Your Ultimate Guide to Google Maps Marketing in 2020
by Mike Khorev
The Idea of Google Maps Marketing
There are two ways to market your business on Google Maps.
First, is to invest in Google’s local search ads. When people search for local businesses both in Google Maps or Google search, this local search ad will be displayed on top of other results. Local Search ads use Google’s standard CPC (Cost Per Click) model, so there’s not much strategy besides bidding more money according to your location and niche.
The second, which will be our focus in this guide, is to rank organically on Google Maps. It’s important to note that Google ‘only’ displays the top 3 Google Maps results for any local queries (including “near me” queries) on Google search results. Yes, they are placed below the local search ad, but organic results will always provide more value for users.
Why Google Maps Marketing Is Important
In this advanced age of social media transparency, there are three main ways how people find out about local businesses:
- Through content, including social media posts from influencers and their friends/family, YouTube videos, and so on.
- Via Google search and Google Maps, often accompanied by checking out reviews on platforms like TripAdvisor and Yelp.
- Through advertisements. Not as effective as it used to be, but it’s still there
With Google Maps marketing, we are effectively capturing one of the three main sources of traffic. By being on the top 3 results on Google Maps—according to our niche and location—, we can get three main benefits:
- Building awareness: the Google Maps result will link to Google My Business listing, which will give various information like photos, store hours, address, what we are selling, etc.
- Get more calls: Users can directly click the “Call” button on the search result, giving them an easier time to call your business
- More store visits: Users can ask for directions immediately from the search result.
Google Maps Ranking Factors
Before we can optimize our listing to rank higher on Google Maps, we must first learn about the important factors that will determine our ranking.
According to Google’s Guidelines for local ranking, there are three main factors:
How relevant your listing is to the searcher’s intent. In practice, this is mainly about your Google My Business (GMB) listing (will be discussed further below). How complete and relevant your Google My Business information is, the usage of keywords in business title and information, whether your listing is verified, etc.
How close your business’ location is to the location specified by the searcher, or the searcher’s location (for “near me” queries). For example if restaurant A and B have similar relevance to the searcher’s query, but restaurant B is closer, restaurant B will rank higher than restaurant A. There’s not much we can optimize about this factor besides providing correct and complete information about our location.
In short, how well-known a business is according to Google’s algorithm. This is why, for example, an established, well-known restaurant usually ranks higher than a fairly new restaurant with more optimizations.
In practice, Google collects various information from the internet to determine a business’s prominence:
- Articles talking about your business
- Backlinks to your website (since your website URL is included in your Google My Business listing)
- Mentions of your business’s NAP (Name, Address, Information) on the internet. This will include if you list your business on various online directories
- More reviews and positive ratings on Google Maps and other review sites
- Social media mentions and engagements
So, our optimizations for Google Maps Marketing will focus on these factors.
Step-By-Step Guide To Google Maps SEO
Step 1: Claiming Your Google My Business Listing
Google Maps’ results are based on Google My Business listings, so it will only make sense that this first step is also the most crucial one.
First, do a quick Google search for your brand/business name to check whether there’s already a GMB listing for your business. If your business has been around for some time, there’s a good chance that there’s already a GMB listing that you can claim. Alternatively, you can check here and make the claim directly.
There’s also the possibility that others have claimed your business listing, but don’t worry that Google provides an option to request ownership here. Just follow the required steps, and as long as you can verify ownership, you’ll get the claim.
Step 2: Optimizing Google My Business Listing
The next step is to provide as complete and accurate information on your Google My Business listing.
Important: focus on providing comprehensive information for your human audience, and not to please the search engine’s algorithm. Don’t emphasize keyword usage too much here, use the target keywords sparingly and make sure they occur naturally.
Make sure all information details are accurate and grammatically correct, including proper capitalization for your business name and address.
Choose the most relevant category for your business. There are a lot to choose from, but remember that it is about what your business is and not what you sell.
Also, depending on your business, make sure to provide the correct information about your service area. If you provide delivery service, state so. If you business operates at the customer’s place (construction companies, home services, etc.), state the correct information.
Make sure to enter your business hours accurately, and update them whenever there’s any changes. If you have different business hours during the weekends, holidays, or other events, there’s an option to customize your information.
Step 3: Adding Photos To Your Google My Business Listing
According to Google themselves, listings that include photos get 42% more requests for directions on Google Maps, and 35% more website visitations.
