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3 Steps To Higher Rankings in Google Local Maps Search Results (Local SEO)

The local search results in Google are becoming increasingly more valuable for locally oriented businesses.  From local retailers to lawyers, dentists, and doctors, to the local carpet cleaner and house painters, being found in the top local search results in Google can mean the difference between your phone ringing with a new customer or client, or not even being found.

Statistics show that well over 90% of the calls and clicks go to the businesses that are found in the top 3 local search results.  This results in more calls and more click thru traffic to the business.  And the more click thru conversions, the more your dominant position can be reinforced in Google.

There’s a couple of core reasons why it’s important for businesses to be found in the top local search results Google, which I’ll discuss below:

Growth in Mobile Phone Searches in Google

Local Intent

The growth in mobile searches has grown exponentially over the past 12 months.  In fact, Google now states that more searches are happening on mobile phones than on desktop or laptop computers.  This is a fundamental shift in the way consumers and potential clients are using mobile phones.

It’s now a lot easier for someone to simply pull out their mobile phone, open the Google app, and speak their search query.  And for searches that have a “local intent”, Google will include the local search results even if you don’t specifically mention a local city.

Here’s a screenshot of the search results I get when I search just the word “dentist” in my Google app:

Local SEO Google Search

Notice how all I searched in Google was the word “dentist”.  Google sees this particular search as being relevant to a geographic location.  As such, Google took my location into consideration and included the local search results as the first organic instance.

Interestingly, I get the exact same search results if I type “dentist in athens” or even “dentist in athens ga” into my Google mobile app.  So in essence, Google automatically attributed my city location (Athens, Georgia) into the original search, which was just the word “dentist”.

This “location aware” adjustment in the Google algorithm on mobile phones is becoming more prominent as mobile phone use expands.

Why mobile is important for your business

Knowing that Google is analyzing searches from mobile phones and displaying the local search results when “local intent” is determined, your business can achieve a substantial increase in clicks and calls from the organic search results.

This, of course, assumes that your business is already found in the top local results.

Which brings me to my second reason why it’s important for your business to be found in the local search results in Google…

Google now displays only top 3 local search results

Back in September, Google made an adjustment to what they display in the top local search results.  Previously, Google would display the top 7 local search results for searches with “local intent”.  But now, Google only shows the top 3 (the 3 pack) in the local search results.  And this applies to both mobile and desktop search results.

Here’s a side by side of both the mobile and desktop search results for “Atlanta personal injury lawyer:

google local mobile desktop

In both cases above, when you search for something that has “local intent”, you get only the top 3 local search results.  And in this case, ‘personal injury lawyer Atlanta’, you can have hundreds (or thousands) of law firms in Atlanta competing for the local search results in Google.  But at the exact moment someone searches for a “personal injury lawyer”, you initially only see the top 3 – and as mentioned, this applies to both mobile and desktop related search results.

Now that we know mobile is critically important for local business traffic, and knowing that only the top 3 local search results will be given on both mobile phones and desktop searches, what can you do to give your business a better shot at this coveted placement in Google?

3 Ways To Get Higher Google Local Search Results

First, it’s important to clarify that there are no magic bullets to getting your business into the top 3 search results in Google local maps.  If it were easy, then everyone would do it.  And since there are only 3 positions shown on page one in Google, there has to be some sort of auction unfolding behind the scenes to determine the rankings.

Relevance for your local search results

Moz does a great job of summarizing the most relevant factors in determining your rankings in Google.  Basically, they survey a wide range of local SEO “experts” asking what they see as the most important factors in determining local rankings.  They take all of the responses, and then rank the variables from most to least important.

In summary, here’s the 3 most important factors determining your local search results in Google:

  1. On-Page Signals (20.3%)
  2. Link Signals (20%)
  3. My Business Signals (14.7%)

On-Page Signals

On page signals relates directly to your website.  This may seem counter-intuitive since Google displays your Google business page in the local search results, and not your actual website (or domain).  The best comparison to make here is to Google Adwords.  When you create an ad in Google Adwords, you have to add what’s called a “landing page” to your ad.  Basically, when someone clicks your ad, they are taken to the webpage you associated with that ad.

In the same way, Google looks at the website you’ve associated with your Google business page.  And this is why the relevance factors of your website (on-page signals) carries so much weight.

When it comes to your website (on page signals), there are 4 key variables that carry more weight than all others:

  1. Domain authority of your website
  2. Quality / authority of inbound links
  3. NAP (Name, Address, Phone #) present on your website
  4. Keywords in title

Domain authority:  the domain authority of your website is determined mostly by the combination of the age of your domain name, and the inbound links pointing to your domain.

Quality / authority of inbound links:  this is pretty self explanatory, as Google places a substantial amount of relevance on the backlink analysis of your website.  Meaning, Google looks at the quality and authority of the sources that have linked back to your website.

