COVID-19 update: in response to the worldwide pandemic, Google has place a number of restrictions on Google My Business. As such, if you are creating a brand new GMB and require postcard verification, please be advised that there may be significant delays. Similarly, certain features such as Q&A and customer reviews have been limited but are slowly being eased.
Local SEO is significantly different to ‘SEO’.
Most references to SEO you will come across will refer to the 10 blue links shown on most Google search engine result pages (SERPs). For example, the screenshot below shows the first 6 organic results in the SERPs for the query divorce lawyer.
But on the same SERP, the following is shown. In fact, the map widget typically comes before any of the 10 blue links.
As you can see, a map pack is served right beneath the ads. Getting your business shown in the map pack is what local SEO refers to.
So how can you get your business to show up in Google Maps? And what can you do to make your business rank in the top positions in Google Maps?
Read on to find out how.
How To Get The Most Out Of Local SEO For Your Business
Local SEO is essential for all hospitality and service-based businesses. If you’re a cafe, restaurant, dentist, mechanic, florist, or gym, local SEO should be one of your top marketing priorities.
To get started you will need a Google My Business (GMB) listing for your business.
What Is GMB?
Google My Business is another one of Google’s platforms. Like most things with Google, getting a GMB listing is free of charge.
“Google My Business is a free tool that allows you to promote your Business Profile and business website on Google Search and Maps. With your Google My Business account, you can see and connect with your customers, post Google updates to your Google My Business listing and see how customers are interacting with your business on Google.”
Source – google.com/intl/en_au/business/faq/
I’ve highlighted the important bits for you.
The last sentence is particularly interesting too as Google is basically telling you that they will reward GMB listings that are proactive in posting updates.
What is local SEO and how does it differ from SEO?
Let’s say you need an auto electrician to fix a broken tailgate light.
An auto electrician isn’t a service you frequent and typically speaking, most people don’t know where their nearest auto electrician is. So you type auto electrician near me into Google search.
Google returns a map listing with a number of relevant businesses.
But let’s say, you’re not at home. In fact, it is late in the afternoon and you discover that you need an auto electrician immediately. You could carry out the same search as before but now you want to find a nearby auto electrician who is still open.
In this situation, you may fire up your Google Maps app instead of using the Google search bar. This is because you want driving directions to the business you pick (and you want to see some options relative to your location).
Searching for auto electrician near me who is open, Google Maps returns the following (see below):
As you can see, Google Maps has returned the nearest car services relevant to your search query. That is, the business provides auto electrical services, it is open, and is close to your current location.
Many people use Google Maps everyday to find cafes, restaurants, and services near them instead of the traditional Google search bar and this is why Google My Business SEO is relevant for wedding businesses.
At the time of writing, Proximity (otherwise known as Distance) is the biggest local SEO ranking factor.
What this means is that local SEO has a significant geographical component to it. Businesses are recommended based on the exact location of the user. If you’re in a different city or a few suburbs away from the user, you have little chance of being found.
The easiest way to demonstrate the difference between local SEO and SEO is to jump onto Google.
When a user searches for a wedding florist, the will see the following – a map result with two to three recommended businesses.
As the user scrolls further down the page, the will see these blue links. As you can see from the following image, the search results vary. That is, some pages take you to blog articles, some pages belong to business directories, and some are actual websites of wedding florist.
If the user moves to another location and performs the same search the results in the map will be different.
This is local SEO.
In most instances, the blue links on the search results page will remain the same for the same search irrespective of the user’s location. This is organic SEO.
Local SEO will serve you the closest and most relevant business based on where the searcher is, whereas, organic SEO has lesser geographical factor.
Therefore, the above image should make sense to you. The numbers represent the Google My Business ranking position in the map results. As we move further away from Ermington, the ranking position naturally drops.
For example, searching for wedding florist in West Pennant Hills will yield the following results in Google Maps (see below).
Flowers by Helen Brown is in fourth position behind Visually Creative, Flowers and Weddings, and Hills Wedding Flowers.
