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The Expert’s Guide to Google My Business in 2021 – Ben Fisher
Search Agent

If your goal is to get more customers – and really, who isn’t trying to do that – then you need to be discoverable. Search is digital, even if you run a brick and mortar shop. Your customers are first going to go online to look for you, so the pressure is on you to make sure they can find you.

The place to start is with your Google My Business account. Google is the ultimate at search referral, and your GMB account will help you get top results, improve your SEO, and provide access to analytics that will help you fine tune your paid search strategy. GMB expert Ben Fisher is here to help us navigate the constantly changing Google, as well as run through the do’s and don’t’s of GMB, so we can hopefully avoid risking a suspended account!

Rich: My guest today is a Google My Business platinum product expert, and experienced veteran of SEO and social media since 1994. He’s also contributor to the Moz local search ranking factors study, and a regular writer for BrightLocal and Moz. Two of our favorite pieces of local SEO software that we use here in the office at flyte.

He’s also the co-host of a weekly webinar on local search for the Local Marketing Institute. He’s the co-founder of Steady Demand, which works with agencies, franchises, and businesses to maximize outsource local SEO and social media. He’s spent his specialties are with Google My Business, suspensions, guideline compliance, and spam listings removal.

Today, we’re going to be diving into what you need to know about local SEO and Google My Business, in order to drive more traffic and business with Ben Fisher. Ben, welcome to the program.

Ben: Hey, Rich. Thanks for having me, man. I love the podcast.

Rich: Thanks so much. I appreciate that. So before we even get started, this morning I saw that Google has been experimenting with showing just two results in the local pack, as opposed to the three that we’ve gotten used to. Any immediate thoughts on what this means or where things might be headed?

Ben: Well, you know, you’re called The Agents of Change, right? And so as with anything, Google is the change that happens all the time, and has for decades. But if we take a look at this from just the local standpoint, what happened? Google has been doing local now since what I think 2007-ish, I think I want to say. And when they did that, they rolled out if I remember correctly, it was a seven pack back in the day. Right. And that came down, they changed that, I forget the year, but they changed it of course to the three-pack. That was actually what, I think maybe three, four or five years ago, something like that.

Anyway, actually a little bit longer. So this is just kind of a natural evolution. I think that you’re going to have Google probably continue to try to wind down to the one best result that they can give you, plus ads of course. So, they’re trying to get from the whole trying to make it a whole zero click type of play. Everything is happening right on Google search, down to they want to serve up the best result. So maybe the idea is that they’re going to get down to a one box. Who knows, it’s very possible. But a two box I think is kind of interesting, especially considering three is kind of this magic number.

But from what I know of how Google reacts and GMB acts, is that they always take a look at the data. So we’re seeing this update now on just Chrome. Actually I know it’s Chrome and Maps and on Android only, I think is where it’s at. So this means that it’s basically a test. It’s a pretty wide ruled out test, I will say that. Which makes me believe that it’s probably more than likely going to become reality. But it’s still a test. So basically, it’s going to be based on data. Whether the data is good or skewed, it’s going to be based on data. And they’ll go ahead and roll it out accordingly.

Rich: All right. Now I understand that you are a Google My Business Platinum Product expert, and there’s only 14 in the world. What does that mean exactly?

Ben: Yeah. So the program is basically broken down into sulfurs, which means you’re literally just getting started in the program. You don’t have access to Google product managers. You don’t even sign an NDA. So that kind of tells you what that level actually means. Right? It’s more getting your training wheels on. And then there’s what’s considered the gold level, and the gold level just means that you’ve earned Google’s trust and the other product experts trust. And now you’re kind of let behind the curtain and you get to participate in all of the juicy stuff, including our weekly Hangouts that we have with Google product managers, et cetera. And you do have to sign an NDA for that. So when it comes to all of the product experts, there’s probably about a hundred of us throughout the world, throughout the universe, actually, technically not that we know of.

So out of those 40, most of them are going to be silver folks. I’m going to be gold. And there’s the 14, which are this platinum kind of level. And what that means is that it just means that we have been in the program for a very long time.

