Mike Blumenthal gave a presentation at SMX on search rankings in Google Maps and the presentation is published at his blog. I think you’d have had to be at the conference to get the full gist of the presentation, but one thing stuck out at me in the presentation that I’d like to point out.
Slide 2 notes that 80% of a variation in local search rank “can be explained by distance from the centroid on certain searches.” What I think that means is your rank in Google Maps will depend primarily on two things: The search term used and your business’s distance from a “centroid”. My understanding of centroid is that point at the center of a city that can be located on the map. This is usually identified as a GPS point, or grid coordinate. I suppose it can also be identified by latitude and longitude, but grid coordinates can be a lot more accurate.
Does this mean that businesses on the outskirts of town, in the suburbs, or outside of a city are at a disadvantage? Not necessarily. If someone is looking for a pizza in St. Paul, Minnesota, for instance, there are a lot of pizza joints in town. But do people generally search for “pizza” or do they search for a particular brand – say, Papa John’s or Dominoe’s? My bet is they look for a specific brand. But what if they do search for the general term?
It is likely that people looking for fishing equipment will search for the general terms that they want. Let’s say someone wants a “rod and reel”, but being the savvy searcher that they are, they know that a search for “rod and reel” at Google Maps won’t give them the whole story so they search for “fishing equipment” to see if they can find the nearest business that sells fishing equipment.
The first listing in St. Paul for “fishing equipment” is on County Road. Then there’s one in Woodbury and one on Tamarack Vlg in St. Paul. These are followed by a retail shop in Roseville, one in White Bear Lake, another one in Woodbury, and one on Stewart Avenue. The final three of the top 10 are in White Bear Lake, Oakdale, and on Rice St. in St. Paul. Are these good listings for that search term? Yes, but they’re all fairly well in the heart of St. Paul. What if you are located closer to the Mendota Heights area of St. Paul? Using the same search term and searching for businesses located in that area of town instead of St. Paul brings up a list of 10 businesses with a little crossover, but the interesting part is it leaves out some businesses that are on the first list and are closer to Mendota Heights than some that are listed.
For instance, Dick’s Sporting Goods on Tamarack Vlg. is on both lists, but Xiong Live Bait & Tackle, located on Rice St. in St. Paul is left off of the second list. Interestingly, Interior Alaska Custom Built Fishing Rods is on the second list, but not on the first whereas Hansen’s Little Bear Bait & Tackle, out at White Bear Lake, is. And to further complicate things, both lists do not rank the businesses in order of their proximity to the centroid. So we know that is not the primary consideration.
Blumenthal goes on to list several other ranking factors that include your business name and business category, reviews, web page citations, geo-references, explicit anchor text, and other traditional SEO factors. Now, I think those last two ranking factors are a big deal, even on Google Map. But I’d also say that business category plays a big part in whether your business will be found by searchers looking for your business. If you sell clothing and apparel for ladies, for instance, and you list your business in a category not related to clothing then you may not show up for results in that category, or if you do then it will be further down the list.
What all this really boils down to, I think, is that the ranking factors for Google Maps are a bit more complicated than for a regular search, but how many searchers actually search Google Maps? It gets used, of course, but most people will simply search Google for a business they are interested in and if you make a search for “fishing equipment st. paul minnesota” you will find that the list looks nothing like the list on Google Maps. You’d better hope your prospects use Google Maps.
Bottom line: List your business in Google Maps, but make sure that your website is highly optimized and submit your site to local business directories that allow users to review them. I believe these are the top three ranking factors for local businesses in any category.