What’s impressive about this is that Flowers by Helen Brown is quite far away from the user. From the above image, you can see that there are other businesses closer to the user in West Pennant Hills that have poorer ranking positions in the map results.
What role does Google My Business have in local SEO?
What you may have missed in the previous example is that the map results was the first thing displayed on the search result page.
This tells us that Google places businesses near the searcher as the most important thing to display.
Going back to the previous example where a user searched for a wedding florist in Google, we saw Flowers By Helen Brown come up in the map result.
When someone clicks on this, they will be given the following information – a list of nearby wedding florists, a map with markers indicating where these wedding florists are, and an option to contact the business directly, look at its reviews and photos.
Where does Google get this information come from?
It gets this information from Flowers by Helen Brown’s GMB!
Things (And Tools) That You Will Need For Local SEO
1. A website for your business
I am going to assume that you have a website for your business.
You will need access to the backend of your website so that you can make changes to the content.
Depending on your industry, you may be competing against exact match domains (EMDs).
At the time of writing, EMDs can be used to manipulate local SEO.
2. A verified Google My Business for your business
Before a GMB can be seen by the public it must first be verified. This involves requesting a postcard from Google and inputting a unique code to verify that the postal address is legit. If you have a landline phone, you may have the option to verify your listing.
You will need admin/owner access to the GMB listing so that you may add/remove information.
Depending on your business, you can either be a shopfront, a SAB, or both (hybrid).
For some users, you may have the option of verifying via telephone number. From my experience, phone verified GMBs have a higher risk at being suspended by Google.
3. A well-researched list of keywords relevant for your business
The nature of search continues to be based on individual search queries. You will need to do your own keyword research to understand how your customers are searching for wedding services.
Typically speaking, local SEO keywords are quite different to organic SEO keywords.
For example, users will typically type in physio instead of ‘physiotherapist’ or ‘physiotherapy’ for localized searches in Google Maps. It is important to account for these differences when doing keyword research for local SEO.
4. Local Viking
This is a paid tool (monthly subscription) that I use to make edits to a GMB, schedule Google posts, and check local rankings for SABs. Local Viking also has an organic keyword tracking feature.
5. Time and money (lots of each)
Be prepared to sink some serious hours into learning, testing, and doing SEO. This is an unavoidable truth and 9 out of 10 of you will give up.
Local SEO is a hard slog.
Beyond the things that I will share here, for competitive areas such as a major city, you may find that you will need to deploy geo networks, Google stacks, authority map stacks and plough hundreds of PBN-style links to your GMB asset and CID.
Either you do it yourself (and spend the time) or you pay a professional.
How To Rank On Google Maps (Guaranteed Method)
There is a simple and tested way to show up in the map results. You can achieve this without any Google My Business optimization.
A guaranteed method to rank #1 in Google Maps is through Google Ads.
In the above example, you can see that Calebro Bridal Evening Wear and Menswear and Colour 18 Wedding showing up in the map results in the top two positions for the search query wedding dress shops near me.
They look identical to the organic GMB listings don’t they?
These are paid placements via Google Ads. And if done right, they can be an effective way to build brand awareness.
In order to take advantage of this shortcut, you will still need to set up your GMB listing properly, verify it, and link it with your Google Ads account.
But if you don’t want to pay for expensive clicks and don’t want to learn the intricacies of PPC, the only option you have is local SEO.
How To Rank Your GMB In Google Maps
For the better part of a year, I hunted down every source of local SEO training resource, scoured Facebook Groups, and watched countless YouTube videos from a multitude of people and so-called experts.
9 out of ten of the resources I came across were wrong, misdirection, a mixture of both, or complete junk. Luckily, I came across a few people in the local SEO space who shared tidbits regularly. Over time, I was able to piece together a course of action and I began implementing these tactics/recommendations and measured whether these actions had any positive, neutral, or negative impact on a GMB.
So, once and for all, I am setting the record straight on how you can get your business to (i) show up in Google Maps, and (ii) begin moving up in ranking positions so that you can get more wedding-related enquiries
Follow these 8 steps to rank your GMB in Google Maps.
