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How to Rank on Google Maps & Local Search – Small Business SEO Strategies


With Google being today’s number one search engine, it’s important to understand how to rank on top of Google Search.  Think about that last time you searched for a local business in your city and how you searched on Google.

Using a restaurant as an example, there’s a good chance your search phrase was “restaurant near me”.  Using “near me” after a keyword is one of the most popular ways for customer to search for a local business.

Another common way would be to include the city and state after the searched keyword (e.g. “restaurant chicago il).  If your business doesn’t appear near the top of search, working on local SEO will help it get there.

Google will try to show the most relevant information based on a search query of the customer.  There are many different strategies to help you get there but here are some things you can do today.


    • Build an online presence
    • Optimize your website
    • Create SEO content
    • Claim business listings
    • Update Citations
    • Build reviews and links

The strategies discussed will be exponentially more important if your business type is in a competitive field and everybody is competing for the same keywords or search phrases.

If you follow these simple Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies, you should be able to find your business towards the top or at the top of search results.  Getting to the top of search will also promote your business listing to appear in the top 3 position of Google Maps results.

Maps is always displayed at the very top of all searches.  Being top 3 in Google Maps is crucial for getting the most amount of eyes on your business listing.





The most important Google ranking tool for your business is creating a website.  If you don’t have one, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to make one.

As a web developer, one of the most frequently asked question from business owners is “My business is so small, does it even need a website?”  The answer to this question is always a “yes” and here’s why.

A website will allow information rich content about your business to be better indexed on Google.  For example, lets say you own a nail salon.  Just by having a website with all your services listed on it, each service will act as a keyword that Google will match with the potential customer’s search.

If a customer searches for “nail salon french manicure” and your website has all those keywords in it as the services you offer, there’s a much better chance your business listing will show higher in search than a business that isn’t related to those keywords.

Whether through Yelp or Yellow Pages, every local business will have some sort of citation on the web.

However, in order to make your business stand out amongst the crowd, a website with keyword rich content about your business will tell Google that your business should be shown as the relevant search result over others.

Assuming you already have a business website, lets talk about how we can optimize it.  I’ll show you the steps I take when doing SEO for my web clients.





Having a website is a great start it isn’t enough – it needs to be optimized for search.  Optimizing it will let a search engine better understand the contents of your website so it is indexed properly.

Implementing these steps collectively will help with your website’s Google ranking for both desktop and mobile search.



The Meta description is the descriptive text that appears under the website url in search results.  This section lets website owners best describe their business in as many as 156 characters.  Avoid lengthy descriptions because if it’s longer than 156 characters, it’ll get cut off.

Try to imagine yourself as a customer and think about what information is most pertinent to their search that’ll make them click on your website link.

Information such as features, services, product categories and the city and state of your business location should be clearly stated here.



Your website should have many visual images that depict your business in the best light for increased customer engagement.

However, with Google being an algorithm, it doesn’t know what each picture represents.  This is where image alt texts are useful – it helps Google understand the context of the displayed images.

An alt text is simply a textual representation of an image that ties a keyword to the images for SEO purposes.  Also, when customers search Google by photos, your website images will populate because of properly used alt texts.



With so many people using mobile devices to find local businesses on the go, having a business website that is optimized for phones is more significant that it ever was.  It is also a key factor in having your website appear early in search results.


When choosing a WordPress theme for your business website, make sure one of the features is mobile responsiveness.  Mythemeshop is a good site to find mobile responsive friendly themes at good prices.



Have you ever clicked on a link from a Google search result and got a “Your connection is not private” warning?  If so, then that’s and example of a site didn’t have an SSL certificate.  Google favors secure sites with SSL certificates because they help encrypt user information.


A rule of thumb is if you see a website url that begins with “https”, that site is secure with an SSL certificate – if the url starts with “http” it does not have one.

If your business website doesn’t have an SSL, your visitors can also be shown that warning so make sure to contact your web host to enable SSL.



If your small business is a restaurant, you probably have a pricing menu when customers order food in your restaurant.  It is easy to take a picture of the menu and post the picture in the website and call it a day.

Although a customer visiting your website can see it and clearly understand what the menu entails, Google cannot.  It is important to list every item on your menu as a form of text in your website.

Doing this will allow Google to reference your menu items to a customer’s search term.  Use text whenever possible and supplement it with an image, because every text you write on your website will be a keyword you can rank for in Google Search.



Ranking for keywords relevant to your business is where websites come in most useful.  For the sake of consistency, we’ll use a salon business as a reference point for the following keyword strategies.

If you’re targeting “salon” as the main keyword to rank for, you’ll find that it’ll be a lot more difficult to rank for than it would be for something more specific like a “nail salon”.  This is because the keyword “salon” can cover many different types of businesses.

If your business is a nail salon, create content around the keyword “nail salon” and the services you offer because it’s not helpful for customers for your website to appear in search queries when they search for hair salons.

You want to specifically target the customers looking for only nail salons and you’ll have much better luck ranking your business for the services you offer.



Now that we know what keywords we want to target, we can target additional long tail keywords (alternate keyword phrases) in order to rank for more search terms.

Using modifier words like best, deals, top, cheap, etc. in your content will help your business appear in more search results.

Here is a simple yet very effective strategy for finding relevant long tail keywords.  Go to Google and type “nail salon” in the search box and don’t press Enter.  Just before “nail salon” input three underscores so it’ll look like “___ nail salon”.


