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With a background in the dynamic airline industry, I transitioned into small business ownership ten years ago, where I became intimately involved in marketing tasks. During this time, I stumbled upon search engine optimization (SEO) and recognized its pivotal role in driving business success. 

Over the past decade, I've immersed myself in mastering the nuances of SEO, initially for my ventures and later extending my expertise to assist friends, family, and clients as a consultant. My dedication to optimizing online presence through SEO optimization is rooted in deeply understanding its transformative impact on businesses, and Google Business Profile has been vital for that transformation.

Establishing a robust online presence is paramount for businesses to thrive. Business owners must deploy diverse strategies to cement their online footprint in the increasingly competitive market. However, their options aren’t always accessible.

While pay-per-click (PPC) advertising can effectively drive targeted traffic to websites or physical business locations, it requires continuous spending, which isn’t always realistic for small businesses. Meanwhile, SEO demands considerable time and dedicated teams to improve online rankings. 

Fortunately, there is a third option: local SEO, designed to enhance the online visibility of businesses within a specific geographic area. Google Business Profile (GBP), formerly Google My Business, plays a pivotal role in local SEO, serving as a centralized platform for businesses to manage their online presence. 

GBP not only allows businesses to provide essential information such as their location, contact details, and business hours but also increases customer trust. The best part of GBP lies in its accessibility – it's completely free for businesses and users.

As with many other small business owners at Veico Car Rental, we understand that competing with big box brands and their substantial advertising budgets is challenging. However, we have found that leveraging local SEO, particularly through GBP, can be highly effective. 

By optimizing our GBP listings, we secured a spot in the highly sought-after “local 3-Pack” for most searches. This prominent position, displayed above organic results and just below sponsored ones, has significantly enhanced our online visibility, customer engagement, and, ultimately, our bottom line.

How This Car Rental Business Used Its Google Business Profile to Grow Online

If you already have a GBP listing but find that it has been buried deep in the rankings by Google, keep reading to discover the strategies and best practices we have used to enhance our rankings. If implemented correctly, these techniques can also help you elevate a lackluster listing to an exceptional one deserving of Google's recognition in the 3-Pack.

Claiming and verifying your listing

The first step to optimizing your GBP listing is to make sure you can make all the required changes. 

If a Google Maps user initially created your listing or if it was created based on publicly available information, it may be published, but you will need to undergo the claim process to gain control over it. 

Claiming the profile enables the owner to provide important additional details, such as operating hours, photos, and descriptions, it also allows you to respond to customer reviews, address messages promptly, and establish automatic replies. This enhanced communication capability fosters better customer interactions, potentially leading to increased leads.

If you created the listing yourself, it may be necessary to verify it. Verification helps ensure the authenticity and accuracy of the information provided on the listing, confirms ownership, and grants full control over the GBP.

In either case, the claiming and verification process grants you exclusive control, ensuring that no unscrupulous competitors or inadvertent users can modify crucial information. This preventive measure safeguards against potential disruptions, such as a changed phone number or an inaccurate business location, and provides confidence that your business information remains precise and secure.

Last but certainly not least, a verified GBP listing holds considerable influence in Google's evaluation of business trustworthiness, positively impacting local search rankings. Google explicitly emphasizes this connection, stating, 'verify your business locations so they're more likely to show in local search results.'.

How to verify your GBP listing

Verifying your GBP listing is a straightforward process. Google automatically determines the verification method and can’t be changed. Typically, it involves receiving a verification code by mail at the business's physical address. The business owner must enter this verification code to confirm ownership and gain full control over the GBP profile.

Most recently, Google's preferred method for verification involves recording a video. This video should demonstrate that your business name, business address, and category align with the information on your GBP listing. Additionally, it must prove you are authorized to represent the business. This can be achieved by unlocking the store entrance, operating a payment tool, or providing proof of address.

Some business owners may be presented with other verification options, including live video calls or receiving a code by phone call or email. In some cases, there is no need to verify at all. Instant verification is sometimes possible when your business website has already been verified in Google Search Console by the time you add or claim your profile.

To start the claiming process, enter the business name in the Google Search Bar, click the “Own this business?” label at the bottom of the GBP listing, and follow the instructions.

