By: Matthew Hunt
Claiming and filling out your Google Maps Listing is the easy part, but it’s usually not enough when trying to rank within the ultra-competitive Google Maps 7-Box. The last place you want your local business to be listed in is the “More results near…such, such city”which might as well say “More results near invisible city”.
Even if you do manage to get a decent ranking within the 7-Box by only claiming and filling out your listing, don’t hold your breath because soon your local competitors are going to realize that is a prized position to have and will compete aggressively for that slot. They may even hire a local search marketing company like ours to do it for them – then you’d better watch out!
You have to understand that Google does here is very smart. With a similar idea to link building, everything Google does is kinda like a big social popularity contest. Google is always responsible to their users and so they want to serve up the most relevant results to them. As long as Google does a good job at serving up relevant results to users they’ll continue to dominate the search marketplace. So the way Google chooses which Google Maps Listing are the most relevant is by which listings have the most activity associated with them via citations, reviews & user content.
Let’s look at why citations, reviews, and user content is the glue that makes your Google Listings stickier.
A citation is where your business name and address are mentioned (or cited) on another website. Citations don’t necessarily have links leading back to a website since many business owners don’t have website(s). Google crawls content across the web and anywhere they find a citation on your business they give you a point. A citation is a mention of your business name, address, & phone number.
I am not positive if some site’s citations carry more weight than others, but my guess is yes. I personally believe that with traditional SEO, not all inbound links are created equal. When it comes to citations the same rules apply. I believe some citations have more weight, that is most likely based on some Google Local algorithm similar to what is called Trust Rank.
Trust Rank simply means some sites carry more authority and trust than others and if you have links or citations coming from these sites, then you are given bonus points which ultimately increase your rankings. So sites like the BBB.org or Wikipedia or Yahoo Directory may have more authority and so Google may give you 2 or 3 points for that. Again, the theme isn’t always about quantity, its also about quality.
There are tons of ways to get citations, from using directories to blogging, having your business listed on your Local Business Association Website, or mentioning your business on your local newspapers website. One great way is to look at your competition’s citations (currently, Google is listing them all) and see if you can get a citation from the same source. If your competition has a citation, then you will most likely be able to gain one from the same source. Use the obvious.
One of the best ways to get a good head start on citations is to submit your business details through Universal Business Listings. For approximately $30 a dollars a year, it’ll hit the top 30 authority directories & data providers like: Yellowpages.com, Superpages.com, infouSA.com, Acxiom and so on. BTW, this service is really only good for USA businesses, if you are in Canada like most of our clients, then it’s not that great of a service. I’ll be sure to put some great citations spots below for Canadians too.
If you can get your business information into these major databases (like Acxiom,Localeze, & infoUSA) which form the foundation of the search engines’ Local indexes and of a variety of second-tier portals as well, you’ll notice a decent amount of citations point back to your Google Maps Listing. This can take 2-3 months before your info populates into these verticals so be patient.
The goal with citations is to (obviously) have more than your competition, but much like link building, you want to be consistently dripping in new citations week after week. Build slowly and consistently. Play for the long haul.
For our clients, we have a long list of places to which we can add citations (all discovered from what Google already indexes as a citation) and we have been collecting this list for quite some time and have hundreds of easily accessible places from which to acquire citations from. You want to develop your own swipe list of great citation spots. I will post 200 or more so common citations at the end of this post from where any business should be able to get a citation from. I’ll do this because I’m such a good guy. If you know of more great citation spots, why not add them to the comment section below and help the community.
We then drip in these citations consistently over time for our clients, often winning them the number 1 spot within the 7-Box. Don’t go slamming citations. Just like you wouldn’t hammer 1000 links at a site overnight, similar rules apply to getting citations. Think Drip, Drip, Drip.
When working with citations, one of the most important elements is consistency. Your DBA name, address, and/or phone number should never change. If you have different information, it can have the opposite effect you desire with your Google Maps Listing. Even if you are thinking of using tracking phone numbers to monitor advertising/marketing efforts, I would highly recommend in this arena that you find another way to measure data if possible. There is an interesting post here about using Tracking Phone Numbers in your Local Search Marketing that would be worthwhile reading. I am a metrics fanatic too, but not having the same information about your business name, address and contact number builds distrust with Google (It would with humans too). Consistency is KEY from your citations.
Google Maps Listing: Reviews
The Google Maps Listings allows the public to add reviews to your listing. Right now I don’t think Google is looking at the quality of reviews, but they look at the quantity of reviews, so even receiving lots of poor reviews will improve your rankings within the 7-Box (not the obvious goal, but interesting to note).
There have been some recent speculations that Google may put more weight on Power Reviewers sometimes known as Maven Reviewers. These are individuals who have full-fledge profiles and leave lots of reviews across multiple categories of business. Just as there are power bloggers, there are power reviewers and getting a review from a power reviewer may just carry more weight. When dealing with power bloggers & reviewers, approach them the same way you’d approach Oprah. Send them a free sample and press release to entice them to leave you a review.
From my testing, loads of reviews can outrank a competitor with lots of citations. Therefore, I say that reviews hold some serious weight to your Google Maps Listing rankings. The Google Maps will even snag reviews from other authority sites and populate them into the G-Map listings.
NOTE: This only holds true if your reviews are current. Having 200 reviews and having the last one post over a year ago will not help you anymore. Not good for the algorithm and not good for humans. Make sure you are getting constant stream of fresh reviews on your Google Maps Listing and other authority reviews sites.
