Business Unusual: Local Marketing & Google

Katie Hurst, Ruby’s Director of Strategic Communications, takes the mic in this edition of Business Unusual, interviewing Nalini Prasad, Chief Strategy Officer at BluShark Digital, about the power of local marketing and the importance of Google My Business.

Katie Hurst:

Hi everybody, my name is Katie Hurst, and I’m the director of communications for Ruby, and welcome to our small business series. I’m here with Nalini Prasad of BluShark Digital, and so before we get started Nalini, tell us a little bit about your background and your company?

Nalini Prasad:

Yeah, awesome, so I’m the chief strategy officer, whatever that fun title means, at BluShark Digital, and so we are a digital marketing company that focuses on legal and law firms. We are able to create websites for other industries, but our bread and butter is legal, because we actually were born out of a law firm ourselves.

Katie Hurst:

And so talking about that growth, today we’re talking about local marketing, specifically Google My Business and why that’s important, so before we get into the tips and some of the specifics, could you give us a brief overview of why local marketing is helpful for small businesses?

Nalini Prasad:

Yeah, absolutely. Local has been kind of Google’s baby this past year, where anything that they’re trying to update or they’re trying to give new features to, it’s been focused on local, and what local is that Google My Business profile that you guys can create, and you put your name, your address, your phone number, it shows up on Maps, it’s also your heart and soul of your branding, it is how Google will understand what anything is that is attributed to who you are as a company. What they do is they take that information, and then they’re able to learn stuff about you, and that’s how they’re going to determine if they’re going to rank you in that little three-pack, it’s what we call it, at the top of the search result page. It’s where you see the little map, and then you’re going to see the three results that are what Google thinks is going to be the closest person to you that can actually help you, and so just to be visible, it’s extremely important for your business.

Katie Hurst:

So, how is Google My Business commonly used?

Nalini Prasad:

Google My Business is essentially for the consumer side to learn about you. People can leave reviews, so a lot of folks are always saying, “Oh, how can I get reviews on Yelp?” But more importantly, how can you get reviews on your Google My Business? Because as Google is learning who you are and how you help people, they’re going to look at their products first and foremost, right? They’re a business too, so they want to get all of that on their platform. So you can have people leave those reviews, people can upload photos about their interactions with you, they can upload questions and you can answer them as a business, you can put your descriptions, you can put posts every week just to tell people more about your business. It’s your way to communicate with your audience, but also your way to teach Google why you’re important and you’re an authority.

Katie Hurst:

What are some things that small business owners have control over with Google My Business, versus what the consumer has control of when they’re interacting with a Google My Business profile?

Nalini Prasad:

So, as a business owner and the person that is the manager of the Google My Business, you have access to log into the backend and to change any of the information that is imperative to your business that people will see. So one, you can have control over what the brand is of your firm, so if you change your branding or you add a partner, you lose a partner, making sure that that’s updated. Your address, which is going to show people where that pin is when they’re looking up in Maps.

Nalini Prasad:

So sometimes if you’re driving down the road and you say, “Hey, we’re on a road trip, and I’d like to search for a fast-food service that’s nearby me” or something, and then Google’s able to tell, “Oh, well that’s where this person is, so they should pop up,” that’s what you’re really controlling by putting this information into the backend, and you’re also letting the consumer know how to visit you, what time are you open, what do you help with, when you do your description section.

Nalini Prasad:

Now, the consumer side of things, as to what they can control, is that they’re able to put those reviews there, and quite frankly it is extremely difficult to get those down if somebody gives you a negative review, and it’s pretty… It’s because they’ve interacted with you, right? That’s really the heart of where a consumer can control, but they can also ask you questions, they can post photos. These items are where you as the owner can actually go in the back and say if you don’t like that photo, or it’s… It’s not a proper photo, it’s inappropriate, you actually can delete those, you can delete questions, you can edit questions, but you can’t necessarily delete reviews, so that’s the biggest part where you want to make sure that your consumers are happy with you when they’re putting information out there.

Katie Hurst:

And can you respond to reviews?

