Everyone wants to land on page 1 of a search result. And even better, to have photos and other visually juicy eye candy that draws attention to your listing over anyone else’s. Fortunately you can do that yourself, and it doesn’t cost a penny.
Photos on a search result page
Have you ever noticed that some searches deliver a side panel with photos, hours of operation, and reviews and star ratings? Called the “Knowledge Graph,” your business is writ large and colorfully in the right side panel. It does attract a lot of attention—and clicks. That panel is based on a page you set up at Google called a Google My Business page.
The Google My Business page
Just as Google created Google+ as its counterpart to Facebook’s personal profile page, Google My Business is the equivalent of a business Facebook page. From a practical laymen’s perspective, it’s not a page people visit directly. Instead, the process of creating the page
- gives Google a chance to verify what information is accurate for your name, address, phone number, website, etc.;
- gives you a platform for garnering and displaying customer reviews and star ratings;
- provides verified information that Google may choose to display in a search result (e.g., the Knowledge Graph).
Accuracy = Visibility
Google (and every search engine) is in the business of delivering the best match for the searcher’s query. “Best” means some combination of “relevant,” “useful,” and “accurate.” The more confident Google is in the accuracy of your information and the easier it is for Google to access that information, the more likely they are to place your information high in a result. The Google My Business page is Google’s way of letting you tell them what the real scoop is about your company.
Multiple online references to you
There can be lots of different Web pages that make reference to your company (Facebook, Yelp, LinkedIn, your own website). You probably have only one company website, but you may have started and abandoned a few Facebook pages, perhaps a LinkedIn page or two. Your name may have started with “The” in front, and then over time you stripped that out for simplicity’s sake. You may have moved, but a directory listing from long ago never got updated so it’s showing your old address. And you may be listed on directories you never intended to be listed on! (Plenty of websites will grab links and assemble information without asking the company owners. Usually it’s a good thing to have many links. But in this case it can backfire on you.) From the perspective of the automated search robots (“bots”) that index the Web, your online identity could be muddy indeed.
The NAP: The key to your identity
NAP stands for “name, address, phone number.” These are the critical pieces of accurate information Google is after. When you put together a Google My Business page, they want to be sure you are you. (This is for your protection. They don’t want a competitor, for instance, to post a page in your name and enter false information about you.) A correct NAP not only ensures that searchers will be able to contact you, it also gives Google confidence in considering your business for placement in the “Map Pack” section of the first page search result.
Google also wants to discourage promotion of here-today, gone-tomorrow scammers. They want a brick and mortar location to be tied to your business, even if it’s not published information. For instance, PO boxes are not allowed for your address.
The verification process
They will go through several processes to be sure that they have the most up-to-date NAP for your business. Like double-authentication texts or phone calls with the bank, Google will want to use snail mail to send a postcard to your brick and mortar address. It will have an ID number that you enter as part of the verification process to prove you are you and that your business is indeed where you say it is. Depending on their findings, you may also have to go through and clean up out-of-date directory listings and officially delete any duplicate Facebook or LinkedIn pages.
Photos of your location
From your Google My Business page, a “Knowledge Graph” will be displayed anytime Google thinks there’s a good match for a search. Google will automatically insert a map and an outdoor photo of your office building or location, which they take with their Google Earth satellite capabilities. Potentially helpful, if you are in retail. But sometimes it’s a parking lot. Not very enticing! And with elder care, your location is largely immaterial. Very few people come to your office. You go to their homes. (In fact, you may work from your home and not really want a map or photo of it displayed.) You can insert your own photos of your office or set your business up as home-based and avoid external depictions of your business location.
Best use of photos
More to the point, you can display wonderful photos of your staff and/or people working with elders. This is your opportunity to introduce images that project the warmth and caring of your service. Happy and kind photos jump out on the normally boring, text-heavy search result page. There’s no charge for photos, so put in a lot. Other than an accurate NAP, it’s the single most important thing you can do to boost your visibility.
A cautionary note about HIPAA
If you are including photos of actual clients or patients, you must get a signed release from them. It doesn’t have to be a special release from HIPAA. Simply permission to publish. (Getting permission is basic etiquette with all publishing, but with Facebook, etc., that convention is not applied as often as it used to be.) From the eyes of the Office for Civil Rights—the enforcers of HIPAA—a photo is a unique biomedical identifier and therefore protected health information. You can publish a photo of a client or patient. Just have documentation on file proving that permission was given.
To apply for a Google My Business page
Go to google.com/business/. (For the Bing/Yahoo equivalent, go to bingplaces.com. Even though Google commands 65% to 80% of searches, it’s worth doing Bing Places just to catch the remainder.) The verification process is not small. But eventually you will be able to publish a page that will give the search engine’s confidence in your information and boost the likelihood of better placements.
In subsequent posts we’ll talk about how to update your GMB page so Google is inclined to show it more often. Also how to collect Google Reviews and respond to (gasp!) any negative reviews you might receive.