There are about 500-600 updates and changes made to the Google algorithm every year. While most are small, occasionally a major one will be announced. That’s what happened on May 4, 2020—Google announced a Core Update that happened to be the second-highest Core Update after the 2018 update.

These yearly updates to the Google ranking algorithm, especially the 2020 update, have changed the landscape substantially over this year (not to mention the testing phase for some of Google’s newest specialized results such as home services listings and leads). Considering these algorithm changes and the impact of COVID-19 on consumer search behavior, it’s a good time to step back, evaluate where we stand and the most recent best practices. Most importantly, it’s a good time to gear up for the end of this year and the start of the next one so that we go into it with the throttle open and the highest chance of traffic.

Google Maps Best Practices

There are a lot of best practices articles out in the world. We’re concerned with the best practices for on- and off-site SEO, content strategies, social media best practices, and local search results. Being in spot one for Google’s returned results is the most important thing, right?

Original content, social media, local listings… these are all things you should be doing and maintaining on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis as necessary. But depending on your business, the importance will shift. For a local service, participating in PPC advertising, being number one in the SERPs (search engine results page), and getting a priority on Google Maps should be your top concerns.

Google local listings put an emphasis on local map rankings, placing them first over the regular returned results. This is a blessing and a curse because it gives you an edge over big-store or office chains which won’t be as heavily invested in local listings. It’s a curse because you’re limited by the physical location of your store and service area for returned results. A competitor can take precedence just by virtue of their store being placed down the street.

Google Maps update from 7 down to 3

All of this means that the short-form best practices for getting a higher maps listing is:

  1. Claim ownership of your Google Brand, Local/Places, and My Business Listings
  2. Keep those listings up-to-date, and make sure the same content is listed on your website, such as name, address, and phone number
  3. Get reviews, on every major review site you can (Yelp, Angie’s List, Home Advisor, Google+, etc.)
  4. Follow standard web and SEO best practices to support the first three Local Best Practices

Google Maps Ranking Factors

The long form of this gets into specific factors that Google watches when returning results. Focusing on Local or Global means a few easy differences, but you sacrifice certain things to gain one or the other. Google’s official stance on which factors it watches for Local are pretty clear: relevance, distance, and prominence. These factors are almost identical to what Google watches for Global SEO, but the distance metric makes all the difference in everything from approach to web design.

Relevance: Relevance is how well a local listing matches what someone is searching for. Adding complete and detailed business information can help us better understand your business and match you to relevant search results. – Google Support Pages

According to the 2014 Local Search Ranking survey results, onsite signals are the top determining factor for local search.

The design of your site is essential to ranking in both Local and Global arenas, however, balancing the design is tricky since it requires you to make a choice about which you prefer to optimize for. To give a short list:

  • Business Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP)
  • Keyword in Landing Page URL (for local landing pages, the location should be included in the URL as well)
  • City and State in H1 and H2 tags
  • Localization keywords and tags for Traditional SEO

This is similar to the relevance metrics needed in traditional SEO. You need to be about what you say you are. The on-page content should reflect that you are the company you say you are, you provide the service you claim, and you are located where you say you are.

This last piece is what sets your on-page design down a separate path. A site optimized for Global search can’t do as well in local results because the location keywords (service area, city, and state) take up virtual real-estate in the URL, Page Title, and Header tags. Use local schema markup whenever you can. The extra micro-data gives Google more information to work with and more options for displaying relevant information to searchers. The first step and most important step, however, is to make sure your geographic and contact info

Do optimize for Global search results, but when it comes down to the line, don’t sacrifice the chance to take that #1 slot for local to strive against large brands for position one in Google SERPS. The longtail keyword for Abilene Pet Store is more beneficial to you when someone is searching for a new turtle, than being listed on page one results for a search from Oregon. Emphasize this in your landing pages and your content. Blogs and social posts should regularly mention your location, or interact with other local sources (interact with local news and weather social accounts) or post about local events.

