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How should you deal with Google My Business listings when circumstances force a multi-location brand to consolidate?

I am now getting this question increasingly from local companies. Brands that adapted rapidly in 2020 to continue serving the public will now have to make longer-term decisions based on the COVID-19 recession, changing consumer behavior and budget.

Uprooting branches is painful. I think it is too early to predict whether the pandemic and the introduction of new service methods such as tele-meeting or home delivery have permanently changed customer habits. Forever is a very long time. However, foot traffic was cut in half on Black Friday 2020, and some multi-location brands facing this reality are needing to evaluate how to consolidate their operational fundamentals. A brand that used to have five storefronts in a single city wants to know if they can weather the storm and build a future out of just one physical locale.

Every business scenario is different, but there are general questions to ask before consolidating and there are specific steps to take when determining which business to market. I really want to mention that this article covers permanent Site closure. If you need to temporarily close a location due to COVID, see Google's guidelines on how to do this.

Today we're going to help you consider key factors in the decision-making process about permanently closing locations, have the help of a Google Gold Product Expert, guide you through managing Google My Business listing consolidation, and prepare you for any changes that may result Reducing your local footprint while at work to get the most out of a bad situation.

One of the challenging aspects of this difficult scenario is that the company you are marketing has to choose which locations to close and which to keep open. I recommend asking these four questions as the answers are different for each brand and market:

1. Does the bias towards a city or industrial focus seem to be affecting local results for my top search terms?

Go to Google and find the name of a city that you are considering consolidating. Click on the map and identify where Google can find the city name on the map. This is roughly Google's idea of ​​the center or focus of the city:

Now, from a remote location (away from or too close to your place of business), do some of your key searches and assess whether Google seems to be grouping the local package, local finder, and Google Maps results around that focus look pretty evenly distributed across the city. Document your results.

Next, assess whether an industry focus appears to be affecting the results of your search. For example, in this search for car dealerships, Google groups the lion's share of the results around the car row in that city, although there are many other car dealerships in other parts of the city:

If one of your locations is in a particular city near a city or industry focus and those points on the map seem to affect local search results for your top search terms, count that as a vote to keep that location open when closing others who aren't that close to those centroids.

2. Which location has generated the highest volume of business in the past and is this still the case today?

Take all the practical data you have on the actual performance of all of your locations in a city. Compare the prepandemic rates of pedestrian traffic, transactions, phone calls, and other metrics you have today to the same numbers, even if you rearrange the data points to cover adjustments like roadside pickups, delivery requests, or tele-meetings. Document your results. Count one vote for the winner of these benchmarks.

3. Which location performs best on Google's local results?

This is where you want to determine whether the GMB list for one of your locations outperforms the others in a city in terms of key search phrases. Maybe it's the one with the highest star rating, most reviews, most owner answers, proximity to a focus area, best photos, more Q&A, or regularly scheduled Google posts. Regardless of what factors lead to the best valuation of the company, document your results.

If you're not sure if any of your locations are the top performers, Chapter 1 of the Essential Local SEO Strategy Guide will teach you how to conduct a competitive local business audit.

If any of your entries stand out as the strongest, count that as a vote for it.

4. What location, if any, are there amenities that have enhanced the ability to serve in an emergency?

This may be the largest car park location, making for easier roadside pickup. Or the one with the drive-through window. Or the one with the largest product storage space that telehelp experts can interact with during customer service meetings.

If one of your locations was able to serve the public more safely and effectively during the public health emergency, count that as a voice for it to be the one to stay open.

Finally, take a look at which place received the most votes on these four questions, and use this information in your final reflection on which place to stay open while others are closed.

COVID-19 has created scenarios local businesses have never faced. Google did a good job introducing reactive features like new GMB attributes and post types, but I think they are still trying to update the unforeseen scenario guidelines. When I come across a novel situation, I usually reach out to the Google staff directly to make sure the advice I can give to a company has the official seal of approval. However, in the past few months I have not received any responses to my requests for comments and guidance through the usual channels.

This prompted me to report on the development of a COVID-controlled location consolidation in the Google help forum. Fortunately, Volunteer Gold Product Expert Krystal Taing took the time to respond carefully and carefully. If you've found the need to consolidate your locations in a city, here's Krystal's advice on how to digitally edit your Google My Business listings:

  1. Mark the closed areas as permanently closed. Here is Google's process for doing this.
  2. Go to Google Maps and click the "Suggest an edit" button. Mark the closed locations as "moved" to the location you want to remain open. You can find the option to do this in the following screenshot:
  3. Submit a request to Google to see if the closed location reviews will be carried over to the remaining location. Here is Google's process for doing this. It's important to know that Google is not guaranteed to move your reviews. However, it is worth asking about it. Make sure to include the card urls or CID numbers from the closed lists and the remaining list in your request to make it clear which locations you mean.

    A big thank you to Krystal Taing for providing a process for all of the brands facing this dilemma. The volunteers on the Google forum offer so many free guides, and I sincerely hope that Google will evaluate the emergence of the COVID consolidation and publish official guidelines for it sometime this year.

    I want to answer this very important question by first offering my condolences to all of the brand owners who have found themselves in this situation and to their marketers who are trying to provide good advice during difficult times. I'm so sorry. You probably already know in your gut that closing locations will negatively affect your business, and you have every right to suspect that closing your GMB records could also affect your overall online visibility.

    I want to reiterate that every business scenario is different, but my prediction would be Brands that suffer the greatest losses in digital visibility are those whose models depend most on Google's propensity for users to be close to businesses.

