After testing since November 2016, Google finally rolled out its new messaging feature in Google My Business in July 2017. Currently available in select countries (including the U.S., Brazil, and India), Chat will reach more locations soon.
With 90 percent of users globally saying they want to communicate through messaging, according to a report by Twilio, this could be just the feature consumers are looking for.
How It Works
Chat is available to users searching on desktop and mobile browsers and the search app on Android, but it will be available to more platforms later. As soon as you have set everything up, users who search for your business will see a message option in the local panel for your brand.
Users can choose whether to message you through their native message app, Allo, or an Android app called App Preview Messages. You also need to chat using an app — there is no option at this time to respond to users through your Google My Business dashboard.
Customers will see a proxy phone number when they message you. Although they can save this number to continue the conversation, they will be unable to call you. The number is not local to the customer at this time, but it will be in the future.
How to Find Messages
If you are the owner or manager of your business, you will see a “Chat” option on your Google My Business home page (it is not available for those with communication privileges alone). Here, you will notice the option to turn on messaging. You will need to link to a device, which involves verifying your phone number. Each account can only have one phone number at the moment.
Once you have set up your phone number, you can create an auto-reply welcome message. Bear in mind, this will only appear to users who are viewing the chat through an embedded messenger. This is because it is not possible to send an SMS before a user sends you a message. In other words, it is likely that the majority of users will not see your welcome message.
You can change your phone number and welcome message at any time by returning to the “Chat” card. You can also disable chat here, which may be useful if you prefer to keep chat off during business hours. There is no option to automatically set chat to turn on and off at certain times.
In the “Chat” card, you can find a few basic statistics about chats. These include number of clicks on the message button, number of conversations, and number of messages.
Improving the Experience
Google recommends being as responsive as possible when using chat. To encourage faster replies, Google shows users the average response times for businesses that have engaged in a few conversations.
Google asks businesses never to request sensitive information during chat, including credit card details, identification numbers (like social security numbers), and login credentials. Chat should just be for general inquiries.
Although it is unlikely that Chat will impact your SERP rankings, it is worthwhile turning it on and trying it out. If you find it inconvenient or distracting, you can always turn it off later. As Google makes improvements to this feature, it may become more valuable for a larger number of businesses in the future.