The Simple Way to Improve Local Search & Google Maps Rankings

Matt Ulmer
Matt Ulmer VP of Operations & Client Relations

Google updates its search results all the time. Just when you think you’ve mastered search engine optimization, they change how they optimize.

And now they’ve done it again.

The latest big algorithm change was dubbed Pigeon, and it drastically altered how Google Maps rankings work and how websites appear in the local search results.

What are local search results and why do they matter?

Take a look at the below search for a haircut in Philadelphia.

Google Local Search Results

Those seven listings alongside the A through G pins are the local listings, and they all appear before what was once considered the “standard” listings. These results are tailored to:

  • Your current location when searching (if you didn’t include a location modifier like “Philadelphia”)
  • The location you searched for (if you did include a location modifier like “Philadelphia”)
  • Or both

But here’s the important thing coming out of Pigeon: These listings are not in any way related to the actual search engine optimization of your website.

How are local search results factored?

With Google’s latest change, the local search results are directly connected to Google Maps. In fact, you can even see a mini view of the map on our screenshot sample from earlier. In that sample, if I click the link for “map for haircut philadelphia,” I get routed automatically to And as you’ll see in the below screenshot, the list of locations in Google Maps matches identically the list in the local search results.  That’s because they’re one in the same. The local search results are simply displaying the Map results.

Google Maps Sample

So how can you affect your rank?

Here is the absolute key to good SEO: Great content.

The best way to be optimized for search engines is to provide useful, relevant content to the person searching. This local piece is no different.

Google wants to provide a helpful utility. When you search for something in a location, it wants to show you the best option that is most convenient for where you are. Therefore, the Map/local search results are affected by:

  • Proximity (how close you are to the search, factoring in miles, time, etc.)
  • Quality (how good the place is, based on reviews – more on this below)

You can only affect one of these items. If your hair salon is located in the suburbs, you aren’t going to rank higher than Perfect Cut Hair Salon on Race Street for the term “haircut philadelphia.”

BUT if you’re battling for rankings against competitors located near you, there are some tactics you can employ.

Here’s how to optimize for local results

The listings that appear in the local search are tied to Google+’s business profile page, now called Google+ Local or Google My Business. In order to affect your local rankings and Google Maps rankings, you need to:

  • Create a verified Google+ Local (Google My Business) page that you control
  • Include your company name and town name in the profile tile
  • Connect it to your website
  • Get lots and lots of positive reviews on the Google My Business page
  • Engage on the Google My Business page, writing posts about services you offer, locations you serve, deals you provide, etc.

This is a big change for Google, and it has potential to seriously hurt your traffic. Failing to have a properly optimized Google My Business page could mean you don’t appear on the map, and if you don’t appear on the map, potential customers may not even know you exist.

You want to end up with something like the below screenshot. Follow the red arrows to see the verified icon, the strong naming convention, and the positive reviews. Go do this for yourself, and you’re well on your way to re-optimizing your business. Until Google changes everything again…

Google+ Profile Sample

If you want help with this complicated and constantly evolving process, feel free to contact Arc Intermedia to discuss our Philadelphia search engine optimization efforts. And if you’d like to learn how your business can stand out as a big yellow dot within a sea or red on a Google Map (take a look at the Map screenshot one more time), we’d be happy to talk about search engine marketing (paid search).

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