In November 2018, Google began to implement a change in how business owners could designate an area of service. Prior to that time, the approach involved using your address as a starting point for the area in which you would provide services. That is, you delivered to or would visit customers who were within a certain amount of distance of your business location. Other than using your physical address as the anchor and stating how far you would travel (40 miles as an example) to help a customer, there was nothing else do to.
As of the end of the third quarter in 2019, the old is gone and the new has arrived. Now all your GMB listings allow you to enter data into a new field that's separate from the address field. That new field is called the Service Area. You can still display your address or you can choose to use the Service Area field alone. In many cases, your old address did not make the transition and you'll need to enter it again, provided you want it displayed. That means you have to update your Google My Business listings.
What will this change mean? For business owners in more rural areas, probably not much. Business owners who're based in metropolitan areas might find this new arrangement more problematic at first. The new order of things definitely mean changes for end users conducting searches and marketing professionals seeking to help their clients appear higher in search engine results. Let's take a look at each of these three categories and see what type of impact SAB is already creating.
The Business Owner
Up to now, business owners entered the addresses for their business and had the option of designating a service area based on the distance from that address. For example, you own a pharmacy and offer delivery services for medication and other items that you sell. In your GMB listing, you would enter your physical address and then use the old service area field found in the Address section to enter a distance range. In the case of your pharmacy, you limit delivery to five miles. That would mean entering something like the phrase "delivering to customers within 5 miles" into the sub-fields found below the Address field. With the new setup, the Service Area is a separate field.
Now you have to rethink your local strategy. There are actually two ways to go about updating your profile information. Which one will work best for you? It depends on some specifics that apply to the city, town, or region where you do business.
Option 1 is to keep your full physical address in the address field. In the new Service Area field, you now enter a city or a region (think state or province) where you offer delivery or provide services at the customer's home or office.
How would that work? If you live in a small town and only provide services within that town, enter the town's name in the new Service Area field. When there are nearby small towns where you deliver or provide services, you can no longer rely on a radius to include those areas. You'll need to make use of descriptions or posts to indicate that you also serve those additional locations.
Option 2 is more for business operations that offer services at customer locations, but not at their places of business. A plumber would be a good example. In this scenario, your physical address really doesn't matter. What you will want to do is use the new Service Area field and enter a city to indicate where you offer plumbing services. In the event you offer services in a wider area, such as an entire state or province, identifying a region is a good idea.
As an example, you are a plumber who offers residential plumbing services in the Greater Toronto Area. That means you offer plumbing support in most of the cities found around Toronto. With the latest change, you still don't have to include your physical address. Enter Toronto into the Service Area field. What potential customers will see is a service area of Toronto, ON. Use your descriptions or posts associated with the account to explain that you offer services in those surrounding locations.
Benefits and Potential Obstacles to Business Owners
In the short-term, this new approach is not likely to do anything that will help increase your search engine rankings. Depending on where your business is located, it could hurt a little at first. This is expected to iron out as more users catch on to the idea of including more location-specific information in their searches.
On the other hand, you could see this approach as providing a little more privacy and by extension some degree of security. With the older setup, you had to enter an address in order to establish the radius for your service area. That's fine if you also offer services at your place of business, but not so great if you operate out of your home or don't provide help to customers at the business site. This new arrangement means when you only provide services at the customer's home or business site, no one has to know exactly where your business is based.
Designating a city in the Service Area field will become a plus. Someone who is looking for a local business to deliver something or a tradesperson to come out and do some work around the house might like to hire a person who is close by. Seeing that you offer services in the city might help you pick up more business volume. The caveat is that if you live in a larger city and happen to offer services in areas that are considered suburbs, it will require more effort on your part to make that clear.
The Marketing Expert
Marketing professionals will also need to shift the way they help clients decide what information to include in a GMB listing. Since it will often be more specific than simply designating a radius for the service area, there is a need to adjust the marketing effort a bit. That effort will have to take into account specific cities or regions.
On the one hand, it will sometimes mean designing a marketing approach that allows for targeting certain consumer demographics with the area you offer services. Those demographics may take into account gender, economic class, and other factors relevant to the location. In this way, the marketing campaign becomes more complex. It may also require a new way of tracking results in order to see what parts of the campaign need to be tweaked.
On the other hand, this can also present fresh opportunities to the digital marketing expert. When there are specific differences within the service area related to economy, customer type, and other factors, the marketing campaign can emphasize certain features of the services that speak to each of those targeted demographics. That could attract more attention from certain customers and boost the results from your designated service area.
The End User
End users conducting searches may find they like what this does for their search results. If a user wants to find a pharmacy that's convenient to home and also offers delivery services on medications, it's easy to include the city in the search query. The result is that the closest ones show up at the top of the list. Certainly this change will make things more convenient for the user.
The reality is that the old way of entering a radius into your GMB account is not going to return. Your only logical solution is to accept the change and learn how to use it to your advantage. Don't be afraid to experiment a bit with using regions other than cities, even if you choose to not have your physical address display on the listing. Give whatever you try a couple of months and see how it affects your search engine placement. Over time, you'll figure out how to make GMB work for you.