How This Car Rental Business Used Its Google Business Profile to Grow Online

Ensure you enter full and accurate information

Now that you control your listing let's continue with a fundamental step. Before striving to convince Google that our GBP listing merits top rankings, it's imperative to confirm the accuracy of all business information on the platform. After all, what's the use of appearing at the top of organic search results if the address and phone number displayed to customers are incorrect? 

Ensuring an optimized listing requires meticulously verifying vital details such as the business name, category, subcategories, descriptions, opening date, contact number, social media profiles, service area, operating hours, physical address, and website.

How This Car Rental Business Used Its Google Business Profile to Grow Online

When updating your GBP listing, meticulous attention must be given to the Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP). This information not only needs to be accurate but also consistently presented across the internet. The NAP format on GBP must align with that on your website and other platforms and directories. Even minor discrepancies like using 'unit' instead of 'suite' in addresses can diminish information trustworthiness, potentially leading to a decline in rankings.

Maximizing impact with visual content

Using impactful images is a straightforward and effective approach to achieving this goal, as they can act as differentiating factors and sway customers towards choosing our business over competitors. Interestingly, despite the potential benefits, statistics show that 6 percent of businesses with photos on their GBP profiles have just one photo.

As the first impression people get of your business on GBP, your pictures must be high quality, representative, and able to convey the essence of your value proposition. To maximize their effectiveness, they should visually encapsulate the experience potential customers can expect from your business. Avoid relying on generic stock images and instead opt for authentic ones you've taken yourself. Strive to showcase your business as clean, organized, and professional as possible to create a captivating visual representation.

Essential images for your business:

  • Products: Spotlight your top-selling products through engaging close-up photography, illustrating their presentation on shelves and in windows within your business. Capture their practical use to offer a more dynamic and immersive perspective. For restaurants, featuring images of menu items can assist customers in deciding to visit your establishment and influence what they order by providing a visual preview of the dishes available.
  • Team: Sharing pictures of the business team in GBP generates trust by establishing a personal connection with customers and humanizing the brand. Featuring your customer-facing team helps customers familiarize themselves with your business, while pictures of your management team create a sense of transparency.
  • Photos at work: By visually representing your team in action, customers can quickly grasp the type of work you do and the level of professionalism you maintain. Capture moments that accurately depict the services you offer and the dedication and expertise of your staff while engaging with customers.
  • User-Generated Content (UGC): Bear in mind that the GBP owner is not the only one who can upload photos to your business profile, everybody can do it. Your job is to make it easy for your customers to share pictures of your business and your products, either at the store or using them back home. Attractive packaging, photo spots, and unique ways to deliver a product (such as a special happy birthday song at a restaurant) are worthy of sharing in GBP and social media platforms. Depending on the nature of your business, you should be able to produce ideas to promote UGC.

Although we have emphasized the importance of high-quality photos for your GBP profile, they shouldn't look overly produced or excessively stylized, as those may be more suitable for Instagram. For GBP, it's better to use attractive pictures that feel casual, as if a customer had taken them. To achieve this, a phone camera and a well-lit setting will suffice. You can improve the lighting for your pictures by using your basic illumination fixtures or just by taking photos at the right time of day.

Gather positive reviews

Many business owners recognize the correlation between GBP listings with more reviews and higher rankings in local searches. This understanding is supported by Google's statement that 'More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business' local ranking'. Despite this knowledge, only a few businesses actively seek to acquire more reviews in their GBP listings.

For a long time at Veico Car Rental, our only strategy to get customer reviews was to strive to provide a great service. Naively, we believed that this alone would motivate customers to share their experiences online. We were wrong. We were getting positive reviews, but they weren't enough for Google's algorithm to give us a spot in the 3-Pack.

We couldn't continue relying on chance for customer reviews, especially when competing against bigger companies. It's worth noting that, unlike other platforms, GBP permits and encourages business owners to request reviews. Therefore, there was no reason we shouldn't encourage our customers to share their feedback on our services.

Our initiative to increase review numbers began by placing a QR code at the counter, linking directly to our GBP listing. While this led to increased reviews, the results were very modest. Recognizing the gap compared to our competitors, we pivoted to a more proactive strategy.

In a second effort, we started verbally requesting reviews from each customer, demonstrating a genuine interest in learning about their experience. This new strategy immediately proved highly effective.

