How Google Maps Ranks Businesses & What You Can Do To Improve Your Chances Of Showing Up

How Google Maps Ranks Businesses & What You Can Do To Improve Your Chances Of Showing Up

Today we’re picking the brain of our Lead Account Manager and Google Ads Specialist, Christian Rodriguez, and doing a quick dive into a question we get asked all the time: How do I get my business to show up in Google Maps? We’ll be talking primarily about the local pack (the three businesses that show up whenever someone does an organic search on desktop or mobile). 

Ready? Let’s do this.

What does Google use to rank businesses in Maps?

When talking about Maps rankings, there are really three key things that Google uses to rank businesses:

  1. Proximity. 
  2. Relevance.
  3. Prominence.

Ranking factor #1: What is proximity?

Proximity is the #1 ranking factor in Google Maps. When I say proximity, I mean proximity of the business to the searcher. It used to be that years back, the closer you were to the center of the city or town that you wanted to rank for, the better you would rank for those types of searches. 

That is really no longer the case, unless you’re trying to do a search from somewhere else. But that’s really more of a vanity search than anything, because really your customers that are in the areas that you serve could be a mile away from you and see a completely different set of results. 

What matters now is how close your business is to the searcher.

Can you influence proximity?

There are a couple of things you can do to sort of influence or contend with this ranking factor. 

#1 Open an office in the location where you want to rank. 

This first one is highly impractical, but if you have the resources it can be done. 

In the past, you could use home addresses to open a separate office, but more and more, we’re seeing that be less viable. Unless you have signage outside of that home address and it’s an actual home-based business that could potentially have customers visiting that location, we don’t recommend doing this anymore. 

The more legitimate the business appears, the better for you. And obviously the best way to do this is by having a physical storefront that has signage that’s easily visible from the street. 

#2 Use Google Ads to expand your proximity

You can actually use Google Ads to sort of expand your proximity. This is not just useful for organic search, but again, for Maps as well. 

One thing to consider is that you are going to need to set up a location extension on your Google Ads, which means you are going to have to show your main location and advertise that location in order for your Maps Ads to run. So there is that component to it. 

#3 Make sure you rank in organic search

As we talked about, opening an office can be quite expensive and requires a lot of resources, so if that’s not an option for you, focus on your organic rankings. 

If you have a city page on your website for the city you want to rank for, and it’s ranking organically, that can help you reach customers in areas that are a little bit further out. Sure, you’re not going to be at the very top with those three businesses in the local pack, but a lot of people do scroll down and look at at least half of the first page, if not the full page of search results. So you still have an opportunity to capture some of those searchers. 

Ranking factor #2: What is relevance?

Moving on to the second ranking factor, we have relevance. And when we talk about relevance, that is: 

  • Are you offering the services that the searcher is looking for? 
  • Are you in the areas that the customer wants to get serviced? 

The more your business can relate to the searcher based on information that’s on your Google My Business profile and the information that’s on your website, and the more relevant the search query is to what it is you offer and the information that’s contained on your website, the better chance you have at hitting relevance. 

Can you increase your relevance?

There are a few things that drive relevance and can help you increase your relevance in Google’s eyes…

#1 Have the right Google My Business categories. 

When you set up a business listing in Google My Business, there are a number of categories to choose from, and they’re constantly updating these categories. For example, ‘chimney sweep’ and ‘chimney services’ are two categories that are available. 

If someone is searching ‘chimney sweep’ in say, Nashville, TN, and your primary category is ‘chimney services,’ you’re not going to be as relevant as if you had ‘chimney sweep’ in your primary category or ‘chimney sweep’ in one of your additional categories. So it’s very important that you add any and all categories that are relevant to your business. 

Obviously, you don’t want to go too crazy with this and add categories that are just slightly relevant, but if it’s a core service that you offer and it’s listed in the categories, I would definitely add that in without spamming it too much.