Step 1a: Get the on-page elements of your website right
Websites that rank well organically tend to rank better in local SEO. This is because a site that is performing well in the organic SERPs will typically have better authority, trust and relevance compared to its competitors. Therefore, thorough keyword research, optimized page titles, optimized meta descriptions, appropriate site structure, optimized H1-H3 headings, and well-written content will help your local SEO go a long way.
For most small businesses, your homepage will have the most authority. This is because your homepage will typically have the most amount of incoming links. As such, the homepage is where you want to optimise for local keywords such as [service] + [location].
In terms of adding local signals on your homepage, you should include your business’ address, postcode and hours of operation somewhere on the page. We call this N.A.P. (name, address, phone).
You will also want to add geo location signals in the homepage’s page title and H tags. Keep in mind that the first geo location mentioned on the page will be the most important. Therefore, if you wish to rank for Sydney, make sure that you mention Sydney before any other suburb, city or country.
Step 1b: Implement Organization and/or LocalBusiness schema on relevant pages of your website
The above image is a screenshot taken from Google Structured Data Testing Tool. It validates structured data markup that is on any given web page. In this instance, the homepage of a client of mine and I have specified business hours, the name of the business and other useful information.
It is essential that any business information (phone number, address, business name, business hours) you have on your website is exactly the same as on your GMB.
In the previous step, I advised that you make reference to your N.A.P. somewhere on your website. The next step is to replicate this via structured data markup.
Structured data is a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content. Google uses structured data that it finds on the web to understand the content of the page.
Therefore, Organization or LocalBusiness schema helps Google confirm what you do and where you provide goods or services.
To get started Merkle has a great free schema generator.
Step 2: Optimize your GMB listing
Fill out your Google My Business profile as much as possible.
Make sure you do the following:
- High quality profile photo (this can be a logo)
- High quality cover photo
- A description that provides a summary of the service you offer and where you offer it
- Accurate hours of operation (e.g., don’t say you are available 24/7 when you are not)
- Ten (10) high quality geotagged images that demonstrate what you do
- A business name that is not keyword stuffed
- Assigning an appropriate service area
In addition to these, there are a number of advanced actions that you can do to optimize your GMB further. These include activating and optimising the Google My Business website, map embeds on web 2.0s, syndicated press releases, authority stacks and optimising the Service section within your GMB.
Step 3a: Ensure that local citations are consistent
Importance: Moderate – HIGH
Local SEO is based on proximity, relevance and prominence.
Prominence relates to how well a brand is established online. Specifically, the total amount of documents that reference a business directly has a positive impact on the local prominence of the business.
What are these documents that reference a business directly?
Citations fall under two types: structured citations and unstructured citations.
Structured citations are typically business directories such as YellowPages, Yelp, MapQuest, Facebook, Foursquare, Apple Maps. At the very least, you will want to have your NAP (business name, address, phone number, and business hours) on all the major directories.
Unstructured citations are any website mentions that do not fall within a directory listing. If you get featured in a wedding blog, the way they mention you is an example of an unstructured citation.
Unstructured citations can be very effective, especially if you take the time to build them out yourself.
For your convenience, I have listed 20+ essential citations you can create for your own business:
I recommend creating 5 citations per day.
As a busy small business owner, I think you will like to know that you will need to build out citations only once. It’ll take no more than 10 days and once done, it is done. With 40 or so citations, your foundation will be set (especially if they are all indexed by Google). To take your citations to the next level, you will want to build links to five to ten of your best citations.
For all citations that you create, ensure that the name of the business, hours of operation, URL and phone number are consistent with the details you set in your GMB.
Step 3b: Ensure that local citations are indexed
A link that has not been discovered and added to Google’s index is absolutely worthless.
Google is unlikely to waste its resources crawling and discovering thousands of pages that directory-style websites create on a daily basis. Therefore, to make full use of your previous efforts, use a URL indexation service.
I’ve had great success indexing citations with Omega Indexer – this is low-fee paid tool.
Importance: Low – Moderate
In SEO, links indicate to search engines that the target web page is a reliable source of information.
