Do you own a local business or a store on the high street? If so, you should be trying to get the most from Google Maps. Of course, you probably know that already. What you probably don’t know is – exactly how big Local SEO is. According to Google, 46% of all searches have local intent. To learn more about local intent read this post first. Local SEO is different in many ways from traditional SEO. If you own a local business it will be useful to understand local SEO if you want more customers. So, in this post we’ll discuss how you can improve your business’ prominence in Google Maps.

The location of your business

The location of your business is the most important factor in local SEO. If you’re business is not close to the implied location, you’re business simply won’t appear in the map pack. That is unless the user searches for your business by name – if this happens your business will appear as long as there’s no closer businesses with the same name.

Now, let’s look more closely at what happens when users search for queries that are not your business’ name.

When search query includes a location name, the important thing is how close your business is to the ‘location centre’. The ‘location centre’ is determined by the place where Google puts the red pin in Google Maps when you search for the location name alone.

For example, the query “plumber London” will generate a list of plumbing services prioritised by the plumbers proximity to the city centre of London where the red pin appears when you search for ‘london’ alone. 

Of course there are other ranking factors that influence the sort order of businesses, which we’ll discuss later.

Changing your business location is not something any SEO agency can influence. If you, as the business owner, get the opportunity to relocate your business closer to the centre of the town/city, it could be very beneficial for your SEO, particularly if you’re now based in the outskirts.

The use of keywords on your website

Google Maps’ listings often link to a webpage. This webpage is where you can put keywords and locations that will match Google searches. If you have more than 1 branch for your local business, we recommend making a dedicated webpage for each location to enhance target specificity. 

For example, if you operate a London-based plumbing company, and had branches in Wembley and Croydon, then it would be a good idea to create two pages on your website – one for each borough. One page could target “plumbers Wembley” and the other could target “Plumbers Croydon”. 

Both of these should be separate from your home page. 

Each different location should correspond to a separate business listing in Google Maps. 

Bear in mind that each webpage would need to be rich with content aimed at the respective targeted search terms.

If you only serve one location, then it’s fine to optimise your home page for this location.

Use keywords in reviews and review responses

The use of keywords in the Google reviews written by your customers can help increase your visibility for those keywords I.e. if your customer leaves a review stating that you’re the ‘best plumber in Croydon’, you’ll be much more likely to appear prominently when people search in Google for “Best plumber Croydon”.

When asking your customers for reviews, steer the way they answer the question by asking them questions in such a way that your customers might be more inclined to use keywords that you want to use.

For example, if you wanted to target the phrase “best Plumber Croydon”, you could ask your customers do they agree that you’re the best plumber in Croydon. If they say yes, then ask them to leave a review to say why they think you’re the best plumber in Croydon – customer service, pricing, efficiency, etc. Then, in your response, thank them for calling you the best plumber in Croydon, thus repeating the target keyword in your reply.

You can also enhance your visibility even through your replies to customer reviews – make sure to reply (so many businesses don’t bother) and to incorporate the right keywords in your responses.

Quantity of reviews

The quantity of reviews you have is a testament to the popularity of your service. This may not be a strong ranking factor but it’s certainly a powerful form of social proofing. 

It’s easy to increase the number of Google My Business reviews you have – just ask more of your customers to leave reviews!

You can ask your customers in person, via email or If you’re a Spark customer, we’ll give you some review cards to hand out to your customers to remind them. You can even put a widget on your website to encourage reviews from website visitors.

Note that only customers with Gmail accounts can leave reviews directly in Google Maps.

Google also pulls business reviews from Facebook and other sources. So, if a customer doesn’t have a Gmail account you can ask them to leave a review on Facebook instead.

To do this, you’ll need to have a business page set-up on both Facebook and Google. Make sure the name address and phone number on each is identical so that Google can figure out that both businesses are the same. 

Ratings

Google deems a high rating as a sign of quality service and might therefore be more likely to show businesses with better ratings more prominently in certain search results, although this is heavily debated within the SEO industry.

Either way, a better star rating will certainly influence people weighing up against your competitors against your business.

In essence, the more 5-star ratings you get, the better for your business. So, you need to minimize the quantity of negative ratings and maximise the quantity of positive ones that your business receives.

Here are some ways to do this:

  • When asking customers for reviews, avoid asking anyone who has complained or looks like they are having a bad day.
  • Respond to negative reviews sympathetically – the customer may change their review based on your response.
  • Try the ‘Yes Ladder’ technique: Before asking customers to leave a review, ask them in person, how they would rate their experience. 

For example, a plumber could ask “Would you agree that I gave you a 5-star service today?”. Most customers will naturally say “yes” when asked face to face. You can then follow up with – “Thank you, would you be happy to leave us a 5-star review on Google?” while you hand them the review card.

Most people will follow through by giving you a five-star rating and positive review because they have already agreed with you in person that you deserve 5 stars. This is called the Yes Ladder Technique and is used very effectively in sales.

Quantity and Quality of backlinks

Backlinks are always important for any SEO. The more authoritative the link, the better.

To get more links, you can sponsor local events or charities and get featured on their websites. You can even submit your work to industry journals, competitions, etc. 

There are many strategies for link building and these differ depending on your niche. For local SEO, local links are king. This means you should be trying to get links from other websites in your city.

The fact is that getting natural links can be very time consuming. Most business owners just don’t have the time to do it themselves. So, the best way to get great links is to hire an SEO agency do it for you.

At Spark, we have tried and tested outreach methods and we have established relationships with blog owners which we can leverage to get your website the links it needs. Check out our SEO packages here.

Quantity of citations from local directories

Google wants to validate your business information to ensure it’s legit. It does this by finding your business listed on quality local website directories such as Yell, Facebook, Foursquare and Yelp, as well as other niche directories.

Directory citations may not be as important for SEO as they once were but they’re still something you’ll need to do. These days it’s not a game of numbers anymore. To satisfy Google, you should acquire citations for each business address you have from at least 10 trusted local directories.

The key thing to watch out for is any inaccuracy in the data between the directories and your Google Maps listing.

Essentially, all information needs to be identical; business name, address and phone number. If you plan on moving your office without updating your correct address in all local directories where your business is mentioned, it can cause duplicate businesses to be auto generated in Google Maps.

Google My Business profile assets and information

Make sure your Google My Business Profile is fully populated with: images, descriptive information, operating hours and most importantly, the business categories you are targeting. 

Google wants to provide its users with as much information as possible. So, it’s no wonder that it rewards profiles that are fleshed out with useful information and images.

Business categories is the big one here. It’s very common for businesses to simply choose one category and leaving it at that – and this is a big missed opportunity.

You’re allowed to have one primary category and up to nine secondary categories. The more relevant categories you choose, the more keywords you will appear in Google for. 

For example, if you operate a Yoga class, you can classify your business under ‘Yoga Studio’ and ‘Yoga Instructor’. This will increase the searches your business appears for in Google.  

Getting Started

Managing Local SEO can be time consuming. If you’d rather spend your time doing what you love, then sign up for one of our affordable Local SEO packages and we’ll take care of your local SEO for you. Spark SEO specialises in driving meaningful results for small local businesses at an affordable price.