How This Car Rental Business Used Its Google Business Profile to Grow Online

In a matter of weeks, our review count rises steeply. Currently, more than 70 percent of our customers leave reviews on Google, giving us an average rating of 4.85. As Figure 1 illustrates, since February 2023, our review requesting strategy has led to a significant increase in reviews for Veico’s Car Rental branch at Guadalajara Airport. Other branches have seen a similar rise in their Google reviews count.

How This Car Rental Business Used Its Google Business Profile to Grow Online

While reviews started pouring in immediately, achieving a position in the 3-Pack took time. It wasn't until many weeks later that we noticed shifts in our positions within local results, eventually securing a spot in the 3-Pack for most searches. This success has led to a notable increase in website visits and a higher volume of calls, directly contributing to increased sales for our business.

If you opt to utilize a similar review-requesting strategy, and it's strongly advised that you do, it's crucial to consider some important considerations.

  •  Use signs or emails to request reviews only when a verbal request is not feasible.
  • If you go for the email strategy, it's essential to ensure that your customers have given consent to receive such emails.
  • Maintain fairness by not selectively asking only customers you anticipate would leave positive reviews.
  •  According to Google's policies, it's crucial not to provide any form of compensation in exchange for reviews and refrain from requesting reviews from your staff, family, and friends if they haven't genuinely experienced your products or services.
  • Strive to maintain more reviews and a higher rating than your competitors. Remember reviews must be mostly positive to achieve the desired effect.
  • Encourage customers to provide detailed and specific feedback instead of merely rating with stars.
  • Make it easy for customers to include photos and/or videos in their reviews, as they not only have a greater impact but also instill more trust. Google tends to favor and display them more than reviews containing only text.

Engage with reviews on your Google My Business Profile

To build trust with potential customers and enhance prominence, it's crucial to respond to all reviews, whether positive, average, or negative. Dedicate one or two days each week to express gratitude to customers for choosing your business, comment on their experiences, and address any concerns they may have. 

You must respond to every review in a personal way and stay away from standardized responses that sound impersonal and that do not comment on the customer’s experience.

Responding to positive reviews

A positive review benefits your business, but a positive review with a proper response is even more valuable.

When responding to a review, seize the opportunity to highlight your value propositions. For instance, if a customer compliments your chocolate cookies, emphasize the quality and freshness of your ingredients and the cherished secret recipe passed down from your grandmother. This makes clear that the customer's positive experience was not merely coincidental but reflects the consistent quality of your business.

Recognize and appreciate every instance of praise directed towards a team member. While it's important to acknowledge compliments for our products, it's even more important to address praise for our colleagues. Express gratitude to the customer for their feedback and reassure them that their words will be shared with the mentioned team member. By doing so, we not only value our customers' input but also recognize and celebrate the hard work and dedication of our team.

Lastly, take the opportunity to invite the customer to return soon and inform them of any exciting updates, such as new products or upcoming sales.

Responding to average or negative reviews

While the goal is to receive mostly positive reviews, average or negative feedback will inevitably come. However, it's the way you address and respond to these not-positive reviews that profoundly influence customers' perceptions.

Similarly, to positive reviews, it's important to start responses to average and negative feedback by expressing gratitude to the customer. For 3 or 4-star reviews, take the opportunity to inquire about what could have been done better to earn a 5-star review. This not only shows that you, as a business owner, are committed to customer satisfaction but also will give you insights to continue improving.

Negative reviews demand a composed and balanced response. Regardless of any disagreement with the customer's viewpoint, it's never wise to discredit their statements. If you find their remarks misleading, it's acceptable to respectfully share your perspective. However, you must uphold a professional tone in your response and refrain from insinuating that their statements are false.

Demonstrate a genuine interest in resolving any issues by offering an email or phone number for further assistance. Even if you prefer a customer not to return, arguing with them will not reflect positively on your business. Instead, respond politely and express a willingness to address their concerns. Even if you ultimately decide not to take remedial action, asking for another opportunity to provide better service is the most effective approach.

At Veico Car Rental, we faced a situation where we received several 1-star ratings without any accompanying comments, all within a few days. The reviewer’s usernames did not allow us to identify the customers and we suspected they might be spam. While it's possible to request the removal of a Google review that violates its policies, such as those that don't reflect a genuine experience, we opted to respond as if they came from genuine customers.

