Local SEO: Important Google Maps Ranking FactorsBefore we can start any optimizations to rank higher on Google Maps, we must first discuss the factors that will affect your ranking. According to a report by Moz, here are the top 5 ranking factors for Google Maps results:
- Google My Business listing optimizations. Including here are your business’s proximity to the searcher’s location, keyword optimizations, your business’s NAP information, usage of categories, and other optimizations.
- Inbound links. As with organic SEO, backlinks are one of the most important ranking signals. Internal linking structure will also affect your site’s indexability.
- Review Signals. Number of positive reviews especially on your Google Maps listing. Reviews on third-party sites will be accounted to a lesser extent.
- On-site Optimizations. Will include NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) format and optimizations (including structured data markup), keywords usage, mobile-responsiveness, and other technical factors.
- Citation. Any mention of your NAP information on the internet. The quantity of citations as well as consistency of information are the most important factors here.
Claim and Verify Your Google My Business AccountThe very first step we can do is to claim our Google My Business listing. This is a fairly simple process, as Google will give you a detailed step-by-step process to claim your listing. The main consideration here is to fill out accurate and up-to-date information (we will discuss it again further below). After you’ve claimed your listing, don’t forget to verify it. Unverified businesses will be locked out from some useful features, and it will also hurt your rankings. Generally, Google will send you a postcard containing a verification PIN, so make sure to use a valid physical address. Depending on your business type, you might be able to verify your listing via email or phone call.
Google My Business OptimizationsThere are obviously various approaches you can use in optimizing your Google My Business listing. However, in regards to local SEO, here are the most important areas:
- NAP: We have briefly discussed the importance of NAP above. Make sure to include complete, up-to-date, and accurate NAP information. It is also important to maintain consistency if your NAP is listed elsewhere on the internet.Avoid using a virtual office address at all costs.
- Category: choose one primary category that can represent what your business does. You can also choose several subcategories, as long as they are relevant. This can be a good opportunity to attract a wider audience base.
- URL. Use a valid website URL so that Google can properly index your site. This would mean you also need to optimize your site for SEO.
- Attributes: you can use attributes to show unique features offered by your business. For example, you can inform your audience that you offer outdoor seatings or unisex toilet.
- Business hours information: Make sure to include accurate business hours at all times. You can add special hours for holidays or weekends, so update this section regularly.
- Description: You can include your target keywords here, but include them naturally. Focus on informing and attracting human audience.
- Images and Videos: Google Maps results are visual by nature. So, according to Google themselves, businesses that feature photos get 40% higher requests for directions. Use well-taken photos to showcase your business, and you can also use videos to inform and engage your audience.
Building Local CitationsWhy is NAP citation important for local businesses? There are two main reasons:
- It is, as discussed above, one of the strongest ranking signals for Google Maps ranking.
- More conversions. Remember that people are not only looking for local businesses on Google. Citations can be a great source for organic traffic, bringing you new prospects.
- Google My Business listing: the most important citation regarding local SEO.
- Major online directories (Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc.) You can use this list to find these directories.
- Other online directories according to your niche and location. If you are based in the US, you can use this list to find online directories based on city. You can also check out this list for citations based on category.
- Your own website. Use text-based, structured NAP.
Getting More Positive ReviewsNot only more positive reviews will benefit your Google Maps ranking, but we also need to consider the fact that more and more people nowadays are relying on reviews before making any purchase. This is especially true for local businesses, so if you don’t work to get more reviews, it can significantly hurt your conversion rates. There are three main approaches we can use in getting more (positive) reviews:
- Asking at the right moment. More often than not, simply asking your customer will net you that previous review. However, make sure to ask at the right moment so they don’t leave bad reviews instead. Ask when they show indications of positive experiences. For example, when they just made a repeat purchase.
- Incentives. Fairly obvious,since it’s a common (and effective) practice. We can offer incentives in exchange of positive reviews (and/or social media mentions). For example, if you are a restaurant, you can offer free dessert when they show you their review. The key for this is the amount of incentive: offer too little and it might not be interesting, offer too much and it might hurt your profitability. You will need to properly understand your audience to offer the right amount.
- Respond. Responding to existing reviews will encourage more users to leave reviews. You will give them the perception that their issues will be heard (and appreciations will be appreciated). You will need to especially respond to bad reviews. Do this quickly and politely. Avoid offering false promises, and discern between fake and valid reviews. If you are sure a negative review is fake (and you have sufficient proof), you can ask Google to remove this review.