Why Local SEO is Harder Than SEOs Think

Filed in Featured, Google, Local Search, MY BEST POSTS by Matt McGee on June 1, 2010 82 Comments

Few things grate on me more than hearing my fellow SEOs talk about how easy local SEO is. There’s less competition! The competition isn’t SEO savvy! Keyword choices are limited! It’s a piece of cake, they say. That’s about as accurate as me saying that traditional SEO is a piece of cake. Sweeping generalizations are often wrong, and below I’ll show why local SEO isn’t as easy as many think it is.

Have a look at the seven-pack results on Google for san francisco bakery:

(click for a larger version if you’d like) Ignore the blue check mark for now; I’ll get to that in a little bit. Let’s take a stab at deconstructing these search results, shall we? Here are some common and important things that are said to determine the rankings of these business listings:

Verified/Claimed Business Listing: Stella Pastries ranks at the top of the pack, but has not claimed its listing. In fact, the only business shown above with a claimed listing is the “C” listing. Would it rank lower with an unclaimed listing? Good question. In any case, despite being the only business with a claimed listing, there are other signals that are keeping two businesses ahead of it.

Address Matches Search Query: The search was for San Francisco bakeries, and all seven businesses have a San Francisco address. This one’s pretty obvious as a local SEO factor.

Proper Categories: It’s important to have your business listing categorized correctly. Even unclaimed listings are associated with categories. Here’s how these seven are categorized:

A: Wedding Bakery
B: Bakery
C: Bakery, Bakery, Restaurant, Pizza Restaurant
D: Bakery
E: Bakery
F: Bakery
G: Bakery

The top-ranked business is the only one listed in a category that’s more specific than our search term. The other six match the search term perfectly. Go figure.

Keyword in Business Name: Five of the seven businesses have the “bakery” keyword in their name, yet the top-ranked listing doesn’t. Stella Pastries has overcome the power of this factor via other signals.

Location Near City “Centroid”: That blue marker I added to the screenshot? That’s Google’s centroid, as shown when doing a Maps search for San Francisco. It would appear that the three highest-ranked businesses are among the furthest away. D and E are certainly closer, and it looks like F is, too. Let me repeat the image right here so you don’t need to scroll up:

Reviews: You can look at the screenshot and see that there’s no exact correlation between how many reviews a business has and where it ranks. The “D” listing, Tartine Bakery, has more than 400% more reviews than the B and C listings. Stella Pastries has the third-highest number of reviews, but ranks in the “A” spot.

Ratings: Google doesn’t show star ratings on the seven-pack, but if you click to see the results in Google Maps, you’ll get ratings and reviews together. Do the star ratings correlate with rankings? Let’s look:

A: 4.5 stars
B: 4.5 stars
C: 4.5 stars
D: 4.5 stars
E: 3.5 stars
F: 4.5 stars
G: 4 stars

There’s a little correlation here, in that the top four businesses are all 4.5 stars and none of the seven are any higher. But it falls apart slightly with the lowest-rated business in the “E” spot.

Citations: Citations are the links of local SEO. They’re really important. (I could show you one business that recently lost all its citations and went from the “A” spot to being gone completely.) Here’s how our seven bakeries compare for citations:

A: About 35
B: About 38
C: About 107
D: About 174
E: About 80
F: About 28
G: About 92

Much like reviews, there’s no obvious correlation between quantity of citations and rankings. Hmmmph.

Inbound Links: Place Pages tend to not attract many links; those tend to point toward actual web sites. So, if one of these business’s Place Pages did get a juicy inbound link, that might push it way up the rankings, right? Maybe not. Last September, when Google announced Place Pages, the blog post linked to the Place Page of Tartine Bakery — a clean, followed link from a blog post that’s now PageRank=6. And yet Tartine Bakery only ranks in the “D” spot. Go figure.

User-Generated Content: Much like citations, Google Maps shows how often a business/address appears in user-generated content. This is mostly made up of “My Maps” content created by Google users, but can also include geo-tagged photos from Panoramio, Flickr, and other types of UGC. Let’s see how much user content Google counts for our seven bakeries.

A: About 74
B: About 34
C: About 143
D: About 1,000
E: About 198
F: About 43
G: About 434

Just like citations and reviews, there’s no obvious correlation in these search results between how often a business appears in user-generated content and where it ranks.

Summary

In this search for “san francisco bakery,” the highest-ranked business

  • hasn’t claimed its listing
  • doesn’t have a web site
  • doesn’t have the keyword in its business name
  • is in a seemingly too-specific category, at least compared to the other six
  • is relatively far from the city center
  • has substantially fewer reviews, citations, and user-generated content than many others below it

Meanwhile, the business in the “D” spot

  • is close to the city center
  • has a web site
  • has the most reviews/citations/user-generated content
  • has the keyword in its name, and
  • even has a juicy link from a PR6 Google blog post

Local search is super-easy, isn’t it?