We do a lot of education, too. Everybody else, like marketers, small businesses, we go out of our way to go do things like this speaking right and education. We also do a lot of mentoring of the people who are in the program. So whether they be silvers, or golds, because we’re always learning. But anyway, yeah, that’s what being a platinum product expert is.

A little bit of trivia for you is that when they rolled out this new kind of “platinum level”, I should say, is that Joy Hawkins and I were actually the first two in the world to become platinum product experts. So that’s kind of cool. It’s kind of neat stuff.

Rich: And now we’ve had both of you on the show. So I feel kind of honored here that I got this amazing group of experts that I’ve heard of. Is there a secret handshake? People want to know.

Ben: There is no secret handshake. However, I do have a decoder ring.

Rich:  Oh, that’s even better. Years ago for The Agents of Change conference, I actually wanted to do to a bunch of puzzles and give every attendee a decoder ring that they would use to actually solve the puzzles. But we never did. Maybe next year.

Ben: The ranking puzzle ring.

Rich: Yes, exactly.  So when it comes to a local SEO, Google My Business seems to have an oversize role. Is Google My Business, in your opinion, the most essential piece of local SEO?

Ben: That’s such a loaded question. And the reason why I say it’s loaded is that it’s true that a local business will be able to attribute 80% to 90% of their sales to their Google My Business presence. And that’s just because of the way that search is – and I want to say this in a delicate way, but it’s not really delicate – “rigged”.

You know, the algorithm for local and organic is extremely close. As a matter of fact they share a ton of the same data points. And then you’ve got proximity, relevance, prominence, of course, you know, as data points that at least Google has come out and stated for local, and those lay on top of your organic algorithm.

Anyway, to answer your question, yeah. I mean, GMB is extremely important mainly because of what we’ve just discussed. And also kind of going back to the whole concept of, you know, and I put this in big air quotes that you just can’t see. So put your hands up and you do the air quotes and that is the “zero click search”. Keeping people on Google, making your transactions on Google. This is really important as far as what Google wants. They want the experience to be answering a question. When somebody is right there on search, they don’t need the user to click on your site to get the answer, especially if it’s all in your knowledge panel.

A good example of this is we saw recently where there’s an experiment, I think it was Jason Bernard was talking about it and I think Darren Star brought it up, and a couple of other people brought it up, where Google was starting to scrape and bring entities into the knowledge panel. Like we’re talking if somebody was looking at Whitespark, what’s their competitors, when was it founded? And this is all being scraped and pulled in. I think it’s an experiment, but who knows, it might actually stick around. So you’ve got that.

Then you’ve also got the thing that, for instance this all just recently happened, having your life inventory if you’re selling products on your Google My Business profile, you’ve got the business messaging, you’ve got people being able to do quotes and get multiple quotes from multiple GMB profiles.

So again, these are just all indicators of how important GMB is. That’s a long way of saying, GMB is important, but don’t neglect your other SEO activities, too.

Rich: All right. What are some of the major factors right now that would help a business crack into the local pack, as we see it shrinking in front of our eyes?

Ben: So for that, you need to just basically take a look at what in GMB will affect ranking, right? And that’s going to come down to, unfortunately, number one is going to be the name of your Google My Business profile. It’s insane how much keywords in the name of GMB profile will help you rank. Meaning that you could start one tomorrow saying, “Rich Brooks best podcast in XYZ city.” And you will rank for best podcast in XYZ city. That’s going to happen. But it’s crazy that you can do that and be a non-entity and still rank. And that’ll lead us into talking about spam, I’m sure.

So there’s that, there’s a category, which again, the category is hard to game.  You know, you can use tools like Pleper, for instance, to spy on all your categories for your competitors, and then just adopt the right kind of categories. Then you’ve got your reviews, also a very “non-gameable” type of system, maybe, right?

Rich: Since there’s software companies out there that basically funnel all the bad reviews back to you and put all the good reviews up on Google or other sites, I feel like there’s some gaming to be done.

