Today, the top ten organic results aren’t the only way onto the first page of Google.
And for local businesses they might not even drive the most conversions.
That’s because the Google Maps Pack is likely to sit at the very top of the SERP for any query with local intent.
Which makes appearing as one of those three Map Pack results an incredible opportunity for any service area or brick-and-mortar local businesses.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through exactly how to rank in Google Maps and give your local SEO a huge boost.
What is Google Maps marketing?
Google Maps marketing is the process of optimizing your Google My Business profile to rank higher in the relevant Maps search results.
It’s an essential piece of the local SEO puzzle, and can give location-based businesses a huge boost in the organic search results.
Why is Google Maps Marketing Critical for Local Businesses?
Appearing in Google Maps for your target keywords is one of the most effective ways for businesses with brick-and-mortar locations to get found online.
- “Near me” or “close by” type searches grew by more than 900% over two years. (Chat Meter)
- 97% of search engine users search online to find local businesses. (Ardent)
- 72% of consumers that did a local search visited a store within five miles. (HubSpot Marketing Statistics)
- 18% of local smartphone searches led to a purchase within a day, whereas only 7% of non-local searches led to a sale. (Think with Google)
- 78% of location-based mobile searches result in an offline purchase. (SEO Tribunal)
- Local searches result in purchases 28% of the time. (Joel House Search Media)
- 92% of searchers will pick businesses on the first page of local search results. (Nectafy)
- 88% of consumers who do a local search on their smartphone visit or call a store within a day (Nectafy)
What’s more, gone are the days when you had to include a location modifier in a search to see local results.
Today, Google filters the results it displays for every single query by the searcher’s location:
This means that map results are triggered for more searches than ever – even searches without explicit location intent:
So, whether your business is a small brick-and-mortar or a multi-location franchise, not showing up in Google Maps means losing out on potentially your biggest lead acquisition source.
What is Google My Business?
Google My Business is a free tool that lets you manage your Google Business Profile – the listing that shows up across Google Search and Maps.
It includes key information about your company, such as its name, location, and website.
Once you’ve claimed and optimized it, your Google Business Profile can also include a description of your organisation and links to your social media pages.
As Wave Financial’s Google Business listing shows, it might also include information you’d rather it didn’t show – like links to your competitor’s sites:
Even if you haven’t claimed your Google Business Profile (which you can do through your Google My Business account), Google might still show information about your business it’s indexed from around the web.
But be sure to claim a Google Business Profile that exists for your business if you want the best chances of showing up at the top of Google Maps for your target keywords.
The Top Google Maps Ranking Factors
According to Google’s official guidance on how to improve your local ranking on Google, there are three factors that determine how high up the local results your business ranks:
The more relevant your Business Profile is to a query, the higher it will rank for it.
Adding as much information to your Business Profile as possible will help ensure you’re ranking for the relevant results.
Search ‘dentist’ on your desktop or mobile and Google will preempt that you’re looking for the nearest place to get your teeth looked after through a Google Map Pack:
Google states that businesses that are ‘more prominent in the offline world’ are ‘likely to be prominent in local search results’.
It also also says ‘more reviews and positive ratings’ are a factor in prominence, as is ‘your position in web results’.
So, you’ll have the best chances of ranking in Google Maps and within Map Packs if your business is an established brand both online and off.
Google Maps Marketing Checklist
While you can’t influence the distance a searcher is to your business, you can certainly improve your relevance and prominence in Google Maps’ eyes.
Tick off every item in this checklist for the best chances of ranking at the top of the Google Maps results. The screenshots below illustrate just how dramatically your search visibility and user engagements can grow if you get it right.
Set up and validate your profile
Head to Google My Business to create or claim your Google Business Profile.
You’ll be asked to submit basic information about your business, such as its name, address, phone number, and website.
You’ll then need to verify your business by postcard, phone, email, or through Google Search Console.
If you’re setting up the Business Profile for a brand new business you’ll have to do this via postcard.
If your business has been around for a while, Google might have generated a Business Profile for it already – as it has for Venveo:
So, Google your business to discover if a Business Profile for it already exists.
You can claim this listing by clicking the ‘Own this business?’ link, after which you’ll be asked to complete your profile and verify you’re the owner.
Not every business has a physical location to direct customers to.
For example, a service-area business like a locksmith has multiple areas it operates in rather than one location.
If this is the case for your business, select the option to show the areas you serve instead of your business address. This will allow you to show your customers which areas you serve.
Select service areas
This is where you can list the different locations your business serves, so the right people can find you. Although, it is worth keeping in mind that, while Google will use this information to decide who to show your profile to, you’ll usually only rank for the city or location that’s closest to your business address.
Complete business contact information
In this section, add your business phone number and website so people can learn more and get in touch with any queries. If you don’t yet have a website, you can say so, or create a free website through the Google My Business platform.
