Mastering Google My Business for Tourism Operators

By Darryl Leniuk | Adventure Business

Oct 07
kayaks on beach, Baja

Why You Need to Optimize Your GMB Page Right Now

Would you like an easy way to get page one real estate on Google? Or to sell last minute spots on a trip? Promote your latest tour? Your Google My Business page can be a key part of your tourism marketing strategy. 

You may have set up a GMB page a while ago and assumed it was done. Or maybe someone in your organization, or even a customer, created your page. Or you’re thinking, ‘I’m not a local business, my bookings come from overseas, through my website, so I don’t need to bother with this.’ 

Well, you might want to reconsider that. I’m going to show you why.

Google Logos

A Brief of History of Google My Business

What originally started as Google Places, then Google + Local is now Google My Business. With each iteration, powerful new features have been added. Google has made GMB a priority, and when Google thinks something is important, you probably should too.

Get in the Google 3-Pack

When you do a Google search, you typically get three types of results: organic, paid and local. Organic results are what Google deems most relevant, and this usually includes a geographic component. Paid results are the ads and sponsored posts that come up and ‘local’ are the Google My Business pages pages in that ‘3-pack’.

To illustrate how this works, I’m going to do a search for ‘guided sea kayaking Vancouver Island’ from my location, Vancouver. I get the following:

Google My Business Pages

Page One, Google search results.

What is key here is that Google My Business window, right in the center of page 1, and those top three results. Those are GMB pages in there, NOT websites. Digging a little deeper and looking at all the results, under the ‘best match’ category, shows many geographically distant businesses come up higher than closer ones due to their optimized GMB pages.

Kayak Tours Campbell River (sorry guys), came up in 25th position, behind many more distant operators, despite having a decent website showing all their kayaking tours which should be giving them decent SEO. Their GMB page was unclaimed.

Unclaimed Google My Business page

Unclaimed GMB pages show up in the bottom of the pack. Notice this operator also has duplicate pages.


Now, what about someone in your target audience, planning a trip from overseas, where local results for their area are not relevant?  So, sticking with our kayaking example, let’s say I’m planning a trip to Baja, Mexico, and do a search (from Vancouver) for ‘Baja Sea Kayaking’. Here again, the GMB listings still come up on page one. But note that only one of the top organic results ‘Sea Kayak Baja’ is also in the GMB 3-pack. 


Google My Business Search Results

Notice that Tofino Expeditions does NOT show up in the 3-pack, despite being the top organic result.

So what does all this mean? 

If you’re a tour operator in a competitive market, it’s way easier to get into that GMB 3-pack than to win at organic tourism SEO or PPC. The big inbound, overseas travel agencies, with their marketing budgets, will take the top organic and paid slots, but they can’t compete in the GMB 3-Pack, because they’re not local. 

Claim Your GMB Page

By now you’re saying, Ok, I get it, I should be optimizing my GMB page, but where to begin? Start here and see what Google has on file and if your GMB page has been claimed. If you have one, Google will even offer you some suggestions for improvements. If not, get cracking and claim it. 

Do a search to check for any duplicate GMB pages that may be out there. A past employee or even a customer might have set them up. Try searching for variations of your business name, any older names you used and include your city in the search. 

I have even seen tourism businesses intentionally set up multiple GMB pages, i.e. a page for their ‘winter’ operation and another one for their ‘summer’ offerings. But when it comes to GMB listings, more is not better. In fact, it’s just plain dumb. You want all your reviews (which we’ll get to in a minute) in one place, your GMB page to compete against your competitors’ not yourself, and to stay in Google’s good graces

Get Your Details Right

Note: depending on the business category you select and your location, you may be given different options for your listing. Here I’ll try to cover the most important stuff for most tourism businesses. 

Select The Right Category

Try to pick the most detailed or ‘closest’ option Google gives you. Think of it from your potential customer’s point of view. What would they find more helpful, ‘Tour Operator’ or ‘Canoe and Kayak Tour Agency’? So the latter seems to be a great fit for our guys above, definitely much better that ‘tour operator’ or something generic like that.

GMB categories

Always pick the most descriptive category available.

But what if you can’t find your category?

For the Heliski operators out there, things get a bit more complicated, because Google doesn’t offer a ‘heliski’ category.  A quick scan of a dozen or so heliski listings shows categories such as ‘lodge’ ‘3-star hotel’ ‘ski resort’ and just ‘resort’. But now, GMB allows multiple categories, so if yours isn’t available, I’d suggest picking the closest as your main category and then a second category, so a combo of ‘lodge’ and ‘ski resort’ could work in the example above along with the right keywords for your Info section.

And while we’re at it, what if you’re a ‘luxury’ eco-resort or ski lodge? How do you get that? For accommodation listings, the GMB default is ‘3-star hotel’. Now that sucks if you’re a 5-star lodge, charging 5-star prices and your customers see that Google thinks you’re really just a Best Western level lodge. Obviously Google doesn’t want every dumpy motel calling themselves 5-star so they’ve made it difficult to get this designation. So here’s what you need to do: Google looks at external sources, such as Tripadvisor and other media or industry listings to verify a hotel above 3-stars. So gather up a few 5-star listings in other places then make a formal application to GMB to have your hotel star rating bumped up.

