Here at Bipper Media, we’ve been helping clients rank higher in Google organic and Google Maps for going on 15 years now, and there’s one definitive SEO strategy that’s been true and consistent all these years.
The one thing that carries more weight in determining your rankings in Google Maps more than any other is the number of referring domains pointing back to your website URL. In other words, the number of backlinks your website has is the by the far the biggest factor determining your rankings in Google Maps.
But it won’t do you any good to go out and build a bunch of low quality, low authority backlinks to your website.
Google has gotten way too smart for those types of black hat strategies to work.
Today, in 2022, you have to build both a large volume of backlinks and referring domains AND those backlinks must be high quality.
What does high quality backlinks mean?
To start, we define high quality backlinks as any backlink coming from a site with DR (Domain Rating) of 50 or above.
DR (Domain Rating) is a metric from AHREFS.com, and in essence is a domain authority score.
All websites are rated on a scale from 0 to 100.
And the higher your domain authority (DR rating), the more authority your website has.
And the more authority you have, the higher you’ll rank for a wider array of high value (big money) keyword phrases in your market.
You can also go ahead and submit your website URL and a list of your competitors and we’ll send you a video SEO analysis where we compare your website’s authority (DR) to your competitors. And we’ll tell you exactly what you need to do to build more authority (DR) than your competitors so you can start dominating Google search in your market.
But not all of them are preferred or even safe for your local business rankings.
And I always learn toward the long term approach with our client’s Google Maps rankings.
But in some cases, the client simply needs to get ranked in Google Maps fast, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.
In these more aggressive cases, there are some tried and true practices that can (not always, but most of the time) drive your business into the top Google Maps search results quickly.
And then depending on website factors such as domain and brand authority, age of your domain, and authority of your citation and backlink portfolio, it’s relatively unknown if your rankings will stick.
But when ranking fast in Google Maps is your objective, here’s a great place to start.
Tip 1: Build High Quality Backlinks
Building Backlinks (Updated for 2021).
How we increased a law firm’s search traffic in Google Maps by 203%.
One thing I’ve learned over the past year is the impact of high quality backlinks on increasing rankings in Google Maps.
The thing is, citation distribution used to be the focus of every Local SEO strategy out there.
However, I’ve learned that citation alignment and distribution will only take you so far.
Meaning, after a certain number of citations are built, to continue building more only results in a diminishing marginal impact on your overall authority.
The purpose of performing a citation audit and clean up followed by a round of citation distribution is to reinforce your exact business location in Google Maps.
But once your location is solidified in Google Maps, there’s not much more to gain by continuing to build citations.
That’s when it’s time to start building high DA backlinks.
Take a look at this law firm client’s increase in traffic and visibility in Google Maps:
I pretty much highlighted what we did on the image, but here’s a quick recap:
First, we gained access to this law firm’s Google My Business listing.
Second, we optimized their Google My Business listing using our standard and well established Local SEO workflows.
Third, we performed an in-depth citation audit and cleanup to make sure we mitigated as much NAP fragmentation as possible across the web.
Side note: NAP stands for Business name, address, & phone #. In other words, and NAP equals your business citation.
Fourth, we built 100 new citations in authoritative directories. Since this client is a law firm, we focused approximately 20% to 30% of those citations on legal directories.
Finally, we built 1 high DA 50+ authoritative backlink via a guest post.
When we build backlinks for clients, we focus on three main things:
in-content, contextually relevant anchor text
natural backlinks within high quality content
content published in highly authoritative publications
Not only has this law firm client seen over 200% increase in visibility in Google Maps in just their first month, but here’s some other highlights in their GMB productivity data:
50% increase in phone calls
368% increase in discovery (non-branded) search traffic
165% increase directly in Google Maps search views
235% increase in organic search views
And all of the above from focusing on citation audit, citation cleanup, citation distribution, and building one authoritative backlink.
We are seeing similar results from other clients by focusing exclusively on building high authoritative backlinks after the initial phase of citation work.
High authority backlinks are powerful.
Not only will they single handedly increase your overall authority in both Google Maps and Google organic search, but they will contribute directly to high rankings in Google Maps.
And higher rankings in Google Maps always transcribes to more website visits, more phone calls, and more growth for your business.
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.