Nalini Prasad:

Yes, and as we kind of talk about what’s going on with Google right now during the coronavirus, we’ll learn what’s going on with reviews. Right now, the only thing that’s actually showing on the front end during Google being kind of shut down with limited resources is the ability to respond to reviews. All of the folks out there who are trying to leave reviews for you right now, they’re not showing up on the front end, but you can take this time, as you’re sitting there and thinking about “What can I do for my firm and my business to help me right now?” Is actually go back and respond to these reviews, because what it does is it allows consumers to go through and see that you are an engaged owner, that you’re actually looking at what’s going on with your people, and you’re saying “Thank you,” which is kind, or “Hey, I’m so sorry you had a bad experience, let’s talk about this, let’s figure it out,” that also looks like you care. So, responses are extremely important for the consumer side of things.

Katie Hurst:

You hinted at what is really the meat of this conversation, which is Google has changed some things in the last couple of weeks, and so my first question is why do you think Google’s making that change now, and do you think it’s something that’ll be long-lasting?

Nalini Prasad:

We’re definitely going to be in a new normal, it’s not going to be so extreme that we don’t go back to some of the things that we did in the past, but there’s definitely going to be a different way that everyone’s functioning, because they’ve learned so much through this, right? So the same with Google. Just as you are a business, Google’s had to close down some of their offices, they’ve had to send home a ton of people, and a lot of what they had to do was think about it from a business perspective, just like you did, and say, “Hey, okay, well, we’re not getting intakes right now, so let’s send home our intake team,” right? Or for any of your industries, right? Your priority folks are there.

Nalini Prasad:

So Google did that at the beginning of March, and they said, “Hey, we’ve got to cut two thirds of our staff to go home, so we’re only going to keep the people who are keeping the trains running, that are allowing Google to work.” All of support has been put away, they’re all at home, and they’re not working, which means that any issues that you’ve had with Google, or a lot of the features that we normally can update on the backend and see it on the front end, a lot of those things are on pause.

Katie Hurst:

So let’s talk a little bit about the features that have changed. You mentioned that there are some things that you used to be able to do on the backend that would be adjusted on the front end, but that’s definitely changed with the lack of the support team, so what are some things that business owners should be aware of, and then we’ll kind of get into what are the effects and what are the solutions?

Nalini Prasad:

Some of the features that we’ve seen have… Let’s start with the issue ones first, are when people are trying to verify their Google My Business. So if we go way back and we say, “All right, we just opened our doors, now we need to create a Google My Business, how do you do that?” You have to first have an account, create it with your name, your address, and your phone number, and then Google has to make sure that you’re actually at that address, right? They’re not just going to willy-nilly give people these Google My Businesses, and so what they do is they send a postcard to your physical address with a code on it, and then you put that code in and it says, “Okay, you’re a real person, you’re verified now.”

Nalini Prasad:

We have seen that those postcards are just not being sent out. That’s one of the biggest ones. Some other issues we saw were they have these weekly posts, where you can talk about yourself as a lawyer, talk about yourself as a restaurant, “Here’s my…” You know, “I’m doing 50% off in my retail store or my restaurant this week,” giving people information so that consumers know what’s going on with you. Right now, we’re seeing a lot of those posts just get rejected for no reason. There are definitely rules and regulations of what words you can use and what things are against the rules in those posts, but posts that would normally be perfectly fine are definitely being rejected. And so once we saw that, we were like, “Oh, something weird is happening.” It’s because they don’t have the support there that’s saying, “Hey, this is actually okay, let me press the button and put it back.”

Nalini Prasad:

So in this time, Google has definitely been prioritizing, just like all the businesses, and so they’ve said, “Hey, if you are a priority industry, we’re creating new features for you, we’re allowing you to communicate with your audience better,” where you can see now that there’s the takeout, delivery, pickup buttons that didn’t exist before, but you can check it off so people know where they can actually get things from. For healthcare, they’re giving you these new features where you can say that you’re doing virtually. And so they’re allowing those priority industries, as well as the states that are opening back up, they’re focusing on those things, and everything else takes a backseat.

