Why Is My Verified Business Not Showing on a Keyword Search?

Most mornings upon waking, I head into the Google My Business Forums and answer a few questions. I get that I am doing free work for Google but I have always found that there is some personal satisfaction helping other small businesses deal with the realities of Google Local search.

This conversation was particularly engaging for me because it captured all of the frustration that small businesses have with Google and why it's so difficult for them to succeed. Google in their "genius" have created this gap between what the business can do on Google and succeeding there.

Here's a question from Amber:

Hi there,
i have verified my business with google; when I search for my business using key words (like red deer hair salon) my business doesn't show up at all. When I search the exact name of my business, the google page shows. How do I get it to show up in the keyword search? It was verified months ago. Business details are:
salon harper
4813 47th Street, red deer, ab, t4n 1r3
thanks,
Amber

Here's my reply:

There are a number of ways that Google knows you should be listed in the results for any given search result.

1.) They find digital information about your business at critical websites around the web with proper categorization and descriptions. These are known as citations and you do not have very many (see this search "403-406-3575" for your business). Since your website domain is relatively new (one year old), you should proactively attempt to place your business listing with the leading directory sites. There is a great Canadian company called Whitespark.ca that does this as a service.

2.) One of the critical pieces of digital information that Google uses is your own website. In terms of the user, your website is attractive but Google is another "user" that sees your site in a slightly different way. You need to be more explicit.

For example the title tag on your home page (and every page) that Google uses to understand the big picture about your site is left undone.

Your current home page title tag: < title > Home < /title >

should be changed to include to be something like: < title >Salon Harper | Key Services | City you are in < /title >

The content of your home page should be more complete and informative. It should include a paragraph about your key services with links to the pages about those services.

You site should include four things on every page that every searcher is looking for and these should be very obvious particularly to the mobile searcher:

Your phone number
Your address
Your hours
A link for driving directions

This will help both the searcher AND Google understand where you do things.

You should expand your services pages so that each unique service has its own page of relevant content with links on those pages to your other relevant services.

3.) The content you create on your website lets Google know what you do, but you also need to give Google an idea how important you are. This is done with links to your site from other business in your area. You should consider joining the local chamber of commerce and the BBB and other similar organizations that will link to your website (a link is a vote for you).

4.) You should also work to get additional links and mentions about your business across the web on a regular basis. For example, you could partner with a not-for-profit and offer free haricuts once a month for their clients. Be sure that they link to your website and that you get articles in the local (online) press.

Or you could ask some of your suppliers to link to you from their site since you carry their products.

Or or or .... you need to promote your business on line just like you do offline so that Google sees it and your business listing as prominent.

4.) Links are one type of vote, reviews are another. Start asking your clients to review you at Google, Yelp, Facebook and YP.ca. Get a few a month and Google will recognize that the public is voting for you, too.

I may be answering more than you asked. If that is the case I apologize.

Here's more from Amber:

But when I go to 'add a business', I can't because I already have it set up. What do I need to do to show up in the Google Places search? Why does it matter what my website says or doesn't say? I'm a verified business with Google and I feel like it should come up in the search.

Mike: Yes, well Google is a web scraping company that has made its way in the world by ranking EVERYTHING. That is true in web search and what you call Google Places search.

Everything is based on the information that they find out about you around the internet. Why? Because they want to present the most relevant and the most prominent results. Thus they look at the other directory sites, your site, your reviews around the web, etc., etc., etc.

You asked: How do I get it to show up in the keyword search?

That is what I answered.

You ask: Why does it matter what my website says or doesn't say?

Because that is what Google looks at first to determine who you are, what you do & where you do it.

I suppose that the other answer is that you don't HAVE to do any of those things. But if you do, it will increase your visibility and exposure at Google. If you don't it will stay the way it is.

You ask: Then what's the point in getting verified?

Mike: I want you to do this search "Barbara Oliver Jewelry Williamsville NY" and see how it looks. She has been working on what shows on that Google search results page for eight years and does an incredible job making sure that Google and searchers see the best side of her business.

Big Picture reasons why it's important:

1.) Just because you are not showing on the phrase YOU think it should be showing on doesn't mean your listing is not showing. In the world of mobile, users rarely add the city to the search and Google often shows searchers businesses that are close to them. So folks might just search on "hair salon" or "hair salon nearby" or "eyebrow extensions" ... and Google might show your listing to those people.