Tip 3: Use Subcategories in GMB
** Note: this step is only applicable to departments within multi-location enterprises such as retailers, franchises, universities, or institutions (learn more).
Let’s say you are are grocery chain like Kroger or Walmart. You have your main business category which would be “grocery”.
But within your super stores, you have departments such as the vision center, pharmacy, and gas station.
Each of these departments represent an opportunity for you to compete in the local search market within that specific category.
Going back to the grocery chain example of Kroger or Walmart.
The Walmart Vision Center would be an acceptable Google Maps listing since it is a department within the main business of Walmart.
Walmart would be categorized as a “department store”. However, you have several other business categories that can be leveraged within the scope of a Walmart Super Center.
Here’s a list of business entities and associated GMB categories based on my observation of the Walmart Super Center near me:
Business name: Walmart 2811 Supercenter
GMB Category: Department Store
Business name: Walmart Bakery
GMB Category: Bakery
Business name: Walmart Deli
GMB Category: Deli
Business name: Walmart Garden Center
GMB Category: Garden Center
Business name: Walmart Grocery Pickup
GMB Category: Grocery Delivery Service
Business name: Walmart Money Center
GMB Category: Money Transfer Service
Business name: Walmart Pharmacy
GMB Category: Pharmacy
Business name: Walmart Photo Center
GMB Category: Photo Shop
Business name: Walmart Tires & Auto Parts
GMB Category: Tire Shop
Business name: Walmart Vision & Glasses
GMB Category: Optician
The bold point above would be the top level Google Maps listing for this specific Walmart Super Center. And then each point under that represents the sub-categories of GMB listings that can be deployed.
Each of these GMB categories represent a competitive market in their geographic area.
And as you can imagine, this presents a substantial opportunity for local SEO for big box retailers.
Segmenting Google Maps listings for retailers and internal departments can quickly give that brand a competitive advantage in their local markets.
A citation is simply a record of your NAP, which is your business name, address, and phone #, and in some instances your website URL as well.
Google uses citations as a way to validate your business location. Think of citations as the equivalent of backlinks in organic SEO strategy.
The more authoritative and relevant the citation sources are to your business, the more punch that will give you in boosting your Google Maps rankings.
I also recommend going granular with your citations.
This means finding websites and directories that are either specific to your metro area or targeted to your specific business category.
For example, if I’m a personal injury lawyer in Atlanta, then publishing your law firm’s NAP on sources specific to metro Atlanta and personal injury lawyers would help increase the relevance factor and improve your overall location authority.
And the more location authority you have in your business category, the higher you’ll rank in Google Maps.
The more relevant (related) the directory source is for my specific business, the better. And the more authoritative the directory is, the more power I’ll get from the citation.
Tip 5: Add Local Business Schema Markup
Finally, you’ll want to include the NAP for your business on your website. But you want to wrap the address in what’s called 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. (ref: What Are Local Citations).
By wrapping your NAP in Schema, you’ll be sending a much higher quality signal to Google and other search engines about the relevance and authority of your business location.
There’s many other steps and techniques that I did not discuss in the article. As I mentioned, I prefer the long term, higher quality approach to getting my clients to letter A in Google Maps and ensuring that stay there indefinitely.
But for those who are looking to get fast rankings in Google Maps and can’t wait for the long term approach… this article is for you!
Definitely let me know how it goes with your business after implementing some of these techniques to increase your Google Maps rankings fast. And as always, let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.
Tip 6: Have Citation Consistency
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:
Bipper Media 855 Gaines School Road Suite A 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.
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.
Tip 7: Optimize Your Website Homepage
When you create your Google Maps business listing, one of the sections you need to fill out is your website URL. When you add your website URL to your Google business page, you are creating what I call the “landing page” to your Google Maps listing, and it plays an important role in your overall local SEO strategy. The website you associate with your Google Maps listing will directly influence the ranking and authority in the local search results. Google uses your website to make key associations with your Google Maps listing such as keyword targeting, business category relevance, and domain authority – all of which impact your rankings.
