I am asked all of the time what exactly determines how a client ranks on Google Maps when people make a search. There are so many factors that play into it that it can often seem murky or confusing. I would like to attempt to explain why an organic ranking might be doing well but you are nowhere to be found on the Maps.
First the Map listings are determined by the keyword the person is searching as well as their IP Address or Settings in the Google Search (A Person can set themselves to search from Chicago even if they are in Florida for instance). So a person can technically over ride their location setting when searching. This of course applies mainly to desktop searches. As when people use mobile search they are typically constrained to the location that they are currently in (based on their phones location permissions). So when someone searches a term like “Chicago plumber” Google will list map listings for that based on the fact that Google knows your current location. If you were to search “Chicago plumber” with location settings set to Los Angeles, CA.. you might not get map listings at all.. or if you do they are for local Los Angeles plumbers.. you might even get an organic listing for a company called Chicago plumbers if there happened to be one in L.A. This is how specific the Map listings have become. They are not as universal as one might think. Next after Google decides if it wants to put up Map Listings at all (and how many) your Listing needs to be ideal for that search for it to come up.
How do you help yourself in that regard?
1. Having consistent data across many platforms: This means the same address, phone number etc. everywhere Google looks that matches up with what you listed with Google in your Places Page. If Google sees that you exist at two different locations when it searches the web and sees that on Yelp you’re not in the same place (due to an old location) this hurts your trust or credibility with Google.
2. Citations on the Internet: This means mentions of the business and this is not always links, it can be just words. People believe that the only thing that helps their business is a link back to the business. This is not always the case. Google is smart enough to see when your site is mentioned and with what other sites it is listed. If it sees you on a lot of sites on their plumbing page for instance it will decide you must be more trustworthy even if there is no link on that page.
3. Physical location of the business: how close it is to the “city center” or “downtown”. This is one of the most frustrating aspects depending on if you are in a large city or a small one. If you have thousands of a particular type of business and people make a search for “Boston plumber” Google has determined what the city center is (a dot on the map) so the closer someone is to that will technically improve its rankings. This is tough for a lot of businesses because commercial real estate is cheaper the farther you go from the city center. Some businesses even move outside of the main city just to offer clients more services because it will keep their overhead down. Either way this isn’t of much concern to Google because you’ve told it.. I’m in Boston and I want a plumber. It wants to find you the closest plumber but maybe not the best.
4. Competitors: If you are in a small city and you are the only plumber it will list you first and then 4 plumbers in close cities, the bigger the city the less likely this is to happen. Some companies gain advantage from being the biggest business around 3-4 small locations. They will then not only get listed in the city they are in but in the neighboring cities as well. This will never happen if you are in a big city because it’s hard enough just to be the biggest in your neighborhood. So it’s a rule of thumb that the bigger your fish bowl is the harder to rank in the Maps.
5. Identified category: Google allows you to categorize yourself as a Plumber for instance but it allows you to classify yourself more than once and in whatever reasonable manner you feel. If you place Plumber first then Google is more likely to list you that way, however if you put something random, or put 2-3 categories the business seems less optimized to Google for that category.
6. Random Things: Do reviews help you? It certainly can’t hurt but many Pages rank just as well without them. Also posting in Google+ helps but it’s hard to know to what extent. It should help because it makes the page more active.
All of these factors help you rank better on Google Maps but as you can see there is no one factor that will make it so that you rank for every keyword in every city you desire. Google makes it so that some pages have an intrinsic advantage over others. This means that all you can do for your local business is try to optimize it in the best way possible to maximize the advantages you do have.