Mid-June 2017, Google released a new feature into the Google My Business suite, a Website Builder. It's been in test mode since January and is finally available publicly! This is Google’s second attempt at making it super-easy for small business owners to get onto the web. Hopefully this one will stick.
As the name implies, it is only for businesses that have a Google My Business listing.
The website builder is designed for people with no technical knowledge and no website. This can be frustrating if you want to do something creative or out-of-the-box.
That said, this post is for people of all abilities.
Even if much of this is greek to you, follow the steps and tips that do make sense. You will still build a better site than people who haven't read anything and simply "wing it." I've seen some dreadful ones that would make anyone think twice about becoming a customer of those businesses!
So why would you want a Google website?
For businesses with no website, this is a chance to put a description of your business out there on the web and explain the products or services you offer.
It's an alternative choice to the second most common "website" used by small business - a Facebook page. Fb is limited in how it displays info about your business, and people have to go looking for it. Most people won't. So while you may have a great following, how many of your peeps know everything you do?
It's simpler than the free site on sites on other platforms such as Houzz. And Houzz doesn't suit every business type; this simple website can serve just about any.
For businesses who already have websites, this is yet another online asset to expose people to your business. It is another credible platform to get your branding and messaging consistent. Done well, it can rank surprisingly high for brand searches. It can also be re-purposed for things like landing pages.
How does the Google Website Builder work?
To be clear, this is a simple one-page website.
It's designed to be fast, lightweight, and responsive. It's designed for mobile, end to end. The vast majority of mobile users look at one page only on a site. The main actions are all right there so people don't have to scroll.
Information from Google My Business
It pulls information from what Google already knows about your business, including your Google My Business (GMB) listing. What does it include?
- Business name,
- Business address,
- Phone numbers (automatically made as “click to call”),
- Operating hours,
- Google Posts,
- while the category isn’t displayed, it does appear to influence the extra styling image Google sometimes adds to websites.
The site can be live even before your listing is verified. However, if your listing gets suspended, the site may be taken down as well.
Create Your Website
First, go to your Google My Business dashboard and login with the same email as the one that owns the business listing. If you have more than one business listing on your dashboard, select Manage Location. If you don't see that option for a location, switch from list view to card view.
Click the hamburger menu ( three horizontal lines in a stack ) at the upper left to show a menu. You should see a new option Website, just below Photos.
Google My Business Users at the level of owner or manager (but not communication manager) have the ability to access and edit the website builder from within the GMB dashboard.
First time you go in, you’ll be greeted with a "creating your website" screen, and you may get an automated tip window to start you off.
The first step is to pick the the overall look of the site - a theme.
Pick a Theme
Google provides a small selection of site themes. The theme itself can be changed, but the settings for that theme (font, size, colour scheme) cannot.
The "button" you see in the theme thumbnail is the colour of the button you'll see over the main cover banner.
Very important: To save what you do in each section, click on the little tick at the top next to the section name. The cross, of course, is to cancel any changes just made that haven't already been saved.
Call to Action
Next, decide the main action you want people to take. Call you? Get a quote? Send you an email?
Giving people just one main thing to do makes it easier and quicker for customers to start a relationship with you.
Depending on your type of business, Google will provide a selection of options.
- Call Now – this is the default option and pre-fills with the primary number on your listing.
- Contact Us – this provides a form for people to complete and sends the following information to the listing owner accounts:
- Phone number – doesn’t automatically pick this up from the device they might be using,
- Email – does a limited amount of checking for a valid email address format,
- How can we help you? – a free-format text entry of up to 1000 characters.
- Get Quote – same function as Contact Us, with slightly different message hints for the How can we Help You section.
- Message Us (SMS) – Depending on the device, visitors will be presented with their sms messaging app, hangouts, messenger, and possibly others. Google also reminds people that carrier fees may apply.
Note: this does not automatically include you in Google’s Messaging service you can opt into for the Knowledge Panel.
- Message Us (WhatsApp) – launches the WhatsApp on mobiles. On desktops it launches a web page that ultimately directs you to the app for your phone. Take your audience into account if selecting this option.
- Find Table – enter a web address for people to make reservations.
- View Menu – enter a web address for your menu.
Tell Your Story
- Maximum Length: 80 characters
- Shows in: Banner
The website builder defaults this to the business name on your GMB listing business name. You can change this to an attention grabbing headline. I recommend you do, as Google also automatically adds your business name in the upper left hand corner of the published page.
From a technical perspective, this is an "H1" - making it the most important text on the page. Don't stuff this full of keywords, but do work to include some words or phrases that say what your business is about.
