According to Google, more than 20 percent of desktop searches on their platform have local intent. On mobile, this number climbs to 40 percent. With over 3.5 billion searches being conducted on the search engine every single day, its really not difficult to see why getting listed in the local pack is currently THE most powerful source of FREE, qualified leads for local businesses.
It is important to note however, that the local pack doesn’t always appear, and never appears at all for certain types of search queries. For example, the local pack doesn’t currently appear at all for highly specific queries such as long tail keywords.
Benefits of the Local Pack
Google local packs are always featured above the organic results, and they are one of the most prominent SERP features that have been stealing traffic away from the organic results for years. In fact, one industry study found that organic CTR is down 37% since 2015.
Getting featured in the local pack really emphasizes the value of a Google Maps listing. Maps is where all the phone calls come from. Prospective customers are visiting websites less and making buying decisions based on what they see on maps. Maps Listings are completely free, and searchers that click on a maps listing are highly likely to be qualified business leads at the latter stage of the buying funnel. What is really cool is that when they click through, prospects can immediately see your reviews, which are powerful social proof tools. If you’re a small business owner, optimizing your Google Maps listing needs to be at the heart of your local business marketing strategy.
Getting Featured On Google Maps
Getting featured in the local pack prior to the Pigeon update in 2014 used to be a relatively simple process. As many as 7 businesses were typically displayed in the pack (when it was known as the 7-pack). To increase the probability of being featured in the pack, all you had to do was to claim your listing, optimize your business page and get more citations and positive reviews than your competitors.
In August 2015, Google made a significant shakeup by choosing to display just three listings in the local pack instead of the usual seven. This was something they had been experimeting with since the Pigeon update.
It is important to note that since the Pigeon update, ranking in the 3-pack has generally been dependent on the searcher’s location, and will often change depending on the proximity of the searcher to a specific business location. This concept was taken further by Google Possum, which was released in September 2016 and specifically affected rankings in the 3-pack and Google Maps (Local finder – when you click “more places.”)This was a massive update, and a study by Search Engine Land showed that the update affected 64% of local SERPs.
With the Possum update, local and map search results are dependent on the searcher’s location, and it uses a proximity test to determine whether or not a particular company qualifies to rank. Essentially, the further the distance of your business from the physical location of a searcher, the lower your rankings will be in the search results for that user. In the 3-pack, your business will not even be visible to the user.
And just to illustrate the point, say you have collected 100 positive reviews and have targeted the whole of London in your GMB page. If a prospective customer is in the same London neighbourhood as a competitor with 2 – 5 reviews, the searcher is more likely to see that competitor’s business displayed in their 3-Pack rather than your business, even though you have twenty times the number of reviews, and you have both optimized your listings for London. This is the concept of hyper locality, and Google has further restricted the radius around which a local business can appear in a searcher’s local pack.
Google Maps runs independently of the organic algorithm
One of the greatest benefits of being listed in Google Maps is that for some queries, your search ranking in local search has no bearing on your ranking on Google Maps or the 3-pack. This means that even if you are nowhere to be found in organic search for a particular local keyword, you can still rank in the local pack and Google Maps for the same kewords as long you are in the same vicinity as the user searching for the products and services you sell, and you have a well-optimized listing.
In fact, you can rank higher than a competitor who sits at the top of Google’s search results for the same keyword, as long as you are in close proximity with the user performing the search.
If your prospects are located across an entire city or nationwide, you will have to focus on increasing the organic ranking of your local website so that it appears higher in the organic search results for related searches. However, if your customers are truly local to you, this will not matter because your Google My Business page will be more visible to local consumers, unless you have competitors in the same neighbourhood with a better optimized GMB page.
The 3-Pack Ranking Factors
Without a well-optimized GMB page, you are unlikely to be featured in the Google 3–pack. Here are the key factors that influence ranking in the Google 3-pack.
It is really important to keep in mind that the structure of your website will play a major role in whether you appear in the local pack at all for relevant keywords. If the structure of your site doesn’t match what you have listed in your Google My Business page, this will severely undermine your ability to appear in the local pack.
Eligibility: is your business eligible for the 3-pack?
