Organic Search Engine Optimization has changed a lot over the years. Title tags, meta data, keywords, backlinks, freshness of content, social signals… they’ve all had varying degrees of impact on how websites rank. This Google Algorithm Change History by MOZ shows hundreds of changes. It’s enough to make you go crazy. Truth is, I wouldn’t bother writing an article on organic seo strategies for fear that it would be outdated ten minutes from now.

But that’s organic SEO. In other words, SEO that impacts the organic rankings on Google. This article is about Local SEO – also known as Maps Optimization.

To be fair, maps have experienced their share of change over the years too. Google Business Listings, Google Places, Google Plus… the ten pack, the seven pack, and at the time of this writing, the three pack.

But what hasn’t changed a lot is how businesses rank in the maps section of Google. There are four pieces of this algorithm that are mostly responsible for how a business ranks.

ONE: Actual location related to location searched

When a user searches Google for content that is relevant to a local business, Google wants to provide results that are nearby. So if you’re a dentist in Westchester Florida, as much as you’d like to, you’re probably going to have a very hard time appearing for the search “dentists in Miami FL” even though you’re only a few miles outside of the Miami city limits.

Not to say that it’s impossible. If you rock the next three strategies, you could outrank a Miami dentist who isn’t doing any kind of local maps optimization. But to be fair, its unlikely. You’ll want to explore paid search to ensure your business ranks for Miami searches.

TWO: Accuracy and consistency of NAP data

Who doesn’t like a good nap? Wait, no… not that kind of nap. NAP stands for the business’s name, address and phone number listings across the hundreds of directories on the web. I’m talking about online yellow page directories and local review sites and other websites that collect and publish business information.

Check out The Ultimate List: 50 Online Local Business Directories

Google crawls these directories every day. And when Google sees consistency and accuracy of the NAP data, it’s considered a sign of professionalism and authority. In other words, the business who’s NAPs appear exactly the same across the directories is going to have an algorithmic advantage over the business whose NAP info is a little off here and there.

An old address or phone number, a listing without a suite number versus a listing that includes the suite number, inconsistent phone numbers… all of these can negatively impact your ranking in the local maps.

What to do about it: find and claim all of your directories. Take the time to update your content so that every listing has identical NAPs.

THREE: Enhanced directory content

Most directories have the ability to publish more than just a business’s name, address and phone number. Many of them allow the business to choose a business category or categories, add a business description, a URL, keywords, even a logo and some pictures.

Can you guess how Google views those businesses that have consistent NAPs and have also enhanced their listings with additional content? Yep, Google favors those businesses that take the time to enhance their listings and this gives them a ranking advantage over those that haven’t.

FOUR: Reviews

Finally, the hardest part of the equation – reviews – have an impact on local SEO. We could talk for an hour about how to get more reviews, how important reviews are for influencing prospects and how to handle negative reviews. For now, what you need to know is this: Reviews earn you street cred with Google. They are considered another indicator of a business’s authority and value.

There’s some debate as to whether it is quantity of reviews or if there is a different weight given to positive and negative reviews when it comes to ranking. My guess is that Google is adjusting and optimizing this part of the algorithm all the time.

Of course, a business can only do their best work to try and garner as many positive reviews as possible. Bottom line, a business that has more reviews is probably going to have an advantage outranking the business with no or few reviews.

Take control

If any of this sounds daunting or extremely time-consuming, it is. But because so few businesses take the time to do it, being the business that does can have a pretty significant impact on your ranking in Local Maps.

If you don’t have the time to do it, we’re here for you. Read about Local Maps Optimization.