Why should I optimize Google My Business when there’s really nothing I can do to make a difference? …Or can I?


After three years of extensively working with Google My Business listings, I consistently hear two myths regarding optimizations:

  1. There's no reason to optimize a Google My Business listing because listings primarily appear for direct searches of your business name. “Sal's Pizza Parlor”.
  2. There isn’t much to optimize as 'Near me' searches drive the vast majority of Google My Business impressions because you can't change your business location in relation to the searcher.

We found in our research data that both of these myths are just that...myths!

In order to conclusively prove or disprove those opinions required a large-scale analysis of Google My Business keyword data.

Within this research, we were able to dispel those two misconceptions as well as provide you with more context around the types of keywords that trigger Google My Business listings. Luckily, we had access to a wide-array of Google My Business listings representing many business types to base our findings.

Before we dive into the data, I feel it is important to state upfront that this study is fairly groundbreaking at the scale we are presenting. This is because keyword data for Google My Business is not available through the Google API. Essentially that means you have only one option if you want to gather a large data set of Google My Business keywords...Manually go through every listing and jot down each of the keywords along with the number of impressions for each. I know, wow! For anyone who isn't super excited over the prospect of data entry, it's a fairly insurmountable task. These 5,000 listings contained over 32 million keywords. The idea of manually getting that data makes me want to rip out what is remaining of my quickly receding hairline. How we eventually obtained all of the data will have to be a story for another time.

What did we discover?

People primarily search for categories and not businesses.

As marketers, we are huge fans of a business promoting its brand. And, presume that brand terms will always yield more search volume than other terms. Well...not exactly. Now, you could make the case that search intent will dictate the types of keywords used throughout the buyer's journey. Specifically, more category keywords when the consumer is in a discovery phase, or top-of-funnel, (For example, if your primary category is “Pizza restaurant”, Google may show your business in local search results to people who search for “Restaurants”, “Italian restaurants”, or “Pizza” in their area) as they are unfamiliar with X brand. Whereas business name keyword searches increase down funnel as the consumers zero in on where they will do business. This is completely logical and in fact I don't dispute that line of thinking. Where I would make the distinction is that Google My Business is primarily a top-of-funnel digital touch point. Gaining visibility early on in the search journey will ultimately drive more awareness of your brand and therefore by simple waterfall methodology, more customers. To put it simply, regularly optimize your Google My Business for category keywords because, over time, the searcher will become familiar with your brand (as a result of relevance to the category search term) because this helps your listing come up more often in searches.

The top three keywords in your Google My Business account for 72% of all impressions. 

This gives us two great data points for you to explore within your Google My Business:

  • Are your top three keywords, category keywords, or are they business name keywords?
  • Do you need to further optimize content on your website to be in parity with the category you are optimizing for with Google My Business?

Go to your account and look at those top three keywords. Are they category type keywords? If so, that's great. In fact this is a great resource to use when considering where to dedicate your efforts when building content for your website.

If not, then this is due to one of two factors. The first is to check the primary category that you use in Google My Business. If you aren't actively managing the listing or if you have never touched the listing then you could possibly be using the wrong category. Case in point, over the years I've seen gas stations use the primary category 'candy store' or cannabis shops who have their primary category set to 'medical supply shop'. This can lead to all sorts of issues which ultimately mean you are losing out on access to the larger audience of searchers who use category type keywords to discover your business.

If your primary category is correct, then the next thing to consider is how well is your website content optimized for the category level keywords you want to drive the bulk of your impressions. If you have poor performing content, and you are in a fairly competitive industry, then your Google My Business alone can not provide the results you so desire. Combining a well optimized Google My Business listing with highly optimized website content is a hallmark of success in squeezing every last drop of visibility you can out of the Google Search Result Page.

'Near me' or '<type of business> in city' searches account for a fraction of impressions

This is where we dispelled the second most often repeated myth of Google My Business optimization. As you can see in the dashboard, distance keywords don't drive the majority of top ten keywords or even own a significant share of impressions inside of any single keyword spot. Now, these results might be different for in-the-moment, on-the-go purchases such as gasoline or fast food, but for the majority of businesses, location oriented searches are not what is delivering impressions. Furthermore, there are strategies online (with varying degrees of legit-ness) that recommend building ‘Areas We Serve’ pages on your site in order to rank for ‘near X city’ terms. Often this content can be referred to as 'Doorway pages', which if done incorrectly, can appear (rightly so) to be spammy in nature which may negatively impact your website.

So, what does this all mean?

The number one takeaway is that building awareness of your brand through category optimization is extremely important. It also feeds into the idea that brand is increasingly important. Beyond just SEO, you have to consider the rise of voice (perhaps this is the year, but most likely not quite yet). An experience which will serve up results without a graphical interface. Meaning, that a platform looking to heavily monetize the results will be choosing the shown to prospective customers. When that happens, if you think it's expensive to pay cost-per-click to Google or Amazon, that'll look like a pittance to what they will charge to read your brand back to the searcher through an Alexa or voice-enabled device.

Optimizing your Google My Business needs to be a consideration for your business when you are thinking about digital. If you take a look at the data study we released on completeness of Google My Business listings by industry, you'll see the overwhelming number of businesses are missing the boat when it comes to gaining free local visibility on search terms that customers use to find their business. In the end, as Google rewards businesses for having relevant content on their website + a fully optimized Google My Business Listing, it is essential that you do both! To put it simply, make sure that your website is informative, educational and relevant for the online shopper & make sure that your Google My Business Listing is complete, accurate and up-to-date.

Lastly, as we allude to above and will continue to explore, businesses need a Local SEO strategy which combines the power of Google My Business with their website content. Reviewing the top three keywords that trigger your listing is a great start, but there are many other ways to create sinew and connective tissue between the two properties.

Chris Tabb

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