We need to break down ranking factors into 2 subsections. Google Maps & Localized Organic Search.
GOOGLE MAPS RANKING FACTORS
Google My Business Help provides a support article outlining how the maps algorithm works. There are 3 main components that we’ll be talking about. Relevance. Distance. Prominence.
I’m going to assume that before we go into these that your Google My Business Listing is verified and you’ve added complete data to your listing. If not, head on over to the Google My Business section.
“Relevance refers to how well a local listing matches what someone is searching for. Adding complete and detailed business information can help Google better understand your business and match your listing to relevant searches.” – GMB Support article (bolding added for emphasis)
Your local listing has a lot of information itself that directly applies to relevance, including:
Business Name: Does your business name have a keyword or a city name in it? If it does, this will really help you, and unfortunately, REALLY helps spammers. We have a chapter devoted to identifying and removing spam.
Categories: The primary category you choose for your listing has more weight than additional categories, choose carefully. Adding relevant categories as subcategories are recommended and will not dilute your rankings.
Hours of operation: Enter your hours of operation.
Business description: There is no evidence that stuffing your business description with keywords will help your rankings. Stop it.
Telephone number: Should you use a local phone number or a toll-free number? If you have been using a toll-free number for your business for a long time, stick with it. Have a local phone number? Great, use that. What about call tracking numbers? Use a local call tracking number as your primary phone number, put your real phone number as an alternate number. It will not hurt your rankings.
Reviews: The content inside of your reviews help your relevance. If a reviewer uses common phrasing associated with your services in the review, it helps, especially when the sentiment of the review is positive.
On-site SEO: Traditional SEO tactics can help your relevance. Title tags, meta descriptions, header tags, site-speed, SSL, etc.
Website content: The content on your website can help increase your relevance. This does not give you permission to go and add keywords to your website. Write copy for users, not search engines.
Citations: Make sure your business information is correct on Factual, Infogroup, Neustar Localeze, Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook, Bing, and Apple Maps.
Pretty self-explanatory. The further you are away from a searcher, the less likely you are going to show up in the top 3 map results. There are certain cases where you can rank, even though your competitors might be closer to the searcher;
You’re in a small market and there isn’t a lot of competition.
You have truly superior products/services and visitors drive further distances to go to your place of business. Google was granted a patent in early 2017 called “Determining the quality of locations based on travel time investment”. Bill Slawski did a write-up on it, you can see that write-up here.
Your review profile is phenomenal and your competitors have few positive reviews.
“Prominence refers to how well-known a business is. Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking.” GMB Support article (bolding added for emphasis).
To increase your prominence, here are the things you should be focusing on:
Links – Not just any links. Links need to be topical and/or local.
Review count – The more POSITIVE reviews you have, the more likely you will increase your map rankings.
Traditional SEO best practices – Site-speed, mobile-friendly, SSL, title tags, meta descriptions, clear site structure, great content, etc.
LOCALIZED ORGANIC RANKING
Whether you add a city or zip code to a search or not, if Google believes that you are looking for a local result, they will show you local results.
This is obvious for queries like “pizza delivery” and “coffee shop”, Google understands you’re looking for a local pizza shop that offers delivery and will display coffee shops near your location. The same principle applies to products and services.
How do you increase your local rankings?
First and foremost, you need a website. No website? Then there’s nothing to rank.
Ok, you have a website. You need to make sure your website is responsive or mobile-friendly. If it’s not, you’re going to have a hard time. You can pull out your phone right now and go to your website or you can use this tool from Google.
How fast does your website load? If it takes more than 2 seconds to load on a wifi connection, you need to speed your website up. Use GTMetrix to get a baseline of your site-speed and implement the recommendations it provides.
Traditional on-site SEO helps, including:
- Clear site structure
- Content written for users, not search engines
- Optimized title tags, meta descriptions, and header tags
- Proper use of internal links
- Great imagery that also has alt text added to each photo
Building topical and local links will also help your local rankings.
The overall sentiment (reviews) of your business is going to either help you or hurt you.
If your business has an overall negative reputation, it doesn’t matter how great your on-site SEO, links, or anything else is, you won’t rank. Work on changing your business to get back in good graces with previous, current, and future customers, then worry about this other stuff.