Google have updated their terms of service to specify the categories of businesses that are eligible to be listed in Maps. If your business falls under any of the following categories, you are not eligible for a Google Maps listing. Rather, you should create a Google+ brand page.
- Your business is an online business such as an eCommerce store. To be eligible for a Google My Business page, you must make in-person contact with your customers on a regular basis.
- If you’re using a virtual office address as an actual office address, you’re not eligible for a Google My Business listing. For example, if you carry on business in Manchester and register a virtual office in Northampton for that whatever reason, you cannot create a GMB listing for that location.
- If you only rent office space in a building for a few hours a week, you’re not eligible to create a GMB page. For example, if you run a Yoga class a few hours a week from a particular location, you cannot create a GMB page for that location.
Verify your listing.
If you are creating a new GMB listing from scratch, you won’t get the option to phone verify. By clicking the button Verify Now, you’ll be prompted to ask Google to send a postcard through to your business address containing a PIN number. This could take up to ten working days to arrive. Once you get this postcard, simply head back to your Google My Business page and type it in to verify your listing.
If someone else has already verified the listing, you’ll have to request admin rights from the owner to get access to the page. After the verification stage, you’ll get a new page that helps unify various metrics and options about how your business is listed with Google.
Reviews are critically important.
This is a no-brainer. As you’re no doubt aware, reviews are a very powerful ranking signal in Google Maps. It used to be that you needed at least 5 reviews before those reviews start to show on your GMB page.
However, since the Possum update, we’ve actually seen listings with a single review rank no 1 in the 3 pack, while listings with much more reviews don’t even make the cut. In any case, consumers will always be attracted to listings with the highest number of five star reviews, so getting reviews should be a priority for your business.
Don’t add unncecessary characters to the business name field.
Getting your Google My Business name right is absolutely essential. It is recommended to match what you call your business. In addition, you should use a business name that is verifiable in any publicly listed record.
Avoid the temptation to add keywords to your company name in a bid to get a higher ranking. Doing so would be against Google’s terms of service and could get your listing suspended.
As per the guidelines:
Adding unnecessary information to your name (e.g., “Google Inc. – Mountain View Corporate Headquarters” instead of “Google”) by including marketing taglines, store codes, special characters, hours or closed/open status, phone numbers, website URLs, service/product information, location/address or directions, or containment information (e.g., “Chase ATM in Duane Reade”) is not permitted.
Examples of keyword stuffed business names:
- “Lucy’s Wedding Dresses – Wedding Dresses & Gowns. Cheap Bridal Shop”
- “Joe’s Plumbing – Central Heating, Leaking Taps, Boiler Installation.”
- “Bob’s Travel Agency: London, Paris, New York – Hotels, Flights & more.”
Optimize your listing for the right keywords.
The Possum update changed the game as far as the way your GMB page is optimized for local keywords. Prior to the update, a search using similar keywords often generated similar results. For example, a search for “best chinese restaurant hendon“, “chinese restaurant best in hendon” and “hendon chinese restaurant best” would have generated similar Maps results. That has not been the case since the Possum update.
Today, you’re likely to get completely different results for each search. This means you will need to be a little more creative when keyword optimizing your Google Maps listing if you want to be found for more of your target keywords.
Ensure that you have a complete listing.
Completing your Google My Business profile is absolutely essential. Google wants to collect as much info as possible about your business, so they’re going to penalize any business that hasn’t completed their profile. They understand that users are better served by businesses that provides all of the information that they need as that increases trust and credibility in that business.
This is why it is essential that you fill in all your business information thoroughly. You need every edge to appear in the 3-pack, and the more complete your listings are, the better your chances. Publishing an incomplete GMB page is like submitting a half completed job application.
Where is your business located?
Prior to the Google Possum update which was released in September 2016, you had a better chance of ranking in Maps the closer your business is to the city centre. In fact, businesses that were physically located in a city’s suburbs were often not ranked in Maps for queries containing the names of those cities.
For example, a Nigerian restaurant located close to the suburbs or outskirts of London would not have ranked for keywords such as “Nigerian restaurant London” or “London Nigerian restaurant“, even if it was actually located in London suburbs. This has completely changed with Google Possum.
