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Google My Business

Two Simple Steps to Improve Your Google My Business Categories

Written by Chris Roberts on October 15, 2020

Welcome to Day 1 of a series designed to help you optimize your Google My Business (GMB) listing so that your business stands out to new prospective clients.

Today, we’re going to take a close look at your GMB categories.

Of all of the GMB modules – Posts, Questions & Answers, Products and Reviews – Categories may require the most research and experimentation to get right.

The amount you’ll need to experiment depends entirely on the type of business the GMB listing is for.

Primary vs. Secondary Categories

When you first set up your listing, you’ll be asked to select a primary category for the business.

All business categories are determined by Google, so you will have to select yours from a list of options, like this (as you start typing, the list will suggest matching categories):

gmb-category-list

If the GMB listing is for a plumber then the primary category is obvious, but what if the listing is for an apartment community: should you select “apartment complex” or “apartment building”?

The choice becomes even more muddled if you’re a Taekwondo school, where you can choose between all of the following:

  • Taekwondo school
  • Martial arts school
  • Martial arts club
  • Self defense school

What you need to resolve here is how a person who has never heard of your business before might discover you for the first time. Are they more likely to do a broader search for “martial arts” or would they specifically look for “Taekwondo”?

Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that just because you select a specific business category you’ll show up higher in the results. Google’s algorithm is complex, and takes into account multiple factors, not only the primary business category.

The good news if you are undecided is that you are able to – and you should – select multiple secondary categories for your listing.

Only the primary category will display on your Google My Business listing, but the additional categories help provide Google with context (and hopefully alternate search terms) so that your business is not limited to a single category.

For example, if you are managing a GMB listing for an “apartment complex”, it might also be appropriate to add that you are a “furnished apartment building”, “housing complex” or “student housing center”.

Action Step 1 - See All GMB Categories

While you certainly can pick a primary GMB category by just typing different things into the category field and seeing what Google suggests, there's a better way.

  1. Go to the PlePer Tools GMB Categories list
  2. Select your language and country and check “Show results in table (with option to search)”
  3. Click “Fetch Google My Business Categories”

This displays a list of every single GMB category, all 3000+ of them. While you can browse through the entire list (a great way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon), you can also use the search feature. Like the GMB category picker, this will filter the list as you start typing.

For example:

gmb-primary-category

You can use this to quickly brainstorm a variety of different categories to use for your primary category.

Action Step 2 - Discover Secondary Categories

Now that you've found your ideal primary category (I hope), the next step is very simple: still using the PlePer tools GMB list, click “Related Categories” for your primary category.

For example, here are all the related categories for the primary term “apartment building”:

related-gmb-business-categories

Take as many of these related categories that are appropriate, and build a list of them to use as secondary categories.

Once you have a good list in place, go to your GMB listing and add your primary and secondary categories all at once. If you already have ones selected but find more appropriate ones using this method, then go ahead and change them.

TIP: Google will periodically update their list of business categories, so it’s a good idea to check back once per quarter to see if there are any new categories that you can leverage.

Bonus Action Step - See What GMB Categories Competitors Are Using

Let’s say that you’re stuck choosing between two very similar categories like “apartment building” and “apartment complex”. Either one might be appropriate to use.

As if you didn’t have enough decisions to make every single day, now you have to divine which of these two overlapping categories will make your listing show up instead of your competitors.

Competitors? Aha! Why not check out what categories they chose?

Here’s how:

  1. On Google Chrome, install the PlePer Tools Local SEO Extension
  2. Go to Google maps
  3. In the search field, enter “[business type] near [city, state]” (e.g. “apartments near raleigh nc” or “martial arts near richmond va”)
  4. When the map result comes up, the PlePer SEO extension shows you all of the primary AND secondary categories each business has selected
  5. Note: you may need to disable other Chrome extensions in order to get this to work

Use the information on your competitors to see which primary and secondary categories they use to make sure that there are none that you have missed.

Let's say that you represent Charleston Row Townhomes: when you do a local search for "apartments near Pineville, NC", you discover that all of your competitors have selected "Apartment building" as their primary category and they also have "Apartment rental agency" for a secondary category.

gmb-categories

Look what happens when the search query changes to "apartment rental agency near Pineville, NC" - Pineville Place Apartments remains in the top spot, but the listing for Charleston Row has disappeared.

gmb-categories-02

In order to remain competitive, Charleston Row Townhomes should consider both updating their primary category and adding one or more secondary categories.

What's Next?

Congratulations on completing Day 1 of your 5-Day improvements to your Google My Business listing!

Today’s step was pretty easy so hopefully you were able to complete it quickly – if nothing else, you checked in on your categories to make sure that they are the best ones to describe your business.

Feel free to move onto Day 2 or – if you prefer – just wait until tomorrow to keep going.

In Day 2 we will dig into the details of Google My Business Posts, and we’ll explore how you can gain a competitive advantage with just one Post per week.