Final Thoughts

There are countless other factors that could be at play here, but the above pretty much covers the foundational elements of local SEO and maps optimization. Every search is different, and no doubt searches in other cities with a different keyword might be much easier to deconstruct. If someone else wants to pick up where I left off and dig deeper into more random and obscure factors, please let me know when you’ve posted your findings.

But, please, the next time you see someone talking about how easy local SEO is … show them this. And remind them that sweeping generalizations are often way off the mark. Local SEO is much like traditional SEO: sometimes easy, sometimes not.

Comments (82)

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  1. Suzanne Vara says:

    interesting findings here. Reading the article it seemed like maybe there would be something that would jump and make sense of this all but there was nothing really concrete that could say yes, I see why Stella’s is position A when Tartine seems to out perform in quite a few factors.

    Thanks for sharing your findings. Helpful

    @SuzanneVara

  2. Cindy Lavoie says:

    I agree that Local Search isn’t easy. But I wouldn’t say it’s “hard” either; that implies that if you work hard enough or apply the right strategies, you can get better at it. I find instead that it defies logic and the Local Search engine seems to work randomly in some respects. I’m thinking it’s just a more immature search algorithm that Google has not evolved as well as Google search (though I do leave room for the possibility that it’s just my understanding that’s immature!).

    In any case, it’s tougher to apply SEO strategies or to know what will work!

  3. Maybe the ppl who say it’s so easy are the same ppl who always land on the A listing with little work ;)

  4. Hunter says:

    Looking at C’s website they’ve got 4 different business names with physical locations listed as their “sister cooperatives”. I’d imagine this plus their San Francisco address listing adds some confusion.

    They list only their San Francisco address in the footer on all other pages, but lack a dedicated Contact page as well.

  5. Mindi Cabe says:

    Great post, Matt!

    We’ve seen similar discrepancies in our work with small businesses (we work primarily with restaurants). I do think, however, that doing the prescribed steps to enhance a local business listing goes a long way towards *improving* a business’ local search presence, even if the coveted A spot is elusive.

  6. magicrob says:

    Yes! It’s good to see someone like yourself post this.

    Cheers Matt!

  7. Jami Broom says:

    Local SEO doesn’t just encompass Google Local Maps, but a very wide range of other methods of being found online, which this blog post doesn’t touch upon. For instance, organic search results for numerous other keywords, pay per click advertising, social media, use of sites like Yelp, etc.

  8. Matt McGee says:

    @Cindy – I like your description and agree. It does seem to defy logic at times. Whereas with traditional SEO, you can usually figure out after a while why certain pages rank where they do (amount of links, quality of links, age of domain, overall trust/authority, etc.) The same cannot always be said about maps rankings.

    @Hunter – nice find, thanks.

    @Mindi – agreed. I’m not trying to suggest anyone skip local/maps optimization. Just pointing out that rankings in this space are not as clear cut as some folks think they are.

    @Jami – very true, but you seem to have missed the point of my post, which is explained in the first sentence. Just trying to show that local rankings aren’t cut and dry like some folks believe.

    Thx all for the great feedback.

  9. Bruce Wood says:

    A is the only listing that links to maps.google.com. Does that make a difference?

  10. Stever says:

    Seems like Tartine is doing everything right, and then some. Coulds there be an “over-optimization penalty” that’s holding them back from first place?

    Those citations and UGC citations are rather impressive and I’m surprised they don’t take it to the top.

    Could it be Google is purposely holding them back since they got some extra favoritism out of the blog post link? Or to muddy the waters for SEO’s who try to reverse engineer a listing Google brought attention too.

    Oh jeez, it’s the first of a new month and I’m already putting on my tinfoil hat again.

  11. Awesome post. Thanks for putting together such detailed data. I would agree that it’s not so much that local SEO is not easy, as much as that local rankings are somewhat more random and less obvious than the main organic listings. I would still say that local SEO is easy (relative to global or national SEO), but that results are obviously way less predictable.

  12. Mike Belasco says:

    Matt,
    Great article. So is part to what do it if you are listing D? That would really be entertainment ;)

  13. Mike Belasco says:

    sorry typo and incomplete comment, here is how it should be …

    Matt,
    Great article. So is part 2 ‘what do it if you are listing D’? That would really be entertainment

  14. While I enjoyed the article very much.
    Please let me share some facts. While we have been unable to find an no exact science to ranking in all keyword targeted Google Maps projects on behalf of our clients.
    That said… We at SEO Seattle LLC has had success and continues experimenting in this and have now 5 different cocktails or menus of tasks that seems to work. In other words if the most popular mix does not do the job we go to the next of the five. So far we have shown success every time.
    My advice…
    Keep experimenting.