#2 Have your keyword(s) in your business name

Hopefully as Google gets smarter, this will become less of a factor, but if you have the keywords ‘chimney sweep’ or ‘chimney services’ as part of your business name, you’re likely to rank better for those keywords because it’s relevant to what someone is searching for. This is something that’s really frustrating, but it’s something that unfortunately still works. 

#3 Have keywords as images on your Google My Business listing if possible, and make sure your images are optimized for your top keywords

We’ve seen more and more that Google is starting to become really smart at figuring out what is in an image without you specifying it. But nonetheless, we still recommend you name your images in a way that targets your keywords.

A quick way to do this is, when you upload an image to Google My Business, name the image in a way that includes the relevant keywords. For example, name it ‘technician sweeping a chimney,’ or ‘chimney being repaired.’ That’s a quick way of adding in some more relevance and speaking to what the photograph is actually about. 

#4 Whatever page you have linked to in your Google My Business profile, you want to make sure that page has keywords containing your main services

On your Google My Business profile, you’re allowed to include a link to a page on your website. Whatever page you choose, make sure it has some of those top service keywords in the content.

For a chimney sweep, the big ones that typically are true across the board are chimney sweep, services, repairs, masonry work, and maybe even dryer vent cleaning. So if you have all those listed somewhere on your home page, if that’s the page you’re linking to from your Google My Business profile, chances are that when someone is searching for those services, you’re going to have those relevant factors there.

#5 Get good local links. 

Another thing that’s going to drive relevance is local links. If someone is searching in a specific zip code for a service, and a local news outlet wrote a piece about you or mentioned you in one of their stories or articles, then Google sees that and it shows them that you’re in the area and you perform these services, so you must be a relevant search result. 

That’s another big one that is a little bit harder to get, but if you have those relationships with your local community, you might have a chance at getting some good local links.

#6 Get your customers to mention keywords in their reviews

I know it’s hard enough to just get someone to leave you a review, but if you manage to convince customers to not only leave you a review, but to leave you a review with the service you performed mentioned in it (for example: ‘So and so was great. They did a great job of sweeping my chimney.’), then all those keywords speak to that relevance and all of that information is on a Google property (your Google My Business profile). As a result, Google has that information and is able to build a suite of different offerings that you have, and it’s verified by other people. So again that contributes to your overall relevance. 

Ranking factor #3: What is prominence?

The last ranking factor for Google Maps is prominence. Prominence is:

  • How well known you are
  • How big your company is
  • How visible you are in your community

That sort of thing. 

How can you improve your prominence?

#1 Reviews.

One thing that’s going to drive prominence is, of course, reviews. The more reviews you have, the more prominent you’re going to seem, and typically the more prominent you are. 

#2 Online mentions. 

Another thing that’s going to be pretty important here is, again, very similar to relevance: online mentions. You want these to either be from local businesses in your area or just from other websites from the same industry. 

So, for those of you that are CSIA certified, you have an online mention there. They list the technicians that are CSIA certified and the company, and they add a link to the company website from their website. That’s just one example, but obviously the more certifications you have, the more chances you have to get some of these online mentions. 

Some other examples:

  • If you are in your local Chamber of Commerce, that’s an online mention from a local source. 
  • If someone links to one of your articles or something that you published on your website or blog and they’re in a similar industry — maybe they’re another chimney business, a home restoration website, or a fire prevention website — that online link/mention will drive your prominence. 

#3 Brand awareness + brand searches.

Another thing that Google looks at when it comes to prominence is brand searches. 

The more well-known your brand, the more searches there are for your brand directly. Google picks up on that and says, ‘Hey, you know, this one company has a lot more searches for their name than all these other companies. They must be a preferred company in the area.’

Building your brand awareness is huge, and that’s a big component of prominence.

#4 Citations. 

Citations are places where your Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) are mentioned online. Now, over time, we’ve seen citations kind of lose some of the strength they’ve had in the past. So for citations, what I would say is have your main citations up to date with the correct information. Consistency is more important than quantity for driving prominence.