Categories and subcategories
Choosing the primary business category for your listing is one of the most important steps, as it will help Google to understand what you do and who might be interested in your services.
This is a simple way to increase your relevance for a certain term – select ‘marketing agency’ as your business category and you’re far more likely to show up for that local search.
The search engine will pay the most attention to your main category, but you can also provide subcategories to highlight additional services or products you offer.
Remember: use categories to describe what your business is, not necessarily what it does or sells.
You can list the specific services or products you offer on your Google My Business listing.
If you log in to your account, you can go to the “info” section and add a service, product, or menu. You can then list any offerings under the most appropriate category. You can even add descriptions and prices to provide prospective customers with more information.
To increase your relevance for the queries you want to appear in the Map results for, be sure to include the keyword you’re targeting.
This will not only give Google context for what kind of service you offer – it will also catch the eye of people as they scroll through the results.
So, be sure to include your keywords in your business description. Although avoid appending them to your business name, as this is a clear case of keyword stuffing that Google will penalize you for.
Bay Property Management Group does a great job of this here:
Notice how they’ve included keywords within the description that might catch the eye of a searcher, however, they also understood that keywords in descriptions don’t directly affect rankings, so it isn’t overdone. There is an excellent balance between explaining what they offer, and also highlighting what makes them unique and attractive to both rental owners and tenants:
According to Google: “Businesses with photos are more likely to receive requests for driving directions to their location, as well as clicks through to their websites, than businesses that don’t have photos.”
Be sure to fill out your Google Business Profile with your logo and photos of your premises. Take a look at this example from local weight loss clinic, Aspire Wellness, they even went as far as to add great before and after photos in their GMB profile! This is a great example of a local business taking full advantage of the power of GMB photos.
This will both help customers feel confident they’ll be able to find your business, increase their trust in your brand, and entice them to visit your location.
Google My Business Posts
You can also use Google My Business to create posts that promote your sales, share updates and news, and engage customers.
These posts appear on your profile and can feature text, images, and videos.
They’re a great way of making your Google Business Profile stand out. Notice how Lizzy’s Jewelry & Pawn does this by taking advantage of things like holiday events, in-store specials, discounts, product features.
Anyone can ask and answer questions about your business on a Google Business Profile.
This information appears publicly on your profile, which makes it essential to promptly answer any of these questions thoughtfully and professionally.
This is a great chance to showcase the quality of your customer service before a customer has even picked up the phone or set foot in your store.
Make sure your site is mobile-friendly
61% of mobile searchers are more likely to contact a local business if they have a mobile-friendly site, according to HubSpot Marketing Statistics.
Make sure your mobile site is responsive and fast-loading – as well as provides visitors with all the information they need to contact or visit your business to optimize conversions.
Fight GMB spam
Fighting GMB spam is one of the most powerful ways of improving your website’s rankings in the map pack, so you shouldn’t ignore it.
Of course, Google does try to catch and eliminate all spam on its own, but Maps tends to be inundated, which makes this difficult. So, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out and report anything that looks suspicious.
First, you’ll need to know what you’re looking for. GMB spam can include:
- Listings that feature keyword or city name stuffing
- Duplicate listings
- Listings that use false or non-existent addresses
- Fake lead generation listings
- Faked reviews
If you spot a suspicious listing, click “suggest an edit” — you’ll then be given the option to edit the details or remove the place altogether.
If you’re unsure about the best course of action, use Google’s Redressal Complaint Form instead. The listing in question will then be assessed in line with Google’s guidelines and will be edited or removed if it does turn out to be fraudulent, malicious, misleading, or a duplicate.
Accurate NAP Information
Your business’s NAP – name, address, and phone number – is one of the most important parts of your Google My Business listing.
If this information doesn’t match up with what’s listed on your website and elsewhere it’s listed around the web, your Maps rankings could suffer.
If Google looks throughout the web and finds a lot of contradicting information about your business (such as different names, addresses, and phone numbers) it makes it harder for their algorithm to confirm you’re a legitimate business — and as a general rule of thumb, you’re better off when you can make it as easy as possible for Google to know it has accurate data about your business and website.
Two of the best services to check for NAP accuracy around the web are Yext and BrightLocal (affiliate). Both offer a citation audit service that will find inconsistencies around the web and help you clean them up.
The first step is to use Bright Local’s Local Listings Health Scanner to see just how inaccurate your business listings and citations are.
Let’s use local HVAC company Hughes Mechanical as an example.
Notice how their scan shows that only 1/15 listings are 100% accurate, while 7 are not found and another 7 contain errors:
Bright Local also shows an accuracy breakdown for the listings that it scanned. You’ll notice that most of these “errors” have to do with the missing “LLC” from the business name, which is nice for continuity, but by no means a deal-breaker.