  15. chris h says:

    matt, this is very interesting indeed. It’s strange their web site hasn’t been picked up – stellapastry.com. I looked at the site’s backlinks and nothing looks crazy there either.

  16. Hunter says:

    @David I agree — experimenting is some times the best way to problem solve. It definitely sheds some light in to “what works” when you get the desired results, but what is your contingency when it turns out that Google doesn’t like your cocktail and the client’s listing drops?

  17. Thanks for a great article – I’ve shared it in quite a few places, as I’d been looking into similar things myself – your post was far better than mine would have been though :)

  18. Andrew says:

    I agree with Jami Broom above – local SEO goes far beyond Google listings. One of the things that makes local SEO different, rather than “harder” is the relative inconsistency in results. It’s a little more difficult to gauge how effective your efforts are precisely because some listings that have a very nominal web presence can show up quite prominently. The best advice for local SEO that I’ve ever heard is quite simple – grab all of the web real estate you can and, above all, make sure the information you put out is consistent and up-to-date.

  19. Mary Bowling says:

    Hi Matt,
    There are also two often overlooked non-traditional SEO factors that I believe play a big part in the Places algo:
    1.How much trust does Google have in the core data of your business?
    2.Does your listing comply with the new Places guidelines?
    A large number of the listings that seem to be doing everything right, suffer from one or both of these issues.
    Great post! Thanks for sticking up for the “Local” SEO’s. Mary

  20. Chris says:

    @Matt

    Once again, great article.

    Is it possible that where a company is getting their citations from is now playing a role in their Google Maps ranking? If quantity is not a factor, maybe quality is? With organic listings (SEO), we know it isn’t always the sheer number of links, but where the links are coming from (and of course anchor text). Could the source of the citations be part of the Maps algorithm?

  21. Andrew Baker says:

    Matt,

    Excellent post!

    I have had this same discussion with several of my traditional SEO peers, they think it’s a stroll in the (local) park, which we all know it isn’t… it’s by no means an exact science.

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time analysing several location keyword searches for my city, trying to establish the key factors that decide the rank… and I have seen very similar results to you…

    I’d like to add that I have a feeling that the age of the listing within maps affects rank (and I’m talking unclaimed businesses here) so for your example the baker in position A, even though unclaimed may have been one of the very first bakers to have their NAP anchor data scraped from trusted sources by Google.

    I’m not suggesting this is the case for all searches but I believe it does play a part (similar to proximity to the centroid)

    I also think that having a high number of reviews (in relation to your competition) from “single reviewers” has a detrimental impact to ranking…

    There’s so much more but I hope to put some meaningful data together over the Summer, once I’ve got my garden sorted :-)

    Any way great read & thanks!

    Andrew

  22. MiriamEllis says:

    This is masterful, Matt. Beautiful job showing the tantalizing and frustrating vagaries of Local rankings. Wow!

  23. @dmbrennan says:

    Good Stuff, thanks.

    Just goes to reinforce that SEO is a journey, be it local or everything else.

    Relax and enjoy the ride or should I say the “Analytics”…

  24. And here we were thinking: great, local search is easy – we should be able to compete in SEO with that! Good article mate – looks as though we’ll have to get to work and do some more research as we’ve also noticed with the small amount of local search seo we’ve done, there seems to be no rhyme or reason also.

  25. Chris Pantages says:

    Good article, but using SF as the case study undoubtedly jacks up the results. You may as well have said “independently owned restaurants are really popular, look at all the ones in San Francisco”

    In my experience, for cities that are NOT SF, Seattle, NYC or most of the Bay Area, it is easier to get into the 7 pack than get a top organic ranking for the same term for the reasons you mentioned.

    In more competitive spaces, as you illustrated, it’s probably harder, because there are a smaller amount of known ranking signals and they seem to be applied more capriciously.

  26. Andy says:

    Great post.

    Local SEO will drive you crazy some days.
    I believe a better way to find out how many citations is to do a search by the phone number like
    “(415) 986-2914‎” if you do that you get
    A: 101
    b: 86
    C: 122
    d: 233
    e: 82
    f: 48
    g: 141
    Not that it would help much but gives a more accurate count.
    Also the vertical directorys like tastyr.com
    would play a part.