Ben: And there’s also, “Hey, I’ll just go ahead and buy a bunch of reviews and hope I don’t get caught. And if I do, Oh, well.” There’s that. So, you know, but then of course after that is just really again, it’s a tie back to organic. And that is the page that you’re linking to from your website URL that’s going to help you as well. Content on your website absolutely helps with ranking champion.

Rich: So you mentioned the name of your profile, and I’m sure most people would just assume, well, isn’t the name of my profile, the name of my business. Which is why ‘flyte new media’ was such a terrible name to come up with. And I should have just called myself like ‘Maine Digital Agency’ or something generic like that. So what are some of the recommendations? Like I was under the understanding Google wants you to put your actual DBA name in there. But obviously people have gone above and beyond in terms of what it is. So how strict are they being, and how close should we be hewing to the line on that particular item, if it is so important?

Ben: All right. So there’s so many ways to answer this question. It’s really hard to get to the point on this one, it’s not like I don’t already talk a lot. No, but seriously. Okay. So, it’s important. Okay. That true, and it’s probably not going to change anytime soon.

I have companies that we work with, I got this one right now, hopefully he’s not listening to this. Anyway, so I’ve got this one client, and I’m kind of going off on a side note here, Rich. So they ranked for specifically, they’ve changed their name like five times anyway, they started out being a ranking for city name, brand name keyword. Then they were like, well, I think this is going to change how I rank. And they said, how about let’s just go to a brand name. How about let’s go to a brand named keyword? How about let’s go to keyword brand name? And then it just kept on going and going and going. And they’re like, this is going to affect search, or this is gonna affect search. And they did this like every week, by the way, this is not like a one-time thing. And I keep on telling the guy I’m like, look, number one, you were playing with fire, you’re going to get suspended. Right, that’s number one.

He’s under our protection programs, so that’s of course that mitigates his risk, right? He changes his DBA weekly, by the way, he also changes his city license weekly. He just happens to be in a state and a city where he can actually do this stuff in 24 hours. And on top of that, the guy is so aggressive, he makes changes to a signage on a weekly basis. The amount of time and energy he’s putting into this is ridiculous. It could be spent building links, you know.

Rich: that reminds me when Jerry Seinfeld told George Constanza, “I’ve never seen anybody work so hard to not have a job.”

Ben: Right. Exactly, exactly. And so, you know, I mean that whole name change was interesting actually, because of the results of it. But every time he would change it, something would happen with his phone calls. So I’ll give him that. And there was some interesting data out of that. But the long story short is that it works. It does work. And I’m not saying it’s worth it because it’s sometimes not. And even if you change your business license and your utility bills and your DBA and all of that, you’re highly exposed because you can get picked up by a Google sweep. Which will get you suspended just because you have the keywords in your name. They’re not going to do the research. They don’t cross reference with the business license directories or anything like that. So you are guilty until proven innocent and you will just get suspended and it’s going to happen. So yeah. Anyway. So that’s the long way of answering it.

Rich: Are you suggesting that we can get penalized because by default we have our keywords in our company name, like Maine Dog Walkers, or something like that? Or are you suggesting that when you make the change, it kind of raises a little flag of attention anyways, and that’s when Google might notice you a little bit more or maybe a little bit of both.

Ben: Yes. So the thing is, again, you’re kind of putting a target on your back, right? It’s like having an executive office at a Regis. It’s still gonna put a target on your back. You know, even if you upload photos of your directory to your Google My Business listing, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that people like me, or people like you, or anybody who has an agency can redress anybody at any time for any reason. So we can hit ‘suggest an edit’ for the same purpose, right? Both of these things go, I mean, ‘suggest an edit’ goes into AI moderation. Redressel form goes to a human being. As soon as you put something under a human being’s nose, you have the chance for an error to occur. And every time you have something that’s more of a machine’s control, you absolutely have chance for an error.

So again, it comes back to sweeps being reported, and the fact that you are guilty until proven innocent. So Google is going to take you down and then you’re going to have to prove that your name actually is that name. And the worst part is that if you’ve missed a piece of documentation, Google is not going to tell you this. They’re just going to say, “sorry, Ineligible against our guidelines”. Which comes back to that program. We were talking about, the Assurance Program. It’s like where we actually make sure everybody is in the guidelines.

