On Monday, Google vice president of engineering Ben Smith announced in a blog post that the search giant will wind down Google+ for consumers over the next ten months, at which point the troubled social network will exclusively function as an enterprise product for internal employee communication and collaboration. This announcement came paired with the revelation that the private data of up to 500,000 users was left vulnerable for a time, an issue Smith claims was discovered and patched up in March 2018.

The good news for brands and small business owners is that this announcement won't at all hinder their ability to use a Google platform to share photos, announcements and directly engage with customers.

Known as a business listing service, Google My Business boasts impactful, interactive features that can rival and possibly even surpass the top names in social media in terms of reach and overall utility. The problem, however, is that too many businesses simply set it and forget it, or worse, fail to establish their listing and profile at all. Here's how those late adopters can add Google My Business to their ongoing digital marketing and communications mix.

Build a complete, highly visual foundation

If your Google My Business listing only includes textual data, you are failing on four levels. You're not increasing the message association with your brand, boosting brand awareness, increasing customer engagement nor providing an impact on the continuity of your site and message.

Visuals make your business seem more reliable and trustworthy. Sixty percent of consumers are more likely to consider local search results if they include images, according to a survey by BrightLocal. Of course, the photos you include need to create an instant impact. They should be high quality and create a distinct impression of your business for customers.

Your business profile should include as much positive, relevant information as possible. Is all of your contact information up to date? Keep in mind that includes not only your current address, but also phone, email and links to other social media profiles. Also, the bonus of having your business profile on Google is that it literally puts your business on the (Google) map - allowing customers can even get customized directions to your business.

The days and hours your business is open should be clearly stated, as should any closings for holidays or other special occasions. Of course, your business profile should link to your website, which contains the same messaging and key information as your Google My Business profile.

Make it an active extension of your social strategy.

Your Google My Business profile needs to be updated regularly to ensure that customers get the most recent information about your company. In fact, long periods of inactivity could make your profile disappear from your search results. But by regularly updating your profile information, including new pictures, posting company updates and responding to customer reviews, you can ensure that Google's search function will recognize your profile as an active one.

A series of honest, positive testimonials about a brand can skyrocket its success, and users love them. In fact, one Harvard Business School research piece found that there was a direct boost in revenue linked to positive ratings. Your business very likely has satisfied (if not repeat) customers. Reach out to them and encourage them to leave a review on your Google My Business listing.

These reviews add credibility to your business and can boost your search ranking. Whenever a customer posts a review about your business, be sure to thank them. A personal email is great, but also thanking them online through the platform shows that you value customer satisfaction. In addition, it's another way to boost the activity on your profile, which, once again, enhances your ranking.

Not only will you be able to attract higher levels of engagement with regular updates and fresh information on your Google My Business profile, but your overall visibility on Google Search will improve. So as we say good-bye to Google+, take a moment to review your Google My Business listing, and create a plan to work it into your ongoing social media efforts.

Published on: Oct 9, 2018