If you still haven’t presses Enter, Google will show a list of relevant search terms that people are already searching.

Google will replace the underscores with keyword modifiers so you can now choose from the list of long tail keywords that’s relevant to your business and use it to build content around for your website.

Tip: You can also search with the underscores after the keywords so it’ll look like “nail salon ___”.  In this case, a good long tail keyword phrase to use in your website would be “best nail salon in Chicago, IL”.



Google Trends is a very useful tool to find what’s trending over time.  If you want to find out what aspect of your industry is being searched for, go to Google Trends and try searching for your business type.  For a more localized stats, choose the sub-region or state you’re in.



Once again using “nail salon” as an example, you can see the “interest over time” stats.  Scroll down and Google Trends will show related searches, the search volume, and the percentage increase in search.

You can target these long tail keywords and implement what’s relevant into your website.






Claiming your business on Google My Business is fairly straightforward yet very effective.  There’s a good chance your business is already listed on Google Maps but it is important to claim it to add legitimacy.

Claiming it is an easy process – just go to Google and find your business on Maps and click “Own this business?” or you can also do it from here.


In the example below, you can see that this business owner hasn’t claimed the business nor updated business information like hours of operation or linked a website.

Needless to say, this listing wasn’t shown on the first page – it was shown on the 3rd page even though their ratings are 4.7 stars.


Once you’ve claimed your business listing, update all relevant information including your new website URL.  Make sure it is 100% updated and accurate, until you don’t see an incomplete percentage.

This will be your hub for customer interaction such as responding to reviews and updating photos.  It’ll also show insights like how customers interact with your website and what they searched to find it.





Apple iPhones are one of the most popular phones so getting registered on Apple Maps is a no-brainer especially since Apple Maps comes pre-installed with iPhones.

Although Google is the most widely used search engine, some people just resort to Apple Maps because Google Maps doesn’t come natively installed in iPhones.


Register with Apple Maps and also with Yelp because Apple sources Yelp reviews in their maps.





Similar to Google with Google My Business, Bing is Microsoft’s search engine native to the Edge web browser that has their own business listings called Bing Places.

Although they don’t have nearly the search engine market share that Google has, you should still claim your business on Bing Places for information consistency.






Citations are references on the web that cites your business information including name, address and phone number.  Google uses the information from these directories as SEO indicators to help rank businesses in Google Maps.

Here are some notable citations you should check to make sure your business information is accurate:

If you business information is properly listed on these sites, claiming them isn’t always necessary as long the information is correct.

Verifying and updating all these directories can be somewhat tedious but remember that each listing is a mention of your business on the web that solidifies validity.

Tip: The easist way to update the listings is to first find your business on each directory and look for “claim this business” or “suggest an edit”.  Using 3rd party sites to claim or update your business listing can come with a hefty price tag.





Google and Yelp are the two biggest sources of business reviews so as long as you’ve claimed and verified your business on these two platforms, interacting with customers reviews will be easy.

It goes without saying that building many positive reviews will have a positive impact on your Google Maps ranking.


There isn’t much you can do here aside from providing great customer service and asking customers to review your business.  You can also add a “Review our business” section on your website that links to Google Reviews just to make it easier for customers to access it.

Tip:  Groupon is also a great source to get reviews quickly but this is possible only if you’re running a campaign with them.  You can read more about it in Section 6 of this article about small business marketing and advertising.





Building links is the process of getting established websites to mention or link out your website.  Lets say for example your business participated in a fundraiser and the local newspaper covered the story.

They’ll most likely talk about your establishment on their website and mention your website link in the post.  This is a process of building links.

Link building is a strategy that can help your website build domain authority which will tell Google that your website is more trustworthy and relevant than a website with smaller domain authority.

Building quality links from reputable sites is a process that can require some creativity but here are some possible outlets that can work for your business.

    • Local newspaper – you can contact your local newspaper to see if you can guest post on their website about your business.  They may pick up the article if it’s interesting and can help the community.
    • Chamber of Commerce – join your local chamber of commerce and list your business information with a website link.  You can also advertise your business with discounts for Chamber of commerce members and attend networking events.  Keep in mind that an annual membership can cost a few hundred dollars but the benefits should outweigh the costs.
    • Certificates and Accreditation – if your business is registered with certificates or accreditation, contact the source to see if they’ll list you as a recommended business.





Having a fast website is an important Google ranking factor and it shouldn’t be overlooked.   A website with a fast load-time is more beneficial for the user experience because slow loading sites promote higher bounce rates.


Nobody likes to wait 3 seconds for a site to load and I’m sure you don’t either.  If you want to learn how to optimize your website speed and make it faster, learn more about it here.  Shave seconds off your load time – Google will reward you for it.





If you followed these steps from the beginning, congratulations on getting one step closer to ranking higher on Google.  The process may have been a bit overwhelming but in time I’m sure you’ll agree that it was time well spent.

Keep in mind that the process of getting your business search engine optimized takes time.  You may not see the results taking effect overnight but if you give it a few months you should be able to reap the benefits of your efforts.

Lets just recap and check off everything that was done to rank higher in Google Maps and Search.

    • Build a website
    • Optimize your website
    • Register with Google My Business
    • Register with Apple Maps
    • Register with Bing Places
    • Update business citations
    • Build quality backlinks
    • Make your website faster

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