Here are the key elements to optimize on the homepage of your website:
H1 / Title Tag: This is a meta tag in the homepage of your website and it should say your metro area name, business category, and business name. Let’s look at a great example of this strategy in action. If you Google plastic surgery los angeles, you’ll see Wave Plastic Surgeons as the #1 / letter A Google Maps listing. Now, when you click over to their website, you see the H1 / Title Tag of their homepage read as follows: Los Angeles Cosmetic Surgery – Wave Plastic Surgery in LA. Notice as this title tag follows the pattern of metro area name, business category, and business name. And since this is the website that’s been identified as the landing page of the Google Maps listing, Google is pulling in this data and using it as a relevance factor in determining their rankings.
Description Tag: Moving on from the title tag, the next key element within the metadata of your homepage is your description tag. Again, staying with the example above of the plastic surgeons in Los Angeles who are ranked #1 in Google Maps, here is what the description tag on their homepage reads: Top Asian Plastic surgeon in California with offices in Los Angeles, Irvine, Rowland Heights and Fullerton CA. Contact us today with any questions about general, cosmetic or restorative surgery! Again, notice the reinforcement of the metro area name, business category. The one thing missing here is the reinforcement of their business name. But, who am I to critique… they are currently the letter A ranking in Google Maps :-)
Onsite Content: To finish out the optimization of the homepage of your website, which is the landing page to your Google Maps listing, you must continue to reinforce the metro area name, business category, and business name throughout the content on your homepage. Using elements such as tags, bold words, and keyword density are key strategies to reinforcing the homepage of your website for your Google Maps listing.
NAP / Citation: Finally, you must include / reinforce your business name, business address, and business phone number (NAP) on the homepage of your website in order to maximize the ranking power of your Google Maps listing. This can actually be achieved by including your NAP in the footer of your website, or in the sidebar. It is a common practice to include your business NAP in the footer however, because this typically allows your NAP to be present across all of the pages of your website. Another key strategy in the integration of your business NAP into your website is to use Schema language, which is a protocol that all major search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc…) use to determine key data sets, or direct data, from your website such as location and business category.
Much like the landing page strategy with Google Adwords, where Google analyzes the landing page of your ads to determine your overall ad strategy, Google looks to the landing page of your Google Maps listing to determine relevance and authority. The more authority you have built into your website, the more authority is translated over to your Google Maps listing.
Tip 8: Build Strong Citations & Backlinks
Build Location Authority with Citation Distribution
With this local SEO client, we saw a couple of keyword phrases slip recently. Even though the drop in rankings was slight, we decided to move forward with our standard citation distribution campaign. This is where we take a client’s NAP (business name, address, phone #, and website URL), otherwise known as their local business citation, and publish it across all of our partner publishers.
For example, here’s our (Bipper Media’s) NAP citation from Google My Business, the business name and address part:
And then here’s the business hours, phone number, and website URL part:
To summarize the complete business citation as referenced by our Google My Business listing:
Bipper Media – Website Design & SEO in Athens 855 Gaines School Road, Suite A Athens, GA 30605-3215 (706) 363-0335 https://bippermedia.com
Business Hours: Sunday / Open 24 hours Monday / Open 24 hours Tuesday / Open 24 hours Wednesday / Open 24 hours Thursday / Open 24 hours Friday / Open 24 hours Saturday / Open 24 hours
When we initiate citation distribution across our partner publishers, the most critical step is to ensure the accuracy and consistency of the citation distribution matches our Google My Business data exactly.
One slight variation of the citation can cause your location authority to be degraded as you’ll then be distributing inconsistent or inaccurate data as compared to your verified Google My Business listing.
Niche Directories for local business
Once you begin distributing the exact match citation for your local business, you can amplify expedite the growth of your location authority by distributing to niche business directories and resources. A niche directory or resource would look like this, for example:
You can also find a great collection of niche citation directories at Moz.
But here’s a few to give you an idea of what we are talking about:
Again, you can find a more complete list of niche directories at Moz.
The more citations you get published on authoritative niche directories, those directly related to your business category, the more location authority you’ll build within your category.
You can follow the same strategy to focus on the geographic market where your business is located.
One way you can find niche directories relevant to your metro area, you can simply type a search query into Google like this:
Just replace “athens” with your city name.
Or try some variations of this by replacing “business listings” with the word “directory”.
After just a few minutes you’ll have a list of the most authoritative business directories for you specific city.
