Ask Google anything and it will provide an answer — even to its own mysterious list of service products like Google My Business (GMB). According to Google, GMB is a free tool for businesses and organizations to manage their online presence across Google, including Search and Maps. From there, the tips and benefits roll out, focusing on how companies manage their information, interact with customers, and understand and expand their online presence.
"When your potential customers perform a search on Google for 'AC repairs near me' or 'heater repair [your city]', chances are Google will show them a list of Google My Business profiles," said Brandon Schmidt, director of Digital Strategy at YDOP Internet Marketing in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "What's great about GMB profiles is that they are free, easy to update, and show up based on location, reputation, and prominence. It's one area where it's easy to beat the national competitors and show up for related local searches."
YDOP conducted a local study of this service by examining 3,502 different GMB profiles for HVAC companies across Pennsylvania and identified trends among the top-performing listings. What the company discovered was that establishing or improving a company's Google rankings could be accomplished with just a few simple steps.
“First, make sure your GMB profile is claimed,” said Schmidt. “It's a simple process to claim your profile, and it allows you to make updates and add information. Second, you should check the information to ensure it is all correct.”
Incorrect information is not only a ranking killer, but it can also steer potential customers away from a business. Schmidt explained that if a business has moved, added a phone number or website, or changed its name, it is likely that the GMB profile has incorrect information.
“Third, I would start asking for and responding to reviews from satisfied customers,” he said. “According to our local study, 50 percent of HVAC companies have three or fewer reviews on their GMB profile, and the average HVAC company has 21 reviews — so a few positive reviews can help you stand out from your local competition.”
Free Digital Marketing
In between the three basic steps listed by Schmidt, there are decisions that HVAC companies will have to make. One of those decisions is how they will categorize their company.
“When you choose your business categories, you will be prompted to choose from pre-determined categories, but you can also override them and choose your own,” said Lea Anne Roberts, director of marketing and call centers at Reliable Heating & Air in Kennesaw, Georgia. “Don’t do that. Use the categories from Google, and use multiple categories if they apply. Choosing your own will not allow you to show up in as many searches as your business can.”
Users have both primary and secondary categories to elect in their profiles. In YDOP's study, the most commonly used category for primary and secondary was ‘HVAC contractor’ at 45 and 57 percent, respectively.
Schmidt explained that, once chosen, these categories can still be changed.
“If you conduct very seasonal services, it may make sense to adjust your category based on the season,” he said. “In winter months, make your primary category ‘heating contractors,’ and then update it in the spring for ‘air conditioning contractor.’”
Once the categories are chosen, Roberts encouraged HVAC contractors to fill out every single area on the forms with information, leaving nothing blank.
RAVE REVIEWS: Diana Fisher, marketing manager of Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning in Rochester, New York, advises contractors to take the time to read and respond to the reviews that show up on their page.
“Claiming our Google Local page and adding content has always helped our listing show up in more searches and higher in the map results listings on local or geo modified search queries,” she said.
In Rochester, New York, Diana Fisher advised that contractors working on their GMB account not just set it up and then leave it. As the marketing manager of Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning, Fisher ensures that the company takes the time to read and respond to the reviews that show up on the page, as well as create posts that interact and share offers with their customers.
“You will receive emails from Google letting you know which posts are getting attention,” she said. “This can help your marketing team make choices when they see what works and what doesn’t.”
LOCAL RESULTS: One way that Google My Business has helped Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning has been with the digital separation of some of its branches, which has led to more local results while maintaining overall branding.
One way that GMB has helped Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning has been with the digital separation of some of its branches.
“We have been able to separate our branches from the Rochester corporate office within Google My Business,” said Fisher. “This gives us a chance to have local content through the posts feature, as well as Google Reviews that are specific to that area. We can also target specific messaging, since not every branch offers the same services.”
According to Eric Kjelshus, owner of Eric Kjelshus Energy Heating and Cooling in Greenwood, Missouri, GMB is the cheapest way to market an HVAC business, especially at the local level.
“You can do this yourself for free or even hire a third party to help, that you pay by the hour,” he said. “It’s still worth it and cost effective. Add this piece of marketing to each quarter.”
Schmidt pointed out that those looking to spend some market dollars with Google can take advantage of ways to stand out amongst other services, like Google Ads.
“If you run Google Ads, you can pay for Promoted Pins, which help your GMB listing appear for searches it may not normally appear,” he said. “Also, while not directly connected to a GMB account, Local Service Ads are another type of localized ad that works great for HVAC contractors.”
Ignorance Here Is Less Than Bliss
Contractors have ignored many of the free marketing tools made available to them in the past.
“Ignoring this would be one of the worst mistakes you could make as a contractor,” said Tom Howard, owner of Lee's Air in Fresno California and vice president of customer experience at Service Titan. “It basically costs nothing and helps you get found. There is no reason not to do this. GMB is one of the most cost effective lead sources we have. The investment really comes from maintaining reviews and the revenue rolls in from there.”
Sarah Ghirardo is currently the senior manager of marketing ops at ServiceTitan. As the former marketing manager for a $45 million/year company in northern California, she has seen GMB boost revenue and provide great lead sources for the company.
"I think GMB is the start for e-commerce that acts like a platform separate from your website," said Ghirardo. “Please don't ignore this. It does take time to set this up, but once you do, this is basically a goldmine lead generation tool, and there are so many things you can do with this listing.”
She explained that there are some great GMB mastermind groups on Facebook that will walk users through the GMB process, and encouraged contractors to sign up for newsletters that will keep them on top of all the Google updates.
“You can even enable screen reader support, by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Z,” said Ghirardo. “To learn about keyboard shortcuts, press Ctrl+slash.”
The fact that GMB is free does not detract from its legitimacy, Fisher said.
“Google My Business is absolutely not a trend,” she said. “It’s a need, in Google’s eyes.”
She explained that it is in Google’s best interest to encourage businesses to keep up with their listings. Google could not possibly track down every new business, she said, so when businesses have a Google My Business listing, it helps Google to stay ahead in the search business. That’s why Google is offering free tools for businesses to do this themselves.
“This ensures that Google is delivering the best quality answers to users' questions,” she said. “If a business doesn’t keep up with a listing, then users tend to blame Google for giving bad answers to their searches.”
UPDATED FEATURES: Google recently made a custom field where HVAC contractors can state what their businesses are doing to protect their employees and customers from COVID-19.
Roberts said that while GMB may not always look the same over the coming years, she is convinced that the service is absolutely not going anywhere.
“Almost 50 percent of Google searches are for local services and I don’t see Google ever ignoring that kind of volume,” said Roberts. “It will change often, which is why it is important to login to your listing frequently and see what else you can say about your business and where. For instance, Google recently made a custom field where you can state what your business is doing to protect your employees and customers from COVID-19.”
Other recent updates to GMB include Google Posts and Messaging.
“Google has also been hinting at potential paid features for GMB, which could impact how businesses and homeowners use this service,” said Schmidt. “All of this is proving that Google is investing in the growth of this platform.”