Rich: I want to get to the Assurance Program for sure. But I want to just talk about two things you mentioned. One is ‘redress’, and one is ‘suggest an edit’. Like, I’ve seen as I go through and I do my searches for whatever I may be doing as a consumer, I might see on somebody’s knowledge panel that there’s the suggested edit box, and I’ve certainly seen it on my own. How is that used? Is that more for your competitors to rat you out?  Or is that for consumers to suggest some more things that you might be letting people know? How, how is that being used the most?

Ben: So as you’ve astutely already said, it’s the ‘suggest an edit’ feature was initially there for you to be able to, as a merchant, make an edit to your Google My Business profile without having it claimed or in your dashboard. Because I think 76% of merchant businesses don’t have a claimed Google My Business profile.

The other thing is, is that ‘suggest an edit’, well anyway, so it’s supposed to be user generated, basically suggestions. But again, merchants do use it. And actually, if you want to look at that, you’d look at what’s called the Google New Merchant experience. Which is where I think other people in the industry are calling it ‘direct edit’. I still think that’s the silliest way to look at it because it’s not really what it’s meant to be. But that is where you can, if you bring up your profile, you can make an edit to the profile on the public frontend, and where you can get to your backend very easily.

So that kind of reveals the true purpose. Which is being able to make a change to your GMB profile from search. But it is also used, of course, by people who are spam hunters. You would go ahead and ‘suggest an edit’ it and say change a name, an address, report something as spam, report as closed, et cetera. So yeah, I mean, so what that is – and I think that most people don’t understand – is that it’s all controlled by machine learning.

There’s specific product flows or contact flows that occur when you make one of those suggested edits. For instance, if you suggested an edit that is legal, it’s going to go through a machine moderation first, but that’s going to probably go to a human being. Whereas if you’re just saying that something is basically fraudulent in nature or spammy, that’s going to go through a machine automation. It’s probably not going to go to human moderation.  Which is why you want to suggest an edit, and then you want to use the redressal form right away.

Rich: Where do we find a “redressal form”? I don’t think I’ve seen that before.

Ben: Oh, okay. Yeah. Just search for ‘Google My Business Redressal form’. And that’ll bring up the redressal form which you can put up 1 to 100 listings for Google to review.

Rich: So, this is basically if we see our competitors doing something that feels unfair, I mean, this is how it probably should be used. We see our competitor doing something unfair, unethical, and they’re getting benefits from it, which is ultimately punishing our business. This is our opportunity to kind of call them out in front of Google. Correct? And then, and this is basically what you’re talking about, the Spam Assassin is your nickname so this I assume is your specialty. One of the things you do is you help keep these listings clean. Should that be something that we all kind of take more seriously as we go into Google My Business and we see these sort of spammy results?

Ben: The answer to that is yes. I think it was BrightLocal who put out a report that showed that most agencies are not fighting spam. And I believe that it was about 70+%. And the reason is, is that they feel it’s not effective. The reason most people feel it’s not effective is because they’re not going about it the right way.

So like for us, we have around a 60%-70% success rate when we’re going after spam. And that’s usually within the first two to three, four weeks. The reason that we have that much success, beyond knowing of course what Google looks at for spam, is that we put everything through a 6 to 12 point checklist that we have internally. Sorry, can’t say share it. So we have got our checklist and then we have multiple methods. So everything kind of goes through a couple of different phases to scrub it and get rid of it. But yeah, at the end of the day we’re narcs. We’re basically looking at somebody and saying, “Oh yeah, your profile is definitely keyword stuffed, and you’re at somebody’s home, and you’re showing your address. Yeah, we’re going to let Google know about that alright.”

Rich: So those are common things that people do to basically juice their own results that are not okay?

Ben: Exactly. Exactly. We call it ‘evening the playing field’. You know, it’s very simple. If you’re not in the guidelines, then you should definitely be in the guidelines. And it’s not fair to a business owner who is playing by the rules that they are penalized because somebody has figured out a black hat technique. Or in most cases, is just following the herd.