2.) And if it doesn't look better than the competitors, then customers will choose them instead of you. Over time as you do some marketing and as your business and online presence ages, some of the things I suggested above will happen naturally and hopefully you will become more visible.

3.) Verification is the first step in getting new customers, NOT the last step. But here is the reality: When I analyze carefully where local businesses are getting new customers, I find that 90% of the online referrals are coming from Google AND 70% of are actually making the decision right at Google vs about 20% on your website and the other 10% someplace else.

4.) IF 70% are making the decision right at Google then you need to put on your best Sunday clothes at Google perhaps even more importantly than your site. This means great photos for people searching to see, great reviews at Google, great reviews at other sites, correct hours, etc. Your job is to make their decision easy!

Little picture of why its important:

Here are a few other specific reasons.

1.) You can be sure that the information Google is presenting is accurate.
2.) You can respond to reviews left by customers.
3.) You can add and delete your own photos.
4.) You can see what happens to your listing AT Google, i.e. if they think something has changed.
5.) You can make sure that users or competitors don't change your listing in a harmful fashion.
6.) If your business is going to be open on a special holiday you can so note it.
7.) You can expand Google's understanding of your business categories and attributes.
8.) You can start a simple Google Adwords Express campaign to reach people you might not otherwise reach .
9.) You will create a verified relationship between your local listing and your website so that if you website does well, it will transfer its authority to your local listing.

Did I answer your question?


It's been several days and Amber didn't let me know if I had answered her question. I fear that I did not.

On the one hand I have always thought Google Local search to be quite brilliant. On the other it has always been too friggin' hard for most businesses to understand what value they were getting from it. I am afraid that disconnect will not dissipate any time soon.

24 Responses to “Why Is My Verified Business Not Showing on a Keyword Search?”

  1. This is bueno, Mike. You did a good job of trying to educate the business owner, and yet, for all that, it’s clear that her expectations of Google’s product have not be clearly set. If even the simple fact that creating a listing doesn’t = ranking highly is being misunderstood by business owners like Amber, Google really does have a long way to go in making their educational documents more apparent, more thorough and more transparent.

    I enjoyed reading this. I’ve been answering pretty much all of the Local SEO questions in the Moz Q&A forum for many, many years now, and I get real satisfaction from offering education to our community there (like you’ve mentioned). At the same time, I’ve noticed just what you have – that Google has failed to make necessary education about their local product accessible.

    Keep on with the educating. I sometimes wish that Google would hire people like you to write a guide to GMB. I’d love to work on a project like that for them, myself.

    • From my perspective, as a small business, my pages have a TON of relevant information and keywords. Yet, NONE, or that shows up. Ever. Not at all. It is as if the pages of my site do not exist. Yet, they are confirmed as indexed.

      I can type in an exact phrase and only 7 search pages might be displayed and mine is on NONE of them.

      Small businesses should not need a bunch of needless links and repetitive content (to add to the content we are all drowning in), in order to show up for a local search for their service or product. What serves potential clients is a listing, which Google goes out of their way to refuse to provide.

      See, the problem with Google dictating what we should have on our websites completely misses the point that what worked really, really, really well for small business for many, many years was the phone book.

      What most small business really need is a mostly static website, with enough usable relevant content, that is easily found by local people.

      But type in a local search and what you get is NOT confined to local. The usefulness of the phone book has been lost! That’s the frustration of small business.

      And small business is penalized by not going through endless loops of completely needless garbage such as constant creation of make-work blog posts and social media in order to prove their worthiness to the Gods of Google who really have no understanding of that small business at all.

      Google has stolen the soul out of small business and is too algorithm oriented to see.

      I think the problem is that a reasonably intelligent small business should not have as much trouble with website search issues as they do. It should not be that complicated.

      There should not even be a discussion about “better education” because it simply should not be that complicated. It is complicated because Google is a monopoly and has set up a purposefully obfuscating and self-serving system that you are forced to conform to if you want to do business.

      Don’t even get me started on AdWords.

      • You know you make a fantastic point. I found that out myself. You would think a simply search or key word would bring up your business. The frustration is that even when you do that you don’t even show up and the businesses that do, don’t even come close to that word search. What a frustration for small business trying to get ahead. After losing my website to a greedy web builder I managed to set up the site again but find it a total waste of time due to all the loop holes you have to do to get some results.

