How to use Google to attract more customers

Google My Business: map with pinGetting the most from your website isn't just about climbing Google rankings nationally - local rankings and reviews can make or break your business. Emma Allen looks at how Google My Business can maximise your SEO so you don't miss out on customers on your doorstep

As many as one in five online searches are local, according to Google, so one of the best ways to boost sales is to get your business seen by those living or working nearby to you.

One essential tool to achieve this is Google My Business, according to James Gurd, ecommerce and marketing consultant. A listing is "free, easy to use and a must for any small firm wishing to promote its services to a local market."

So what is Google My Business and how does it work? "Basically, it's a local search tool that organises results around specific locations. Business owners submit a profile and when a potential customer looks for, say, a plumber in their area, a list of local businesses comes up," he explains.

Businesses must have a free Google account to register, but once a profile is submitted and verified, a listing is typically up and running within a few days. Google My Business puts your business information on Search, Maps and Google Plus so that customers can find you, no matter what device they're using.

Use accurate keywords to help customers find you

The key, says Gurd, is putting together an effective description of your business. Just like a normal website, a Google My Business listing is subject to Google's own search engine spiders, so it's important to create a relevant, SEO-friendly profile of your company using appropriate keywords and tags.

"It's all about knowing how your customers will search for you," he says. "For instance, if you're a high-end London jewellery retailer, you might want to include the words designer, or boutique, to make your profile more specific. There are no rules - you simply need to think about how your potential customers would try and find you."

Pushing up your ranking on Google

Is it possible to boost your ranking once you've submitted your Google profile? Rankings in local listings will depend largely on two factors - one, how close your firm is to the area specified in the search and how close your business is to the person searching - but crucially, user interaction with your profile will help make your listing more prominent.

"The aim is to get as many customers as possible clicking on your link as Google sees this as relevance and will organise results accordingly. In other words, your position on the results page should improve," he explains.

Customer reviews on Google

Customer reviews also have a big impact. "The more reviews the better - good ones of course - so always encourage buyers to leave comments about your service or product," says Gurd.

Another way to influence rankings is to register with other reliable local online directories such as Yelp, Yahoo! Local or Scoot. "Google will look at other trusted sites for mentions of your business name and its details to assess the quality and relevance of your firm to a search," Gurd says.

Lastly, updating your business profile is important in order to make sure that content stays relevant. "Over time, tastes and trends change, so you need to make sure that your keywords remain accurate and relevant," he advises. "Check your profile at least every quarter, and preferably once a month, to keep on top of things."