However, you’ll also notice a few of the listings have incorrect addresses & even phone numbers, which are a much bigger issue.
After identifying the “problem listings” you can choose to manually correct the listings, or use a service like Loganix’s citation builder which will take care of your primary business directory listings & citations.
Any of these services will also help you build out additional key citations that actually matter in an easy-to-use dashboard, eliminating the need to scour the web and submit directory listing information one-by-one.
Get more online reviews
According to Google, “more reviews and positive ratings” are a direct Google Maps ranking factor.
Here’s a great example from Omaha Drain Cleaning, who despite serving a very specific area and industry has successfully built up almost 150 positive reviews!
It’s therefore well worth encouraging and incentivizing your customers to leave a Google review after service their service is completed, as this will give a huge boost to your local SEO.
There are a number of tactics you can use to secure more Google reviews. You should send out post-purchase emails to ask for feedback, include Google review calls-to-action on relevant pages of your website, and create regular social media posts asking people to leave reviews to support your business.
But the most important thing is to make it as easy as possible for your customers. Don’t just ask for reviews and expect them to track down your reviews page — always provide a link and instructions, so people know exactly what you need them to do.
It’s important to note that the most frequently mentioned words in your reviews are highlighted in a word cloud that sits above the reviews, as seen in Ketoned Bodies’ Google Business Profile:
This gives people viewing your Google Business Profile an idea of the key features and attributes of the services you provide at a glance, making it a crucial part of your Google Business Profile.
Provide a great service and this word cloud is likely to include plenty of terms that entice people to pick up the phone or pay your business a visit.
Potential customers are likely to read your reviews, so this is also a great chance to showcase your customer support.
For the best results, respond to every review, whether it’s good or bad.
Thank people for positive reviews, and calmly respond to negative reviews – being careful to never talk down to the disgruntled customer.
Tipalti is a great example of a brand that gets this right:
Respond to negative reviews gracefully and your brand can actually come out looking better – allowing you to turn bad reviews into a blessing.
Build local links
Backlinks are one of the strongest Google ranking factors – and things are no different with Google Maps marketing.
Links from local businesses, regional press, and local publications will send a strong signal to Google that you’re a local authority.
And if the anchor text of some of those links includes your location modifier then all the better.
A good way to earn local links is to support local businesses and causes, host networking events, and share your expertise at local events. When those things get coverage, be sure to request a link when people write about them online.
Track and optimize using Google My Business analytics
Having accurate data is critical to making informed decisions. In addition to lacking granular data, GMB insights doesn’t provide a ton of historical data. You can offset this to some extent using Google Analytics and Google Data Studio.
Distinguishing Between GMB Referrals and Organic Referrals
One of the first things you’ll want to do is add UTM parameters to your GMB URL from the dashboard, like this:
Setting a location for your listing is especially important if you have a multi-location business — otherwise, you won’t be able to identify separate GMB results sending traffic to your site in Google Analytics.
In doing so, whenever you check your Google Analytics Acquisition reports you’ll be able to distinguish between visitors who came to your site organically through a GMB listing and organically through the traditional search results.
You can get to this report by going to Google Analytics → Acquisition → All Traffic → Source/Medium.
Getting Historical GMB Data
You can use Google Data Studio to get historical data from GMB greater than 6 months. The Supermetrics (affiliate) Data Studio connector works well for this, allowing you to access all of your GMB data, build custom reports and analyze your data at scale — which is really helpful if you have multiple business locations.
In Google Data Studio you can report on important KPIs originating from GMB like:
- Phone calls
- Website visits
- Direction requests
- Branded search impressions
- Direct search impressions
- Views on maps
It will also allow you to pull in detailed data on your customer reviews including:
- Reviewer’s name
- Star rating
- The comment they left
- Replies you responded with to their reviews
You can view and analyze all of this data using complete historical data in ways you never could with GMB Insights alone, uncovering trends and growth rates by comparing the data month-over-month, quarter-over-quarter, year-over-year and more.
Google Maps Ads
If you want to take a shortcut to the top of the Google Maps results then you can use Google Ads’ location extension to appear above the organic Maps results for your target keyword.
Google also recently introduced a host of new Maps ads features, including promoted pins (which can include branding and logos), in-store promotions, customizable business pages, and a local inventory search function.
These are valuable features in the toolbox for businesses that are just starting out with local SEO and are waiting for their organic positioning to improve.
It’s also an effective way for established brands to immediately boost visibility in Maps and claim more real estate across Google for its target keywords.
Start Ranking Higher in Google Maps
If you want to drive more traffic and leads to your local business, then you need to optimize your Google Business Profile to rank in the local Map pack.
Follow the steps outlined in this guide and you’ll be well on the way to ranking higher for your most valuable product and service-based keywords.
If you need help planning and running a winning Google Maps marketing strategy, contact me directly here.