Getting Letter A Google Maps rankings is quickly becoming the #1 objective for local and small businesses. And rightly so… according to recent studies on local search behavior, nearly 60% of all searches have local business intent, and 78% of local searches resulted in off line purchases. Another study on mobile search activity shows that last year (2015), more searches were conducted on mobile phones than desktop computers. Because of the high probability of business intent from local searches, and the skyrocketing use of mobile phones for search, businesses are starting to place a high premium on their Google Maps rankings.
In 2015, there was a major overhaul to the way Google displayed search results from Google Maps business listings. Google will only show the top 3 Google Maps business listings on the front page of Google, or letters A, B, or C – this is sometimes referred to as the “3 pack”. Prior to their update in 2015, Google displayed up to 7 Google Maps business listings, or letters A – G, and these were commonly referred to as the “7 pack”.
But when Google Maps cut down their front page rankings from showing the top 7 local businesses to now showing the top 3, this created an immediate premium on the letters A, B, or C rankings. If you’re a local business in the 3 pack, then you enjoy a premium placement on the front page of Google for local searches relevant to your business. If you are ranked letter D (#4) or beyond, then it requires additional clicks from the user to find you.
Read also: 3 Keys To Reaching #1 in Google Local Search Results (this is a LinkedIn article that has received a lot of traffic and attention lately, and helps to add some further context to this article)
Here’s a screenshot of the new 3 pack (letter A, B, & C) Google Maps rankings on both mobile devices and desktop computers:
Notice how, on both desktop and mobile devices, only the top 3 (letters A, B, & C) rankings are showing in Google Maps local search results. In essence, you can think of this new update as the top 3 local search results are the new #1!
Here’s 3 tips to improving your Google Maps Rankings for Local & Small Business
If you haven’t created and verified your Google Maps business page yet, or you have a business listing but are struggling to get top rankings in the local search results, here’s 3 tips for you to help your business rank higher in Google Maps in 2016.
Tip #1: Verify Your Google Business Page
The first step for any local business to getting found in the Google Maps search results is to add and verify your business.
From a desktop computer, visit this link to get started with adding your business to Google Maps.
From a mobile device, click here to get started.
Here’s a quick tutorial on adding or claiming your business in Google Maps.
And here’s a quick tutorial on how to verify your business on Google.
Local SEO Tips To Adding Your Business to Google Maps
Here’s some tips to keep in mind as you add your business to Google Maps:
- Include your business category in your title. For example, if you are a DUI Attorney, then include phrase “DUI Attorney” in the title of your Google business page. Google refers to these elements as modifiers in the title. You must be careful not to overuse / abuse the use of modifiers, which means do not stuff your title with keyword phrases. You can learn more about modifiers here.
- Use your targeted keyword phrase in the description of your Google Maps business listing.
- Make sure your primary category is the most relevant category for your business. Another way to know the best category to select is to look at the currently top ranked businesses in Google Maps. For example, search your targeted keyword phrase in Google (i.e. ‘dui attorney atlanta’ as an example), look at the law firms that are ranked letters A, B, and C, and then identify the category they are using. Here’s a screenshot to help you identify which category top ranked local businesses are using:
You find this by searching your targeted keyword phrase in Google, clicking on the letter A, B, or C listing in the search results, and then clicking on the top ranked business you see. Once you click on the business listing from the left hand side, their information will appear on the right hand side. From there, you’ll be able to identify the primary business category being used (see screenshot above).
Top #2: Use Schema Language On Your Website
The first question you might have is “what’s an NAP?”
Your business NAP is basically an acronym for your business name, address, and phone number:
- N = Business Name
- A = Business Address
- P = Business Phone number
The NAP of your business also references what’s called citations.
Your next question, then, might be “what are citations?”
Citations are references to your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) that are published on external websites and directories.
The key to NAP’s and citations are that search engines such as Google use citations to determine the accuracy and relevance of your business information.
Which brings me to the discussion on Schema Language.
Schema language is a structural protocol adopted by Google, Yahoo, & Bing with the purpose of making it easier to determine certain datasets within web pages. I like to refer to Schema language as direct data that enhances key data sets within web pages. Direct data is particularly relevant when it comes to local SEO.
Direct data, in the example of local SEO initiatives, would refer to data such as your NAP – your business name, address, and phone number. There are many other Schema or direct data sets that can also be leveraged in your web pages depending on your type of business. For example, if your are a lawyer, your law firm’s website and local SEO strategy can leverage direct data sets specifically for attorneys, which you can view on the Schema website at https://schema.org/Attorney.