- Maximum Length: 140 characters
- Shows in: Banner
The website builder defaults this to your business category (from your GMB info) and is standard text formatting.
- Maximum Length: 40 characters
- Shows in: Main Content
This displays below the banner image on the page and is an intro to your full description.
From a technical perspective, this is an "H2" - making it the second most important text on the page. Again, don't stuff this full of keywords, but do work to include some words or phrases that say what your business is about.
- Maximum Length: unknown
- Shows in: Main Content
- Your website‘s key pages (if you have another site),
- An online booking system or menu,
- Your email subscription form (unfortunately you cannot embed things like forms in the site),
- Social media platforms you might be very active on,
- Your certifications/credentials on industry body sites.
You'll see in the image above I've attempted to find the max number of characters. Be real with this. Just because you can add 13k characters, doesn't mean you should. How much of a monster page would that be for someone to try to read?!
If you’re copying and pasting text from other applications, be sure to post to match the existing format. It seems to be reading the HTML from wherever you’re picking it up, and that mucks up the format shockingly.
Just like with "normal" websites, the word content on this site should be unique. This is a real website, meaning it's out there competing with all the other websites in the wild.
If you're using an email service such as Mailchimp, you can use the text link in MC's signup form. Some of these services also give QR codes for links to the form which you could add as an image.
Add a brief summary of your business attributes that may be of interest to your site visitors.
Add your happy hours or other special offers.
Adding links to other websites / listings - this works like any other website. You don’t need to write out the full URL (eg “http://www.domain.com/page/”). Simply add it in ordinary text and use the link icon to add the link.
When putting links to your own website, use Google's Campaign URL Builder for tracking in Analytics.
Photos and Menu
- Maximum Images: 9
- Shows in: Photo Gallery
This is where you can ADD images that you'd like to add to the photo section which comes after your description.
Google pulls these images from your GMB photos section. These are added to the site in the order they come; they cannot be resequenced here.
If you don't have any images yet, Google inserts a suggestion "Add photos, menu images and other pictures to tell the story of your business."
While I agree with the concept of an image of your menu, you need to remember to maintain it. Remember, these photos go into your photo area of your GMB listing. If you change your menu seasonally and simply upload the new menu, then the old menus will remain out there as photos. That can cause confusion and unhappy customers. Ensuring your best presentation means going into the photos and deleting outdated ones.
The photos section is where you go if you put an image in and want to remove it. Yep - you have to leave the website builder. Save your site, go up to the hamburger menu at the top and select photos from the left sidebar menu. There you can delete images.
By default, the Website Builder puts in a generic image if it doesn't find something in your photo collection it likes.
- Business name in upper left hand corner
- Contact details in upper right hand corner. “Get directions” only shows for shopfront businesses.
- Call to action button in banner middle. As with the contact options,
- if the business has a shopfront, the button is “Get Directions”,
- if the business serves customers only at their customer locations or does not want their address public, the button is “Call Now”
What you can change
- Headline text (above)
- Description text (above)
- Banner image (below)
The image should be a 16:9 ratio, same as with Google+. The optimal size is 2120 x 1192 pixels.
The images go into your GMB photo library. As with the other photos, you can only add here. Images added here may be seen in the GMB photos collection or the upper right hand corner of the Knowledge Panel "see photos."
Also, the cover photo here may go into the Knowledge Panel.
You’ll notice a line goes across your beautiful cover image underneath the business name and the contact options. It’s there by design, not a glitch in the image upload.
Website banner image tips
Cater for white text - Remember the main headline is white text, so have an image dark enough the white can be read easily.
Crop before uploading - The cropping tool seems to have a mind of its own. It’ll show cropped in your photos albums, but show the whole image in the cover image.
Most important in bottom 2/3 - Depending on the screen size, the image may appear in full or the top 20-30 percent of the image gets cut off.
Outside of building is OK, product or service is often better
Forget text, business cards and logos. Don't be tempted - logos in here look really poor, no matter how cleverly you do it. Remember your website is here to connect with people and quickly visually convey the nature of your business.
Use some imagination - use a photo that quickly conveys what you do.
There are two ways to add your services. Use the "info" option on your main dashboard menu OR by viewing the draft version of your website.
At this stage anything you have done remains private. This is handy if you start putting the site together and it's time for dinner.
In the upper right of the screen is a big blue "publish" button. Press it and your site goes live. By default, Google creates a web address (URL) based on your company name. You can change it, but choose wisely. Google does have some name protections in place to prevent copyright issues and such. In other words, you can't create starbucks.business.com if you're not Starbucks.
The websites automatically all end with .business.site. This is a free domain, just for you. Paid domains (which don't end in .business.site) are planned to be available in the US, UK, Canada and India soon.