    It is important to take the time to explain this. As I have already documented in my column, Google strongly personalizes the local results based on the perception of user intent and location. The more Google feels that a searcher is looking for a solution to a nearby need, the more likely it is that the local parcels, finders, and maps will deliver results within a narrow, hyperlocal radius based on the location of the device's Viewfinder based.

    If your business model is something like a convenience store that used to have five locations in a city to make sure customers can get to you quickly in each neighborhood and now you narrow it down to a single location, Google is less likely to get yours Continue to pass the remaining entry on to people in the more distant parts of the city that you have now left. Due to the reduction in your local footprint, you are likely to experience significant losses in rankings, traffic, and transactions.

    However, if your business model is something like a large hardware store or restaurant with a rare menu, and people usually don't mind driving around town to get to you, consolidation may have less of an impact on your visibility. Losing locations can mean a little less convenience for hyper-local customers who used to happily wander to your door. However, in many cases where the local market is not saturated with nearly identical options, you can get good results with visibility on the maps.

    As Krystal Taing points out:

    “The label in the listings continues to show as“ permanently closed ”because it is. However, there will be a relatively short period of time that users will still see this unless they have direct links to the Company Profile. Marking the business as moved will help Google better understand the alternate listings that should appear in the results if they normally would have shown that store to a user. "

    So there is reason to hope that for many business models the negative effects of location and listing consolidation may not be as severe as we fear, but I don't want to raise false hopes here. You should plan to see a decline across multiple metrics and do whatever you can to improve results.

    That will be decisive Communicate with your existing consumer base. You want to prevent loyal customers who come across that big, ugly "permanently closed" label on listings from misunderstanding that your brand is no longer in business. Let's take a look at your options.

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    Can all that difficult pruning turn into something good? We can start with five proactive steps you can take to reduce the likelihood that customers will mistake the closings of some locations for a complete brand closure:

    1. If your number of branded locations was limited overall (maybe 10 or fewer), advertise the consolidation on your website home page and on a location-wide banner. Reach out to customers who have previously visited the closed locations and provide clear instructions for your new location, including written instructions, maps and photos. Phrase this as a warm welcome and let customers know that you value their business and want to see them in your open location. If you had a large number of previous locations, the location landing pages of the previous locations would be a better place for this messaging, which would direct users to the pages of the locations that are still open.

    2. Email the same message to your email database before closing each site. You can then send another email in the next few months. Remind customers that you are still in town and ready to serve them elsewhere.

    3. Be as active as possible on social media to communicate the change. You might even consider offering a special promotion for customers who switch from shopping in your old locations to being a customer.

    4. Make sure you have edited all of your quotes on other platforms to reflect the change and reduce the chances of customers being harassed. If you've used Moz Local to manage your records over the internet, you can automate this thesis to save time and hassle.

    5. Don't assume that everyone has the internet. Find offline channels that neighbors rely on for news in your community and work to get the word out about where your open business is.

    If there is a silver lining to consolidation, you can now focus the strength of your marketing in fewer locations. Three points to consider:

    Major improvements on a smaller scale

    Now is the time to invest in significantly better e-commerce and a great home delivery system to ensure you can continue to serve customers in one city or even in multiple neighborhoods? Find out about the pros and cons of in-house delivery versus third party fulfillment of the last mile. Or, if your company deals in services rather than products, is there progress in teleservices that will make your brand the most accessible and satisfying brand for a community to transact with? Focus on the best customer service in town with fewer locations to manage.

    Another idea: could one of your previous locations be replaced with a kiosk? Many are eligible for GMB inclusion, and the existence of kiosks could regrow your local footprint in new ways.

    Location landing page adjustments

    What do you do with the landing pages of locations that are now permanently closed? The answer to that depends on your business model. If your business is services rather than products and you continue to serve the areas where you have had to close locations, there may be good reasons to maintain these pages and diversify them as much as possible with fresh, hyper-local content.

    However, if the company is product-centric, you will likely want to permanently redirect those pages to the landing page for the stores that are still open. You may want to do this gradually, first keeping the pages active for a while to announce the changes and directing website visitors to locations that are still open. Possibly this is the structure for six months or a year. After any adjustment phase you deem appropriate to make sure a particular community is aware of the changes, your final step could be the 301 redirect.

    The nice thing is that any link power that the multiple old pages learned is now flowing to the one landing page for the open location, which could give it a new ranking boost once Google had time to process the change.

    Continuous assessment

    Imagine a world where the purchase of accent chairs at Crate & Barrel is supported by a twenty minute tele-meeting with a salesperson who knows inventory like the back of his hand because it has become company policy. It is a far cry from "automated companions" (a.k.a. robotic telephone trees) that convey no warmth or greeting. Imagine a delivery person throwing treats to your pup while huddling up to your door with groceries from all over town because this is the old / new way of doing business. Imagine a 22-year-old YouTube star starting a ghost kitchen empire because so many people like him. There are opportunities here in this time of change. In January 2021, there were nearly half a million new business applications in the United States.

    Over the next several years, your consolidated business will need to continuously evaluate growth opportunities, even if the goal is no longer to reopen the same number of locations that you operated before the pandemic. You may find new ways to become part of the essential fabric of local communities. You can add a higher level of expertise to your team nationally or even internationally as technology enables it. You may be developing the next app that solves a pain point, so you need to know firsthand that your co-workers are struggling with it too. As you prune and trim, a new and solid conception of your business can emerge over time.

    As I mentioned above, forever is a long time. I don't think an economist or marketer can realistically predict what the new normal will look like once we have hopefully left these tough times behind us. We all guess. What I would bet on, however, is that the entrepreneurial spark that helped you take your business to the top prior to the crisis is still burning brightly. Your observation, business acumen, and determination to contribute to our common cause of recovery and the communities you serve will count on you to lead the way. I wish you every success with every step.

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