This brings up the interesting discussion of creating backlinks to your website.  A lot of “SEO types” promote the practice of manually building backlinks to your website.  However, I take a more contrarian approach to link building.  I believe the best way to create the most authoritative backlinks to your website is, in fact, to not focus on manually building any backlinks to your website.  You reach more about this idea in my blog post called The Secret To SEO Link Building That Might Surprise You….

My general thesis is that you should focus on creating high quality, well researched content that adds value to your readers.  And by doing so, you will naturally attract backlinks to your website.  And these naturally attracted backlinks are, in Google’s eyes, the most authoritative of them all.

Google’s Matt Cutts puts it like this:  “… the objective is not to make your links appear natural; rather, the objective is that your links ARE natural.”

NAP (Name, Address, Phone #) present on your website:  Presenting your NAP, which is your business name, address, and phone number, on your website is critically important.  Moreso, ensuring the NAP present on your website is an exact match to the NAP presented on your Google business page, ensures Google sees consistency in your business information.

If you present your business name, address, and phone number as one thing on your website, and then your associated Google business page presents something totally different, this disparate information will create confusion in Google.  And this confusion will result in a lower relevance factor and in turn keep you from the top search results, especially in highly competitive markets.

Keywords in Title:  Finally, including the targeted keyword phrase and city location in your the title of your website will help to add to the authority of your Google business page, which will help to push you higher in the local search results.

For example, let’s say you are one of those personal injury law firms in Atlanta.  By including the keyword phrase “Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer” in the title of your website – the website associated with your Google business page – will add more relevance to both your website and your Google business page.  And again, the relevance and authority of your Google business page is what pushes you to the top search results.

Link Signals

I’ve already shared my contrarian view on building backlinks to your website.  But when it says “link signals” play a key role in determining your local search results, this means, the sites with the most authoritative backlink portfolios will typically receive the highest rankings in Google search, to include the local search results.

The best way to build an authoritative backlink portfolio to your website is to produce remarkable content.  Remarkable content is the kind that produces utility to your website visitors.  And utility means, simply, that your content is valuable.

But in order to build high quality backlinks, and send great link signals to Google, your content needs to be so valuable that your visitors are willing to share it.  Along with visitors sharing your content, your social followers should likewise see it as so valuable to where they are willing re-share and re-distribute your content.  These actions are what generates the authoritative backlink portfolio Google is looking for – all of which means a strong link signal is being sent to Google.

Although link signals are the not everything in determining the ranking of your Google business page in Google local search results, it would be very difficult – if not impossible, relatively speaking – to outrank a competitor that has a substantially authoritative backlink portfolio.

The good news is very few websites, especially locally oriented business websites, have what I would consider to be substantially authoritative backlink portfolios.  So when you, as a local business, go the extra mile by producing a steady flow of remarkable content – say, through a blog on your website – then your business can quickly and easily reach the top local search results in Google.

Google My Business Signals

Finally, let’s talk about the one thing that actually shows up in the local search results in Google and Google Maps, and that is your Google business page.  Your Google business page, on both desktop and mobile phones, is what Google uses to present businesses in the local search results.

I used this image above, but it’s a valuable representation of how Google displays the local search results through the use of your Google business page.

google local mobile desktop

As you can see on both desktop and mobile phones, the search results that are lettered A thru C are the actually Google business pages for these businesses – in this case, they are the Google business pages for the personal injury law firms in Atlanta.

3 Most Important Factors With Your Google Business page

The best way to show how you can maximize your chances of ranking in the local search results in Google through the optimization of your Google business page, is to simply show you the most important elements of your Google business page you need to focus on, and there are 3:

  1. Proper Category Selection
  2. Keyword in Title
  3. Proximity

Google Business Page Category Selection

The first, most important element to get right with your Google business page, and to help influence Google in ranking you at the top of the local search results, is to properly categorize your business.

Here’s a picture of what this looks like in the admin side of your Google business page:

local seo google business page categories

When selecting the best category for your business, you simply need to go to the category section of your Google business page and start typing what you think is the most applicable category in the field.  Google will automatically start populating related categories as you type.  The most relevant category is the one that should be used in the “primary” category field.

Beyond the primary category, you’ll then be able to select up to 4 more categories for your Google business page (Google allows a total of 5 categories).

But here’s where you need to slow down and pay attention to the details.  Remember, Google ranks pages in the local search results based on relevance and authority.  As such, it is not wise to enter loosely related categories just for the sake of filling out the 5 category maximum.  If you maximize the 5 categories, but fill them with only semi-related business categories, then you’ll ultimately end up diluting the potency of your category selection in Google business page.

