Google is so ubiquitous in our everyday digital lives that it’s easy to overlook the many tools it offers that have a business slant. But there are lots of them, and I’m not just talking about Microsoft Office equivalents such as Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, or Google Analytics.
Gathered here are ten serious Google services that can boost your productivity, get your team on the same page, and market your company. You probably already use some of these services for fun—like Hangouts—but they have powerful business applications as well.
Blog: Google and Your Business
If you haven’t stumbled across Google and Your Business—Google’s blog for businesses—you owe it to yourself to check it out. It’s a gateway to all sorts of resources, including tip collections, case studies, and news about relevant hangouts and sites, such as Google for Entrepreneurs. The fly-out toolbar on the right makes it easy to archive posts, apply labels, add to your RSS feed, and find other useful Google blogs.
Google Places for Business
With Google Places for Business, you can add salient details about your business—not just name, address, and phone number, but business category, hours of operation, types of payment accepted, and areas served—to Google’s database without paying Google a dime. The information—including a small map—appears in relevant Google search results. Google Places previews what your listing will look like even as you provide the information in a questionnaire. While this service is free, Google does encourage you to increase your business’s visibility by buying an AdWords ad, but the sales pitch is low-key.
Google+ Pages is Google’s equivalent of a Facebook page, but with a couple of customization options specifically designed for businesses. You start by choosing the type of businesses (brick-and-mortar companies have options to help people locate them), then add content such as a cover photo, your logo, and a brief description. As the creator of the page, you can designate other administrators or even transfer ownership of the page. Use it to promote your business with photos, videos, news, links to Hangouts, and more.
Google often promotes Hangouts as a video chat room for friends and family, but the chat rooms also have features that make them useful for business meetings. Not only can you see and hear up to ten participants, but you can collaborate on Google Drive documents, share your screen, or run third-party apps. A Hangout may not offer all the features of a commercial Web-conferencing tool such as WebEx or GoToMeeting, but the ones it does have may be all that a geographically dispersed team needs—and it’s free.
Google Voice Global Spam Filtering
Sadly, spam is no longer confined to the email inbox. Robocalls can be a major time-consuming distraction. But just as Gmail’s spam filter quite effectively winnows out a lot of junk mail, Google Voice (Google’s universal call forwarding/voicemail service) offers tools for discarding these unwanted calls before they ring through. Primary among them is Global Spam Filtering, which immediately discards calls coming from numbers Google has identified as spam sources. Activate it by clicking on Calls in Google Voice’s settings.
Smart Rescheduler for Google Calendar
If you need to reschedule a meeting you’ve created in Google Calendar, you could look through participants’ shared calendars to see when everyone is free—or you could enable Smart Rescheduler in Google Calendar Labs (which you access from the GCal settings menu), and let Google do the searching for you. Once enabled, Smart Rescheduler appears as a widget on the right side of the Calendar window; to use it, highlight the event you wish to reschedule, and click the Find a new time link. You’ll get a list of alternative times, each with a Schedule This button to click for the time you choose.
Google Forms, a capable and easy-to-use survey tool, is a free Google Drive add-on you can download at the Chrome Web Store (which also has free and paid business apps from third-party vendors). Create your survey from question templates (choosing between types such as multiple choice, checkbox, scale, or text answers), then either post it in a Google+ Hangout or distribute it via email. Recipients submit the completed form by clicking a button at the end. The survey itself and the responses are all automatically stored on your Google Drive, and you can view the results in either summary form (with auto-generated graphical aides) or in a spreadsheet.
In the era of the smartphone, having a website created for desktop browsers may not be enough. GoMo by Google is a site for businesses that want to investigate creating a mobile-friendly version of their site, or at least that want to test how accessible their site is to mobile users. There’s a tool that shows what your site looks like on a smartphone and that rates its mobile-worthiness by asking a couple of questions—for example, whether you can click links with your thumb. If nothing else, GoMo makes you give some thought to these issues—and if you want to act, it has links to developers that can help you out or do the work for you.
GMail Priority Inbox
Gmail puts yellow arrows next to messages it believes, based on Google algorithms, you’ll find important, and you can modify its choices manually (by clicking on the arrows) to help teach it what really matters to you. The visual cues save you time in sifting through your mailbox, but you can speed things up even further with Gmail’s Priority Inbox feature. Just click on Inbox in the left nav bar (to bring up the inbox-style menu) and choose Priority Inbox, which will group at the top of your inbox all unread messages with yellow arrows. If you want to go back to sorting mail according to when it arrived, just pick Classic from the Inbox style menu.
Two-step verification for Google accounts
If news about hackers gaining access to password-protected data has made you nervous (or even if it hasn’t), consider beefing up your Google account security by activating Google’s two-step verification for account logins. This adds a second password (in addition to the usual password entry) for logins: a code Google sends to your cell phone or landline, or that you store on paper in your wallet (in case you’re not near a phone). After an initial setup, you can waive the requirement on trusted computers and mobile devices for 30 days—and you can always revoke waivers from your security settings. Read a detailed explanation and setup guide here.