      • Ken you make a brilliant set of points there. We’ve worked with countless small businesses who are fantastic at what they do and by rights should be found naturally on Google Maps for local searches. Unfortunately until finding the likes of our agency who knew how to do it for them, they were dead in the water visibility wise. It’s unfair but then so much is. The Gods of Google are what we have to work with right now. Until AI one day takes the place of current scraping and ranking signals, we have to live with it.

        For most of our clients now, we use Facebook ads to great effect. If you have the email addresses of past clients you can create custom audiences of existing customers are only target ads at them. Then create lookalike audiences to find people with similar purchasing habits within X miles of clients stores. Its interruption marketing granted but with the right consistency of use it can get you up stream of search intent.

        Overall though… I miss the analogue world in many ways 😀 The yellow pages, VHS video shops, in short most things in the Goldbergs! Alas we are where we are and have to roll with it.

  2. Loved your answers too, but to think Google will spend alot of time & resources helping local business’s figure out how to rank on local maps on a product that is free, will be waiting a mighty long time. That’s why your info is so valuable in these forums.

  3. @Miriam
    I have no wish to be hired by Google. I get in enough trouble with them just being me and NOT being an employee. I would last exactly ONE day before they fired me or I quit. Now you on the other hand might do better at it than I.

    @Kerry
    I am not suggesting that Google help businesses learn how to rank but that they make the case clear to the business what the benefit is of verifying. Even if Amber does NONE of the above, Google is likely to be showing her listing a fair bit to mobile searchers in her environs. She just doesn’t realize the benefit and Google had done a terrible job explaining it.

  4. Some great advice there – it’s a shame Amber still doesn’t get that both your website and your Google listing are an ongoing process of education about what it is that your business does.
    I see website after website that is almost a carbon copy of its competitor. No differentiation except perhaps in the images.
    But their designer will tell them that they need big pictures and some kind of corporate speak!
    With some sites, it is almost impossible to understand the service that is being offered. Although it is always bespoke and they have been doing it for decades!
    And the phone number is always hidden at the bottom of the home page – because it does not fit in with the look and feel of the site :O
    And then the business owner wonders why they don’t rank for things!
    Sometimes I actually feel sorry for the Google bots – and even more sorry for any potential customer who does manage to find the website.

  5. Wow. Just brilliant. I think this is the most comprehensive to do list (and not to do, too) about this subject.

    You really expend a lot of time answering at Google My Business Forums, and yeah, for sure you’re doing a free work for ‘The Big G’ : )

    We’re subscribing your newsletter for sure. Thanks a lot for helping us to remember to wear our Best Sunday Clothes when opening for Google, too ; )

    In our especific case, we have a open fight with GMB. We have, in fact, a physical location, a main headquarters in our city, but we are offering too -obviously- our service to clients not only in our town, but in the whole country.

    Well, at the moment there’s no way -not for us, at least- to get both things done: getting the ‘red marker’ showing in the map at our location AND telling Google we serve at demanded locations, too.

    This ‘we service in the client location too’ thing seems to replace the ‘red point marker’ that should be pinned to our local address with a map of the city’s area surrounded by a red circle. And no pin means no name in the map.

    Fabulous, uh? 🙂

    So… we’re paying a visit right now to the GMB forums to seek for an answer from you in this topic… I bet we’ll find it :))

  6. Wow! It doesn’t get better than those answers and explanations Mike. I’m sure this post helped hindereds of local businesses understand what’s going on 🙂

  7. Mike: Great thorough response. How does a business show in Google search and why are these elements that help one get seen in search important and in fact vital. The response was deep and thoughtful. And it was helpful. Bravo. In fact Double Bravo.

    Lots of things to look at and frankly getting visible and yet “more visible” is always a challenge. In that regard these days I’d be leery of suggesting “charity services for a link”. I guess I’d suggest there must be more than a link.

    In December of last year John Mu of Google stated that giving services to a charity for links should be considered a paid link…and thereby could be penalized. That has been implied or suggested in the past.

    https://www.seroundtable.com/google-charity-links-a-paid-link-23094.html

    Maybe they catch some, maybe they don’t. Maybe they penalize some. Maybe not. Just be leery.

    But beyond that …boy was that a spectacular description. Thanks

    • @ Dave thanks for the props!

      While I didn’t expand on the charity idea but suggested that they provide an on going service to a charity in the form of a partnership i.e. Saturday hair do for the women’s shelter. And as such get recognized/referred on the charity site and possibly get some PR.

