All Florida Pool and Spa Center in Miami has a strong presence on social media and some 55 followers on its Google+ page. Peppered with hashtags and keywords, their posts feature videos, photos and advice about pool care. “We do it but we’re not sure how much actual business it drives to us,” says David Cohen, the store owner.
This sentiment is shared by many pool and spa retailers who realize that they need to drive traffic through Google and appear in map listings when someone searches for pool products and services in their area. For years, some have used Google Places to help bolster their search ratings.
Now the behemoth search engine has rolled out its latest tool, Google My Business, that can make updating — or finally signing up — worthwhile. Here, we examine the tips and tricks that will have brick-and-mortars connecting with online searchers.
What is it?
Google My Business is a central hub for small, local businesses to manage their presence on Google Search, Google Maps and Google+ from a single console. It replaced the old Google Places, but if you already had a Google Places page, it was automatically transferred to Google My Business. It allows you to make status updates, post a virtual tour and photos, hold live-stream hangouts, collect reviews and respond to them, as well as create AdWord campaigns. It also provides you with real-time analytics to help understand how people find you and interact with your business. Now everything revolves around your Google+ page, which automatically populates your local listing (Google+ Local) that people see next to the map when they search for pool supplies and maintenance in your area.
“But no one is on Google+,” you may say. “And besides, we’re on Facebook.”
The trick is to play Google’s game and get its love in return.
“If you think you’re going to make sales because of something you post on your Google+ page, that’s not going to happen,” says Brett Abbott, owner and senior consultant at MYM Austin Inc., a marketing agency for pool builders based in Austin, Texas. “But it gives you a real advantage in search results.”
It is no secret that Google favors its own products and the more time you spend with them, the better results you’ll get, experts say. “It’s the smartest and the cheapest way (to market yourself),” says Abbott. “It’s pretty much the only reason to mess with Google+.”
If you’re starting from scratch, go to Google My Business and click on Get on Google. On the next page, search for your business. Google will find it on the map and offer you to create a Google+ page if you’re authorized to manage it. Then it will offer to call you or mail you a verification code. One caveat: If you don’t claim your page, Google will still make it for you but it will not be customized with your information.
The next step is to provide some specifics about your business, including the category, address, hours of operation, contact information and website. It’s important to use one name and address always spelled the same way everywhere on the Web.
In addition, for SEO purposes, it’s crucial to use keywords in your tagline and introduction. They can be, for example, “pool supplies,” “pool maintenance” and “spa repair,” as well as the location, which also will be used as a keyword in searches. The general rule is to keep the introduction under 200 words and write it in cohesive, easy-to-read sentences, even if you’re mentioning types of products that you sell.
Google will automatically pull from this information to populate your Google+ Local profile that appears on the right in search results. It also will feature your latest posts and, in some cases, stars in your reviews.
Wondering what to post? How about a picture, a short description and a hashtag (e.g. #pool, #summerfun). Got a sale on hot tubs? Google wants to know. Found a funny video of a diving dog? Perfect.
The Holy Grail of store owners is to be listed in the top five Google Maps results. It’s especially important now with the increase of searches on smartphones with a potential customer ready to call or drive to the store.
“Your customers search when they need something, such as a new filter or chlorine tabs, and want to buy it somewhere close,” says Abbott. “Your Google+ page translates well to mobile and can influence your position in search.”
But what’s the secret for placement?
“Location, quality of listing and reviews is how you get on the map,” says Frederick Greenhalgh, digital marketing manager with ReVision Energy with locations in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. Greenhalgh maintains the company’s corporate Google+ page as well as individual pages for store locations in each state.
Greenhalgh notes that search results are, by definition, local. Google tends to provide the store location closest to the location of the searcher, but that’s not always the case. In dense areas with several stores nearby, preference often is given to a store with better reviews and more activity on the Google+ page.
Google loves reviews. They give your listing instant authority, not to mention eye-catching stars and preferential treatment in searches. Greenhalgh says that as tempting as it may be to write fake reviews or pay someone to write them, the strategy can backfire as soon as Google realizes it and sends your profile back to page 94. Instead, make it easy for your satisfied customers to praise you.
“We offer it to our customers with a Gmail account,” says Greenhalgh. “After a sale, we send them a follow-up email with a link to our Google+ page and ask them to leave a note about their experience.”
Responding to negative reviews also can be an opportunity to show potential customers that you care and that their issues will be offered the same high level of personal attention. It also makes your business look friendly and transparent.
The Google My Business console offers AdWords Express, a simplified way to launch online ad campaigns, though remember, it’s what Google wants to sell to you.
“Treat it like an experiment,” says Greenhalgh. The basic ones usually target searches within 15 miles of your location and can feature your phone number and address on Google Maps.
Greenhalgh suggests waiting a few days after you set up your account because Google often sends $100 coupons for first-time advertisers. “You shouldn’t need to pay for your first campaign,” he says. “Let them send you a bit of love.”
Your page looks beautiful and you’ve even dabbled in ads. The next step could be Helpouts, an online service that allows users to get and give help over live video. Users can search by topic, pick a provider with the best qualifications, price and reviews, and set up an appointment. The service features classes on everything from cooking to beauty and repairs. Small businesses can offer free classes and use them as a marketing opportunity to connect with their future customers. At presstime, there were only two store owners offering to share expertise on pool maintenance and repairs. When you click on who is offering a class, you’re taken to — you guessed it — their Google+ profile.Pages that rockSmaller retailers may not have the resources of large brands but can still tap into the same strategies. Here’s some inspiration:
One of the rock stars of Google+ is Virgin, which is not surprising as it’s a perfect platform for Sir Richard Branson and his inspiring “Screw it. Let’s do it” philosophy. With over 1.47 million followers, the page features a dynamic header with interchanging images of the company’s airplanes, events and, of course, Sir Richard. The posts are short and sweet, with lots of photos and hashtags. Stories are introduced in posts with a question, such as “What will retail business look like in 30 years?” followed by a short link to the story. What gets the most shares? Weekly quotes from Sir Richard, such as “Red tape will often get in your way. It’s one reason why I often carry scissors.”
With only 453,000 followers, Amazon trails Virgin by a long ways but it doesn’t seem to hamper their profits. The company uses its Google+ page for introduction of discounts and new services, such as same day delivery in new markets. It also does regular posts that feature specific products, a strategy perfect for pool retailers. Amazon posts a short description of the product, its picture and a short link to the product’s landing page.
King Arthur Flour’s Google+ page, with 119,000 followers, takes the cake with sumptuous photos and how-to videos. Its YouTube channel, connected to the page, features interviews with suppliers, baking demos and video holiday greetings.
If you don’t do anything else
Claim your Google+ page and make sure that your address, phone and website are accurate. Post regularly and Google will see you as an active business.
Greenhalgh recommends getting the basic elements right and not worrying too much about the “Google game.” “Don’t forget about your website,” he says. “Everything else you’re renting. Focus on you and your customers, and the rest will follow.”