Some of the biggest citations include your Facebook business page, of course your Google My Business listing, your Yelp listing, and Angie’s List, if you work with them at all.

Other important citations will vary from market to market, but if you do a branded search for your business, you want to make sure that any citations and listings that show up on the first two pages of search results are up to date. 

#5 Community involvement. 

And really the final thing here is going to be more offline than online: get active in your community!

The more active you are in your community, the more networking you do, the more prominent you’re going to appear to be — simply because if you sponsor events and local little league teams, chances are they’re going to post about it. If it’s not on their website, it’s going to be on their Facebook page, and so that drives that community awareness. 

In turn, more people are more likely to search for your company name directly, especially if you have a memorable one. They’re going to search for your company name as opposed to making a generic search like ‘chimney sweep near me.’

And not only are you getting people coming straight to you instead of going to the marketplace, but also, again, Google sees that number of branded searches increase, and that’s going to drive your overall prominence. 

Caveats & Considerations

One thing to kind of note is that Google Maps and the local pack were originally set up for brick-and-mortar, physical locations. Service businesses have always been at a disadvantage, especially if they don’t have a location that can be shown — and that’s still the case at the time of the writing of this article. 

Hopefully, in the future, Google will recognize that being 10 miles away isn’t as relevant to the searcher if they’re searching for a plumber or a chimney sweep versus a restaurant or retail shop. Personally, it doesn’t bother me if a plumbing company is 30 miles, or even 50 miles away. If they’re the best and they come to my area, I want to call them as opposed to whoever is closest. But for now, that’s kind of the world that we have to play in unfortunately. 

Another thing to note is this all varies widely depending on your market and your competition. 

The more saturated a market is, obviously, the more proximity plays into effect. Because there are so many companies fighting for a spot and they’re all close together, really the closest ones to the searcher are going to be shown, and it’s going to be harder for someone that’s just a little bit further out to show up for that search. 

Also, the more saturated the market is, the more likely it is that some of the other companies in the area are doing a good job with relevance and prominence. So just note that this may vary depending on your market and how saturated it is. 

Wrapping Up

Hopefully that gives you insight into how Google ranks businesses in Maps and what you can do to improve your ranking, even though you might not be all that close to the searcher. 

Proximity isn’t something we can’t really change a whole lot, but by increasing your relevance and your prominence, you have a better chance of ranking, even if you’re a little bit more removed from the searcher.

Thanks Christian!

Pssst. If you’re a client and you want to know more about any of this or you want specific help on what you can do in your specific case, definitely reach out to us and let us know. That’s what we’re here for!

Ch-Ch-Changes With Google & What They Mean For Your Business

Ch-Ch-Changes With Google & What They Mean For Your Business

In our last post, we sat down with Tom Smodic to discuss Google’s rapid rollout of changes. This week, we’re going to lay out a few of those changes and what we think they could mean for local businesses.

Disclaimer: Google is the King of leaving things open and somewhat vague, so none of this is meant to be a definitive take on Google’s action or intent. A lot of research, testing, and reading between the lines is required when Google is involved, and we’re simply passing along what we see and our inferences based on what we see. Enjoy!

Google My Business Joins Twitter & Facebook

Google My Business recently announced that they will now be providing support to users via social media (namely Twitter & Facebook Messenger). As long as you are tweeting or messaging during regular support hours, you can expect a prompt, knowledgeable response.

Google-My-Business-Facebook-Page-Screenshot

Google-My-Business-Twitter-Profile

Why?

Let’s face it, if anyone knows users want fast results, it’s Google. This change could be an effort to simply provide a better user experience and faster resolutions to problems and issues. Why Facebook and Twitter? As Tom mentioned in our previous post, you have to go where the people are. Offering support to users through multiple channels, not just their own, shows that even Google knows this to be true.

