The ranking factors for getting found on the top spots of Google Maps for your Google My Businesss (GMB) listings has changed a lot after Google’s ranking update called “Possum”. 
 
With the new update, countless businesses that used to rank in their niches in and around their location – suddenly found themselves “filtered out” from the Google Maps listings.
 
Google is now serving GMB listings inside Google Maps based on the users actual location at the time of doing the search.
 
Google now shows a different set of results for searches performed from different geo-locations (latitude / longitude).
The algorithm is now driven by the proximity of the business to the users geo-location at the time of performing the search, rather than serving up results that are based on the proximity location of the business to the city center (centroid). The results are now based on the businesses that are in user-location proximity and not in city-center proximity.
Previously, Google would favor businesses that were located towards the center of the city in which the search was performed. 
 
However, this is not the case anymore. 
Google now takes into account the users locationand then looks for businesses that are in closer proximity to the user.
It does not matter if the user is looking for a restaurant or a lawyer. The algorithm does not differentiate by niche or industry.
 
If you run a business with local presence, chances are that you were affected in one way or another with this Possum local SEO update.
 
The entire “snack-pack” – as its called, underwent a complete overhaul and a data shift as Google “distributes” search results more disparately based on the proximity factor. 
 
You are optimizing the data on various places to make your GMB listing rank high in the Google maps results in organic search or directly within the maps search.
 
Here is a quick checklist of items that are key to ranking your GMB listing high on Google Maps and in the “Snack-Pack” of 3 when possible.
 

Optimizing Your GMB Listing

  • Selecting your Primary Category is very important and you should select the one that best matches your business. When in doubt, simply see what your top competitors are using by browsing to maps.google.co and doing a search for your primary keywords. 
  • You may select multiple (as many as 7 to 10) Sub-categories next.
  • Classify your business as a Service Area Businesses (SAB) that goes to client locations instead of having the client visit your location, or classify it as a Physical Business that has an actual physical premise where clients can visit. You may or may not want to hide this location address. 
  • You can have a Single Location or Multi-Location business.
  • Absolutely, avoid using virtual P.O. Boxes for both Services Business and Physical Business – and don’t try and postcard verify with these as it will not work.
  • Define the radius and regions you serve while adding your GMB data, and mirror this information on your site.
  • When building out your GMB site – make sure to add as many photos as possible taken from a cellphone that is in your location. This helps in boosting your rankings as it sends “EXIF” data wrapped inside the image file information that contains the exact location (latitude and longitude) of the place the photo was taken.
  • Use your primary keyword in your GMB page title, and the slug of the subdomain in the xyz.google.sites URL structure that you register.
  • Optimize your GMB description with the best primary and secondary keywords. You may use some of the advanced on-page optimization tools for this – so you get maximum ranking power.
  • Update your GMB site with a new blog post every day – for maximum ranking benefit.
  • Use underscore as a separator while naming photos with keywords in file name if you have contractors or employees give them access to GMB and ask them to take photos while on field and upload to GMB site directly.
  • Search for a registered Google 360 Photographer for your region and get a photo shoot done and upload photos to GMB as it does help boost rankings.
  • Get quality reviews, and try and get your customers to insert keywords of your service in them, by emailing them and coaching them ahead of time and asking them to mention the service they hired you for in their testimonial. Example – I hired Jim for roof repair and…
  • Respond to your customer reviews – as Google likes to see interaction with customers and will reward you in the rankings for this.
  • Don’t be worried about getting 5 star ratings each time!

 

Optimizing Citations and (Name Address Phone) NAP Data 

  • Ensure that your Business Name, Address and Phone (NAP) information  is accurately entered during Google My Business setup and verification step. Your NAP data on your Google My Business page is the base data set and your website should match it exactly. 
  • Every citation that you build should match your Google My Business NAP data.  The data may vary slightly, for example using St. instead of Street – because the new AI module is able to match both entries as representing the same piece of information.
  • NAP data can be similar now and does not have to be exactly the same. However, do make sure it does not vary drastically and is similar logically (St. vs Street OR Suite 88 vs #88)
  • Your citation submissions must cover all the core top Citation sites, Local Citation Sites and Niche specific citation sites.
  • Use the best data aggregators to check consistencies of your citations and execute citation clean up if required.

 

Off-Page Signals

  • Ensure that your Branding signals are consistent across various properties – GMB, your website, citations and other off-page areas.
  • Make sure to properly interlink various your profile pages on all the various Google properties and other main social properties (as recognized by Google).
  • Create multi-tiered off-page link structures to boost your organic and map ranking signals.
  • Get real reviews in the right places and try and optimize them with your service keywords by guiding and requesting your customers to include these keywords in the review in a naturally sounding way.
  • Stay compliant with proper methods and avoid blackhat systems to withstand any future algorithm updates.

 

On-Page (Website) Optimization 

  • Optimize your website properly and make sure important GMB data matches data on your website. 
  • Ensure that you have consistent and relevant on-page signals. There are a ton of signals you need to optimize for maximum effects, some of which are – Title, Descriptions, Heading Tags (H1,H2,H3), Image Names, Alt Attributes, Outbound Links and Internal links.
  • For single location businesses, ensure your homepage is perfectly setup, and footer or sidebar widgets and your “contact us” page all have consistent address.
  • For multi-location businesses, ensure your site structure is consistent for each verified location and you have a separate page published for each location.
  • You should write the content on each page for relevant geo-signals as per your location, and structure it’s directory location and URL accordingly. 
  • When you insert driving directions and maps properly on the relevant local pages on your website you will pass “geo juice” to Google so you rank better for that location.
  • Ensure your images are optimized perfectly with EXIF data signals.
  • Structure your site’s URL and directory names so they stay laser focused.
  • Create topically relevant content on your site in the right pages, and use geo-targeted content on your site to build location relevance.
  • Rank for the suburbs you serve by including relevant content signals about them.
  • Build out niche and geo-network tiered pages to boost your rankings.
  • Interlink all pages on your site to build the perfect site silo structures that help your site stay topically relevant and help them rank easily in your preferred locations.
  • Stay safe from over-optimizing signals as compared to the top ranking competitors in your niche.
  • Avoid Keyword stuffing and keyword over-optimization issues in Title, Header and core content areas.
  • Avoid content related signals that confuse the algorithm in clearly stating your primary address / location by mixing in multiple addresses on the same page.
  • Build out thematically relevant pages and silo seo structures and interlink them the right way for maximum Domain Authority build up and internal link juice flow.
  • Use a proper mix of Primary Keywords, LSI keywords and Qualifier keywords while building out content that describes your business.
  • Ensure that your content spells out all the core and related services you offer in the proper content structural units with geographic specificity.
  • Avoid duplicate, spun or poorly written content on your site.
  • Make sure you mirror the data on GMB pages properly on your site and other off-page areas.
  • Pull and embed static map of your business and location from Google Maps, onto your site.
  • Structure your navigation menus to highlight your primary pages prominently.
 

Schema Markup

  • Use proper Schema Markup to ensure all the right signals get passed through to Google and avoid mismatches from improper schema data. 
  • Avoid plugins for schema data – and have an expert structure your schema data from schema.org for you.
  • Your schema data when done perfectly will work wonders for you, and it is a very little known fact that schema data is as important as backlinks! 
  • Get your on-page schema right and properly referencing off-page schema about your entity and it will work wonders for your local rankings – as Google is now ranking entities. 
  • Check and ensure that your schema markup does not contain any errors whichever builder you use.