In our replies, we sincerely apologized for any negative experiences they may have encountered. Furthermore, we offered that if they were not happy with our service, we would fully refund their car rental invoice. Interestingly, we did not receive any further communication from these reviewers.

Whether these reviewers were indeed genuine customers or unscrupulous competitors, we believe that any potential customer reading our responses will gain insight into our firm commitment to customer satisfaction.

Another compelling reason not to fear a few negative reviews is that some local SEO experts believe they can enhance credibility. According to a study by Northwestern University, the likelihood of purchasing peaks with average review ratings between 4.0 and 4.7, decreasing as ratings approach 5.0.

Enhance your business listing with GBP posts

How This Car Rental Business Used Its Google Business Profile to Grow Online

GBP posts are an excellent way to stand out from the crowd, while most business owners will try to complete basic information on their listings, just a few take the time to periodically publish content to connect with existing and new customers. 

Although Google now displays posts for six months, whereas it used to be only seven days before archiving them, it's crucial to post consistently and regularly to stay ahead of our competitors. 

💡
Use tools like Buffer to schedule your GBP posts and maintain a consistent presence to show up in relevant searches.

Currently, you can take advantage of three kinds of posts:

  • Events: If you believe in the value your product or service brings to your target audience, there's a good chance that others share the same belief. Hosting events, even on a smaller scale, provides an opportunity to connect with those interested in what you offer. Consider organizing workshops, intimate meetups, or online webinars that cater to the specific needs or pain points your product addresses. These events showcase your expertise, fostering interactions that help attendees learn more about your business while providing valuable insights into their preferences and challenges.
  • Updates: You can share various aspects of your business with customers to keep them informed and interested. This includes introducing new team members, alerting them about restocking popular products, showcasing the latest products or variations, counting down to exciting events, and providing recaps of recently concluded events. There are endless possibilities!
  • Offers: Using GBP to share offers is a great way to attract more business and reward your customers. You can publish various promotions like seasonal sales, flash sales, presales, online-only offers, and bundle deals. Create a sense of urgency and exclusivity by setting an offer ending date and a discount code. By regularly updating your GBP profile with appealing offers, you not only engage customers but also establish your business as a top choice for value and savings.

Improve communication with chat activation and FAQs

GBP lets potential customers find your contact information and allows you to receive messages from users on the platform itself. While this feature is optional and needs activation by the business owner, it's highly recommended.

How This Car Rental Business Used Its Google Business Profile to Grow Online

Customers value the convenience of communicating without switching platforms or making a call. This is especially popular for customers who can't call or are from other countries with long-distance charges. You can reply to messages directly from your web browser by searching your business name on Google, clicking the Messages icon, or using the Google Maps app on your phone.

How This Car Rental Business Used Its Google Business Profile to Grow Online

The FAQs are another useful feature in Google My Business (GBP) that allows businesses to respond quickly and accurately to common inquiries from potential customers. By predefining answers to frequently asked questions, businesses can streamline communication, save time, and ensure consistency in the information provided.

In addition to predefining answers to frequently asked questions, businesses can leverage the FAQs feature in GBP to enhance overall efficiency. Abraham Rodriguez, Customer Service Manager at GDL Car Rental, said about the FAQs feature “It saves time, ensures consistency, and enhances overall efficiency, elevating our service standards and reputation.”

For setting up FAQs, navigate to Messages, Chat Settings, and then Add FAQs.

How This Car Rental Business Used Its Google Business Profile to Grow Online
How This Car Rental Business Used Its Google Business Profile to Grow Online

Stay consistent with GBP listing optimization

Veico has experienced significant benefits from dedicating time to enhance our local SEO through optimizing our GBP listings. By refining your own listings, you too can achieve improved local search results that will ultimately boost your bottom line. 

It's crucial to recognize that an optimized Google Business Profile isn't a one-time effort but an ongoing process. Continuously updating data, adding new images, garnering more reviews, and publishing posts are all essential for maintaining momentum. Without consistent upkeep, any gains made will eventually diminish. Stay committed to the process, and you'll transform your local business through the long-term benefits of a well-optimized GBP listing.

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