The same restaurant will now outrank competitors in the 3-pack for location keyword searches by prospecctive customers within its immediate vicinity. This means if a searcher is closer to the restaurant, the restaurant will rank higher than competitors closer to the city centre, who may not even appear in the search results for that user.
Does your business operate in different locations?
If you have a number of fully staffed regional offices each with their own separate address and phone number, then you can setup a different Google My Business page for each location, using their own local numbers. This will make each location better optimised and more visible, and give you a stronger ranking.
It is significant to note however, if the same company owns multiple locations in the same industry and region, only one of those listings would ever show up for relevant searches even if the company has a separate phone number and address, and links to a separate website. The other listings would be filtered.
Avoid the use of 1-800 numbers.
Adding a valid landline to your Google My Business listing adds to your credibility as a genuine business because Google can use this to tie your business to the local area. If you have multiple offices or want to serve multiple locations, you could setup different GMB pages for each town or city you’re in.
Google recommends using a local number rather than a “central, call center helpline number”such as free 1-800 numbers. In the UK, this includes numbers with the 0345 prefix. You may however, use a mobile phone number.
Establish a specific and accurate NAP format.
It is absolutely essential that citations for your business are in exactly the same format wherever those listings appear on the internet. Establish the same format you’re using on your GMB page using your real world business name, address and phone number and stick to it.
Essentially, locking down the NAP and other business details should be the very first phase in any successful local SEO campaign. NAP consistency is one of the most critical elements of ranking in local search results.
Since consistency in your company name, address and phone number is extremely critical to local search rankings, it can be a good idea to write out the business name, address and phone number just once in a text file, and store it where the information can be easily accessed by whoever is responsible for updating citations. This would minimize the chances of the information being copied incorrectly.
Use accurate citations.
A big factor in your Google My Business ranking is whether or not your basic business info – name, address, phone number, business hours, etc. appears uniformly on every business-directory site your business is listed on.
For the sake of local search optimization, you need to be really precise here. This means that everywhere on the internet you are listed with your business name, address and phone number needs to be identical to your Google Maps listing.
In the past, it was possible to outrank your local competitors simply by collecting more citations than them. However, with the advent of Google Pigeon, Google now puts more emphasis on the traditional organic ranking signals like domain authority, trust, quality of backlinks image optimization, keyword optimization and content optimization.
Before you start building citations, it would be a good idea to wait to see how Google lists your business, and base your citations on how you are listed in GMB.
Choose accurate, more precise categories.
The categories you select for your GMB listing is such a strong, major ranking signal, that not choosing the right categories is going to affect your ability to rank in maps. If you want to rank in the pack and Maps for lots of keywords, you need to select categories that fit in with exactly what you do, and then assign those categories to topically relevant areas of your site, and structure your site around those categories.
You can add up to 5 categories as long as they are applicable to what you do as a business, making sure that you add those categories in order of importance with the most important category coming first. You need to come up with every single category that could apply to what yo do as a business, and ensure that those categories are accurate and describe your business correctly.
Note that Google will not allow you to create a specific or custom category for your business, and you will have to list your business under the broadest category available from the Google taxonomy. You can also look at what your competitors that are ranking higher than you in Maps have chosen, and follow their lead.
Link to the appropriate page on your website.
Google also features a very prominent backlink to the business’s own website. This is the most powerful link you can get as it is coming from Google. The link will help drive traffic to your company’s website.
One common mistake that local businesses often make when adding their website to their Google My Business listing is adding their home page. You need to point your GMB page to the page on your site that contains your NAP details, which is almost always your contact page.
The information on your contact page must match what is on your Google My Business page. If your NAP information is also on your home page, then you could add your home page instead of your contact page, otherwise you should add the specific page with your NAP details.
Include your hours of business.
Store hours are displayed on your GMB listing. Unless you are open 24-hours, it is important to specify your opening hours. Google prefers that you have your working business hours listed, so take the few minutes it will take to fill this out correctly, even if you are open 24 hours a day. As with your NAP details, it is important that the hours you list here matches the hours you have listed on your website and other directories.
Use an email matching domain to register your account.
