As the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said about 2500 years ago, “There is nothing permanent except change.” And this could not be truer than in online marketing!
Indeed the Internet keeps on changing rapidly, and one of the trends in recent years has been the rise of google maps. Pretty much unknown ten years ago, they are now omnipresent in Google search results for many search terms. Of course, google’s AI is sophisticated enough to determine when it makes sense to include a google map or not in the search results.
If you type, for example, “define philosopher” (without quotations), then you will get no map but mostly text coming from academic articles. If you type “define Greece,” here again, you do not get a map per se, but you should get a knowledge graph box on the right side of the search results. And that box will include a map, which makes sense as Greece is a country.
Now let’s say you type the classic “pizza near me” query. Here we first get some google ads at the top, then a large google map showing nearby pizzerias visible as pins, and finally the traditional organic search results.
In summary, we can say from the above that the recent evolution in google’s search engine algorithm has led to the insertion of google maps between google ads and Google’s organic results, but only for specific search terms, not for all search terms. That most often happens if there is a location or proximity connotation in the search query.
This evolution is in no small part due to the parallel rise of cell phone usage in the past decade. As users always carry their cell phones with them, they are often interested in search results for events, shows, products, or services that are within their reach. As google maps search results emphasize location and proximity, this was a match made in heaven.
From a marketing standpoint, this situation is a golden opportunity for numerous businesses in various niches, not just for restaurants. As users are getting used to google maps (which has surpassed one billion monthly visitors), they may enter all kinds of search queries directly in google maps, and search for all sorts of products and services. And google will always match demand with supply.
As a business owner or marketing consultant, what should you do to leverage google maps? What should you do to improve your ranking in google maps in 2020 and beyond?
Of course, the first step is to have a google my business listing so that your business can appear in google maps. If you do not have such a listing yet, now is the time to get started.
The next step is to analyze your competition so that you get a good idea of what it will take to rank in the 3-pack. You will notice that usually, Google maps results display three online businesses on the front page; this is the so-called 3-pack, the Holy Grail of local SEO. These three top-ranking listings get the lion share of traffic, and how to get there is the question burning the lips of thousands of business owners.
As is general in SEO, you must study the competition in your niche to determine what types of brands are rankings at the top. Are these big established brands, or do smaller tech-savvy companies occupy the 3-pack? Do they have many reviews? Do they have many photos? How about their website, is it showing in the listing? Does it rank in organic results? Is the listing claimed? These are some of the questions to include in the niche audit required to prepare your map strategy.
There is no secret recipe to be #1 in google maps or to penetrate the 3-pack in 2020, but good SEO common sense can help us get a clear idea of the steps necessary.
From the previous section, we should know who is dominating google maps in our niche of interest. But in general, we also know what google likes to promote: trustworthy, authoritative legal brands with excellent customer engagement and the right product or service. Hence the main features below.
Firstly the listing should look as professional as possible, with a title that is a real brand name and not a large keyword-stuffed array. Most of the information should be filled, including a website, opening hours, creation year, etc. This also includes a full business description that should be 750 characters max, helping on-page optimization with niche related semantically correct industry content.
Secondly, and this could be the most crucial element for long-term high rankings, the listing should have a regular stream of customer reviews. Potential buyers prefer a high review count in general; this also provides freshness as well as additional authentic on-topic content. Enticing your clients to post reviews is a plus, even more so if they insert their photos of your product or service.
Thirdly and this was alluded to in the previous paragraph, images are a crucial component of a good google my business listing in our modern Instagram age. These images should look authentic and provide a good representation of what you have to offer and the quality of your brand. That should also help with a better click-through rate, which in itself should boost your rankings even more.
Fourthly, an excellent website that ranks well in organic results goes hand in hand with a well-performing google map listing. Your website and your GMB listing should be interlinked both ways, and if we believe the adage, “A rising tide lifts all boats,” the better your website ranks, the better your google maps listing will be ranking.
Fifthly you must engage with your customers, which is another rule of modern online marketing. Reply to customer reviews, in particular, the bad ones. That will add even more on-topic content as well as freshness, show engagement, and show visitors that you care about your customers’ concerns. Also, you can make posts, which can be used for news, announcements, or promotions and can increase awareness of your online brand.
Google maps rankings are there for the taking, as there is still a significant opportunity for many online businesses to anchor their presence in maps. Due to their prominence in Google search results, this is a chance not to be missed in 2020 and beyond.