  8. Lots of good information there Mike. I think sourcing good reviews from past and present clients is one area many businesses are still failing to address properly. For many of the clients we work with see it as too much hassle and they worry about negative reviews hurting their business. It is an ongoing challenge!

    • @John
      I may be biased (ok well I am biased) but for cases like that GetFiveStars is perfect. It brings the bad feedback in house and takes way a lot of that fear.

  9. Great article.
    Very informative to folks just begining the process of getting a verified business listing.
    Thanks

  10. It’s interesting to read that some believe Google should be educating business owners on some of these details. I suppose, from Google’s perspective, it should be sufficient to verify the business and have an informative website. Everything else, I suppose, should happen organically.

    It is tough to be in a competitive world with winners and losers. Ultimately, if or when all businesses follow these guidelines, this type of question will be even more urgent: “I’ve done all that’s been asked — why don’t I appear for [some keyword]?”. I’m not sure there’s a satisfactory answer, even if Google chooses to invest in even more education.

    • @Joel
      I am not sure that Google needs to educate businesses about these many details.

      They do however need to
      1- set expectations appropriately so that the product meets them
      2- Add additional functionality to the product so that even if it can’t achieve some mythical ranking objective in and of itself, it is so valuable to the business that its a no brainer to engage and re-engage with it.

      Those reasons are still lacking.

  11. I wonder if the first person came up for “Home” in the city they are in.

  12. Hi

    I am a new business with similar problems so thank you for taking the time!!!

    Another question I have is when I search for my business (Jane’s Lash Boutique) on the map I show as green when everyone else is red?

    Can anyone help?

  13. Hi Mike, I’ve read your reply to Amber and I promise, I’m trying to get my head around how to get my Google on. So, my daughter and I have a successful nail salon in one area, when you search ‘ Nails or Nail Salon in Didsbury ‘ we come up 2nd on the results. We’ve opened another salon, two weeks ago. When we search for the actual name ‘The Filing Cabinet Nails Chester’, we appear on results, when we search for Nails or Nail Salon in Chester, we don’t appear on any of the results. The account has been verified and the new business has been added and saved, so it is really frustrating to try to work out what , if anything, we are doing wrong. I’ll understand if you are totally fed up of trying to educate people like me, but I would be grateful for any advice on improving our results for our new Chester salon. We don’t have a website but do have a very strong Facebook page.
    Cheers, Lorraine Carroll.

  14. “We’ve opened another salon, two weeks ago. …. so it is really frustrating to try to work out what , if anything, we are doing wrong.”

    Boy are you impatient. Marketing plans should be a year or three in length… time matters. Google needs time to trust the location, look around the web and scrape information about the location and then assess the prominence of your location.

    And it takes time to do the things that I mention for Amber above.

    Be sure that you have started your citation work and are getting the new location in the online directories.

    Join local business organizations like chambers and the equivalent of the Better Business bureau.

    Be sure that you have a great website that makes it clear to Google that you now have two locations (pro tip: Schema mark up is very useful in this area).

    Start asking for reviews at Google AND around the web.

    Start adding coupons via Google Posts to your Google results AND send your users to do a brand search there to retrieve the coupons.

    Start asking your vendors and other related local businesses (wedding planners? colleges?) to link to your website.

    2 weeks is no time in this industry to market a business. If you do EVERYTHING right Google will start showing you in 6 months… if you miss a few beats it might be a year.

  15. Very very helpful information Mike. I’m new to all this and you explain in much easier way to understand yet you don’t dumb it down.

    I appreciate what you’re doing! Thank you!

  16. Really helpful breakdown of why businesses need to cater to Google. We were able to get 4 out of 5 of our locations to show up and rank well on Google maps and organic search results. Oddly enough only one of our landing pages ranks super low and doesn’t appear at all for keyword searches on Google maps. Guess I have to really dive into the content again *sigh* to see what Google doesn’t like about it.

  17. Hey, I have the business when I write my business name in google it is not showing the listing on the right side but when adding city name behind the business name then it will show up. what was the reason behind that? can you please tell me. It would be really helpful for me.

    Thanks in advance….

    • @Roger
      It means that your name is not prominent & relevant enough to trigger the Knowledge Panel on just the brand search. You would need to get more “branded” links pointing to your site and get more mentions of your business on line

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