If your business serves a local area, then there's no better place to be found than on Google Maps. There are literally dozens of factors that go into who shows up there and in what order. Rather than tearing your hair out looking at all of them, what if you could just focus on a handful of things that will have the biggest impact on your Google ranking?
The seven big local SEO ranking factors:
Links back to your website
User behaviour (how long visitors stay, click-through rates, etc.)
Citations (directory listings, social profiles, any mention of your business around the web)
What's on your website itself (basically all the things that you do for regular SEO will help you in the map listings as well)
Reviews (including your overall star rating, how good they are, how many and how often you get them)
Personalisation for individual searchers (their unique search and browsing history as well as device they're on and where they're searching from will all skew the results for that user specifically)
Your Google Business Profile (GBP)
The GBP happens to be the single most important element when it comes to ranking and maps, and the good news is, most of it is completely in your control. Let's talk about the three most important elements within your Google Business Profile that you can actually manage and how to use them to your ultimate advantage.
Primary GBP category
When you set up your profile, you can choose from a list of nearly 4000 business categories – but you want to choose the one that most closely matches the primary keyword phrase that you'd want to rank for. Fair warning: What you want to rank for is not always available as an option, just get as close as you can.
It might be helpful to do a little spying on your competitors. Just do a search on the keyword phrase you want to rank in, and see who appears in the top three positions. Then check to see what they chose as their primary category; it's working for them, so chances are that's what you should choose, too.
Keywords in business name
This is the most controversial thing in this list, so we need to be very careful how we tread. Long story short: if your actual business name happens to include the keywords that you want to rank for and you can put that into your GBP, it would be perfect! Having those keywords in your actual business name will help you rank for the goal search phrase. But Google does not want you padding your business name on your profile with keywords that are not actually part of your legal business name. They will probably penalise you if you do that.
The way that you can use this to your advantage mostly comes into play when you're setting up your business initially. Do your keyword research and figure out if it makes sense to include your primary phrase in your legal business name or not. If it sounds natural, go for it, but if it’s going to sound awkward or spammy you should just go with whatever version sounds best.
Additional business categories
After you've chosen your primary business category, a little later in the process you'll get the chance to choose extra categories. They currently let you select up to nine of them. Some experts out there claim that it's possible to actually dilute your ranking potential by maxing those out. But others believe that category dilution isn't really anything to worry about and recommend adding all the relevant categories that you can (with the emphasis here on relevant). In other words, this isn't the place for keyword stuffing, it will not help you. But by adding additional, relevant categories, you open yourself up to ranking potential for more and more keyword phrases, getting you even more local visibility.
Now let's talk about what you shouldn't be focusing on, and that is your physical location! It’s true that your address is a big ranking factor in Maps, there's just no getting around that. But there's also not much you can do about it, either. If someone is searching for a dry cleaner, Google Maps is going to show them ones that are close by. If you're in suburb "A" you're probably not going to show up in a result for someone searching in suburb "B", unless there's just no other competition. And along the same lines, if you’re in suburb "A" and you're trying to rank in "Major City" that is 50 km away, the fact that your physical address is not actually in that city will also probably prevent you from reaching your goal. Unless you’re willing to get a new address (which by the way, some businesses do!), you should just concentrate on those things that you do have control over, so you can rank for those searchers who are close by.
And the most important thing you can do to improve your visibility, as well as your trustworthiness as a business, is definitely getting more of those five-star Google reviews. So don't forget to work on gaining customer loyalty and encourage them to leave positive reviews.