Of course, this change could also have come about as a result of user feedback. People may have been asking why swift Google My Business support wasn’t available through social media channels and Google may have decided it was a worthwhile venture.

Whatever their reasoning, we see this as being a good thing that will hopefully make receiving prompt support easier and less agonizing.

Google’s Testing Video Verification

Google My Business has announced it is experimenting with video calls for business verification.

Why?

For as long as we can remember, one of Google’s main business verification processes has involved waiting for a post card to arrive by snail mail. Once it arrives, you enter the pin online where prompted and your business is verified. The problem is, snail mail is anything but fast and reliable, and sometimes the post card never arrives. In many cases, the business owner doesn’t finish the process and these pages don’t get verified.

Now, however, you can simply do a video call with a Googler to get the verification ball rolling. On a forum, a Googler mentions that, although you’re under no obligation to try this new method of verification, they hope “you’ll find it quick and convenient.”

So, perhaps video verification is Google’s attempt to cut down on spam and encourage business owners to complete the verification process by making it easier and faster. However, the video call must be conducted from either your workplace or your vehicle, which some business owners might find invasive. You’re encouraged to show your workspace, logo, and even the tools you use to the Googler (if you video verify from your workplace), and show your license plate, tools, and business logo on your vehicle to the Googler (if you video verify from your vehicle).

We have a feeling some business owners will be hesitant to verify using this method, and it seems that Google might have the same feeling. The Local Search Forum states:

“Not excited about video verification? If you’d prefer to not take part in our video experiment, please let us know. (We’ll wait to hear back from you before taking any further action.)”

Again, we think this new verification option is perhaps partially designed with the user in mind and partially designed to reduce spam. After all, it’s hard to spam with video, especially when you’re showing the Googler around.

Google Has Introduced Paid Ads to the Local Pack

For a while now, we’ve watched the local real estate in search results shrink. The local pack has gone down from a 7 pack, to a 5 pack, to a 3 pack. And now, one of those 3 is a paid ad.

Google-local-pack-mock-up-with-map

Why?

Money! Google isn’t just a search engine, it’s an advertising platform. Like any business, they want to make money! And with the end goal of creating a seamless experience across mobile, tablet, and desktop, they’re dealing with less screen space in which to place those ads.

Honestly, we’re not all that surprised that this happened, but it does give local businesses without the budget for ads a disadvantage by removing 33 1/3% of the local pack space. (It’s ok Google – we’re not mad, we’re just disappointed.)

Now, perhaps more than ever, having a constant influx of good reviews is vital. For more on this Google change and what we think it means for your business, read our interview with Tom Smodic.

Paid Ads Appear in Google Maps

Just as we’ve seen paid ads enter the local pack, Google has also rolled out paid ads in Google Maps.

On desktop, Google maps shows these ads in the list of search results just to the left of the map, as well as on the map itself. You’ll see a purple icon (indicating the ad), and if clicked on, the ad will display more information (such as a Directions button and business details).

Google-Maps-Ads-Desktop

On mobile, the ad will appear on the map itself and on the list below the map. Once again, a purple icon will indicate that this is in fact an ad, and if clicked on, you may see things like a Call button and a Directions button. Your ad can also reveal things like customer reviews and hours, if clicked.

Google-Maps-Ads-Mobile

Why?

We see this as an indication that Google is paying more attention to brick-and-mortar businesses. And considering how many people are using Google maps, it’s no surprise that Google has decided to monetize (to a degree) this area of search.

Whether you decide to pay to play or not, make sure your map listing is right! Nearly one-third of all mobile searches have local intent, and if your map listing is incorrect, you’re going to miss out on business, especially if you have a brick-and-mortar business.

Change Is Inevitable

These are just a few of the changes that Google has rolled out lately. Although we can’t tell you exactly what Google will do in the future, one thing you can count on is for us to watch with a close eye and stay on top of these changes. And remember, even though you can’t control what happens in the world of search, you can control the value you deliver to your customers. So get out there and give them your best!