The best practice is to include as many categories as necessary that allows your Google business page to stay hyper-focused on your core business.  The more focused your category selection, the more relevant your Google business page will be perceived for searches directly related to that business category.

In most cases, for our clients here at Bipper Media we are only using one category in their Google business page.  In some cases we’ll include two or three categories.  And almost never do we fill out all five categories for our clients.  Again, the more categories you include, the more diluted (in most cases) your Google business page becomes.  Focusing tightly on your core business category typically produces the best results in your local search result rankings.

Keywords in your Google Business Page Title

There is no question that one of the most effective, and potent, practices in SEO is to include the targeted keyword phrase in the title of your pages.  And this is true also with your Google business page.  But since we are wanting to rank in the local search results in Google, one of the keywords that make up your optimal title structure would naturally include the name of the city where your business is located.

Here’s a couple of examples of Google business page titles to consider in this structure:

  • McRae Family Dentist in Athens
  • AAA Air Service McKinney
  • Rozek Law Offices – Brain Injury Attorney Milwaukee
  • Exclusive Taxi & Car Service Toms River

These are actual Google business page titles we are using for clients here at Bipper Media.  And notice how we’ve optimized the titles of their Google business pages by including their business name, business category, and the name of their targeted metro area.

Word of caution:  although I am a proponent of including targeted keyword phrases and metro area names in the titles of Google business pages, you have to walk a very thin line with this strategy.  If you take this to the extreme, your tendency will be to saturate your title with keyword phrases.  Or worse yet, include multiple city names in the title.

Just like with the optimization of titles for pages in your website, if you oversaturate the metadata of any page with keyword phrases (also known as keyword stuffing), then Google will easily see that you are attempting to artificially inflate the relevance of your rankings.  And when this happens, you could end up getting penalized by Google’s algorithm and end up hurting your rankings in the local search results.  In extreme cases, Google can end up removing your Google business page completely from the search results.

Modifiers in the title of your Google business page

When you include elements such as your city name and business category in the title of your Google business page, these are what’s called modifiers.  

There are some that claim Google does not allow metro area name modifiers to be used in the title of Google business pages.  However, I’ve been on the phone with Google local support many times over the past year and everytime I ask this question, the response has been a confirmation that you can, in fact, leverage metro area name modifiers in the titles of your Google business page.  Another definitive confirmation of this practice is the search results of our clients.  We have clients that have been ranking in the #1 Google local search result for years that include a metro area name modifier in their title.

But again, if you take the use of modifiers to the extreme, then Google will pick up on it and you will be jeopardizing your rankings.

Proximity to your physical location

Finally, the proximity of the business location to your targeted metro area plays a key role in your rankings in Google local search results.  Meaning, if your goal is to rank letter A / #1 in the local search results for “Atlanta personal injury lawyer”, then your law firm’s physically address should be in the city of Atlanta.  The more relevant the proximity of your business is to your targeted city, the better you will rank in the local search results.

An example from one of our local SEO clients is applicable here.

We have an insurance agency client that’s located in the suburb of a major metro area, and one of their greatest desires has been to rank in the local search results for “auto insurance” in the major metro area.  But since their physical address, and thus their verified Google business page, is actually located in a different city (again, they are located in a suburb of the major metro area), they’ve never been able to rank locally for that phrase.

If you were to Google “auto insurance” in the city they are physically located in, you would see them in the letter A / #1 local position every time.  But since their business address is located somewhere other than the major metro area, they’ve never been able to achieve the rankings they’ve desired.

One of the main reasons for this is, in the major metro area they are wanting to target, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of independent agents that have a physical address in the major metro area.  As such, the local search results are too competitive for an outsider (someone outside the major metro area) to even be considered in the local search results.

So the proximity of your physical address to your targeted metro area is critically important.  It’s so important, in fact, that I’ve actually had clients rent a small office in their desired metro area just so they can have a verifiable address in that metro area.

If you are facing the same problem with your local business, then I suggest doing the research to see what a small office space would cost in your desired metro area.  And if the ROI is there, then it might make sense to rent an office space in your desired metro area in order to be in the running to rank in the local search results for that city.


If the majority of your customers come from your local market, then achieving top rankings in the local search results in Google could have a tremendous impact on the growth of your business.  Even more so if you can achieve a top three ranking in the local search results, i.e. ranking in the letter A, B, or C position in the Google maps search results.

Getting your business to rank in the top three local search results is possible, but it will require a concerted local SEO effort on your part.  But if you put in the work, and pay attention to every detail spelled out here in this article, then you’ll position your business for the best chances of success in the search results.

Let’s Talk!

If you need help with getting your business found in the top local search results in Google, then contact us today and we’d be more than happy to give you a free analysis of your Google business page and your overall local search optimization strategy.

Call us at:  706-363-0335


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