Maximizing Your Online Presence for Small Businesses: A Guide to Using Google Ads, Google My Business, and Merchant Center to Increase Sales & Conversions

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The three kings of Online Business drinking absinthe.

The Three Kings of Online Business.

Google My Business, Google Merchant Center and Google Ads are a powerhouse trio for any business with an online presence. By using these tools together in a coordinated way, you can create a strong presence on Google and connect with potential customers in a variety of ways.

Google My Business

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Astronaut on the moon in a canoe looking for your business.
First, let’s look at Google My Business (GMB). GMB is indispensable for any small business. It’s actually so fundamental to your online presence that regardless of whether or not you plan to use Google Ads or Merchant Center, you absolutely still need to use and manage your GMB profile. GMB is Google’s central repository for your business’ information like its location, hours of operation, and contact details. It’s a purpose-built tool that allows you to manage you business’ online presence across Google’s various properties. Right away, this information gets used to create listings that appear in Google search and Google Maps, which are two of the most popular destinations for people looking for information about local businesses. Having an optimized GMB listing makes it possible for customers to even find you in the first place. It’s a must. GMB also provides a platform for you to interact with customers by responding to reviews and managing your online reputation.

But more than anything, GMB helps you manage something called NAP, or “Name, Address, Phone Number.” NAP is a critical component of a business’ online presence. Consistency in a business’ NAP across the web is important for several reasons.

First, having consistent NAP information across the web helps to improve a business’ local SEO. When search engines like Google crawl the web, they look for signals that help them understand the relevance and credibility of a business. Consistent NAP information is one of these signals, and it can help to improve a business’ visibility in local search results.

Another benefit of consistent NAP information is that it can help to avoid confusion and misinformation. If a business’ NAP information is inconsistent across the web, it can be confusing for customers and search engines alike. For example, if a business’ address is listed as “123 Main Street” on one website and “123 Main St.” on another, it can be difficult for customers to know which one is correct. Consistent NAP information helps to avoid this confusion and ensure that customers have accurate information about a business.

  • So, how do I manage my GMB?
    • The most common method is to manually check your listing online, comparing it to an internal resource that has the correct NAP listed. The problem with this method for most agencies is that it’s slow and error-prone when you’re managing many listings. This activity alone would require a dedicated individual at most agencies. That said, this option is perfectly fine for a single, or even a handful, of listings.
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    • A much better method (especially if you’re managing a large number of GMB profiles) is to use the GMB API. Using the GMB API, I can instantly compare my NAP on GMB to what it is supposed to be. If there is an issue that needs to be resolved, I can spend my time just completing the task rather than hunting for problems that may not even exist. The other major advantage to the API is consistency. I don’t have to worry about making typos. One of the key benefits of using the GMB API is the ability to streamline the process of managing listings on Google. With the API, you can automate many of the tasks involved in creating and managing your listings, such as updating your contact information, responding to customer reviews, and managing your online reputation. This can save you a lot of time and effort, and it can also help you to be more efficient and effective with your listings on Google.

Merchant Center

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Street vendor single-line drawing.

Next, is Google Merchant Center. If you sell products online, Merchant Center will become your new best friend. It lets you create and manage product listings on Google Shopping, Google Search, and other Google properties–making them available, for free, to a wide audience of users who are searching for relevant products. But, the most powerful part of this tool is how you can use it to create paid campaigns in Google Ads.

In addition to reaching a wider audience and enabling you to create powerful product-based campaigns in Google Ads, Google Merchant Center also provides you with valuable data and insights. For example, you can use Google Merchant Center to track how your product listings are performing, and make data-driven decisions about how to improve your online presence. This can help you to optimize your product listings and improve your chances of making a sale. After you build some history on the platform, you’ll gain access to a group of very useful competitive metrics reports to help you optimize your campaigns. For example, you’ll be able to see what products are performing well with your competitors and adjust your campaigns accordingly.