Update June 14th, 2019
How to rank #1 in Google local search when located outside the center of a city?
Center (or Centroid) of metro Atlanta
Rank #1 in Google local in surrounding cities
One the biggest challenges in local SEO is how your business can compete in a large city if you are located outside the center of that major metro area? We believe the best solution is strategically published city pages, which we’ll dive into more detail below.
For example, if a law firm wants to compete for the keyword phrase “car accident lawyer Atlanta”, but the law firm is located north in Sandy Springs, how can the law firm compete in the Atlanta market?
In some cases, the answer is you can’t if you don’t have a verifiable address in Atlanta proper. In large metro areas with a lot of competing businesses, you’ll need to have a verified address in your target city. If you operate in a smaller metro area, you can sometimes get away with not having a verified address in your target city. But with large, dense metro areas, this is typically the starting point.
But in large cities, you can easily have a location within the target city but still be well outside the center of that city.
How do you find the exact center of a city on Google Maps?
You be wondering how to find the geographic center of a city, as this is a question I used to ask quite frequently. Google Maps actually makes it easy for you to locate the center of the city by identifying where the city name is placed on the page. Wherever you see the city name on Google Maps, that will always be centered directly over the centroid of that city.
According to some, the centroid of the city isn’t as relevant as it used to be in determining the local rankings, or Google Maps search results. I only partially agree with this statement, as one look at any prominent search in a large metro area will typically show the majority of the top 3 (3 pack) search results located at or near the centroid.
However, the other part of me agrees with the statement that the centroid isn’t as relevant because we have clients located far outside the centroid of their market, yet outrank heavy hitting competitors who are located smack dab in the centroid.
Here’s a great example of a business ranked #1 in Google local search results, yet located far north of the center of the city:
This is a also a great example because the keyword phrase “car accident lawyer milwaukee” is one of the most competitive keyword phrases in the Wisconsin legal market. So even though the cluster of law firms are located in the center of Milwaukee, probably near the court house, our client is located quite a bit north of the center yet still ranks #1 in Google local search.
How to rank #1 in Google local search when located outside the center of the city?
Let’s get back to the original question of how a business can achieve top rankings in Google local search, even though they are located outside of the center of a city?
This is where I partially agree with the statement that the centroid is not as relevant as it used to be in determining rankings in local search.
Today, some of the biggest factors in determining where a business ranks in the local search results, or Google Maps search results, is driven by onsite local SEO factors and more traditional organic SEO factors such as organic SEO techniques on your business website. Also, you can greatly influence your rankings in local search by focusing on external factors which are elements outside of website and your Google My Business (GMB) listing.
Factors within your website include elements such as:
embedding your Google My Business listing from Google Maps
adding your NAP (business name, address, phone #) to your website wrapped in Schema, and preferably JSON – LD Schema
adding photos to your website using location relation meta data
adding outbound links from your website to local business resources using the Google Maps “Nearby” recommended businesses, which typically consists of restaurants, bars, and hotels
adding outbound links to local and state government websites that are related to your specific industry
include an instance of your exact business address, the one that matches your GMB listing, in the sidebar of your website so that it’s published across all pages of your websites (i.e. site wide)
Factors within your Google My Business Listing can include:
using a lot of keyword rich content in the “About Me” description section of your business Google Plus profile
adding your primary targeted keyword phrase in the Tagline of the Story section, which is basically the description of your G+ profile
if required, add your business category to the title of your GMB listing title
properly categorizing your GMB listing by picking the right primary category, and then including all relevant secondary categories (make sure you do not go overboard with this by including irrelevant business categories)
filling out your GMB listing to 100%
Factors outside of your website and GMB listing:
building highly authoritative and relevant links back to your website, location pages, and your GMB / Google Maps listing
distributing NAP citations throughout the web, focusing on major local business data hubs such as Acxiom, Localeze, Neustar, Factual, Infogroup, and Foursquare.
highly organized and concerted internal linking structures within your website, also known as Silos
These factors combine to give you a highly authoritative strategy for local SEO, and will help you rank your business in the local search results in Google even if you are located far outside the centroid of the city.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
You can view the full hierarchy of Schemas, or direct data sets, here. There’s even a new paradigm of Schemas called autosthat are designed specifically for modes of transportation.
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