Don’t Keyword Stuff Your Listing

When it comes to your Info section, be sure to include a detailed description of your service offerings. Ideally you’ve already spent time figuring out your digital marketing strategy, ideal customers and value proposition. Your description should be enticing to your target audience and include keywords you want to rank for but DO NOT keyword stuff your listing or you may risk getting it suspended

Google Maps

For tour operators running tours from remote locations, the last thing you want is customers using Maps to arrive at your business office at 7am, when they’re supposed to be at the pier loading their boats, or the helipad an hour’s drive away.

Smartphone directions

For Google Maps, it used to be that GMB gave you two options, ‘I serve customers at my store’ or ‘I deliver goods and services’. So if you were a bricks-and-mortar business like a coffee shop, you just put your address in and all good. If you were a roofer, you would hide your address and select a ‘service area’ in a radius around your (hidden) address, say 10 miles, 20 kms or whatever.

This worked great for roofers and coffee shops but proved to be a pain-in-the-but for many remote tourism businesses that had an office in a town and a lodge or meet spot in the mountains. Customers would mindlessly enter your business name into their smartphones and drive to the head office and miss their trip. And since everyone is supposed to be on Google Maps, they would invariably be mad at you.

Well, earlier this year GMB finally addressed this issue with Maps

GMB service area

Now, if you are a remote tour operator, you can enter your business address, keep it hidden, and enter a different service location anywhere you actually operate, wherever that is, without requiring a radius around your actual address. Then include a link to directions in your info section.

When it comes to the address you use on GMB, it must be an address you can accept snail mail at. I’ve seen many businesses use fake addresses that help them show up in the right spot on Maps, i.e. a marina or airport they operate out of, when their actual mailing address is in a city a hundred kilometers away. This works great until it doesn’t. You see, if your listing ever gets flagged or suspended by Google (and this happens a lot) you’re screwed. Sometimes the algorithm detects something it doesn’t like and for no apparent reason, you’ll get a notice that you need to ‘reverify’ your GMB page. Google’s preferred verification method is to send a postcard with code to your address on file. If you’ve got some jerry rigged address you can’t accept postal mail at, you won’t get your GMB account back. 

If your GMB page is ever shut down, here’s a good article from the bright folks over at BrightLocal on what to do.

NAP Consistency

Now that we’ve covered Maps let’s just quickly discuss something called the NAP, which is SEO-talk for Name-Address-Phone number. Make sure your NAP is consistent on your website, GMB and anywhere else you appear online. Google loves consistency, so make sure all those match. 

Look Good with Great Visuals

GMB lets you upload a 30-second video to your page. Take advantage of this by creating a video that shows customers the great experiences they can expect, but don’t be too salesy or heavy on the logos here. Photos of your business, staff and equipment should also be included. Note: customers can also upload videos and photos of their own. It’s also a good idea to use some of the same images from your website and include geo-tagged images of both your business interior and exterior. 

Promote Your Tourism Business with Posts

If you’re running an event, Posts are a great place to promote it. Another use could be selling last minute spots on a trip going out in a few days or advertising a sale you’re having. Start with a strong visual, keep titles to 58 characters and copy to 200-300 characters and make sure to have a strong call to action. By default, posts are removed after 7 days to keep things fresh, with the exception of events, which are removed after the event takes place. There are currently four types of posts: ‘events’, ‘what’s new’ ‘products’ and ‘offers’.

GMB posts

Make use of Posts to engage with your customers and boost SEO.

Get Those Reviews

One of the most important features of GMB pages is reviews. Great reviews affect your spot in the 3-pack and can have a big impact on converting potential customers. It’s even worth reaching out to your existing customer base to ask them to leave a review for you. Of course, turn on notifications and be prepared to respond promptly and appropriately to all reviews, and especially any bad ones. 

5 stars

A word of caution here: some businesses use review management software, also known as ‘review-gating’ to siphon off bad reviews and boost 5-star ratings. Google announced this was no longer cool. So if you’ve been doing this, be careful, or all those great reviews you’ve accumulated could suddenly vanish. 

I still think there’s value in using a review tool but it should be set up and managed by an expert who is up to date on best practices and acceptable use. 

Other Great GMB Features For Your Travel Business

Make sure to set up your call button, since most customers expect to see this. It’s also a great way to track the calls you’re getting through your listing. Another new feature is the ‘messages’ button, which allows back and forth texting with customers. Many travellers, particularly millennials, prefer this to calling a business. Just make sure you’re prepared to answer texts as soon as they come in, which might not be a good option if you’re running tours in remote locations without coverage. Note: SMS will soon be replaced by Google’s GMB app for most listings. 

Track Everything to See What’s Working

‘Insights’ is the analytics tool built into GMB pages that gives basic performance results for how your page is doing. It shows ‘direct’ and ‘discovery’ searches that come to your page, phone calls received, photo and video views and driving directions requested on Google Maps.  

Get More Out of your GMB Page

Download the app to manage your page from your mobile device (and to respond right away to reviews). Finally, remember to check your listing often, since new functions are being added all the time, and the community-driven nature that Google encourages, means anyone can ‘suggest an edit’, upload problematic photos or videos or leave negative reviews. The bit of time you spend managing your GMB page is well worth it for your tourism business.



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