When signing up for Google My Business, the account you use should be tied to your company domain, not your personal account. For example, email@example.com, rather than firstname.lastname@example.org. Using a company email address lends to your overall credibility.
Do you share a business address?
One of the biggest shifts that occurred with the Google Possum update is the concept of filtering, which is aimed at multiple businesses in the same industry that share the same office building.
With the Possum update, if businesses in the same industry share the same office building, only one of those businesses will be returned in the 3-pack when a relevant search is performed because Google will pick the best optimized and most relevant listing, classify the other listings as duplicate listings and filter them out.
It doesn’t matter whether these are completely different businesses in different floors and different specializations. As far as Google is concerned, no more than one business from the same address will be shown in the local pack or Maps at the same time. This is the case even if all of the businesses are completely independent businesses with separate suite numbers and phone numbers. Furthermore, if 5 totally different businesses share the same street, even if they have no affiliations with each other, 4 of those businesses will be filtered from appearing in maps at the same time.
Google is also scanning public records to check if 2 businesses have any affiliation with each other even if their addresses are miles apart. Even if they are completely different businesses, if those businesses are owned by the same individual, only one of those businesses will be featured in the local pack and in Local Finder at any one time.
How can you check if you’ve been filtered?
If you once ranked in the 3-pack but no longer show up in the pack or in maps for relevant keywords even though you are in the top 10 of search results, you may have been filtered. You can check if you’ve been filtered by first of all doing a search for your local keywords. Double check to see that you’re not appearing in the local pack. Check Google Maps (Local Finder) by clicking on “More places” and browse through the listings on the left side. If your business is not listed, chances are you’ve been filtered.
And this is where the name “Possum” comes from. You’re still there, but your listing is not instantly visible. To check that you’ve been filtered rather than suspended, zoom in by clicking on the plus sign on the bottom right of Local Finder. If your listing subsequently appears in the list after you zoom in, you can be sure that you’ve been filtered.
To combat this trend, the folks at Moz suggest improving your local SEO (including your content, backlink profile, DA, citations, reviews, etc.) in order to convince Google that your business should be the one shown in Maps. To further increase your chances of being shown, you should submit a business license to Google. A business license will distinguish the listing from another business with the same address.
Add a killer introduction.
The introduction is your chance to provide a concise and succinct description about your business. Don’t repeat your categories, address, city or what is already in your map listing, as Google is very strict about what goes in here. It’s worth mentioning any variations of your key phrases using LSI keywords or synonyms and other related terms that accurately describes your product or service.
You can use your description as an opportunity to get surrounding cities and related keywords that you have not used in your category listing. Make sure that your description is consistent across your other social media properties.
Add lots of photos.
Photos are extremely important for your Google My Business listing because it helps to establish credibility with your business, and Google puts a lot of weight on original business photographs. Images are extremely important to the Google ranking algorithm, and they reward you for having original pictures of your business in your GMB listing.
It is important to submit well-lit, professionally taken, visually appealing photos to your Google+ account. To get the most out of your photos, you should upload a minimum of 5 high quality, geotagged images in your profile. These images should be directly relevant to what you do as a business, and should match each of the services listed on your website.
Add your social media links.
Adding your social media links to your Google My Business page is important. Doing so will help to reinforce your credibility with Google. Currently, Google only supports the following social profiles.
Your business should also have at least 5 videos (e.g. walk-throughs, virtual tours, customer testimonials, CEO talk, etc). You can also put together a commercial style video that’s discussing a service, an overview of the business itself, etc. Note that Google requires you to upload your videos to the page, rather than linking to them from video sharing sites such as YouTube.
To make your business stand out, consider creating a 360-degree virtual tour of your business so that prospective visitors can get a closeup view before visiting in person.
Make sure that your videos are optimized to the fullest extent, including geo-meta data. You can then add your information and then submit these videos not only on your GMB page, but to the top video hosting sources, creating high authority, legit links and citations.
Implementing driving directions maps from different points across a city could influence Google to decide to show your listing at various points in the city, especially on mobile.
If you have any issues with your Google My Business page, click here for the official Google My Business Support Community. Click here for a Google My Business small business guide.