    Andy

  27. Didn’t you guys know that Stella is the aunt of Sergey Brin? No wonder she gets special treatment at position A !!!

    You don’t think for a moment that he’d let Auntie Stella not be #1 do you?

    Come on guys – it’s google nepotism!

  28. Wynne says:

    Excellent quality research and reporting on local business listings. Like @Cindy Lavoie, I too think it is a case of google’s local business algorithm evolving REALLY quickly. I believe there is a bunch of stuff that google is testing out at the moment.

    Let’s face it this local biz stuff is really important now. So google has to get this algo as good as it’s regular search.

  29. Nick B says:

    @Wynne – You would have thought Google would have the algorithms in order however, especially as this has recently been relaunched as Google Places?

  30. Nick B says:

    In fact I have entries that dont come up at all – they’re invisible – until I physicall type in the company name, so frustrating.

  31. Jami Broom says:

    Telling a commenter that they “miss the point” is the equivalent of telling them that their opinion doesn’t count. I won’t be reading your blog or commenting here again.

    and in nowhere in the post did you address the topic of my comment.

  32. Joe says:

    Yup, definitely harder than one assumes. I’ve been meaning to call or email you Matt, as I had noticed recently your wife’s listing was #1 in local search but linking to another local real estate agent, Brian Matthews. I just checked now, and Cari’s listing is gone!

    Contacting Google about these types of things is not an easy process. When we first submitted for our local business listing, I thought I was being creative by figuring out a way to get listed in all three of the cities we service (we service more than one city, right?). Well, one day our listings were gone! I figured out being listed in more than one city is against Google’s LBC TOS. Yikes! The problem is, there is no clear way to communicate with Google about these things. I repented and resubmitted the local business listing but I’ve resigned to the fact we are forever in some sort of purgatory!

    Good luck in getting Cari’s listing straightened out.

  33. Matt McGee says:

    @Bruce – no, doesn’t make a difference. For some reason, Google hasn’t connected their business listing with the web site, but no impact on rankings.

    @David — that’s very well said, thanks.

    @Mike – you should write that post. :-)

    @Chris – I believe quality has always played a role, and it could be that Google is turning the dial a bit more on quality over quantity. I purposely did not dive that deeply into the results, but it would be great if someone else were to do that.

    @Andy – good point about phone numbers, but citations can involve more than just the phone number. And many citations don’t include a phone number at all.

    @Jami – if I thought your opinion didn’t count, I would’ve said “Your opinion doesn’t count.” You don’t know me, but you should know that I don’t beat around the bush and mince words. All opinions count. Your earlier comment, though, missed the point of what I wrote about above. Obviously local SEO is about a lot more than Google Maps — that’s not what this post was about. This was about showing one specific example from one source (Google Maps) that I think contradicts the notion that many in our industry have about local SEO being easy to figure out.

    @Joe – in looking at your listing now, you seem to be using the street address of the TC Realtors Assn. Pretty sure that’s against the TOS. The new “do not reveal my address” feature is designed for folks who don’t want to show the actual business address for some reason. If I were to ever create a listing for myself as a work-from-home consultant, I’d use that feature rather than taking over someone else’s address.

  34. Chris Chong says:

    Thanks for looking into the factors that go into the local business listings for us. I have been working on figuring out what does and does not make a difference and have found similar things influence the rankings.

  35. Andy says:

    @Matt
    The first 40 references in the Stella Pastries all had a phone number in the reference. I have not seen Google as of late associate content with a listing unless it includes a phone number
    linked to the listing. I am only talking about text references, if you mean to included maps, geotagged photos and the like then yes phone numbers do not mean as much.

    Andy

  36. Pavlicko says:

    Matt,

    This is a great post – local SEO has been driving me nuts lately, half the time I just throw my hands up in the air because it seems like there is no rhyme or reason to any of it.

    By the way, I dug a little deeper into the San Francisco Bakery listings on my blog, so if you want to see the data on which citation sites seem to matter, or if the number of photos matter, please check it out – maybe someone will find something useful. Thanks – http://seo-harmony.com/local-seo-citations/

  37. Matt McGee says:

    Good stuff in there, @Pavlicko. Folks that are following this comment thread — recommend you check out David’s post, which went deeper than I did into some of these results.

