To maximize keyword rankings in Google Maps and Map Packs, a business must set up and continuously nurture four primary local SEO focus areas that include: business data, local landing pages, off-page visibility, and online reputation.
Google claims to use three focus areas in its Google Maps rankings for businesses, known as the Google Local Algorithm:
- Distance (Proximity)
Relevance refers to how well a local listing matches what someone is searching for. Adding complete and detailed business information can help Google better understand your business and match your listing to relevant searches.
Distance or proximity
This is just what it says on the tin – how far is each potential search result from the location term used in a search? If a user doesn’t specify a location in their search, Google will calculate distance based on what’s known about the user’s location (this is visible at the bottom of SERPs and is not always 100% accurate).
Prominence refers to how well-known a business is. Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and search results try to reflect this in local rankings.
Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories). Google review counts and ratings are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking. Your position in organic search results is also a factor, so general SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization.
The somewhat obvious signal Google Maps will start with before displaying search results is the distance from the searcher’s location. After all, why would Google show you a business listing 10 miles away, when there is a business offering the same product or service only 1 mile away?
The distance focus point is thought to be based on the algorithm created by a computer scientist named Edsger Dijkstra, known simply as Dijkstra’s Algorithm, which finds the shortest paths between nodes in a graph, such as road networks.
The remaining ranking signals for businesses can be influenced by the local search engine optimization specialist. These attributes include:
- Managing the accuracy of business data
- Optimizing local landing pages (if you’re dealing with more than one location)
- Improving off-page visibility in search engines, navigation engines, local-social, industry, and regional directories
- Improving online reputation as it relates to ratings, reviews, and perhaps even sentiment
It’s critical to the success of a local SEO strategy to have the mindset of treating these factors like a needy plant, with constant sunlight and water. Many businesses lose traffic by simply deciding to rest on their laurels, resulting in a competitor earning more reviews, business listings, or having a better landing page.
Managing the Accuracy of Business Data
Anyone can create a Google My Business profile with a valid phone number and address, even if they are not conducting business from either (although this is against Google’s guidelines), just so long as Google can verify through a phone call or postcard. This might explain why there is so much spam in the search results, something Google has continuously said they are working to address.
To authenticate whether a business is real or not (and to improve location accuracy), search engines use a number of data sources. The most well-known are listed below, but it’s likely Google is using a number of other sources as well.
- Data Axle (formerly Infogroup)
Managing business data can be challenging. Thankfully, there are platforms and services available (such as our platform) that have direct connections with these data sources, often called data aggregators, who receive bulk rates and pass the discounts down to their clients.
Optimizing Local Landing Pages
In the Google My Business guide mentioned above, Google states that “Your position in web results is also a factor, so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization.” To rank in web results, a corresponding page must exist, and on-page search engine optimization best practices should be used for that page.
Many of these optimizations are discussed in Google’s SEO Starter Guide, including basic SEO focal points, such as:
- Web Security
- User Privacy
- Browser and Device Compatibility
- Unique Content
- Mobile Usability
It’s important to compare your pages to competitor pages and ask questions that might include the following:
- Does this page give you enough information to help you make a decision?
- Is it easy to find the information that’s most important to you when choosing a place like this one?
- Which of these two pages is the most helpful? (Compare against another competitor, use additional questions for each other competitor.)
- By looking at this page, is it convincing enough to compel you to not go back to Google and comparison shop?
- Can you fill out a form on this page (if applicable) quickly and with one hand?
- Are the buttons and links easy to click or too small?
- How could this page be improved to give you everything you need to want to contact business?
Pro Tips for Local Landing Page SEO
Listings that stand out in organic search results often have more rows than competing listings.
Improving Off-page Visibility
Similar to an organic SEO strategy, a local SEO campaign meant to improve rank in Google Maps requires trust from external sources, mainly other websites. Google itself states this requirement in the guide mentioned above and highlighted below. In particular this hint:
Improving Online Reputation
For obvious reasons, very few search engine users prefer to click on unrated or low-rating listings in Google Maps or blended Map “Pack” listings. As a result, less desirable businesses and their listings are typically demoted over time.
“What’s this got to do with reputation?” you ask. Well, while Google does not say they use clicks on listings based on their reviews when they describe how to rank in Google Maps, they do say they use reviews and positive ratings in their algorithm, as shown below.
Google Maps Prominence and Online Reviews
If a business does not have an active strategy for earning and improving reviews, it’s possible that over time rankings will plummet, and right along with them, leads.
If one were to choose a single actionable item to focus on to improve online performance, that item might be to get everyone in the organization excited about learning how to rank in Google Maps, be it through the Cheat Sheet mentioned above, the Marketing Portal, or through recommended training.
By nurturing the areas of local SEO each month, either through KPI goals or percentage of growth improvement, a business can climb their way to the top of Google Maps and stay there for an array of target keywords.
Keep in mind that algorithms don’t just store data; they analyze patterns. Avoiding a “set it and forget it” mindset could be the one strategy that sets your business apart from its competition.