The following information is based on a combination of hours of me speaking with Google employees and over six years of hands-on experience ranking hundreds of local service businesses in the US and Canada.
This information applies only to local SEO rankings for a local business in the Maps Section, aka Google Places, aka Google Local section. The maps section gets more than 70% of the clicks for any local search, so this is where your main focus should be.
It does NOT apply to Organic Ranking or Google AdWords Pay-Per-Click
What Can I Use as an Address?
- Single Residential House Address
- Single Residential Apartment Address
- Commercial Office Suites or Units
- Single or Multiple Commercial Address(es)
- Combination of Residential and Commercial Addresses
- Multiple Residential Addresses (Exceptions for Large Franchises)
- PO Boxes, UPS Mailboxes or other Mailbox companies
- Virtual Offices
- Commercial Address Inhabited by Another Business
Where Can I Rank?
You must have a physical address, that is able to receive mail, in the city you want to rank. You must list the actual city, NOT an adjoining suburb, nearby city or county. It MUST be the city that the post office uses when delivering mail. Google will send you a physical postcard to verify that it’s a legitimate address.
What About Surrounding Cities?
Sometimes Google will rank your business in neighboring cities if there is little competition. Sometimes you will can rank organically in surrounding cities, but that means you will still be at the bottom of the page, therefore very few visitors and very few calls if any. Conclusion: Focus on ONE city, rank in the maps and get the 70% plus visitors that click go directly to that section.
Can I Dominate the Entire Metro Area in a Big City?
In order to rank a single business in multiple cities, you MUST have a legitimate, verifiable commercial (not residential) address for each location. These locations can’t have other businesses currently occupying them. To rank multiple residential locations, you must be part of a large franchise.
The only way to really “Fool Google” with multiple residential locations is to have completely unique Google Accounts, Business Names, Phone Numbers, Addresses, Websites and Listings Across the Internet. They must appear to be completely different businesses to a human or Google. For most small businesses the time and cost involved is just not realistic.
How Is My Competitor Getting Away With It?
From time-to-time, Google will miss the mark and someone breaking the rules will get away with it, especially if they have been ranking for many years. However, it is becoming less and less common because Google now has teams of human employees scouring the Internet for fake business listings or obvious violations of their guidelines. I have seen people get away with “Fooling Google” for years at a time. I have also seen people get their entire accounts shut down or marked as spam. So, if you are going to take a chance and try to “Fool Google”, just be aware there is a certain level of risk involved. Typically, if you get away with breaking the rules it will only be for a short time. In my opinion, it is not a good long-term solution.
What Happens When I Move or Change My Phone Number?
The MOST important factor in local SEO is having consistent information across the Internet. Therefore, changing your business name, address or phone number is the BIGGEST action that a business makes that affects Google Maps section ranking. That’s why it is very important to keep track of ALL your user names and passwords for EVERY directory or website your business signs up for. Real SEO companies will put most of their time and effort into creating and maintaining this consistency. The reason most SEO companies don’t do it (or do it correctly) is because it is hard, grueling, frustrating, time-consuming work. Regardless of who you work with on SEO this should be addressed and tracked throughout the process.
Did I miss anything? Let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org
Big West Marketing, Inc.