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I moved to Maryland from Pittsburgh a little over two years and I still find myself using Google Maps absolutely everywhere I go. I’ve been known to get lost on my way home from work, and no joke, I had to use Maps to get back to my house after I went running on Monday. (And by running I mean running to the grocery store to get more bacon, not exercising.)
So when Google introduced the new Google Maps, I was intrigued on a personal level as well as a professional level. Of course my biggest concern was whether or not I’d be able to figure out a new Google Maps system. I rely on that sucker to get everywhere (and by everywhere I mostly mean the closest liquor store to my current location). On a professional level, I wondered what this meant for my clients’ local SEO.
How Google Maps Is Changing
The new Google Maps has not been rolled out yet, but you can preview it with an invitation from Google. According to Google, new Maps is full-screen and fully interactive:
“The more you interact with the map, the better it gets. When you set your Home and Work locations, star favorite places, write reviews and share with friends, Google Maps will build even more useful maps with recommendations for places you might enjoy.”
Google has also incorporated a Google Earth view into the new Maps, along with an image carousel that allows you to see all images from street view as well as business photos.
What will probably have the most impact on your local business, however, is Google’s incorporation of social search into its new Maps. You heard me—Google plans to take your Google+ friends’ reviews and recommendations to determine what local businesses show up on your Maps.
Adapting Your Local SEO Strategy for New Google Maps
To summarize so far, the new Google Maps will incorporate individual user data, search history, and Google+ social data to influence local search results. With all this extra per user customization, it’s going to be harder for your business to use the more “traditional” SEO methods to influence your position in the Map searches. My boss really did put it best when he said Google is closing the gap between the Web and reality.
Although you still can (and should) optimize your onsite and offsite Web presence, the changes Google is making are designed to improve user experience and, consequently, slowly but surely eliminate the companies with un-aligning Web and real world personas. Simply put, it’s not going to be enough to throw up a landing page saying you’re the best SEO company in Gaithersburg, MD.
So when a user’s friends’ Google+ reviews and recommendations start impacting whether you appear in his or her local search results, it’s going to be helpful for your local business to have positive reviews. And before you think about trying to buy reviews, let me remind you how well that turned out for companies attempting to buy reviews on Yelp. Spoiler alert: it didn’t turn out well at all.
If the new Google Maps is any indicator of things to come from Google, it’s that social is going to play an increasingly important role in helping the search engine highlight the most legit local businesses and eliminate the shady ones. So if your local business is behind on developing, executing, and tracking a social media strategy, waiting much longer could cost you big time.
Ranking Outside of Your Physical Location in Maps
One of biggest challenges that most local companies face is ranking outside of their physical office location in local searches. Google flags listings where the physical business doesn’t exist, so the most you can do is set a designated service area in your Google+/Places listing.
Or is it?
While local search is becoming an increasing important way to get traffic, leads, and sales from the Web, Google STILL includes relevant organic listings (not Google+/Places pages) in local search results. So making unique pages on your website for the locations you want to rank for is still great practice—although recognize that it takes more than just throwing up a landing page to rank in competitive service areas.
According to a recent article by Search Engine Land, there are a few more things you can try if you’re interested in ranking outside of your physical location in Google Places:
- Consider getting a real address in the city where you want to rank – this is obviously a big commitment, but if you’re truly interested in growing your business, it could be worth it.
- Get a virtual address – by far the most controversial suggestion, Search Engine Land says that using a virtual address CAN help you rank in competitive markets, but you need to be able to confirm you use that location if a Google Places rep calls. You risk being delisted if you can’t.
- Use a zipcode list rather than a service area circle when setting up your Places account – according to Search Engine Land, most businesses use the Places’ circle radius to set their service area. However, they think there might be a benefit to using zipcodes instead, because this lets you choose which areas you want to specifically target if some service areas are more valuable to you than others.
How We Can Help You
If you’re a local business interested in getting more leads from the Web, you’re losing out if you’re not defining, testing, and tracking a local SEO strategy. The new Google Maps release serves as a reminder that the future of SEO is heading in a very personalized, user-driven direction. If you’re busy running your business, it’s understandably hard to keep up. That’s where we can help. We’ll help you plot a course for SEO success, much like Google Maps helps me plot a course for the nearest liquor store.
Give us a call if you’re interested in a local SEO strategy, and make sure to sign up for our e-mail newsletter for more tips for getting your local business more leads online. Or if you’re located in the Maryland or DC area, sign up for one of our SEO workshops!
About The Author: Blue Corona is a data-driven online marketing company with offices in Gaithersburg, MD and Charlotte, N.C.
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