  38. Jim Rran says:

    Well done Matt. In my opinion, you’re actually one of a few contributors who are ahead of the game in your analysis. As someone who has been deeply involved in Google Maps since its very first day of inception, I continue to shake my head almost every day when I read some of the assumptions and hard claims written by contributors to Search Engine Land. Recently, my comments were deleted from a contributor’s blog when I responding to their request of me to provide proof that would counter their position and claim about the influence of citations on ranking performance. I presented key findings and hard numbers from a substantial research project we conducted for one of our larger regional clients – the SEO blogger hit the delete button. Two weeks ago I countered a claim where an SEO specialist believed that rankings within a search geo modifier were limited by the configurations seen in the new service area feature. I offered a local Google search where page 1 Map SERP showed 6 of 10 results to be located outside the geo modifier (city) as configured by Google. HIs response? He changed the subject to something about Google patents. As competent as some individuals claim to be in Maps and local listings across platform, ” doctors” “gurus” or otherwise, I have yet to read one mention from anyone across the local SEO blogosphere about a very dramatic “game” changer Google implemented into its Algo on March 19th. I read about the tech issues with analytic data in dashboard about two weeks later even though no one correlated the issue to what was this inflection point in algo change. The change has had a profound impact on ranking outcomes ever since and some of the evidence of that, we see in one of your observations discussed above. I’m with you Matt. Inherent in our SEO world are those individuals and/or firms who offer services in the local space and who continue to make unsubstantiated claims and assumptions or say that local SEO (or however we brand the space) is a breeze. I can tell you this from experience, selling unreasonable expectations won’t get you very far. Stay the course.

  39. jon rognerud says:

    Heya Matt!

    Cool post, thanks for taking the time. I spoke of this level of complexity at a recent interview. Asked, “isn’t local SEO different than regular SEO” – the answer is “NO”. Sure, some tactics may be different (like ‘citations’ and steps to take within Places, etc). But, the truth is, as you pointed out, many think, or make you think that local is easy, cheap and fast. Local SEO is not cheaper than ‘regular’ SEO. But, all of this is dependant on the marketplace, region and other factors. You may spend just as much money/time on Local SEO as ‘regular’ SEO. Folks downplay the most important thing: research your marketplace first, keywords, competition, links (reviews, etc) and then build out a strategy, and decide how easy (or not) it will be. However, we all get caught in discussions and demos that show how simple things are. That doesn’t mean it is easy, however. Thanks again, Matt!

  40. Joe says:

    @Matt,
    Thanks for the tip. Had no idea this could be against the tos. As a broker, Colleen receives mail there. Made the change and awaiting the ‘postcard.’ Wasn’t a take over, as it is we are in limbo as to where we will be living!

  41. Dixon Jones says:

    Hi Matt,
    really good post – but raises more questions than answers. As SEOs, we are going to have to raise our game far more to get our heads around local search.

    Jim Rran says:
    “I have yet to read one mention from anyone across the local SEO blogosphere about a very dramatic “game” changer Google implemented into its Algo on March 19th”.

    I would love to hear more about those changes, Jim – and why you think they are the game changer.

    Being in the UK, My local observations are probably based on different factors than in the US – but I guess that’s the point. I should point out, though, that Google certainly does see the StellaPastries.com website in its main serps, offering several deeplinks – so one has to ask why Google chose to give the maps.google link on 1 and 7? Type in many other typical local search phrases and Google seems to tend towards a maps link in position 4 – but then I tried “san Francisco laundromat” and got something like six google maps results.

    My point is, that there does not have to be a correlation between Google opting for a map.google.com result in spots x y & z and the position of the results at this stage. The two decisions in the algo could be based on entirely separate reasons – including testing by Google.

    I have to talk about localized link building in Berlin tomorrow, whilst you are all sunning yourselves in seattle and whilst I can help the audience to develop local links, I have a section at the start which makes it clear that – to me at least – I cannot see much correlation between “local links” and “relevent SERPS listings in local”. That said – Google is still probably “learning” how a page or a site might try to target or talk about a local area. That’s really hard for an algorithm to figure out. It’s hard for a human to figure out sometimes!

    I also urge everyone to also take this further and look at the SEOharmony article. It tries to offer educated insight to take this further. But the factors that effect San Francisco (if we ever figure them out) are unlikely to be the same factors that affect Berlin. That’s going to splinter the research findings greatly and create about as many inconsistencies as the bible.

    Even if we can work out the algo factors for a given region, the question arises as to whether the effort in uncovering the reasearch will provide enough “business” for a website in a defined geographical verticle? In other words – is it financially viable for Tartine to spend $15,000 of research with no guarantee of success to switch from position 4 to position 1 in the seven box (given that great brains like yours and some good commenters on this post) haven’t got an answer to hand, against employing at minimum wage a person for a WHOLE YEAR waving leaflets on the street outside the shop?

    My guess is that the leaflets will be surprisingly effective, in comparison to online conversions.

    Thanks again Matt. Nice discussion.

  42. Dave Oremland says:

    Matt:

    Nice analysis. It’s generated a lot of interesting responses. I liked the comments about testing and retesting and coming up w/ a package of efforts that bears results.

