As a local business, you need to make sure people in your geographic area can find you online. You need to be easily accessible and found in all areas your potential customers will look. If you don’t show up, you’re not going to win the call. In this article, we are going to show you how you can leverage Google My Business (GMB) to establish your service area online and increase your local discoverability.
It’s All About Location, Location, Location
For small and medium-sized local businesses with a storefront, establishing their location for online searches is a simple matter. Namely, they have a specific, customer-facing, physical address that they can use for their Google My Business profile, website, and online directories. This makes it easy for potential customers in the area to look them up and drop by for a visit.
However, gaining visibility online can be challenging when you run a service area business (SAB) — for instance, you are an HVAC contractor, painter, or offer mobile pet grooming services. You might hesitate to add your business to Google Maps or online listings because you do not have one pinpointed location. Unlike brick-and-mortar businesses, you do not have a physical address where clients can visit after looking you up on their smartphone. And if you run your business out of your home, you likely do not want that information available to the public at large. Also, it is possible that the area you service extends far beyond your immediate location. For instance, you are based in a city, but your service area encompasses adjacent communities up to an hour’s drive away. However, a potential customer in one of those surrounding towns might dismiss you based on the address alone, not realizing you serve their area.
Fortunately, Google has recognized this problem and now allows people to create a service area business profile. This type of listing places less emphasis on physical location and allows you to tell Google that you service certain areas and should be visible in local searches for those customers.
How to Set Your Service Area on Google
When you first set up or claim your Google My Business (GMB) profile, they will walk you through the process of entering your business name, category, and services. Then you will be asked if you want to add an address where customers can visit — like a storefront or office. This location will show up as a pin on Google Maps and in search when people are looking for your business. However, if you are a pure SAB (i.e. no physical location customers can visit) then you can opt-out of providing a business address. Instead, you will be asked to confirm your service areas so that your business can appear in Google Maps’ listing section and relevant searches.
Google defines a service area as a geographic area where you can provide your goods and services. It allows you to set up to twenty service areas based on cities, counties, postcodes, states, provinces, etc. However, they recommend that the boundaries of your overall service area do not extend more than around two hours of driving time from wherever your business is based.
Being able to specify your service area boundaries makes your GMB listing more accurate. The more accurate your listing is, the more likely it is to rank well in search results and features like Google’s Local Pack.
If you have an existing GMB listing, no worries. You can still add or edit your service area details.
- Sign in to your Google My Business dashboard.
- In the left menu, click “Info”.
- In the “Service Area” section, click edit (the pencil icon) and enter or change your service area information as needed.
- After you’re done making changes, make sure to click “Apply”.
One important note! Even if you are a service area business, you will still need to provide a physical address for verification purposes (which is done via receiving a postcard with a code). Google will not display your GMB listing until the business is verified. However, once verified, this address will automatically be hidden from public view so your business listing on Maps and search show address-free.
What If I Also Have a Physical Storefront?
Google recognizes that some businesses use a “hybrid” model, where they have an office or storefront, but also directly visit or deliver to customers. For example, you are a home contractor business that has a showroom. Or you are a dine-in restaurant that also delivers. This is why the service area and business location can be edited separately.
If you are a hybrid business, you can now set up your GMB listing to show your business address, the hours you are staffed, etc, as well as your designated service area. If you ever transition to being a pure SAB — where you no longer have a physical location — you can simply go into your GMB profile and remove the business location.
- Log into your GMB profile.
- From the menu, click “Info”.
- Click the business address field.
- Click “Clear address” then click “Apply”.
Just be aware this might trigger a warning flag in Google’s system, where they’ll require you to redo the postcard verification process. Just like if you initially set up as a service area business, you will need to provide Google with a valid mailing address for your business (which will be hidden from the public).
In addition to including your service area information, there are other things you can do on your GMB profile to establish your service range. For example, uploading job site photos that include location information. Another way to localize your GMB profile is to list a phone number with a local area code. Also, at the end of a job, make sure to ask your customers if they would write you a Google review. This will signal to Google that people in your service areas are talking about your business.
A Note About Proximity Bias
Like other local businesses, service area businesses can now appear in Google Maps listings and in the Local Pack. However, they do still have to contend with something known as “proximity bias”. Namely, Google uses the location information of searchers to try and provide the most relevant local search results. It will then show nearby relevant locations as pins/markers on the map. While this is great when you are looking for a bite to eat, it can be problematic if you are a SAB. Since your address is hidden, your business will not show up directly on the Maps visual interface. Instead, searchers have to scroll down to see the actual business listings. This can be a definite disadvantage if someone is looking for a business in a hurry.
Fortunately, distance alone isn’t the only local search ranking factor — Google also considers relevance and prominence. Relevance refers to how well your business matches what someone is searching for. Prominence refers to how well known your business is within your service area.
This is why it is so important to have a local marketing strategy. In addition to your Google My Business profile, you want to optimize your website with local SEO and create localized content for your social media pages. You might also consider running Local Service Ads. Altogether, these local marketing tactics ensure that your entire online presence reinforces your location, relevancy, and prominence in Google searches.
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