Rich: Yeah. So let’s take a look at the other side of the table, because I’m sure a lot of businesses out there have found that their GMB listings have been suspended, whether rightly or wrongly. What steps should they take to kind of get back into Google’s good graces?

Ben: All right. So how many webinars have you seen of mine, but I always lead off with the first slide being this big picture of a chill pill, 500 milligrams, by the way. The reason is that when most people get suspended, the first thing they do is they freak the hell out. And rightfully so. I mean, I’ve got this one client of mine that they get suspended three to four times a year and they lose $30,000 a day that they are down. And when you get suspended, you’re down for four days, minimum. The day you got suspended, the three days it takes to recover ranking. That’s if you’re in compliance. If you’re not in compliance, extend that out at least one to two more weeks, because you know, it might be something like signage or a DBA. And if it’s a DBA and you’re in Florida or California, forget about it. Add 10 days. Done.  

So anyway, so that’s the first thing is relax. The second thing is, read the guidelines. And then the next thing is, really kind of composing yourself and composing your narrative, and exclude from that narrative, “I’ve been in business for 20 years, I have fifty 5-star reviews. My Google My Business profile is down. I can’t feed my family or pay my mortgage.” Google doesn’t care about any of this. And also, they don’t care about the fact that you spend X amount of dollars on ad words. None of this matters. As a matter of fact, if anything, by saying these kinds of things, the person on the other end of the line is rolling their eyes and they’re going to click forget it, declined. Seriously, it’s a person that reviews this stuff. So you’re dealing with a personality. And if they don’t like what you’re saying, they’re going to click a button.

Anyway, the next thing you should do is, beyond getting your narrative done, is you should always have all of your documentation for your business in one place that’s easily accessible in a digital format: business license, utility bills, things like that. This way, when it happens, you’re ready.

And then finally is go and fill out the reinstatement form, which is really easy to get to. And then once you fill it out, you attach all your proof, you put in your appeal, you submit it. And then you usually hear back within about 24 hours. If you don’t hear back within 24 hours, something’s wrong. Then basically you’ll get a reply from GMB and that reply is either going to be, “I need more information”, or it’s going to be, “Sorry, you’ve been declined and you’re against the guidelines”, or they’re gonna maybe give you a hint or they’re just going to reinstate you.

Rich: Now I can understand anybody falling afoul of the Google law for one time, because you know, things change, and business owners have a lot going on in their lives besides just GMB. And I don’t want to throw your client under the bus, but you gave the impression that this has happened multiple times to them. What kind of mistakes are companies making that they’re not learning from this? Is it that they’re being attacked unfairly from all sides? Or is it that they just continually repeat the same mistakes after they’ve gotten back into compliance?

Ben: So suspension and Google My Business are a cost of doing business. That’s number one. We’ve kind of discussed some things that can increase the likelihood of suspension, but more than likely it doesn’t matter who you are or what category you’re in, you’re going to get suspended once at least in your business history.

A good example of this is I had a mall that I worked with, like a physical, big mall, anchor stores and all that. And so they called me up freaking out like a week before black Friday. And they’re like, “We don’t know what happened. We just all of a sudden got suspended, blah, blah, blah.” And I’m like, okay, all right, chill. Here’s a pill, chill. So I looked it over and looked over everything and it ended up being an account level suspension. Not going to get into that at the moment. But basically what ended up happening was they ended up adding a food court, and the slide that was in front of the mall has Google My Business profiles. Well, sorry, food courts and slides do not qualify for a GMB profile. They’re outside of the guidelines. And so by doing that by constantly trying to add it like two or three times, they got suspended. To answer your question though, how can it keep on happening? I just wanted to give that as an example of nobody is invulnerable.

I worked with Hustler Hollywood, all 32 locations were suspended. They’re over what, 60 years old, something like that, as far as the brand goes, right? So they got suspended. All of them. I work with a lot of garage door companies. And the reason I’m going to garage doors is because they’re what’s called a ‘duress category’. Highly susceptible to suspension. So what ends up happening is that Google does not keep a record of your reinstatement, or at least it doesn’t tie it to your business. So when you submit a reinstatement request, they don’t see the fact that you were suspended previously and got reinstated. So that’s one component.