When building links to your structured/unstructured citations, include a geo location keyword in the anchor text of these links (e.g., company in Sydney, this business in Sydney NSW).
At the time of writing, local SEO link-building en masse is slightly different to organic SEO. Whether this remains the same in the coming years nobody knows. Typically speaking, link-building to ‘power up’ citations involves buying links from reputable vendors. If you want to find out more, look into tiered link-building or tier 2 links.
Depending on the competitiveness of your local geographical area, do not prioritize this task.
Since there is some overlap between organic SEO (Authority) and local SEO (Prominence), it goes without saying that links matter.
The more links your site has from relevant industry websites, the more credible and trustworthy Google sees your website.
Start with some easy wins – ask your fellow industry friends to link out to you and return them the favour as well. You can do this via a Recommended Vendors page on your website.
Other link-building strategies include guest posting and link inserts (also referred to as niche edits).
Some major websites that target small business owners will accept well-written and highly actionable guest posts in exchange for a link back to your website in the author bio line. I have found that topics around marketing tend to be accepted readily.
Smartinsights.com, JPEGmini.com, Petapixel.com, and Onyamagazine.com are some websites where I have submitted a guest post and had it published.
Please be aware that many websites charge a publishing fee for guest post submissions. These websites tend to be low quality and will link out to anyone who pays. The ones listed above were all free and had strict editing guidelines.
If you want to understand more about what makes a backlink good or bad, I’ve written a comprehensive guide on harolaiison.com.
Another method I acquire links for a client site is through the creation of content assets. This requires extensive research and interpretation of publicly available datasets and presenting easy-to-consume one-sentence bullet points and visual graphs and tables. Why else do you think EasyWeddings.com.au produces annual industry reports?
You can also sign up to HelpAReporter.com (HARO). Respond to journalist queries and be rewarded by a backlink from an authority website such as Business.com, Forbes.com, and Huffington Post. Normally, getting a link from these publications is near impossible with cold outreach. But with HARO, you can (if you put in the effort).
Do you want to know what links your competitors are getting? Use a (paid) tool called Ahrefs to spy on their backlink profile.
Step 6: Consistently add geotagged images
Importance: Low – Moderate
You don’t fully appreciate the power of uploading photos to your GMB until you receive a notification that tells you that your photos got thousands of views in the last month.
If there is one thing we know about Google, the platform rewards unique content. At the very least, you should be uploading one image per week to your GMB.
You can screenshot your customer reviews and convert these into images. You can use a Canva to design these using their library of attractive fonts and visuals.
Typically speaking, uploading photos will increase visibility for your GMB for non-branded relevant keywords.
Many people will cite that Google strips EXIF data from uploaded images to the GMB and say that geotagging images is a waste of time. I still recommend adding GPS coordinates because it doesn’t take long and if it gives my clients a small competitive advantage, it is still a win.
What GPS coordinates should you input into your photos?
Use the GPS coordinates of your business location. By doing this, you are increasing geolocation signals of your photos for your GMB.
Step 7: Consistently post unique content via GMB
Most businesses ignore the content publishing feature of Google My Business. Most business owners focus on posting to Instagram. What most people do not know is that regular GMB posting is an effective way to increase relevance for your chosen keywords.
For example, a client I work on at my agency day job had absolutely no local SEO visibility for one of their locations in the heart of Sydney CBD. After a Google stack, geomap network, a syndicated press release and 5-months of GMB posting, we. are finally seeing some visibility for a small number of desirable local keywords.
As a bare minimum, you should be posting to your GMB once a week via the What’s New feature. The more frequent, the better.
I recommend posting at least 3 to 4 times per week. I use Local Viking to bulk upload content and schedule them out weeks in advance.
Step 8: Acquire keyword optimized reviews from real customers
Consumers use GMBs to make purchasing decisions and reading customer reviews is how they judge a business.
It is imperative that you are proactive in asking your clients to leave you with a review. You will find that most satisfied customers are happy to leave a positive review.
But writing a review takes effort and this is one of the main reasons why your clients do not follow through. To combat this, I recommend that implement a feedback process where you call the client and ask them a series of questions.
