Looking for a gift, or something for the house or somewhere to eat or stay. How often is the next phrase we hear "Google it!"?

For businesses this is now a vitally important message, and its one Wantage Town Team has responded to with a pioneering initiative. It’s working with Nikhilesh Haval, a specialist in using the Google My Business online platform, on a project – now heading into its 4th phase – to make sure our independent businesses can be found when a search is done, and are well presented when their details are found.

More and more of us now rely on getting our information digitally – whether we are planning before a visit or actually already in town. But we also want to see ratings, read reviews and virtually see what the business is offering, before we decide (in a few seconds) whether the business is worth spending our money with. For many, Google search is our first port of call, and if our first impression is not good, we are most likely to move on.

From a business perspective, this project was all about making sure they have a web presence and the digital data in it is accurate so that it is very easy for visitors to find basic information like opening hours, directions, phone number etc. It also gives independent businesses an equal chance of being found amongst the centrally managed chains.

So far, we’ve run three phases. Phase 1 worked with 34 independent businesses in the Food and Drinks category. Phase 2 involved 47 shops. Phase 3 focused on 10 health and wellbeing practitioners, and we are currently planning further phases to add other business types to the set.

We started with a look at the Google Map of Wantage. Out of the 81 businesses’ we found, 13 did not have a Google listing, 30 had an unclaimed Google listing i.e. it was created by Google gathering information from various internet sources; 38 had a verified Google listing but 11 of those had problems getting access to update and draw down data.

Working either by telephone or face to face, Nikhilesh helped those who did not have a presence at all to create a new Google listing and verify it. Businesses with unclaimed listings were claimed and verified while some who already had a verified Google listing needed help getting login details and making sure they knew how to edit their own Google listing.

This one-to-one training in how to manage their Google listing, including responding to reviews, pitfalls to avoid when requesting reviews, adding photos & videos, changing opening hours etc, and how it impacted their ranking on Google proved to be a big hit with most business owners. It also gave them data to make informed decisions on the best use of free features & ‘pay for’ ones like Google Adwords express & Google Street View virtual tours inside their business premises.

Another big advantage of claiming and verifying your business Google listing is getting access to “Insights” like how many times the Google listing has been displayed, how many people clicked to your website, how many made phone calls after looking at the Google listing. The statistics for one Wantage venue revealed that there were 169 driving directions requests in 30 days. Insights also show where most of those came from, so the business owner could use this information to plan marketing and sales activities and check if that activity provides any results, including targeting particular areas.

After working with existing businesses Nikhilesh also made a list of closed businesses and marked them as “permanently closed”. This cleaned up the information displayed on Google search & maps, clearing the way for existing businesses to be displayed, and reducing search frustrations for visitors.

So now, if you take a look at the Google Map of Wantage and Grove you should find the information you need. Try it!

Vale Downland Museum Search Result with Google listing in Knowledge Panel

When someone searches for "Wantage Museum" on Google, the museum's Google listing is shown on the right hand side of search results.

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