    I found Jamie’s comments to be interesting. Yes, local seo is more than just maps. OTOH, you want to win in as many places as possible, including Maps, organic seo, reviews sites, etc.

    In this post you wrote about the Maps aspect. Real interesting case example. Per your example there is no “easy” discernable way to figure out how the top ranked site got to that position. There are many facets that come into play with regard to G Maps.

    Take the complicated aspects that involve maps and then take all the other places where a local business might show on the web. It simply takes a complex situation and further complicates it.

    Nice article.

  43. None of the items you mentioned are part of the scope to rank a site in Google Maps. The answer to your question is far from being achieved based only on those items listed. Maybe you should analyze the content of these ads to have a conclusion further. But the article was good to know what are the items that really do not contribute to rank a site for Google Maps. SEO is not that difficult, simply understand what are the factors and work on them.

  44. Jack Ringer says:

    MMMM! That was such an interesting post. Besides being the local Town Crier across the pond I do seo, wordpress design and such.

    I have been “doing seo” since I lived in San Francisco back in 97

    I, too, get mystified with local SEO – I’m not complaining personally but some things I can’t work out!

    I always offer my few local clients a Google Profile and get them to write a Knol etc and this sometimes helps.

    I force a GMail address on them too.

    Having said I’m mystified San Francisco is really such a dense and tech savvy market Google may just set the local results to random?

    Too ne honest I won’t be unhappy when we get the “paid tag” Google Places over here

    Cheers

    Jack

  45. Jami Broom says:

    Then why isn’t the title of this “why Google Places is harder than SEO’s think”, not “local SEO”.

    MY POINT is that the post is misleading people into thinking that Google Places encompasses all of Local SEO, which it does not.

  46. Joe says:

    I owe ya a beer, or milk, or whatever you drink Matt. I changed our local listing from Kennewick to our home address, which is our office address, and we are back in the 10-pack for Pasco. The problem is we will be putting our home on the market in the next few days, so I guess we’ll have to start all over again. :(

    I also checked Cari’s listing and she back, corrected, and firmly in the #1 position. Nice!

    Lastly, your theme is broke. Perhaps a result of a WP 3.0 upgrade? I can send a screenshot if needed.

    Thanks again. :)

  47. Sandi Masori says:

    Tis article was really helpful… and it wasn’t. Helpful in that it showed me that I’m not crazy in thinking that the google places results have nothing to do with well, anything logical, and unhelpful in that you didn’t have the answers either ;-)

    So here’s my story, I own a balloon company in San Diego. My site ( http://www.balloonutopia.com ) was one of the first balloon sites on the internet, certainly one of the first here in San Diego.

    BUT, I’m not coming up for the terms that are logical to my business, when I looked at the Google places analytic tool, I found that out of he top 10 search queries where people were seeing my name, 5 of them were Nazi related words that have NOTHING to do with my business.

    First of all, I’m Jewish, so there you go. Well, I submitted an inquiry in the forum there, and some people looked into it and found that because I advertise on a Jewish newspaper site, and that site had done an article on a swaztika shaped building here in San Diego, Googles fuzzy logic somehow figured that that would be the term to find me under… doesn’t matter that MY site (which organically ranks very high in the regular results) is almost 300 pages and never once uses any such phrases-also doesn’t matter that I’ve advertised on that site for years, and that’s not the only article page that I’ve had ads on… no, for some reason Googles algorythm thought that my Jewish owned Balloon Decor and Entertainment Event company should show up in local searches for the undesired phrases. (I don’t want to keep using all the words for fear this will cement the connection to them).

    Anyway, thought I’d share this anecdote to add to the discussion… I’m still searching for the way to rank for the RIGHT keywords (in google local), and would love to hear it if anyone has the answer…

  48. Matt good article. Google Maps isn’t so easy to figure out

    Just searched “San Francisco bakery” and Stella Pastries is still #1 and still haven’t claimed…..

  49. I have a client with accommodation “a bed and breakfast” and one day we changed his key words in his Local Listing. this almost immediately dropped his listing to page 3 from page 1 of the 7 Local Listing List (7LLL). we changed it to “bed and breakfast” from “b&b”

    I realise that this doesn’t solve the issue, but it definitely shows a direct connection of key phrases in the title so we have [company name - suburb b&n]

    so in the bakery example.

    [John Smith - Bakery] would be more important than [John Smith bake house] when searching for “Bakery”

    Has anyone done some research with regard to what happens if you use the key word twice if it’s in their company name:

    i.e. [John Smith Bakery - Bakery San Francisco]?