Some common authority review sites from which you may want to focus on getting reviews from besides Google Maps are: Yelp, JudyBook, Yellowbot, Cityvoter, Citysearch,Yellowpages, Kudzu, etc. You may also want to look at finding authority review sites that are related to your category of business like Rate MDs for Doctors and Homestars for the Home Improvement Contractors. Pay attention to what authority reviews sites Google is citing from in your niche’s industry, whatever they are citing then make sure your info is up-to-date at that site and that you are actively pursuing reviews there too.
Review management (also known as Brand Management) is a very real challenge for all businesses in today’s marketplace. Users can easily jump online and add their opinions (good or bad) to tons and tons of review sites about your business. What we recommend is that you find creative incentives to barter for reviews from your clients. On almost all of our client’s regional sites, we trade discounts/coupons for reviews in Google Maps. Getting reviews is ALL about creating a ethical bribe. We also create a video showing people how easy it is to post a review and if they do we offer BIG discount or coupon that will be mailed to them or emailed them privately after the review is verified. The strategy works great!
I’ve seen some companies who have gone as far as to hire employees with laptop computers and their sole job is to ask customers before leaving if they wouldn’t mind leaving a review on a particular a site and by doing so they receive a special gift (usually a gift card or coupon redeemable on their next visit – you want them to have an additional reason to return, don’t you…?) The point being is you need to have an active and creative way to acquire online reviews for your local business.
Our company offers another review management solution (besides the online incentives) to our customers. We use an offline to online approach to helping our clients get loads of reviews for their businesses.
What we do is supply our clients with a 4 X 6 postcard that asks people to write a review about the business from which they just received products and/or services from. Our clients make sure they put a pre-paid postage stamp on the postcard and ask the customer for a review after services have been rendered. They let the customer know they use a third-party service to learn how they can improve their services and it would be really helpful if the customer could take 60 seconds to leave an anonymous review on the postcard and stick it in the mailbox.
NOTE: Don’t forget to add a disclaimer on the postcard that notifies your customers that the review may be used for marketing purposes or posted online.
Well, the postcard comes to our P.O. Box and we have our team post that review online with one of our many maven reviewer profiles for that anonymous reviewer. We add the review to Google Maps or to some of the other major authority review sites that Google tends to pull data from.
We allow for each of our clients to get between 4-7 reviews a month (depending what is normal amount of reviews to get for their particular local niche): any more (in our opinion) would be unnatural. If our clients use this to its maximum benefit that is 40-70 reviews every year. Now that is what you call actively managing your brand and online reviews. It’s one of the best ways to drive traffic and help convert online searchers into offline buyers.
You see, we understand that it’s very difficult to get people to review your business online because of the multiple steps involved to get a review. We recommend you come up with some sort of offline to online review management strategy like ours for your business. We do want to warn you though, of the potential risks involved with this strategy.
First off, don’t add fake reviews!
Some people ask if we edit the reviews. The answer is… we DO NOT alter the reviews from the postcards. We believe having some poor reviews is natural and it wouldn’t appear normal to only have 5 out of 5 stars all the time. If fact, Matt McGee even thinks Negative Reviews are good for business and we agree with him.
What you want to do is create a strategy that makes it easy for your customers to review online. Don’t spam and keep it real. People can always tell when someone is creating unnatural reviews. The reason our system works is because they are REAL reviews, we just facilitate them getting online.
Writing made-up reviews about your business will not help you. Be very, very careful with this strategy and do not get spammy. You can always tell when they are made-up and eventually someone will catch you and call you on it. It could even cost loads of cash. If you need to resort to fake reviews, then you should rethink why you are in business. If your business provides real value and you take an active role in asking for reviews, you can easily get them.
If you do employ an offline strategy like ours, don’t do stupid things like post reviews under your business profile & post multiple reviews in the same day. Remember, even though you are facilitating your customer’s reviews to getting online, it still has to appear natural. Otherwise, this strategy can backfire in your face.
Google Maps Listing: User Content
User content is generated when people create their own Google “My Maps” where they create a unique (sometimes personalized) list on Google Maps Listing. Anyone can tag a place or location on Google Maps. The more people that tag your business on Google Maps Listing, the more activity you have about your business and again the more popular your business must be (or this is at least how Google thinks).
Therefore, having more references in people’s “My Maps” will give your listing a boost in rankings in the 7-Box. I have written a post in the past on how to use Google’s “My Maps”to market your business. Creating some user content on Google Maps Listings is easy and quick. Create some useful content driven “My Maps” about your city and remember to find creative ways to tag your company. Or run a local contest that involves “My Maps” and get dozens of people adding your business to their own personal Google Maps Listings. The ways to accomplish this are endless if you are a little creative and think about how you can add value.
Well, that pretty much wraps up how to improve your rankings within the Google Maps Listings. Most of this is obvious if you study the Google Maps Listings a little closer and read between the lines. If you follow the advice listed above and actively manage your Google Maps Listing, you can easily achieve those preferred rankings for your local business in the 7-Box.
If you like what you have learned here, but know you are the type of business owner who would prefer if the PROS managed your listings, then please visit our Local Search Engine Marketing Services page.
NOTE: We only take on 1 client per business category per city, so if you are considering using us, please take action sooner than later. We’d hate to tell you we can’t help you due to us helping your competition already. The early bird gets the worm!
BTW, let us know your thoughts and let us know if you have any questions in the comment section below.
- Create a few site using Google Sites
- Yahoo Answers
USA (Update provided by Whitespark’s Citation Finder, shows top 200 citations sources based on AC & SEOmoz Rank)