Distance: Just like it sounds — how far is each potential search result from the location term used in a search? If you don’t specify a location in your search, we’ll calculate distance based on what we know about your location. Google Support Pages

Google wants to return the most important results. There’s not much you can do about your relative distance from the user’s location. This has become even more important with Google’s added emphasis on mobile and mobile-responsive websites. Listing your service area, and linking all of your My Business Listings with Google’s Business Locations tools gives you an edge over people who are simply closer. Maybe you’re a couple of blocks further away, but if your repair service is open 24/7, and your hours are listed, you’re a more relevant result than a company that’s closer but may not be open. Keeping locations and business information current are just as important as relative distance.

Prominence: This describes how well-known or prominent a business can be. This is based on information we have about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories). Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and we try to reflect this online as well. For example, famous museums, landmark hotels, or well-known store brands that are familiar to many people are also likely to be more prominent in search results. Google Support Pages

Off-site SEO has been the hallmark of search prominence. Links reflect who is talking about you and what people believe your site is about. Local has the added benefit of a great offsite engagement ranking: Reviews. Yelp listings, Yahoo reviews, and especially Google My Business reviews give Google the best metric for site attention and even aid with relevance. Traditional good SEO helps here, but getting local reviews for your locations and business in general is a huge boost to your popularity in Google’s eyes. Prominence is where all of your traditional SEO pays off. If you aren’t sure where else you should be listed, take some time to examine where Google is scraping results data from for your competitors and see if you’re missing any high-importance locations.

Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Actionable Items

Now, we can’t control how close we are to individual users, so the distance metric isn’t something you have direct control of, but ranking on maps has enough other items for you to take action and boost your site’s listing. Just remember:

  • NAP consistency – stay current everywhere, especially your Google listing and website.
  • Review Engagement – take advantage of interacting with customers after the fact. Request reviews and actively respond to the questions, comments, and complaints that come your way.
  • Site Design – emphasize where your business is and what you do. Deliver content that relates to your keywords to cement that relationship between your brick and mortar building and the services you offer. Don’t ignore website best practices just because you have all of your data on the right directories and Google Pages, back it up onsite.
  • Mobile Presence – A useable local phone number (tied to the location your map listing shows), with business hours and accurate service descriptions, create the most tantalizing result for someone searching for a nearby service on a phone. Make your site easily navigable so a Google result is useful regardless of if they click on the phone number or the web address.

An Additional Step: Optimize “Google My Business”

As we mentioned above, there are various short-form best practices for getting a higher Google maps ranking. While standard web design, content and SEO best practices will ensure improvement in your ranking, you can also take it a step further and set up a solid Google My Business listing. Google My Business is a free tool and a business directory, much like Yelp. This tool allows business owners to control their business’s listing and information, providing customers with everything they need to learn about your business, the services it offers and where it is located. By optimizing Google My Business, checking and maintaining is regularly, you can go the extra mile in ensuring your ranking on Google maps is hiring. Here are some things you should keep in mind when using Google My Business

  • If you don’t have a GMB Account, your business will still show up on Maps but won’t include all the information customer’s need about your business. Not only that, it will show up “claim this business” on Google Maps. Make sure you claim it and provide more details for customers.
  • Google My Business listing contains all kinds of information such as reviews, category, verified business address, website, phone number, images etc. To ensure a higher Google Maps ranking, fill out all these items.
  • Take advantage of GMB Posts—these are small advertisements that show up whenever someone comes across your listing.
  • Use the “booking button” if you take appointments often. This option makes it easier for customers to set appointments and for you to get new clients.
  • Use the Questions and Answers feature of Google My Business. It allows potential customers to ask questions about your business and you can answer.
  • Add photos and videos to your listing if possible.

Read our other blog posts for more information on web design and SEO:

VitalStorm stays on top of all the latest digital marketing news so you don’t have to. To stay in the loop, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Google+.

We offer two services that will help you accomplish your online marketing goals: Website Design (which includes original content) and Social/Local (which includes original blogging on your site once a week). The best time to start creating rich, valuable content was 5 years ago; the next best time is now!

Give us a call today for your FREE website consultation: 1-877-311-5695