    The connection of where links come from and the key relevant phrase of the source website may have a key in where the search result placed the desired business. so for instance, if you had a highly ranked San Francisco food website, talk about “Stella Pastries” this would tell google that this website is to do with food and in San Fran.

    This may be an idea no different to what if a friend was telling you that they saw great snow in the mountains, but you have an idea that they didn’t go as he is wearing shorts, and you also have another friend who has just come back from the snow as he is still wearing his ski boots, who would you believe what the conditions were like?

  50. Deeter says:

    I have a Plumbing company in Nashville Tn, Ive done all my own SEO and got on first page of Google for organic searches, Piece of cake, Google local, There ain’t no Rhyme or Reason. Local seo is tough !!

  51. jerry morgan says:

    Local maps has been getting tougher in the past couple of months. I actually got a call – no i’m not kidding – from google about a week ago regarding the maps listing i posted. I think now that it is best to simply add your business to a site like localeze.com and let google input your data from there. it can take about six months but you can at least guarantee that it will get in.

  52. Lisa Bishop says:

    I really enjoyed this post. It also shows how far we seo’s go to both make things better for out clients and / or explain why a company such as A has beat out D!

  53. Keith says:

    Hi

    Categories

    I used the city name in a category ie

    London Plumber 24-hour emergency service

    and my map shot to no 1. But I got cold feet and removed it suspecting I was breaking the rules. Ay comments please?

  54. Dennis says:

    If it’s your business and you are willing to take the chance (getting flagged), so be it!

    If it’s a client site you manage, be ready to lose it when you are not able to provide any monthly stats… sooner or later you will get penalized.

    –Dennis

  55. I said: Maybe you should analyze the content of these ads to have a conclusion further.

    So, see this exemple:

    http://www.publicidadedigital.com/index.php/como-colocar-um-site-na-primeira-posicao-no-google-maps/

    The content is in portuguese, my language, but you can see that’s possible to put any site on google maps.

  56. keith says:

    Thanks Dennis. I’ll remove the place name from the category. Is it safe to put geographicas locations places in business decription or additional features about the company? And does a place name in reviewsd and business owners response get credited by Google?

  57. Dennis says:

    Hey keith,

    I’ve played with putting location names in the description area as well as additional business specific info and at time have had to remove the location specific term. Don’t attempt to get spammy in the description and the listing should be OK. Google does like user reviews as long as they don’t see a pattern of spammy ones but more importantly, a potential customer is just as easy to detect spam and that where it really counts.

    Oh, and your welcome.

    –Dennis

  58. Jackson Lo says:

    Great post Matt!

    Question: I’m helping a friend with his local SEO efforts, more towards Google map optimization and ranking high for a few terms. While I’m consistently listing his business is local directories and such (creating citations), none of those citations actually show up in his Google Places profile. It’s been about a month since I first listed the info, and kept it all consistent, how long does it typically take for those links to show up? Or have I missed something?

    Thanks!

    Jackson

  59. Great post. You are right, it’s not as easy as people say it is!

    However, it’s not as complicated as people might think as well.

    You never mentioned anything about the sources of the citations, their relevancy or authority. what are your thoughts on this as a factor of influence?

    To me it’s about exposure in the relevant authoritive areas.

  60. I’m involved in a course now about Places: the ‘great’ opportunity to show companies how to get on page 1 .. All you need to do is 1. Claim your listing 2. Add reviews,citations,photos,videos, etc. But I’ve been doing searches in my area, putting 7-pack results in a spreadsheet, and have been stunned by the randomness of the results. Nice to see that someone else is seeing the same thing that I am..complete anarchy. No sense at all.

  61. Geoff says:

    I too have found the now 10-pack not so easy. It seems that some of my client’s competitors have an extraordinary number of reviews, given the business they are in. The issue is trying to get people to provide a review online. Many are happy to write on a form once the service is completed, but translating that to a review that can be picked up by Google is not easy. The customer service processes therefore need to be reviewed.

    However, what the expansion of palces/maps has done is pushed my client’s positioning on P1 Google down the page. I can only see therefore that coming to grips with a Local Listing has to be a primary task.

  62. Eric Strate says:

    Local is harder now, because now you need to rely on many factors. Organic SEO is still key to ranking high in the map listing, Google reviews, other review places like Yelp, Kudzu, fully optimized and correct listing, citations with your address matching, and more organic SEO. This all means you have to make sure all your t’s are crossed, i’s dotted, and make your business internet perfect in a competitive area. Of course, if your trying to rank a business in an area they do not have an address in, you can actually rank above the maps. You do this, by besting the letter A company in pure organic SEO. Hope this helps.