The maximum number of characters you can put in here is 64. Please don't use that many - if you do, people will bet dollars to donuts you're a spammer.
Want to unpublish?
Go to the More area.
You can publish or un-publish at any time. If your site sits in an unpublished status for a while, you may get a reminder from Google via email.
And there you have it!
In a matter of minutes you've just published your very first Google Website Builder site. Congratulations!
A Few More Points
Some of these are written at a technical level. If the point doesn't make sense to you, know it will be answering a technical question someone else might have.
- Google’s documentation
- GMB to website builder, but not reverse. Changes made to the business information here does not flow back to the GMB listing info. However, edits to the listing do flow through to the site.
Those edits can be by you OR members of the public! This emphasises the importance of claiming and keeping on top of your listings!
- You can publish and unpublish at any time. The site can be unpublished for any length of time. Just know that the domain name will be cleared and someone else could use it.
- Spam detected sites will be taken down. This also includes copyright violations, etc. If you see one and you want to report it, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the “report abuse” link. The wording indicates it’s for listings and what you’re reporting is a website. Hopefully Google will be checking both.
- Outgoing links are “follow.” That means these sites will count as citation and backlink.
- The site does not use AMP; rather it’s sleek and fast by design.
- Have your own domain already? Point it at the Google site.
HTTPS is coming.Sites are HTTPS automatically.
- The site may publish the alternate phone numbers you can enter on your listing. The knowledge panel lists only one; this is the one place those extra numbers may be seen.
- There are a few variations in how Google displays the contact info compared to the knowledge panel. These variations are based on how you set up the service area.
- If you don’t have business hours on your GMB listing, the business hours section shows as blank.
- If you have business hours entered but they don’t show in the local pack or the local finder, they will show here on the site.
- You can also see more than one phone number. These extra numbers (have seen up to 3 displayed so far) are the alternate phone numbers on your listing. This is the only place people can see those extra numbers.
- Special hours don’t currently appear in the footer. This includes Google’s automatic notification about business hours possibly being varied due to public holidays.
- Google reviews don’t currently appear on the site.
- Attributes don’t currently appear on the site.
- Only one call-to-action button is available. You can add links on the page (summary body); remember to keep it to a few. I suspect the number of links in the body is part of Google’s spam detection.
- There is no support for videos or gifs currently.
- There is currently no import/export functionality. Since it’s only a one-page site, a simple copy and paste should suffice.
- Want to “SEO” the site? Forget about it. No meta alterations are available, including to the title and description. No Alt text for images either.
- Want to put schema in it? Google’s stance is the site is light enough and fast enough it doesn’t need it.
- Want to AMP it? Google’s response is the site is fast enough it doesn’t need it.
- No tie (yet) to Analytics.
- No social sharing buttons
Extra Styling Images
Occasionally when you visit one of these websites, you'll see a special image coming out the right hand side of the page.
These appear to be added somewhat randomly by Google. Business category is a key factor for triggering an image. Also necessary is having your summary headline & body filled out. The body doesn't need to be lengthy, and having phrases in the text that align with the business category may be helpful.
A small sample of 32 feature images spotted so far is shown below.
Grey figure in photo spot
Sometimes when you delete photos out of the gallery, the system doesn't always reflect that change instantly. When there's a delay within the system, Google substitutes the grey circle with a minus sign in it. This normally clears itself within 24 hours.
Google "404. That's an error" message
- Has your listing been suspended? Check your dashboard for messages. Correct whatever has triggered the suspension, and you should be able to re-verify your listing and republish the site.
- Has your site been unpublished? Did you (or a staff member) select the option to unpublish?
- Has your site address changed? While the site at a new URL may be published immediately, Google sometimes keeps the old URL of the websites in its memory for a while. It typically flushes out within a week.
- Google My Business dashboard.
- Go into the listing in question. If you have multiple listings, go to manage location; otherwise it should show up when you enter the dashboard.
- If you have a wide screen, you should see a menu down the side. If not, click the hamburger menu in the upper left corner.
- Click Website
- Depending on your screen size, you’ll see 4 icons down the side or across the bottom.
- Click the Gear – settings
- Underneath settings, it’ll say the current URL (the one your listing is currently going to)
- Untick the blue tick box that says “make this my website address on Google Search & Maps”
- Click Change
- Close the settings (if needed – depends on screen size)
- Click the hamburger menu in upper left hand corner to see the left-side menu
- Click Info
- Scroll down until you see the website URL
- Click the pencil to edit
- Correct the URL, Click Apply
There are many more features in the pipeline for Google's Website Builder, so stay tuned...
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