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!

It’s Time To Stop Obsessing Over These 4 Marketing Metrics

It’s Time To Stop Obsessing Over These 4 Marketing Metrics

Marketers today rely on a plethora of tools, programs, and software systems that offer a wide variety of metrics. After all, a large part of marketing is being able to measure and report on the ROI (Return on Investment) of an initiative to the bottom line. The Internet has numerous ways to capture and analyze traffic, and for marketers, wading through these metrics to determine which ones are most relevant to them can be overwhelming. Some metrics that seemed important in the past have outlived their usefulness and should not be used as core KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for your objectives. Here are 4 marketing metrics it’s time to stop obsessing over.

Magnifying-Glass-Looking-At-Marketing-Metrics-SEO-Icons1. Keywords

Keywords are often the first thing people think of when it comes to SEO. In the early days of Internet marketing, clients would give an SEO company a list of keywords, and it was the company’s job to make sure the client showed up for those terms. This led to some unscrupulous tactics and gave SEOs a less than stellar reputation for gaming the system. But even today, many marketers and business owners are focusing too much on keywords and trying to “fit” as many as possible into the content of their posts, websites, and other pieces. The obsession with keywords has caused spammy, keyword-stuffed content, and keyword rankings have decreased in value as the search engines (like Google) have caught up. Location, personalization, search history, and other factors all influence search results now. Rankings fluctuate all the time and are in a near constant state of change, which is why the outdated practice of focusing on where a keyword or keyword phrase ranks as a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) should not be the main focus of your marketing strategy.

2. Facebook Likes & Follower Count

Just like the search engines adapted and changed based on what was happening with keywords, Facebook also changed the way content was delivered to its organic users. Last year, Facebook’s organic reach for brands began a trend toward zero. Marketers who report on fan count as a means of showing their worth to their clients are not focusing on the right metrics. Engagement metrics with a brand is a better strategy and a better indicator of value.

3. Ad Impressions

One major advantage that online advertising has over other forms of advertising – like billboards and flyers – is that it allows us to see how many times our ads are viewed. But while it sounds helpful to know how many people are seeing your ads, this metric doesn’t say much about behavior beyond the ad. Digital marketers who sell their services on putting an ad in front of as many people as possible are at best, behind the times, and at worst, deceiving uninformed clients. Ad impressions are best used in conjunction with other metrics – such as clicks, calls, and conversions – to gain deeper insight into the customer’s decision behavior.

4. Reputation Scores

As the Internet landscape has evolved for businesses, so too has the digital marketing space. Many such companies use a “free scan” to pare down a company’s online reputation to a single number, which they can then “fix” with their services. These scores often do not take into account search engine best practices, and many of these services are geared more towards brick and mortar businesses, not service area businesses. Taking something as complex as a company’s online reputation and whittling it down to a single number or grade should not be the cornerstone of your marketing strategy. It’s more important to know the different facets that factor into the score, rather than aiming to get the number above an arbitrary threshold.

The Big Picture

Any metric used in isolation without any additional context will not provide much insight into how, and if, you are reaching your business objectives. The above metrics are just pieces in what comprises an online strategy. To truly know how well an online strategy is performing and get an accurate measure of KPIs, marketers need to take a look at several metrics in combination. Learning which metrics are relevant to your business or your client’s business and focusing on improving them will help you see the big picture and separate you from the competition.

Are You The 1 Star Or The 5 Star Chinese Restaurant Of Your Industry?

Are You The 1 Star Or The 5 Star Chinese Restaurant Of Your Industry?

You’re in a new town for the night and you start to feel a little rumbly in your tumbly, so you pull out your smartphone and search for “Chinese food near me.” Three options pop up: the first has 4.5 stars and reviews saying things like “Best egg rolls of my life,” “The kung pao chicken kung fu kicked my butt,” and “Holy egg drop soup, y’all;” the second has a mediocre 3 stars and a comment that says “Works in a pinch, but not my favorite;” and the last has 1 star and comments that make you feel queasy. Without hesitation you choose the first option on the map because, not only is it within walking distance of your hotel, but it also apparently has some killer shrimp lo mein.Kung-Pao-Chicken-On-Plate

Now imagine you’re back at work and you get a notification of a negative review for your chimney sweeping business that says you left someone’s living room covered in soot and grime. Suddenly you’re the 1 star Chinese restaurant. No one wants to invite you into their home just so you can stomp around in dirty boots and leave soot on grandma’s favorite picture of little Bobby. Instead, try to be like the first restaurant: let your work inspire 5 stars and comments like “We’ll never call anyone but Joe’s HVAC ever again!” and “Such wonderful customer service, we recommend Pop’s Plumbing to all our friends!”

Why do reviews make such a big difference in a business’s success? Social proof. When people are unsure of what to do or how to react to a situation they take cues from their peers – in the online marketing world this means they’re checking out your reviews. Just like you trusted total strangers when it came time to choose your Chinese restaurant, your customers are trusting other internet strangers when it comes time to choose a service company.  

Ok, Reviews Matter, But Does It Really Matter How We Respond To Them?

No one can be perfect all the time, and sometimes a customer’s experience isn’t stellar – be it from a customer service mishap or a miscommunication. If they leave a review (which is way more likely if they’ve had a bad experience than a good one), it’s imperative that you leave a positive reply. Before you start furiously typing away about your side of the story, do the following:

  • Stop and calm down. When you own a service business a negative review can feel like a personal attack, but don’t let it agitate you. While every negative review needs a response, they don’t all need a response the minute you see them.
  • Ask yourself how you can turn this into a positive experience for your bummed out customer. Sometimes all it takes is a thoughtful response saying that you understand their concerns and it won’t happen again. Other times it might need an offer of goodwill: meet them halfway on a high-cost estimate that they don’t feel comfortable with; offer to pay a cleaner to fix the carpet your tech dropped his tools on; offer to talk to them personally to discuss their side of the story, sometimes people just need to know they are heard.
  • Send the review to your Spark Marketer account manager if you need help with a response. Let us know your side of the story and what you’re willing to do to accommodate the unhappy customer.

Look at every negative review as a second and third chance to get a 5 star review. Not only will the initial customer that you respond to hopefully be satisfied by your help in resolving an unpleasant situation, but potential customers viewing the review and response in the future will have the opportunity to see how much you care about each and every customer’s experience.  

So How Can You Get More Reviews?

Each time a technician leaves a job he should be asking the customer if they’re willing to leave a review of their experience. Don’t pressure your customers, but make it clear that their reviews absolutely have an impact on your business and that they can personally make a difference. Google and other search engines use reviews as a ranking factor and they can greatly improve map visibility. So ask! You’d be surprised how many people are more than willing to help you out when you phrase a review request right! There are also tools you can use to facilitate the review asking process. 

Have you ever gotten a negative review that you weren’t sure how to respond to? Or have you ever gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure your customer’s negative experience got a happy ending? Tell us about it!