The second component is every suspension is usually different. So it can be something or it could be nothing. It could be you might’ve updated your phone number. Okay, suspended. You could be editing your business name to be the proper business name. Okay, suspended. You can move your address, suspended. You could add tracking strings to your website.  Guess what? Suspended.

But the thing is, to speak into Google’s things that they’re doing good, is that you can get back in usually within that 24 hour period, if you’re in compliance. And they’ve been doing this ever since, by the way, the COVID outbreak. So that was one of the biggest things that we fought for was to be able to get people back in quickly. And so they’ve stuck with that. Anyway, that’s a long way of saying they don’t keep records. Yes, it can happen multiple times and it can sometimes be your fault sometimes not your fault.

Rich: Earlier on, you mentioned this GMB Assurance Program, and I think it’s something that you specifically, your agency offers. Can you talk to us a little bit more about what that’s all about?

Ben: Yeah, sure. We’re the only agency that does this and basically last year I probably did north of over 1,500 reinstatements, and we do a couple hundred a month. What we’ve discovered is that only 4% of people who come to us are actually ready for every instatement. So they’re going to be in that four day timeline. Everybody else, 96% not in that four day time period. You know, something that could have taken a day will take anywhere from a week to two weeks. So being that I saw this out of all of our over 900 profiles basically, I said okay, well that’s a problem. If nobody’s ready, what can we do to help? People get ready, help merchants get ready for a suspension. So the, My Business Assurance Program is based on that. It’s like, okay, let’s audit your business and make sure you’re within the guidelines 100%. We put in place, actually some other pieces that help kind of protect the listing at the same time from some versions of suspension. And then what we do is we monitor it and then if it gets suspended, we get somebody to reinstate it for free. So no questions asked because it’s our work, it’s I wouldn’t say “guarantee”, but we’ve built this basically up to where we think it’s going to be reinstatable.

And then what we do is we back up everything for GMB too, because you can lose your reviews and photos and things like that on a reinstatement all the time. But since we have them, we have a good chance of getting it restored.

Rich: Awesome. Awesome. Ben, this has been a wealth of information. For those people who want to learn a little bit more about you, about Steady Demand, perhaps the Assurance Program, where can we send them?

Ben: So I would say the first place you could go is steadydemand.com. That’s pretty much what it sounds like. If you want to find out some more about the company, about the people that work here, about the services that we offer, you can follow me on Twitter at @thesocialdude. And I basically focus almost exclusively, I’m talking about things that are local SEO oriented, and I’m usually kind of an early warning signal for problems that are happening with GMB, and a new use releaser, I guess you could say. So follow me for those reasons. And yeah, those are the two best way to access and follow me and contact.

Rich: And you mentioned before we got on the air that you’re actually pretty much a Clubhouse fan. And you have a show on every Thursday at 5:00 PM Pacific Standard Time. So if people are on Clubhouse and they want to learn some more, they can tune in then. And you just started a brand new show on Clubhouse, all around GMB and the stuff that goes on there, and that’s 4:00 PM on Tuesdays. Again, Pacific Standard Time.

Ben: Yep. Exactly. Exactly. And I’ve kind of planned to actually branch out. I heard LinkedIn is now doing something like Clubhouse, so they’re coming out with it. So it’s not, it sounds kind of interesting. So I might actually do that, too.

Rich: Awesome, Ben. Well, we will see you everywhere I guess, and hear you on Clubhouse. Thanks so much for stopping by today, really appreciate it.

Ben: Absolutely. Thank you, Rich. Really appreciate it, man.

Show Notes:

Ben Fisher is one of only fourteen Google My Business experts, and a specialist in local SEO. As a co-founder of Steady Demand, Ben and his team help businesses boost their SEO ranking and manage their GMB profiles. If you’re a member, check him out on Clubhouse. And definitely follow him on Twitter for the latest updates in GMB and SEO.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.