  63. Gail Gardner says:

    It is common for people with limited experience or simplistic thinking to call something “simple” when it is anything but simple. (I have one friend who loves ppc because he says it is “so easy”. Sure it is – until it costs you a small fortune because of something you didn’t control well.)

    If you think local and organic SEO are a challenge now, just wait until Google uses the Chrome block data as the reason for removing any site they wish from their index.

    I strongly recommend businesses and those who assist them get busy getting traffic from any source they can. There IS no other source of traffic that is as large or that will convert as well as G so know that means a LOT more work.

    I recently published a Local Search Case Study of one way to do that. I linked it to the Website field of this comment so you can find it. (Hope that is ok with you. I never know when I comment in a new blog whether they would prefer a link in the comment itself, a link in that field or prohibit links altogether.)

  64. Pashmina says:

    This is such a great post, even about a year later. Seems like since then Tartine has take the #1 spot in the Google Blend results.

    I wanted to bring up one factor no one has mentioned. I think there’s something to to the velocity of reviews too. How often you’re reviewed, and when was the last review? The velocity of reviews also affects your rank in Google search.

  65. Kai says:

    sorry if anybody mentioned that already and I guess it is not a factor since we all see the same results but how about how close the searcher is from the businesses ip wise etc? could it be that you are closer to Stella from your physical location at that point?

  66. Aaron says:

    I’m curious as to what factors specifically you think are at work that would put the top result where it is.

    Seems like there is no rhyme or reason, but with Google, there surely must be some equation that logically leads to these results.

  67. Andy Corp says:

    Hi Aaron

    You can look here
    http://www.davidmihm.com/local-search-ranking-factors.shtml
    and see there is some agreement on good practices to rank your Google places listing.
    (Matt McGee participated)

    Have consistent business info that matches your Google places listing placed everywhere you can possibly image online.

    Have the correct categories in Google places.

    The business address needs to be in the city you are trying to rank for.

    Geo tagged data with your business info.

    Reviews.

    Links, links and more links.

    Take your time and go through the survey it really is a good read.

    Andy

  68. Rick Noel says:

    Excellent post Matt with a solid example and some excellent observations. I totally agree with the premise of your post that Local SEO is harder than you think. My company, eBiz ROI, Inc, an Internet marketing service provider, is facing a similar situation for a local search where we ranked #1 for some time for the local search “SEO Saratoga NY” and now rank #3. This is a recent phenomena The two above eBiz ROI have less user reviews (we have 7, the #1 has 1 and the #2 has 0). We have 2 active offers where the #2 has 1 offer and the #1 ranked has 0 offers. eBiz ROI is closer to the centroid than both #1, #2. Local SEO is so important for businesses with a local market, it is hard to over emphasize just how important, and for our business it is about credibility. When searching for citations based on phone number, I see that the #1 has 34,900 citations and #2 has 8,200 and we have 6,510 which was the first logical reason we could find, but since our loss in ranking was recent, I find it hard to believe the slip in ranks could have been solely due to citations which take time to accumulate. Also, #2 has SEO in title but not category. #1 has SEO category but not name. We have SEO Agency as one of the categories. We are the only one of the 3 that has 10 photos and 5 videos (max photos, videos allowed) which seems to make less of a difference that citations and having SEO in name. Just some observations. Thanks for sharing.

  69. Nate says:

    Thanks for the post Matt. I found this when searching for “why local SEO”.

    One question: could it have anything to do with when the business was added to the list?

    Or anything to do with sites you’ve visited in the past (although the A listing doesn’t even have a site…)

    Look forward to your response.

  70. Hi Matt,

    Awesome post!

    I have a different view on “Reviews” and its co-relation with rankings.

    In this case one will not observe any co-relation, as the data suggests.

    My view is that “Reviews” is one of the factor in rankings, and it is not really possible to segregate a LONE FACTOR each time & define its relation with rankings.

    All factors taken together support the ranking of Google Places Local listings.

  71. I have gone back and forth with SEO vs business model. In Real Estate you can go for having a great web page with great SEO and spend hours tracking Serp results or you can just try to ignore the SERP results and focus on your business.

    This may sound crazy to some people because most of the SEO guys think that SERP results equal more business. However, I have tried a few different changes to my business model and tracked results. I have ran heavy SEO for over one year then followed up with a few light quarters with no SEO and cold calling.

    I have found that I make more money in my Business when I ignore the SEO and just charge forward with picking up the phone and knocking on doors and asking people for their business. In fact, I have found that most of the people that are using Google,Yahoo or Bing to buy a home often times are already working with another Realtor.

    So, while SEO is always going to be important I have found that rankings do not always matter when you are just looking at your bottom line.

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