How do I rank higher on Google Maps?
- Claim and verify your Google My Business (GMB) listing
- Fully complete your GMB listing
- Ensure your GMB category is accurate
- Add lots of high quality photos
- Acquire relevant Google reviews
- Make posts regularly
- Learn more about Local SEO factors that affect your rankings
- Use SEMRush’s Position Tracking to monitor how you rank for your most important local keywords
- Read our thoughts on local SERPs in our piece on digital marketing trends for 2021
Ranking on Google Maps
Ranking well on Google Maps can be monumental for local businesses. More and more people are taking to search engines to find local information. In fact, SEO Tribunal reports that 97% of people learn more about a business online than they do anywhere else.
The age-old assumption that word of mouth is king is beginning to fade.
Not only do most people learn about local businesses online, but 84% of Google users conduct local searches on a regular basis (think “hvac repair near me”). Consumers are searching for local information on a regular basis. Believe it or not, people are searching for more than just funny videos and pictures of puppies – and it has huge implications for local business.
Two Primary Ways to Search Locally
One way someone might perform a local search is directly on Google Maps – perhaps on the Google Maps app or within their browser.
This type of search will display around 20 locations on the map and in the lefthand sidebar. Note that these are not necessarily websites, though many contain a link to the business’ website. These are Google My Business listings, which are critical to ranking in maps. More on this later.
When most marketers think about ranking in Google Maps, we think about the local pack (sometimes called the “snack pack”).
This is a rich snippet Google rolled out years ago to help people find local businesses that match their search queries. The map pack always displays 3 local businesses (with an occasional advertisement squeezed in).
What Searches Display the Local Pack?
Whether you realize what they were called or not, you’ve most likely seen and interacted with a local pack on Google.
A local pack will show on a search results page just about every time Google registers local intent. In other words, if Google thinks a searcher wants a local result, they will display the local pack.
Local Specific Searches
Of course, Google will also show a local pack when you specify a city or region in your search. “Apple pies in Greenville, SC” will almost always trigger the map.
Google’s local map will also display without the user specifying a city.
Local Intent Searches
Google has become smart enough to know when we’re looking for a local result, even when we don’t specify.
For an informational search, like “how to bake an apple pie,” you don’t need recipes from a local business, any recipe will do.
On the other hand, for a transactional search like, “where to buy a fresh apple pie,” Google will recognize you’re in need of a local business.
Ranking on the Map
There are many factors to consider, and depending on your industry, some factors are a little more important than others. Here’s a shortlist of the top 5 factors based on a yearly study by our friends at Moz:
What factors affect your Google Maps rankings?
- Google My Business Profile
- On-Page Relevance
- Citations and NAPs (instances of business name-address-phone number across the web)
What is Google My Business?
Google My Business is a free profile that allows businesses to appear in Google maps and engage with customers for free.
Whether or not you know it by name, you’ve likely seen and used a Google My Business listing. Google My Business profiles are the bread and butter of local search and play a huge role in whether or not you rank well for local searches.
Your Google My Business Profile contains:
- Business name
- Business category
- Phone number and address
- Website link
- Business images
- Popular times to visit
If a user clicks on a result in the local pack (not on “Website”) they are taken to that company’s Google My Business listing.
If a user types in a brand name, they are also likely to see that company’s Google My Business listing on the right-hand side of the search results page.
Getting Started with Google My Business
Claim (or Create) Your Profile
Google your business name. Do you see your business appear on a right-hand panel? If so, look for an “own this business?” prompt. If you don’t see it, this means someone has claimed it —perhaps someone in your office or old web provider. Ask around to see if someone has claimed it.
If you can’t locate the owner, you can request ownership through Google to reclaim your business. Once you do this, the current owner will receive an email and have 14 days to respond. Otherwise, you will have the opportunity to claim it as your own.
And if you don’t have one at all, you can create one here.
Complete Your Profile
What Google My Business elements should you fill in?
- Business Category (primary and secondary)
- Phone number
- Photos (front of your building, inside your office, and your team at minimum)
- Description (a great place to pitch yourself)
- Any relevant attributes (these will depend on your business category)
Keep all your information as consistent as possible with what is displayed on your website. If your address on your website is listed as Smith Street, don’t use Smith St. (Google rewards consistency). Google will probably normalize this data and figure it out, but don’t make Google bots work if they don’t have to!
