing skills, so especially if you like the photo shoot and them personally you can probably get their help in other areas.  It’s also possible you could get a link and/or a citation from the photographer.

10.  Google seems to have plans for Business View. It’s been around for almost 5 years now – which is about 68 in Google product years.

It’s getting phased in, not phased out.  In the “Google My Business” rebrand / facelift they put a pitch for it right at the top of your dashboard (unless you’re a service-area or home-based business).

Maybe someday they’ll integrate it with product feeds, so that you could “walk” through a store and click on the inventory and actually order it right from within the tour.  Who knows what the Big G will think of next?

Bonus – reason #11.  This one comes from Greg T’Kint of JHBathrooms.com.  You can send potential customers “a link to a specific location within the virtual tour, in order to show a specific product or display within email communications.”  (See Greg’s comment, below.)

Update (11/10/14): David Deering just told me about a Google service called PhotoSphere.  Maybe it’s well-known in some circles, but I hadn’t heard of it.  It’s an app that lets you take and embed your own panoramas.  Those have been around for a while, but this one’s from Google.  Obviously, you wouldn’t get some of the benefits of an”official” Google Business View photo shoot (see points 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, and 10), but in some ways it might be a nice DIY alternative.

What’s been your experience with Google Business View?

Can you think of other reasons to get a photo shoot (or not to)?

Leave a comment!