This is a comprehensive guide to Google’s Website Builder which was launched in Mid June 2017.
As the name implies, it is only for businesses that have a Google My Business (GMB) listing. Your listing doesn’t have to be verified yet though. That means you don’t have to wait for the postcard to get a simple website up and running in about 10 minutes!
Let’s be clear about something:
Google’s website builder is not a “secret SEO tactic”. It is simply a free tool, designed to create websites for people who are not technical.
If you are SEO-minded, then you’ll understand the value of having another asset on the web which can help people find your business by name, and that re-enforces your branding, key products, and services.
Let’s dive on in.
- 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. Many of those other platforms don’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.
The site is divided into zones of content, and depend on how well you complete your GMB profile. These include:
- Navigation – Navigate zones of site plus two or three key actions
- Header – Business name, brief descriptions of site from the description
- Banner Image – upload your own
- Updates – pulled from Google Posts in GMB
- Testimonials – pulled from your Google reviews
- Services or Menu – pulled from the Services or Menu in GMB
- About us – the body of the website you create
- Gallery – photos from GMB
- Contact – a map with contact, address & hrs from GMB
Each of these zones has its own “in-page” link, meaning people can use the hamburger menu (3 horizontal lines at the top left corner) to go straight to each section.
How it works
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.
Pulls Info from your Google My Business listing
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. Settings for the theme (font, font-size, colour scheme) cannot be modified.
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 (in no particular order).
- Call Now (call) – this is the default option and pre-fills with the primary number on your listing.
- Contact Us (email) **not recommended ** – 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 (email) **not recommended ** – same function as Contact Us, with slightly different message hints for the How can we Help You section.
- Get Directions – gives directions to your business using Google Maps.
- 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 (URL) – enter a web address for people to make reservations.
- View Menu (URL) – enter a web address for your menu.
- Place Order (URL) – enter a web address for people to book online.
Why two options are not recommended
If your call to action involves an email, not all listing users receive a copy of the incoming message.
If it's a contact request, the message could be titled "You have a new customer from Google!" or "A customer has got in touch about your business".
In testing, we've seen messages randomly received by any or a combination of: primary owner, owner, and manager. Sometimes not at all.
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: Header
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.
- Business name in upper left hand corner
- two or three action buttons in upper right hand corner. The actions depend on how you have your GMB listing set up and the action button you choose for this website.
- Call to action button in banner middle.
By default, the Website Builder puts in a generic image if it doesn't find something in your existing photo collection it thinks is suitable.
If you don't provide a banner image, Google will insert one as a default based on your listings's category when you create the website.
If you add an image of your own, Google will display it as 1080x608, so work on a 16:9 image ratio. You don't get a chance to crop or centre the image. Google seems to fit the image to that size, aligning your image at the bottom. This means the top of the photo gets chopped if oversized.
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. Think carefully about what you choose for an image. Ideally, it should reflect what you do or sell.
Depending on the device, the banner image may display above or below the header text, description & action button. Generally on mobiles the image is above; on desktop & tablet it's below.
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.
Feb 2019 - Google appears to be testing populating a section for customer reviews with just 3 from your listing. At time of writing, it's 1-2% of sites seem to be affected. This does not appear to be a section you can control.
The "write a review" and "read more" both take you out of the website and to the knowledge panel display of your listing.
Google pulls the 9 random photos from your GMB listing and places them in a 3x3 grid. Videos and 360° views are not yet included.
The images are clickable and take people to your listing in maps.
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 default URL Google will use is the name of your business followed by .business.site. If your business name is multiple words, Google inserts a hyphen between the words.
This is a free domain, just for you. It does not have options for email or any other features.
In the congratulations pop-up, you'll see the site's default web address. If you want to change it, there's a pencil next to the domain name so it can be edited then and there.
Google gives you the option to buy your own domain. This is not necessary to publish your site. 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 enter is 64. Please don't use that many - if you do, people will bet dollars to donuts you're a spammer.
When you publish Google will show a message "Not listed on Google Search and Maps" under your new website domain. This does *not* mean your listing is not on maps, only that you have not assigned this website to the listing.
Your site updates automatically whenever you change your business info on your Google
My Business listing. That includes Posts, services, photos, and general business information.
Want to remove your Google Website?
In this area you can change the URL, change the language setting and remove the site from public access. Google also adds a link to cross sell their Google Domains service.
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!
Your Site Address
If your site is not yet published, you won't see the URL, only an option to publish the site.
If your site is published, you'll see a few options:
- Buy Domain,
- Unpublish Website.
If the site is already published, follow the instructions below in How to fix the website URL, starting at step 7.
Check the default language setting - the version of your language may not be the correct region for the language. As an example - the site default language is English (United States), but you live in Australia. There isn't a English (Australia) setting, so the next best option would be English (United Kingdom).
While this is one tiny, tiny signal, it's part of the bigger picture about your website and its location.
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.
The Google My Business website is a real-live website, and competes with all other websites out there on the Internet. As stated earlier though, it's designed for non-technical people. So there are limitations to what you can do with it.
You cannot change the:
- business name, address, phone & hours to be different from what shows on your listing.
- testimonials come from your listing. These are chosen by Google.
- sequence of zones on your site.
- posts. These come from the most recent 9 posts.
- navigation options. Google decides which actions it will display in the top section based on your business type, the primary action you choose, and the business category.
- gallery. These come randomly from your photo library.
- template fonts, colours & sizes.
You cannot add external applications such as email forms.
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 desktop display, you should see a menu on the left 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 icon for More.
- Underneath settings, it will show the current URL (the one your listing is currently going to). Click Update.
- 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...
I have been working with local businesses as a Local SEO specialist since 2010 and as a Google My Business Product Expert (formerly called Top Contributor) since 2016. I write about GMB suitable for most folks, business owners included.
When not working for clients, I volunteer with the local businesswomen’s network, volunteers on Google’s forum, and the Local Search forum.
Away from the keyboard I’m a very busy mother with two boys, nine chickens, two cows, three sheep, a cockatiel and a stupidly happy dog.
Read more about me on the “about” page!