    1. Direct upload
    2. FTP upload
    3. SFTP upload
    4. Scheduled fetches
    5. Upload via Google Cloud Storage
    6. Content API (Advanced)
  • The first five options can be acceptable methods for businesses with only a handful of products. The problem with all five of these methods is that they only provide very limited control, are slow to edit and inefficient to manage.
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  • Again, a much better method (regardless of whether you’re managing one or one-hundred accounts) is to use the Merchant Center API (Technically called “Content API”). Using the Merchant Center API, I can instantly update, create, delete or edit thousands of products for a client with a degree of control and speed that simply isn’t available in the other methods. This point is crucial if you’re using Merchant Center to promote products in Google Ads. With the introduction of Performance Max campaigns, management of your product-based campaigns relies heavily on the information you provide to Merchant Center. For example, if a group of products go on sale, I can quickly update all of those products with their sale price, which is different from the normal price. This will show the item as being on sale now (vs just updating the price). Or let’s say that you sell products locally and have a number of retail locations. In that case, you can apply for a program to show your local inventory to shoppers on the Google network. If you do that, Google expects that you provide updated inventory levels for each store location at least once per day. Also, this API is public, so there’s no barrier to entry. You can simply start using it.

Google Ads

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Auctioneer with a gavel in hand and people bidding.
Finally, we all know all about Google Ads. You buy ads tailored to a targeted audience. True, but Google Ads has become much more integrated with Merchant Center and GMB over the years. I mentioned before how managing Merchant Center feeds was key to managing product-based campaigns in Google Ads. Well, the same is true with Google My Business. There are many location-based ad formats in Google Ads that rely on the information in your GMB, such as Maps ads, location extensions and any ads that rely on your business’ address for targeting.
  • So, how do I manage Google Ads?
  • Since there’s a pattern forming here, I’ll just tell you upfront that the API is the best method, BUT that qualification is full of caveats and exceptions.

    When it comes to Google Ads, you’ll usually find that it’s smart to familiarize yourself with any and all tools at your disposal.
    • First, the regular user interface (UI) is perfectly fine for managing a single small campaign. It can even be fine for large accounts but it will have significant limitations compared to the API. That said, I use the UI all the time. It’s especially helpful for understanding new features or exploring different types of reporting.
    • Second, Google Ads Editor is massively powerful when doing ad-hoc bulk edits. One of my favorite parts about the tool is that I can copy and paste between campaigns and accounts. So, I can duplicate an entire campaign with a couple clicks and just edit the parts that I want to change. It’s a massive time-saver and less error prone than creating the campaign by hand.
    • Third, Ads Scripts. This is technically part of the UI but it can be used to manage campaigns without having to visit the UI. For example, I’ve written several scripts that I used for years to help me manage budgets. The language is javascript, but with some minor variations.
    • Finally, the fourth option, the Google Ads API. This is a very robust and powerful API. You can do almost anything with it. You just have to build it. For example, I have developed a number of internal apps that help me manage budgets, monitor pacing, create reports, and modify campaign settings based on real time conditions. 

The key point is that it gives you the ability to streamline the process of managing your campaigns on Google Ads. With the API, you can automate many of the tasks involved in creating and managing campaigns, such as setting budgets, targeting ads to specific audiences, and tracking the performance of your campaigns. This can save a lot of time and effort, and it can also help you to be more efficient and effective with your advertising efforts.

A System of Synergy

As I mentioned before, if you sell products online, both Merchant Center and GMB are both fundamental to your campaigns on Google Ads. With Merchant Center, it’s how you organize, classify, categorize and present your product information that will shape your Google Ads campaigns. As for Google My Business, it’s the backbone of your presence online, as we discussed, but it also has a few tricks up its sleeve. You see, certain business types produce different types of search results, such as restaurants or hotels. And in those cases, that information will be an important part of your Ads campaign. For instance, a restaurant might add information about their menu and specials to their Google My Business listing, and then create ads that target users who are searching for similar restaurants in the area. Hotels go a step further by having their own campaign type.

The Three Kings.

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The three kings of Online Business drinking absinthe.