The point in leveraging Schema language, or direct data sets, is they dramatically enhance the authority of your webpages within your local market. Sticking with the 80/20 rule described above, the majority of local businesses (the 80th percentile or more) have no idea what Schema language means. And to be honest, based on my own conversations, most have never even heard of the term. This means, if your business website leverages Schema language for key direct data sets, you would be in the minority (the 20th percentile) and your website would be exponentially more authoritative in your local market. And since Google considers both your business website and your Google business page in determining local search results, this is a key strategy to understand.
Tip #3: Citation Consistency and Removing Volatility
Finally, I’m going to bring it all together with the discussion around citation consistency and removing volatility. Much like how the stock market drops due to volatility in stock prices, your rankings in Google local search results (and organic search results) can likewise drop due to volatility.
Volatility With NAP Citations
You create volatility with your NAP citations whenever you have many variations or your address represented across the web. Here’s an example.
Bipper Media’s business address is:
855 Gaines School Road
Athens, Georgia 30605
This is what you call an NAP and a citation. The NAP is the business information, and the citation is the result of the NAP being published here in this article.
Let’s say I have 10 different directories that list my business the way you see it above. But then let’s say there are 50 other directories or websites that publish my NAP is varying ways. For example, some of the NAP’s abbreviate the word “Road” is simply use “Rd.”, or some NAP’s might say “Letter A” instead of “Suite A”. These slight variations in the presentation of the NAP creates, on a large scale, a lot of volatility. And this volatility, much like the stock market, can result in suppressed rankings in the local search results.
The best way to remove volatility is to do an analysis of all the sites where you have citations published.
You can do this by what I call reverse engineering your NAP in Google.
Here’s a step by step how to:
- Go to Google
- Do a search for just your business address – for example I would type ‘855 gaines school road, suite A, athens’ (without quotes) into the search bar.
- Start going to down through the search results and identify all of the places where you have a citation.
As you identify each source for your citations, go to those websites to see which ones you can easily update. Some of the sources may require to create a free account and claim your business. While others might require you to contact the website directly in order to request the update. Regardless of the workflow involved, it is well worth your time to go through and start the process of cleaning up your NAP citations.
For every citation that you clean up by making them consistent with your Google business page (yes, your Google business page is the base citation that all others need to match), you will be removing a lot of volatility from your overall citation portfolio.
You may initially be overwhelmed with the extent of citations you see for your business, but understand that each time you update your citation to make it more consistent, you remove volatility from your local search authority. And the more volatility you remove, the more stable your rankings become in the local search results. In low to mid competitive markets, the volatility factor may not play as much of a role due to the lack of volume from competing businesses, but in hyper competitive markets in large metro areas, volatility will mean the difference between rankings in the top 3 local search results or not being seen at all.
For businesses that have a large volume of citations that need cleaning up, there are platforms that can help you in this effort. For example, MOZ Local is a platform that we use to clean up and distribute our client’s citation portfolios. Another option is to use Yext. However, with Yext, the cost can be out of reach for most small or local businesses. Both of these represent an automated solution to what is the ultimate end objective – removing volatility from your local citations in order to rank higher in Google Maps.
In summary, in order to improve your rankings in the Google Maps search results, you need to be focused on the details of your business information better than all of your competitors. By paying attention to the details better than everyone else, you’ll set your local or small business up for better success in the local search results. This attention to detail starts with your Google business page and focusing on the language you use in your the title of your Google business page listing. From there, you need to fill out your Google business as much as possible, including high quality photos, a great description, and most importantly ensuring your target the correct primary business category.
Once you have your Google business page squared away, the focus then turns to you integrating your NAP into your website through the use of Schema language. Schema language helps Google, and all other major search engines, quickly and easily read your local business name, address, and phone number, and it makes it easier for them to associate your business with specific geo-location elements.
Finally, once your Google business page is optimized and you’ve integrated your NAP into your website with Schema language, now comes the task of removing volatility from your citation portfolio. And again, your citation portfolio is the collection of all NAP citations for your business that’s published across the web. The more volatility you remove from your citation portfolio, the more authority Google will attribute to your Google business page, as your business page is starting point and base citation for all NAP’s.
Got questions about Google Maps Rankings?
If you have questions about local SEO for your business, feel free to post them in the comments below, or contact us today. We’d be more than happy to talk about and review the local SEO strategy for your business.