For example, a wedding photographer can ask what aspect of their approach did the client appreciate. A wedding cake maker can ask what the client loved about the cake and of the selection process.
After collecting the feedback, you can work this into written format, taking careful note to insert target keywords as naturally as possible. Then you can email your client with the written draft and ask if they will publish it from their personal Google account.
More often than not, clients will happily take what you have written and publish it because it is based on the feedback that they provided you (plus they don’t have to allocate time to sit down and think about writing you a review when they could be relaxing after work).
On top of this, an advanced technique involves acquiring reviews from niche-specific local guides. That is, a local guide that reviews only wedding-related services and nothing else within a certain geographical region (e.g., only Sydney, only London, only California).
When implementing the local guides tactic, keep in mind the following:
- Experts tend to write longer and more informative reviews.
- Google tends to disregard short reviews (e.g., single sentence reviews).
- Reviews containing common spam phrases (e.g., best wedding photographer) are discarded.
GMB Listing FAQs
Why isn’t my business showing up in Google Maps?
There could be a number of reasons why your business is not showing up in Google Maps.
The first thing to troubleshoot is to search for your business/brand name. You should be able to see your GMB listing on the right hand side of the SERPs when you Google your own brand name.
If you do not see your own GMB listing then something is causing Google to filter your Google My Business listing out. Log into your GMB dashboard to make sure that your profile is verified.
Another reason why you cannot find your business in Google Maps is due to the #1 ranking factor – proximity. Perhaps you’re trying to rank in the heart of a major metropolitan area with a GMB listing that is more than 10 miles away.
If your business does not come up in Google Maps for your target keywords, this suggests that your GMB listing lacks in both relevance and authority. Log into your dashboard and look at the Insights tab to see what keywords trigger your listing.
How long does local SEO take?
For some businesses in certain locations it will be easier and thus quicker to gain visibility in the map pack. However, this is rare as most local businesses are located in densely populated areas.
Ranking your Google My Business will depend on the level of competition in your region and within your industry/niche.
From my experience, I can begin to show the indications of positive progress after the first 90-days of commencing a local SEO campaign.
Where can I go to learn more about GMB SEO?
Most local SEO courses are complete rubbish. I know so because I have taken many of these courses. Most are recycling the same crap that has not been effective in GMB SEO since 2018/2019.
These are my recommended resources to learn GMB essentials:
Both resources are owned/managed by the people behind Local Viking, Local Client Takeover, and Web20Ranker.
Should I invest in SEO or local SEO?
If you have a physical presence, you should consider local search.
If you are a hospitality business (e.g., cafe, restaurant, pub) local SEO should be your bread and butter. That is, gather customer reviews, have customers post photos to your profile, post photos to your GMB listing, and publish frequent keyword optimized Google posts. Organic SEO is going to be a complete waste of time and resources for you. You should definitely be funnelling your resources into having your GMB show up for all relevant searches.
If you’re a medical or health practice, local SEO should be a priority for you. So if you’re a dentist or dental specialist, speech pathologist, psychologist or counsellor, marriage therapist, or physiotherapist – definitely look into how your practice performs in the map pack.
If you run a gym – capitalizing local search should be a lucrative channel of client acquisition.
If you’re a mechanic – 100% yes. Go all in with your GMB and make sure you provide your customers with a great service so that they will write amazing reviews for you.
Do you run a car wash? Local search will be right up your alley.
Don’t know whether local SEO is for you? Request a chat with me today and I’ll give you a no-BS answer.
How long does it take to get postcard verified?
In theory, the postcard with the 6-digit verification code should arrive in your mailbox within 2 weeks.
In the real world, I have had postcards fail to arrive (not Google’s fault).
Can you help me with getting fake GMB locations verified?
I don’t touch that sh*t.
I’m not saying it’s not effective (because it is). I just refuse to deal with the stress that comes with suspended locations and angry clients.
Wrapping Things Up
Local SEO can be a viable channel of client acquisition for your business.
Follow the 8 steps outlined in this guide to increase your GMB’s proximity, relevance and prominence and start seeing it move up in the rankings for your target keywords.