By Sherry Bonelli / Guest Column

Four out of five consumers use the internet to find local businesses. Are potential customers finding your business online? One way to increase your chances of being found is to claim and verify your Google My Business (GMB) listing.

Google offers every business that meets its criteria a free listing showing the company’s name, physical address, phone number, business hours and other information. Having a GMB listing helps potential customers find your business on Google, and can increase the odds of your business showing up in the coveted “local three-pack” that appears below the ads and above the organic search results when you search for local businesses on the search engine.

If you haven’t claimed your company’s GMB listing yet, visit google.com/business to start the process. If you have, you’re in great shape to start optimizing your listing.

Posts

One of the newer features that Google has added to local business arsenals is the ability to create a “post.” A GMB post is just what it sounds like – a mini ad that shows up on your GMB listing when people search for your business on Google It’s a great way to show off a special offer, promote a new product or service or give details about an upcoming event.

A post stays online for seven days, or until after the event date. Use Posts to entice potential visitors to take action – like visiting your site, going to a landing page or signing up for a workshop you’re offering.

Keep your hours current

With Christmas and New Years fast approaching, your business hours may change. When people search for your business online and see that your hours of operation are 9-5 on Dec. 24, but your company is really taking that day off, you’ll likely have some pretty unhappy customers when they get to your location and see the “closed” sign on the door.

Always be aware that Google is showing the hours that you put into your GMB listing; if those hours are wrong, the potential customers aren’t going to blame Google – they’ll blame you. Ensure that at least two people in your company are responsible for checking and changing the hours on your GMB listing so that the hours are always correct. (This also applies if you’re closing the office early for a retreat or company meeting.)

Answer questions from customers

People who have questions about your company can now ask questions directly through your GMB listing. Google’s new Questions & Answers feature is a great way to interact with your customers and potential customers. Be on the lookout in your GMB dashboard and your inbox for questions and be sure to respond with meaningful answers as quickly as possible.

Not only will these answers help others who are looking to do business with you, but Google will see that you’re interacting with your audience and that engagement is important to your rankings.

Booking button

Google has partnered with some of the best scheduling software on the market – with more being added soon – and created a “Booking Button” that allows customers to book appointments with your business directly from your GMB listing. When a customer clicks the “Booking” button on your listing, they’ll be connected directly to your scheduling software to seamlessly set their next appointment with you.

Don’t be shy

Depending on your industry, you may have different options to “fill in” on your GMB listing. For example, if you own a restaurant, you can include your menu. Make sure you complete and answer all of the questions/fields Google displays for your business. If you don’t, someone else will.

Google has a section in each listing that says, “Suggest an Edit.” That means anyone –including your competitors – can suggest edits and changes to your business’ GMB listing. That’s why it’s important to stay vigilant about what’s going on with your GMB listing and ensure that everything is correct.

Additionally, Google likes to engage visitors by asking those looking at your GMB listing pop quiz-type questions about your business. You may be viewing a listing and suddenly see a pop-up that asks something like “Do you know this business?” If so, you may be prompted with a question about the business that you can answer (or not answer if you don’t know.)

Having searchers and local consumers answering these types of questions about local businesses appears to be Google’s way of getting unbiased opinions of local companies.

With Google rolling out new features for business owners and consumers, keep yourself up-to-date on with Google My Business and watch for new options in your company’s GMB dashboard.

Sherry Bonelli, digital marketer and presenter/ speaker, is the owner of early bird digital marketing, a full-service digital marketing agency in Cedar Rapids. Reach her at http://earlybirddigitalmarketing.com