By David Hunter, CEO of Epic Web Studios and ASAPmaps

Marketing campaigns can be expensive. Print advertising, radio or TV spots, and online cost per click (CPC) campaigns all come with a price tag. What's worse, your return on investment may only be a tiny fraction of what you paid. While these methods all have their place, there is one very versatile tool out there that you may be overlooking -- and better yet, it's completely free to use. Enter Google My Business (GMB).

GMB as a Business Listing

I can't stress enough how important it is to add or claim your GMB listing. Whether you're a startup company or have been in business for years, you need to take ownership of this information. What good is a one-of-a-kind marketing power tool if you never get to use it?

Perform a quick Google search for your own business. If you don't see a listing for your business, then chances are it doesn't exist. Sign in to Google My Business with your Google Account. Enter your business name, business category, business hours, address (or service area), phone number and website URL. Make sure this information is as accurate as possible. As the CEO of a software for optimizing Google My Business SEO, I can tell you that failing to do so has a direct and measurable impact on local search rankings.

If you do see a listing for your business, either claim ownership or request ownership (yes, they are two very different things), and start taking control of your GMB presence.

Searchers see your GMB listing on Google search engine results pages (SERP) before they see your website. If they are looking you up on their phone while they are away from home, they might not even look at your website at all. Point them in the right direction of your business.

GMB as a Front Page Advertisement

Your days of being buried in the depths of SERPs are over. Once you've claimed and optimized your GMB listing, one well-targeted search query could put you on the front page of search results at any time. This happens one of three ways: 

1. Discovery searches: A user finds your listing by searching for a category, product or service related to your business, in which your business has a chance to appear at the top of search results within the local three-pack, the trio of local businesses Google chooses as representative of that category.

2. Direct searches: A user finds your listing by searching for your business name or address, in which case your listing will appear in the knowledge panel to the right of the search results.

3. Branded searches: A user finds your listing when searching for a brand related to your business.

Don't miss your opportunity. Google My Business offers many built-in features to help you self-promote. By showcasing products or services, events and special offers directly from Google, you're taking the initiative and getting a jump start on the conversion process. Show customers what they want from the start so they're less likely to look elsewhere.

GMB as a Brand Channel

As Google My Business evolves, Google continues to add more ways to personalize and optimize your listing with photos and videos, logos and extensive details about your business. It has also grown in importance as another channel between you and your customers. Collectively, Google Posts, Q&As, and reviews help establish both brand voice and trust.

When a business actively engages with its customers in a timely, courteous and savvy manner, people take notice. Think of GMB as a sneak preview of what you're all about; it should intrigue and excite them enough to visit the main feature -- whether that's your website or physical location.

Generate More Leads With GMB

Above all, Google My Business is a multifaceted lead generator. Once you invest the time to hone and refine your GMB profile and maximize all its features and functionalities, you should start to enjoy more interest and engagement. From there, it's up to you to close the sale with a quality product or service that fits the customer's expectations.

David Hunter is CEO of Epic Web Studios and ASAPmaps, a local SEO tool for Google Maps Marketing.