Important note: if you can, take photos on or near your business’s physical location. Google will extract the metadata information from the photos.
Make sure your photos are well-taken, can represent what your business is about, and are with the correct format and size.
Step 4: Verifying Google My Business Listing
Once you’ve provided all the correct information, it’s time to verify your Google My Business listing.
Unverified listing will affect ranking performances, and you will be locked out from some Google My Business features (i.e., the ability to use https://posts.withgoogle.com).
Generally, the verification process is done via mail, where Google will send a postcard with a verification PIN to your business’s physical address. (Thus, it’s important to provide a correct address and not a virtual office). The verification process is typically done within a week.
For some business types where not having a physical location is possible, verification via email or phone call is also possible.
Step 5: Local SEO Link and Citation Building
Link building in Google Maps marketing is different than organic, traditional SEO.
In general, here are important link types that will affect your local SEO performance:
- Citation (NAP mentions), including online local directory
- Industry-related sites in your area
- Local websites
- Local press sites
- Local chamber of commerce sites
Citations are the most valuable links in the world of Google Maps SEO, and there are two main ways to get citations:
- Get you NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) information mentioned completely by a reputable local site (i.e. bloggers, reviewers, other relevant sites in your industry).
- Listing your NAP in various online directories according to your location and niche/industry
For the first, there is no other shortcut besides building your own reputation (both online and offline), and build relationships with relevant local sites, especially those with close ties to your industry/niche.
The latter, however, is more important (and more accessible). A quick Google search will help you find online directories according to your industry/category and location. Alternatively, you can also use this list by Moz for online directories by city (U.S. cities), and this list for citations based on category.
There are two things to keep in mind during the citation building process: first, make sure to include accurate and complete information. Second, maintain consistency of information across all the different listings, especially the NAP information.
Meaning, if you change your business’s location, you’d have to update your NAP information across all these listings. Google treats misinformation very seriously, and inconsistent information might cause penalty or permanent ban, so make sure to carefully pay attention to this aspect.
Local SEO Link Building
There are three major areas to focus on in link building for Google Maps marketing:
- Local sites that are related to your industry, like local newspapers, schools & universities, local chamber of commerce and other government entities, etc.
- Your business partners’ sites
- Local influencers and important figures
Remember that quality is more important than quality. In fact, Google discourages excessive link exchanges between businesses, and you might get penalized if you get too many backlinks in a short period of time. In general, focus on ‘just’ getting two or three high-quality backlinks every month.
Step 6: Get More (Positive) Review
Positive reviews are not only important as a major ranking signal, but as a social proof, reviews are also important to build awareness and encourage conversions.
Focus on getting more positive reviews on your Google Maps listing, but reviews on third-party sites, especially major ones like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Facebook Places, among other platforms, are also important for Google Maps ranking purposes.
Regarding reviews, there are several factors that will affect your Google Maps ranking:
- Listing on major review sites (Yelp, Glassdoor, BBB, TripAdvisor, etc.). It is worth noting that Google My Business/Google Maps listing is still the most important
- Number of positive reviews, pretty self-explanatory: the more, the better
- Keywords and location usage on reviews. When the reviewers use the city name or keywords, Google will perceive that you are a trustworthy local business.
- The number of responses are also important. On the other hand, negative reviews not responded to will negatively impact your ranking
With that being said, here are some tactics you can try to encourage more positive reviews:
- Offer incentives
A common, but effective practice is to offer incentives to your existing customers in exchange of (positive) reviews. For example if you have a restaurant, you can offer free desserts or discounts after they showed your staff a review on your Google Map listing.
- Respond to existing reviews
People are more likely to leave reviews on businesses that frequently respond to existing ones, including and especially the negative ones. Above, we have also discussed that Google took account on the number of review responses as a ranking signal.
- Use social media
Share, retweet, and pin positive reviews so that more people can see it. This will also encourage them to leave theirs. Also, resolve negative issues publicly on social media.
Google Maps marketing or local SEO, as you can see from the six steps we have discussed above, isn’t exactly rocket science. Anyone can do it with limited technical knowledge, but the key is consistency.
Consistent in your citation building efforts, keep encouraging customers to leave positive reviews, and especially maintain consistent and up-to-date information. Do this for 6 to 12 months, and you’ll see your Google Maps listing steadily climb up the ranking.
August 9, 2020