Would you like an easy way to get page one real estate on Google? Promote your latest tour? Get reviews that build trust with your guests? Your Google Business Profile page should be a key part of your tourism marketing strategy.
You may have set up a GBP 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.
What originally started as Google Places, then Google + Local, and then Google My Business is now Google Business Profile. With each iteration, powerful new features have been added. Google has made GBP a priority, and when Google thinks something is important, you probably should too.
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 at the top of the page, and ‘local’ are the Google Business Profile 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, in Vancouver, Canada.
I get the following:
What is key here is that Google Business Profile window, right in the center of page 1, and those top three results. Those are GBP pages in there, NOT websites.
What is interesting is that the top organic spot is West Coast Expeditions, but they’re not the top GBP spot, in fact scrolling down I see they’re actually in the number 54 spot for GBP. It’s hard to say exactly why they’re so low down, but a cursory look shows they’ve not done a good job optimizing their Google Business Profile Listing.
Now, what about someone in your target audience, planning a trip from overseas, where local results for their area are not relevant?
Let’s say you were planning a trip to Peru and looking for a tour of Cusco. Aagin, right under the ads you see the GBP 3-pack, with 3 Cusco tour operators.
But scrolling down, we see the top organic results are the big OTAs, Viator, Tripadvisor etc.
So what does all this mean?
If you’re an inbound tour operator in a competitive market, it’s way easier to get into that GBP 3-pack than to win at organic tourism SEO or PPC. The big overseas travel agencies, and tour companies with their big marketing budgets, will take the top organic and paid slots, but they can’t compete in the GBP 3-Pack, because they’re not local.
By now you’re saying, Ok, I get it, I should be optimizing my GBP page, but where to begin? Start here and see what Google has on file and if your GBP 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 GBP 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 GBP pages, i.e. a page for their ‘winter’ operation and another one for their ‘summer’ offerings. But when it comes to GBP 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 GBP page to compete against your competitors’ not yourself, and to stay in Google’s good graces.
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.
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’?
But what if you can’t find the exact category?
For the Heli ski operators out there, things get a bit more complicated, because Google doesn’t offer a ‘heli ski’ category. A quick scan of a dozen or so heli ski listings shows categories such as ‘lodge’ ‘3-star hotel’ ‘ski resort’ and just ‘resort’. But now, GBP 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 business description.
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 GBP 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 industry listings to verify a hotel’s rating above 3-stars. So gather up a few 5-star listings in other places then make a formal application to GBP to have your hotel star rating bumped up.
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.
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.
For Google Maps, it used to be that GBP 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.
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 or on your website.
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.
GBP 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 images of both your business interior and exterior.
Google’s Vision AI reads and understands the images in your profile, so always use real images of your business, not generic stock photos.
If you’re running an event, Posts are a great place to promote it. Another use could be selling spots on a trip going out or advertising a sale you’re having. Start with a strong visual, and a great call-to-action. Note: posts can vary by business category and region.
One of the most important features of GBP 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.
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.
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 feature is the ‘messages’ button, which allows back and forth texting with customers. Many travelers, 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.
‘Insights’ is the analytics tool built into GBP 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.
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 GBP page is well worth it for your tourism business.