How to Earn a “Top 3” Local Business Listing in Google Search
Back in August of 2015, Google changed up its desktop search results for local businesses. Originally, local search results were grouped as a package of seven, highlighting seven local businesses that matched a user’s query. While on mobile devices, this package was reduced to three to save space. Now, the desktop listings match their mobile counterparts — users have only three local businesses to choose from.
If your business only has one or two competitors in your area, this may not seem like a big deal. But most of us, who deal with several competitors, are now facing an even tougher level of competition to earn a slot in that local 3-pack. Had you been ranked in the fourth spot, this change would have been especially frustrating.
Don’t worry. With the right resources and a proper ongoing strategy, it’s completely possible for any business to earn their way in (or back in) to one of those three coveted positions.
First Things First: Don’t Panic
Those top three positions may seem like they’re all that matters. Certainly, attaining one of these three positions can be helpful, but don’t panic if you’re not in one of them. It’s still possible that you’ll rank elsewhere (assuming you have a good SEO strategy in place) and of course it’s possible to achieve online visibility through other means.
Also keep in mind that Google doesn’t roll out updates because it likes to toy with business owners (even if it seems that way sometimes). If it got rid of ranks four through seven in the old seven-pack, chances are, on average, users weren’t clicking on them enough to justify their existence.
Step One: Make Sure All Your Business Information Is Consistent and Accurate
Google looks everywhere to find business information, including your own website, review sites, and third party directories. Your job is to ensure that all this information is consistent, accurate, and in as many places as possible. Any inconsistencies in your information or gaps (such as major directories snubbing your existence) could compromise your chances of getting listed in the top three.
To do this, start from the center and work outward. Look at your own website and make sure it’s updated with your correct name, address, and phone number (in the footer, and on your contact page are essential). Then, contact all the major local directories you can think of that are relevant to your business to get it listed. Particularly consider Yelp and TripAdvisor. From there, you’ll have to hunt down the smaller players individually and get your information listed accurately as fast as possible. There are also automated services that can make this process easier on you; I highly recommend Yext.com to identify relevant business directories at which you’re not currently listed.
Step Two: Build High-Quality Links
Link building is a vital part of the ranking process. Having more high-quality, natural links pointing to your site can mean the difference between ranking in or out of those top three positions. Focus on sites that are relevant to your industry, and ones that have high domain authority. Also remember that “nofollow” links have a purpose, too — don’t only focus on “dofollow” links. Mention your brand wherever you can and publish content outside your own website.
Step Three: Build an Organic Audience
Another old favorite SEO strategy can similarly help you achieve a top three position. Focus on creating lots of high quality content on your site — articles, images, infographics, and videos that speak directly to your audience and provide value in the form of detailed information, original ideas, or entertainment. Publish this content regularly and syndicate it using social media — and while you’re at it, claim as many social media profiles as you can.
The more places your content is seen and shared on the web, the better. If your content is good, regular, and consistent, you should have no trouble building an organic audience of local followers and traffic. This will help you get a top three slot, but more importantly it serves as insurance — even if you don’t get ranked, or if you fall out of the top three positions, you’ll still have a reliable audience of regular visitors.
Step Four: Attract Great Reviews
Last but not least, try your hardest to earn good reviews from your customers on Yelp and other local review services. The more reviews you earn and the higher your average ratings, the higher authority you’ll earn in Google’s eyes. The only problem is directly asking for reviews is a violation of some organizations’ terms of service, so you have to use hints and cues to get your customers to post. This is especially important for local rankings now because Google is offering a “filter by” option that lets users see only businesses who have earned a specific star rating.
Even though the local pack itself has changed, the methods you use to earn a top slot are nearly identical. The more attention you pay to your customers and the more aggressive you are in building your brand online, the faster and more decisively you’ll be able to rank in those top three positions. And remember, even if you don’t make it in your first couple of months, the local pack is not a do-or-die position. You’ll still have plenty of opportunities to rank and earn traffic from other corners of the SERPs and the web in general.