7 Steps to Rank Higher on Google Maps
Choose the Best Primary Category
Your Google My Business category is likely an after-thought, but not selecting the best category can be detrimental. Google allows you to set a primary category as well as secondary categories, but the primary category carries much more weight.
A recent client in the roofing industry came to us with the primary category of “Corporate Office” for years. This crushed their ability to rank locally for anything related to roofing. A simple category switch tripled their discoverability in Google Maps.
For most businesses this is a pretty simple decision. For instance, a personal injury attorney who practices by themselves in a single location has an easy decision. But a law firm with many attorneys in a variety of practice areas has a much tougher one. Here are a few tips to think through if your business could fall into multiple categories:
- Consider the service for which you’re most well known
- Consider the service most in need of new customers
- Consider seasonality (optimize for heater repair in the winter and AC repair in the summer)
- If you have multiple practitioner, create separate listings for each practitioner (each attorney has their own GMB with their specific category)
Add Lots of High Quality Photos
Google My Business allows you to visually show off your business to consumers, and everyone loves good photos. In fact, 60% of consumers said that local search results with good images captured their attention.
We recommend a few specific images, at minimum:
- Your logo
- The outside of your building (help people know what to look for)
- The inside of your space
- Your team
- Your team working with customers
Acquire Quality Google Reviews
Reviews are absolutely vital for small businesses in 2020. Not only do they play a big role in local SEO, but consumers consult online reviews more than ever before. 86% of consumers read reviews of local businesses and 57% of consumers say they will only use a business if it has 4 or more stars.
How to get more reviews, you ask? Consider your consumer cycle and insert a review ask. This can come in the form of an email, a written letter, or through a reputation management service like GetFiveStars or Grade Us.
In addition to helping consumers make purchasing decisions, reviews send all kinds of signals to Google. A business with 50 positive reviews is going to look better than a business with 20. Even if you do better work, unfortunately Google isn’t in your business watching you do it.
What’s a good number? Google your industry + location (for us this looks like “digital marketing greenville sc”) and take a look at your competition. You don’t necessarily need 2x that of your competition, but we would recommend being in the same ballpark.
What’s a quality review? A review that contains specifics of what services you provided. Bonus points if your reviewer uses a relevant keyword–Google really likes this.
Google often pulls comments and phrases out of Google reviews to give context to the user and help you rank for different queries.
Respond to Reviews
89% of consumers say they read business’ responses to reviews.
Google is often the first place shoppers will go to check out a business before making a purchase. Use your Google reviews as a place to interact with your customers and show off your human side.
You don’t have to respond to all your positive reviews, however, you should respond to a large majority in a personal way. And you should always respond to all negative reviews. Contrary to popular belief, negative reviews give you a great opportunity to recover in a graceful way for all to see.
Posts are a relatively new feature in GMB.
They’re an easy way to let your audience know of recent news, offers, deals, products, or simply a recent blog you’ve published. Include a photo and a link to learn more. Any time you put out new content, add a new offer/deal, or roll out a new product, you should add a post about it.
There aren’t any conclusive studies, but many local marketers think regularly posting relevant posts containing keywords you want to rank for can increase local rankings.
Promote Your Events
Similar to posts, GMB allows you to promote your events.
This is a great way to spread the word and increase your event attendance. In addition to posting your events on your website and social accounts, use GMB to boost event visibility.
In addition to gaining visibility, regular events send positive signals to Google that you’re active in the community and a real boots-on-the-ground local business.
GMB allows anyone to ask a question about your business on your listing. Google also lets the community answer these questions.
You should be vigilant about checking for new questions and answering them as they come in. You don’t want to risk someone else answering the question with false information.
And yet again, the activity is a positive ranking signal.
Take Advantage of Google Maps
There are a lot of marketing options for local businesses. One could spend thousands on billboards, local television commercials, magazine ads, etc… Of all the marketing tactics, setting up a Google My Business profile and taking 30 minutes a month to update it might just be the cheapest (hello, it’s free) and easiest way to move the needle.
Feel you have an optimized Google My Business listing, but still not ranking well? Explore some of the other key local ranking factors and identify where you may be lacking: