Google Maps Rankings Update: February 15th, 2021

I just released a new episode on the SEO Secrets podcast where I share the #1 secret to increasing your rankings in Google Maps.

I thought sharing the podcast here might be helpful… so go ahead and take a listen below:

Today you’re going to learn 8 amazingly simple tips to ranking higher on Google Maps.

Best of all:

These 8 local SEO tips are up to date and relevant for Google Maps rankings in 2020.

So whether you are a small local business or a company with hundreds of locations, you’ll love these powerful tips to ranking higher on Google Maps and growing your local business.

Let’s get started.

8 Tips to Rank Higher on Google Maps in 2021

There are a lot of ways to increase your Google Maps rankings fast… the equivalent of local SEO on steroids.

But not all of them are preferred or even safe for your local business rankings.

And I always learn toward the long term approach with our client’s Google Maps rankings.

But in some cases, the client simply needs to get ranked in Google Maps fast, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

In these more aggressive cases, there are some tried and true practices that can (not always, but most of the time) drive your business into the top Google Maps search results quickly.

And then depending on website factors such as domain and brand authority, age of your domain, and authority of your citation and backlink portfolio, it’s relatively unknown if your rankings will stick.

But when ranking fast in Google Maps is your objective, here’s a great place to start.

Tip 1: Build High Quality Backlinks

Building Backlinks (Updated for 2021). 

How we increased a law firm’s search traffic in Google Maps by 203%.

One thing I’ve learned over the past year is the impact of high quality backlinks on increasing rankings in Google Maps.

The thing is, citation distribution used to be the focus of every Local SEO strategy out there.

However, I’ve learned that citation alignment and distribution will only take you so far.

Meaning, after a certain number of citations are built, to continue building more only results in a diminishing marginal impact on your overall authority.

The purpose of performing a citation audit and clean up followed by a round of citation distribution is to reinforce your exact business location in Google Maps.

But once your location is solidified in Google Maps, there’s not much more to gain by continuing to build citations.

That’s when it’s time to start building high DA backlinks.

Take a look at this law firm client’s increase in traffic and visibility in Google Maps:

Backlinks For Higher Google Maps Rankings

I pretty much highlighted what we did on the image, but here’s a quick recap:

First, we gained access to this law firm’s Google My Business listing.

Second, we optimized their Google My Business listing using our standard and well established Local SEO workflows.

Third, we performed an in-depth citation audit and cleanup to make sure we mitigated as much NAP fragmentation as possible across the web.

Side note:  NAP stands for Business name, address, & phone #.  In other words, and NAP equals your business citation.

Fourth, we built 100 new citations in authoritative directories.  Since this client is a law firm, we focused approximately 20% to 30% of those citations on legal directories.

Finally, we built 1 high DA 50+ authoritative backlink via a guest post.

When we build backlinks for clients, we focus on three main things:

  • in-content, contextually relevant anchor text
  • natural backlinks within high quality content
  • content published in highly authoritative publications

Not only has this law firm client seen over 200% increase in visibility in Google Maps in just their first month, but here’s some other highlights in their GMB productivity data:

  • 50% increase in phone calls
  • 368% increase in discovery (non-branded) search traffic
  • 165% increase directly in Google Maps search views
  • 235% increase in organic search views

And all of the above from focusing on citation audit, citation cleanup, citation distribution, and building one authoritative backlink.

We are seeing similar results from other clients by focusing exclusively on building high authoritative backlinks after the initial phase of citation work.

High authority backlinks are powerful.

Not only will they single handedly increase your overall authority in both Google Maps and Google organic search, but they will contribute directly to high rankings in Google Maps.

And higher rankings in Google Maps always transcribes to more website visits, more phone calls, and more growth for your business.

Learn more about how we can help you build high authority backlinks for your business here.

Or schedule a free SEO strategy call for a one on one SEO analysis.

Building Backlinks (content from 2020 version of this article)

Building backlinks is by far the most overlooked strategy in achieving higher rankings in Google Maps.

Most SEO’s talk about cleaning up your citations, and then building as many citations as you can across the web.

But from my experience, citation building will also take you so far.

And after a certain point, our experience shows that continuing to build citations has a diminishing return on investment.

Meaning, once your reached a max threshold of citations (approximately 300 total), building more citations will have a nominal affect on increasing your rankings in Google Maps.

The missing piece here is backlinks.

And I don’t condone just building any type of backlinks.

We recommend focusing on a minimum of DA 40+ level backlinks.

We’ve found that building high DA backlinks can have a tremendous impact on the growth of your rankings in both Google Maps and Google organic search.

High quality backlinks has always been a determining factor in where you show up in Google search results.

And all other things being equal with citations, the local business that has the most authoritative backlink portfolio will always win in Google Maps rankings.

So focus on building high quality backlinks to your website to achieve higher rankings in Google Maps.

Don’t get me wrong, the audit and cleanup of your citations and the increase in your overall citations across the web is important.

Citations play a big role in reinforcing the prominence of your business and location in Google Maps.

But high quality backlinks can be the fuel that catapults your business to the very top rankings in Google Maps, even in the toughest competitive markets.

Tip 2: Verify Your Google My Business Page

The first step for any local business to getting found in the Google Maps search results is to add and verify your business.

From a desktop computer, visit this link to get started with adding your business to Google Maps.

From a mobile device, click here to get started.

Here’s a quick tutorial on adding or claiming your business in Google Maps.

And here’s a quick tutorial on how to verify your business on Google.

Tip 3: Use Subcategories in GMB

** Note:  this step is only applicable to departments within multi-location enterprises such as retailers, franchises, universities, or institutions (learn more).

Let’s say you are are grocery chain like Kroger or Walmart.  You have your main business category which would be “grocery”.

But within your super stores, you have departments such as the vision center, pharmacy, and gas station.

Each of these departments represent an opportunity for you to compete in the local search market within that specific category.

Going back to the grocery chain example of Kroger or Walmart.

The Walmart Vision Center would be an acceptable Google Maps listing since it is a department within the main business of Walmart.

Walmart would be categorized as a “department store”.  However, you have several other business categories that can be leveraged within the scope of a Walmart Super Center.

Here’s a list of business entities and associated GMB categories based on my observation of the Walmart Super Center near me:

  • Business name:  Walmart 2811 Supercenter
    • GMB Category:  Department Store
  • Business name:  Walmart Bakery
    • GMB Category:  Bakery
  • Business name:  Walmart Deli
    • GMB Category:  Deli
  • Business name:  Walmart Garden Center
    • GMB Category:  Garden Center
  • Business name:  Walmart Grocery Pickup
    • GMB Category:  Grocery Delivery Service
  • Business name:  Walmart Money Center
    • GMB Category:  Money Transfer Service
  • Business name:  Walmart Pharmacy
    • GMB Category:  Pharmacy
  • Business name:  Walmart Photo Center
    • GMB Category:  Photo Shop
  • Business name:  Walmart Tires & Auto Parts
    • GMB Category:  Tire Shop
  • Business name:  Walmart Vision & Glasses
    • GMB Category:  Optician

The bold point above would be the top level Google Maps listing for this specific Walmart Super Center.  And then each point under that represents the sub-categories of GMB listings that can be deployed.

Each of these GMB categories represent a competitive market in their geographic area.

And as you can imagine, this presents a substantial opportunity for local SEO for big box retailers.

Segmenting Google Maps listings for retailers and internal departments can quickly give that brand a competitive advantage in their local markets.

Tip 4: Build Niche Citations

Your first question might be what’s a citation?  

A citation is simply a record of your NAP, which is your business name, address, and phone #, and in some instances your website URL as well.

Google uses citations as a way to validate your business location.  Think of citations as the equivalent of backlinks in organic SEO strategy.

The more authoritative and relevant the citation sources are to your business, the more punch that will give you in boosting your Google Maps rankings.

I also recommend going granular with your citations.

This means finding websites and directories that are either specific to your metro area or targeted to your specific business category.

For example, if I’m a personal injury lawyer in Atlanta, then publishing your law firm’s NAP on sources specific to metro Atlanta and personal injury lawyers would help increase the relevance factor and improve your overall location authority.

And the more location authority you have in your business category, the higher you’ll rank in Google Maps.

Read more:  What is location authority?

The more relevant (related) the directory source is for my specific business, the better.  And the more authoritative the directory is, the more power I’ll get from the citation.

Tip 5: Add Local Business Schema Markup

Finally, you’ll want to include the NAP for your business on your website.  But you want to wrap the address in what’s called Schema language.

Schema language is a structural protocol adopted by Google, Yahoo, & Bing with the purpose of making it easier to determine certain datasets within web pages.  I like to refer to Schema language as direct data that enhances key data sets within web pages.  Direct data is particularly relevant when it comes to local SEO. (ref: What Are Local Citations).

By wrapping your NAP in Schema, you’ll be sending a much higher quality signal to Google and other search engines about the relevance and authority of your business location.

There’s many other steps and techniques that I did not discuss in the article.  As I mentioned, I prefer the long term, higher quality approach to getting my clients to letter A in Google Maps and ensuring that stay there indefinitely.

But for those who are looking to get fast rankings in Google Maps and can’t wait for the long term approach… this article is for you!

Definitely let me know how it goes with your business after implementing some of these techniques to increase your Google Maps rankings fast.  And as always, let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.

Tip 6: Have Citation Consistency

Finally, I’m going to bring it all together with the discussion around citation consistency and removing volatility.  Much like how the stock market drops due to volatility in stock prices, your rankings in Google local search results (and organic search results) can likewise drop due to volatility.

Volatility With NAP Citations

You create volatility with your NAP citations whenever you have many variations or your address represented across the web.  Here’s an example.

Bipper Media’s business address is:

Bipper Media
855 Gaines School Road
Suite A
Athens, Georgia 30605

This is what you call an NAP and a citation.  The NAP is the business information, and the citation is the result of the NAP being published here in this article.

Let’s say I have 10 different directories that list my business the way you see it above.  But then let’s say there are 50 other directories or websites that publish my NAP is varying ways.  For example, some of the NAP’s abbreviate the word “Road” is simply use “Rd.”, or some NAP’s might say “Letter A” instead of “Suite A”.  These slight variations in the presentation of the NAP creates, on a large scale, a lot of volatility.  And this volatility, much like the stock market, can result in suppressed rankings in the local search results.

The best way to remove volatility is to do an analysis of all the sites where you have citations published.

You can do this by what I call reverse engineering your NAP in Google.

Here’s a step by step how to:

  1. Go to Google
  2. Do a search for just your business address – for example I would type ‘855 gaines school road, suite A, athens’ (without quotes) into the search bar.
  3. Start going to down through the search results and identify all of the places where you have a citation.

As you identify each source for your citations, go to those websites to see which ones you can easily update.  Some of the sources may require to create a free account and claim your business.  While others might require you to contact the website directly in order to request the update.  Regardless of the workflow involved, it is well worth your time to go through and start the process of cleaning up your NAP citations.

For every citation that you clean up by making them consistent with your Google business page (yes, your Google business page is the base citation that all others need to match), you will be removing a lot of volatility from your overall citation portfolio.

You may initially be overwhelmed with the extent of citations you see for your business, but understand that each time you update your citation to make it more consistent, you remove volatility from your local search authority.  And the more volatility you remove, the more stable your rankings become in the local search results.  In low to mid competitive markets, the volatility factor may not play as much of a role due to the lack of volume from competing businesses, but in hyper competitive markets in large metro areas, volatility will mean the difference between rankings in the top 3 local search results or not being seen at all.

For businesses that have a large volume of citations that need cleaning up, there are platforms that can help you in this effort.  For example, MOZ Local is a platform that we use to clean up and distribute our client’s citation portfolios.  Another option is to use Yext.  However, with Yext, the cost can be out of reach for most small or local businesses.  Both of these represent an automated solution to what is the ultimate end objective – removing volatility from your local citations in order to rank higher in Google Maps.

Tip 7: Optimize Your Website Homepage

When you create your Google Maps business listing, one of the sections you need to fill out is your website URL.  When you add your website URL to your Google business page, you are creating what I call the “landing page” to your Google Maps listing, and it plays an important role in your overall local SEO strategy.  The website you associate with your Google Maps listing will directly influence the ranking and authority in the local search results.  Google uses your website to make key associations with your Google Maps listing such as keyword targeting, business category relevance, and domain authority – all of which impact your rankings.

Here are the key elements to optimize on the homepage of your website:

  • H1 / Title Tag:  This is a meta tag in the homepage of your website and it should say your metro area name, business category, and business name.  Let’s look at a great example of this strategy in action.  If you Google plastic surgery los angelesyou’ll see Wave Plastic Surgeons as the #1 / letter A Google Maps listing.  Now, when you click over to their website, you see the H1 / Title Tag of their homepage read as follows:  Los Angeles Cosmetic Surgery – Wave Plastic Surgery in LA.  Notice as this title tag follows the pattern of metro area name, business category, and business name.  And since this is the website that’s been identified as the landing page of the Google Maps listing, Google is pulling in this data and using it as a relevance factor in determining their rankings.
  • Description Tag:  Moving on from the title tag, the next key element within the metadata of your homepage is your description tag.  Again, staying with the example above of the plastic surgeons in Los Angeles who are ranked #1 in Google Maps, here is what the description tag on their homepage reads:  Top Asian Plastic surgeon in California with offices in Los Angeles, Irvine, Rowland Heights and Fullerton CA. Contact us today with any questions about general, cosmetic or restorative surgery!  Again, notice the reinforcement of the metro area name, business category.  The one thing missing here is the reinforcement of their business name.  But, who am I to critique… they are currently the letter A ranking in Google Maps 🙂
  • Onsite Content:  To finish out the optimization of the homepage of your website, which is the landing page to your Google Maps listing, you must continue to reinforce the metro area name, business category, and business name throughout the content on your homepage.  Using elements such as tags, bold words, and keyword density are key strategies to reinforcing the homepage of your website for your Google Maps listing.
  • NAP / Citation:  Finally, you must include / reinforce your business name, business address, and business phone number (NAP) on the homepage of your website in order to maximize the ranking power of your Google Maps listing.  This can actually be achieved by including your NAP in the footer of your website, or in the sidebar.  It is a common practice to include your business NAP in the footer however, because this typically allows your NAP to be present across all of the pages of your website.  Another key strategy in the integration of your business NAP into your website is to use Schema language, which is a protocol that all major search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc…) use to determine key data sets, or direct data, from your website such as location and business category.

Much like the landing page strategy with Google Adwords, where Google analyzes the landing page of your ads to determine your overall ad strategy, Google looks to the landing page of your Google Maps listing to determine relevance and authority.  The more authority you have built into your website, the more authority is translated over to your Google Maps listing.

Tip 8: Build Strong Citations & Backlinks

Build Location Authority with Citation Distribution

With this local SEO client, we saw a couple of keyword phrases slip recently.  Even though the drop in rankings was slight, we decided to move forward with our standard citation distribution campaign.  This is where we take a client’s NAP (business name, address, phone #, and website URL), otherwise known as their local business citation, and publish it across all of our partner publishers.

Our partner publishers consist of data aggregators such as AcxiomNeustar / LocalezeInfoGroup, and Factual, and then we have single point partners such as YelpYahoo Business DirectoryWazeApple MapsFourSquare, and many others.  This network of citation distribution partners combines to create a powerful platform for both citation distribution for location authority, and also backlink distribution for domain authority.

Data Consistency using Google My Business as the base

The relevance factor is met when you distribute you local business data as an exact match to your Google My Business listing.

For example, here’s our (Bipper Media’s) NAP citation from Google My Business, the business name and address part:

Rank Higher Google Maps

And then here’s the business hours, phone number, and website URL part:

Local Business Data Consistency

To summarize the complete business citation as referenced by our Google My Business listing:

Bipper Media – Website Design & SEO in Athens
855 Gaines School Road, Suite A
Athens, GA 30605-3215
(706) 363-0335

Business Hours:
Sunday / Open 24 hours
Monday / Open 24 hours
Tuesday / Open 24 hours
Wednesday / Open 24 hours
Thursday / Open 24 hours
Friday / Open 24 hours
Saturday / Open 24 hours

When we initiate citation distribution across our partner publishers, the most critical step is to ensure the accuracy and consistency of the citation distribution matches our Google My Business data exactly.

One slight variation of the citation can cause your location authority to be degraded as you’ll then be distributing inconsistent or inaccurate data as compared to your verified Google My Business listing.

Niche Directories for local business

Once you begin distributing the exact match citation for your local business, you can amplify expedite the growth of your location authority by distributing to niche business directories and resources.  A niche directory or resource would look like this, for example:

You can also find a great collection of niche citation directories at Moz.

But here’s a few to give you an idea of what we are talking about:



Read more:  Directories for Dentists:  The Complete List (2017)

Again, you can find a more complete list of niche directories at Moz.

The more citations you get published on authoritative niche directories, those directly related to your business category, the more location authority you’ll build within your category.

You can follow the same strategy to focus on the geographic market where your business is located.

One way you can find niche directories relevant to your metro area, you can simply type a search query into Google like this:

rank higher google maps

Just replace “athens” with your city name.

Or try some variations of this by replacing “business listings” with the word “directory”.

After just a few minutes you’ll have a list of the most authoritative business directories for you specific city.

Update June 14th, 2019

How to rank #1 in Google local search when located outside the center of a city?

Centroid center of a city on Google Maps

Center (or Centroid) of metro Atlanta

Rank #1 in Google local in surrounding cities

One the biggest challenges in local SEO is how your business can compete in a large city if you are located outside the center of that major metro area?  We believe the best solution is strategically published city pages, which we’ll dive into more detail below.

For example, if a law firm wants to compete for the keyword phrase “car accident lawyer Atlanta”, but the law firm is located north in Sandy Springs, how can the law firm compete in the Atlanta market?

In some cases, the answer is you can’t if you don’t have a verifiable address in Atlanta proper.  In large metro areas with a lot of competing businesses, you’ll need to have a verified address in your target city.  If you operate in a smaller metro area, you can sometimes get away with not having a verified address in your target city.  But with large, dense metro areas, this is typically the starting point.

But in large cities, you can easily have a location within the target city but still be well outside the center of that city.

The center of a city, as it relates to local SEO and Google Maps optimization, is what’s called the centroid of the city, or the geographic center , which is the exact longitude and latitude of the city.

How do you find the exact center of a city on Google Maps?

You be wondering how to find the geographic center of a city, as this is a question I used to ask quite frequently.  Google Maps actually makes it easy for you to locate the center of the city by identifying where the city name is placed on the page.  Wherever you see the city name on Google Maps, that will always be centered directly over the centroid of that city.

According to some, the centroid of the city isn’t as relevant as it used to be in determining the local rankings, or Google Maps search results.  I only partially agree with this statement, as one look at any prominent search in a large metro area will typically show the majority of the top 3 (3 pack) search results located at or near the centroid.

However, the other part of me agrees with the statement that the centroid isn’t as relevant because we have clients located far outside the centroid of their market, yet outrank heavy hitting competitors who are located smack dab in the centroid.

Here’s a great example of a business ranked #1 in Google local search results, yet located far north of the center of the city:

Business ranked #1 in Google Maps located north of centroid

This is a also a great example because the keyword phrase “car accident lawyer milwaukee” is one of the most competitive keyword phrases in the Wisconsin legal market.  So even though the cluster of law firms are located in the center of Milwaukee, probably near the court house, our client is located quite a bit north of the center yet still ranks #1 in Google local search.

How to rank #1 in Google local search when located outside the center of the city?

Let’s get back to the original question of how a business can achieve top rankings in Google local search, even though they are located outside of the center of a city?

This is where I partially agree with the statement that the centroid is not as relevant as it used to be in determining rankings in local search.

Today, some of the biggest factors in determining where a business ranks in the local search results, or Google Maps search results, is driven by onsite local SEO factors and more traditional organic SEO factors such as organic SEO techniques on your business website.  Also, you can greatly influence your rankings in local search by focusing on external factors which are elements outside of website and your Google My Business (GMB) listing.

Factors within your website include elements such as:

  • embedding your Google My Business listing from Google Maps
  • adding your NAP (business name, address, phone #) to your website wrapped in Schema, and preferably JSON – LD Schema
  • adding photos to your website using location relation meta data
  • adding outbound links from your website to local business resources using the Google Maps “Nearby” recommended businesses, which typically consists of restaurants, bars, and hotels
  • adding outbound links to local and state government websites that are related to your specific industry
  • include an instance of your exact business address, the one that matches your GMB listing, in the sidebar of your website so that it’s published across all pages of your websites (i.e. site wide)

Factors within your Google My Business Listing can include:

  • using a lot of keyword rich content in the “About Me” description section of your business Google Plus profile
  • adding your primary targeted keyword phrase in the Tagline of the Story section, which is basically the description of your G+ profile
  • if required, add your business category to the title of your GMB listing title
  • properly categorizing your GMB listing by picking the right primary category, and then including all relevant secondary categories (make sure you do not go overboard with this by including irrelevant business categories)
  • filling out your GMB listing to 100%

Factors outside of your website and GMB listing:

Silo SEO Strategy for Law Firm Websites

  • building highly authoritative and relevant links back to your website, location pages, and your GMB / Google Maps listing
  • distributing NAP citations throughout the web, focusing on major local business data hubs such as Acxiom, Localeze, Neustar, Factual, Infogroup, and Foursquare.
  • highly organized and concerted internal linking structures within your website, also known as Silos

These factors combine to give you a highly authoritative strategy for local SEO, and will help you rank your business in the local search results in Google even if you are located far outside the centroid of the city.

Want a free local SEO consultation for your business?