With no clear end in sight to the coronavirus pandemic, businesses that use technology to provide services have become even more relevant, and it’s become even more important for those businesses to use digital marketing to find new customers. This can put a financial strain on businesses and create complications for businesses like physical therapy clinics, which typically provide services that require in-person interactions.

But just as we’ve seen those businesses evolve to meet customers—and patients—where they are, we’ve seen Google improve its features and services to better help local businesses leverage the tech giant’s platform to connect with potential customers. Implementing these tools can greatly benefit the marketing efforts of physical therapy clinics of all sizes—even those that can’t spend a lot on marketing. In fact, Google My Business (GMB) continues to provide a free platform that local businesses can use to grow their online presence without spending a dime.

Google Maps and Business Messages Updates

Google has been working on improving its bevy of products to increase ease of use and better integrate with local businesses. The company has a history of rolling out product updates without promotion, and its GMB product is no exception. Google frequently updates its Google My Business features and functionality, allowing local businesses to be found much easier—both in search engine results and on Google Maps. 

GMB now allows prospective customers to message business owners directly (more on that in the next section) and even schedule appointments. These features can help local businesses compete with bigger businesses that have much larger websites and marketing budgets. 

WebPT has previously covered how to set up and optimize a Google My Business profile, so refer back to past resources if you need a GMB refresher. A GMB profile is the foundation of a business’s presence on Google (outside of its website displaying in search results), and ensuring that your clinic appears in Google Maps is critical for establishing your online presence. 

How can clinics use Google Maps to connect with prospective patients directly? 

One of Google’s newest digital tools is improved functionality for customers and businesses using GMB’s messaging feature. This feature is a part of Google’s Business Messages channel, which provides businesses and customers the ability to contact and send unique messages from their phone (both Android and iOS). Customers and businesses may have used this feature previously, but now they are able to do so directly from Google Maps.

When you search locally for a specific business or business or type using your smartphone, Google Maps will show a map using your current location, along with a list of business results relevant to your search. This map looks something like this:

google mobile search resultsWhen you click on a particular business you’d like to know more about, you’ll see how Business Messages appears directly on the business’s GMB profile in the map view. This feature is available for both Android and iOS, but it will also appear in Apple Maps for iOS, as local business information is updated there whenever GMB updates. 

results cardWhy are Google Maps and Business Messages important?

Given that 2020 has brought new challenges to nearly every business, it’s more important than ever for those businesses to provide more avenues for prospective customers to contact them and, ultimately, choose to use their services. The pandemic has placed many limitations on the types of services that certain businesses can provide, the hours they can operate, and their ability to stay open at all. This has led to consumer confusion, and those consumers want a source of reliable information about the businesses they may choose to visit. 

Businesses can update information in real time.

While physical therapy practices have by and large been categorized as essential businesses, this designation only sparks more questions for prospective patients. WebPT has covered the updates Google has made to allow businesses to add special hours, services, and information relevant to COVID-19 to their GMB pages. But, the new messaging feature takes this a step further, allowing searchers to contact a business directly and ask a specific question directly from their phone. 

More consumers are interacting with businesses online before visiting those businesses.

Google has been documenting consumer insights regarding smartphone search trends for years, and it has provided detailed local search conversion statistics indicating continual growth in people finding and interacting with local businesses. As of May 2016, “76% of people who search for a local business on their smartphone, visit a physical place within 24 hours and 28% of those searches result in a purchase.”

GMB’s new messaging feature provides a great opportunity to connect with potential new patients who might not have contacted a clinic or practice previously. In its State of Digital Customer Experience Report 2019, Conversocial found that 75% of consumers prefer to engage with a brand through private messages when given a choice.

How does this affect physical therapy practices?

Of course, this update impacts all industries, and certain types of businesses—like restaurants and retail stores—can leverage it to a greater degree, as they are driven by quicker, lower-cost transactions. But this trend exists in almost every sector. More and more people are searching for local businesses online—using their smartphones as well as their desktop devices—and businesses that provide better communication options and increased online visibility will have the best chance of reaching those searchers.

Chances are, your clinic has pivoted its operations—and perhaps even its service offerings (hello, telehealth)—in response to the pandemic. Staying on top of GMB’s latest features will help you get the word out about those changes to the widest audience possible, thus providing more opportunities for new patients to find your clinic—at no additional cost to you.

Matthew Berger is WebPT’s SEO specialist. He’s spent the past five years staying up to date on how search engines rank websites and helping businesses connect with larger audiences.