Katie Hurst:

What are some things you can do to maximize your Google My Business listings right now?

Nalini Prasad:

First and foremost, there is a link that when this goes live, I’m going to absolutely provide that where you guys can click on it, but it’s a to-do, “Here’s what you guys still can do on Google My Business,” and it tells you, make sure your hours are updated. So, maybe when you were in the office, you would be nine to five because of your commute, but now maybe you can answer the phone at seven because you’re at home, right? And maybe you’re cutting off at three, because then you got to teach your kids geography, right? We’re all doing crazy things right now, and so making sure that your hours reflect that will be best for your consumers to understand when they can reach you. Hours of operation, working perfectly fine when you update them, show right away, it’s one of those priority items.

Nalini Prasad:

Letting people know if you’re doing cool things in the community, this is the best time that I have seen in a long time to actually build up your marketing and your brand on social media. Everyone’s at home, and everyone is paying attention to things they wouldn’t be looking at in the past, right? They’re bored and they’re scrolling through it, so if you’ve come up with a new community incentive, whether you’re a business that’s helping local businesses, or you are the local business yourself that is trying to give 50% off to something, or saying, “Hey all nurses, you get to skip the line when you do this,” right?

Nalini Prasad:

Whatever your thing is that you’re doing to help the community during this time, has this new type of post called a COVID-19 post, which is kind of featured a little bit higher visually than it would be on your Google My Business. Click that post type and put in what you’re doing in the community, and put that on there for a couple weeks, just as long as you’re running it, because people will see that.

Nalini Prasad:

And then kind of the last thing is to make sure that your description is correct, so if you’re going to have a little bit of a lag, or you’re going to take a little bit of time to get back to people because you are short-staffed now, letting them know that, just say “Hey, we’re going to have service delays,” so putting it out there, and then again it’s going to help with your user experience.

Katie Hurst:

Is there any restrictions around how often you update? Does Google penalize if you’re updating too often, or maybe even too little?

Nalini Prasad:

Google, when they are at their best and when we’re not in a situation like this, every couple months, they’re coming out with a new feature and a new place for you to interact with, for you to update information so that they can gain data on who is engaging with your Google My Business, right? So they want you in there daily if possible during the regular times. Right now, as there’s not as much that you can be updating, just keeping an eye on as things open up, so when you hear that Google’s now allowing you to put photos up again, you can start doing that part, when you hear that Google My Business is allowing the reviews to come back onto your… The front end in your industry, getting your folks who are using you now to go back and leave those reviews.

Nalini Prasad:

Reviews can be done every single day, there’s no problem with that. The one thing that Google will look at kind of shady is if you have a spike in activity. So, don’t do anything for two months, you’re just laying low, and then all of a sudden you’ve got 50 new reviews on one day, that’s a little suspicious, looks like you kind of paid people to do it, right? So they’re going to take a closer look at what you’re doing, versus an incremental, doing things steadily… Like if you’re going to do it once a week, try to do that and maintain it so that it looks like a normal pattern.

Nalini Prasad:

Google said that “Even though they’re not showing up in real-time, we 100% will push them out once we have support back in, in staff,” right? So what I would say is, as you ask folks for a review, make sure to keep track of who you’ve asked, and who has said “Yes, hey, I did my review,” because at the end of this when all these reviews get pushed live, Google is a system, it is a robot, there are going to be bugs, it makes mistakes, right? So if they only put up five reviews on your Google My Business, but you know you did the hard work to get 15, you need to make sure that you can say “Hey, I think around this date, this person should have left me a review,” and you can send that to support and they’ll be able to find them.

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Nalini Prasad

Nalini Prasad has worked alongside Seth Price — Managing Partner of Price Benowitz, LLP and Founder of BluShark Digital — to create a digital marketing agency focused on helping small law firms build their business and stand out online. Nalini frequently speaks across the country educating legal audiences on how to best utilize trending SEO techniques to generate quality leads online.

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