Posted on March 30, 2012 by Kevin Getch Over the last couple years, Google has made their search experience focus more on local information. It’s a logical progression as people have long been going to the Internet for everything, including their local needs.Given this fact, businesses can benefit greatly from showing up in Google’s local listings results, or Google Maps. Not only that, appearing higher in that list, just like in the regular search results, will increase traffic to your website. It’s especially important, because Google Maps results often show up above everything else. While other local search engines matter (Yahoo, Bing), Google is still King. So, let’s take a look specifically at how to improve your ranking in Google’s local search.First Lesson: Don’t Reinvent the WheelBefore we get into specific factors, just realize that you don’t have to start your strategy blindly from scratch. A prevailing tactic in search engine optimization has been to learn from your successful competition. That is, check out the websites in your industry that rank high for your targeted keywords and research the elements that may have contributed to their success. It’s a bit of reverse engineering, dissecting a website and figuring out what is responsible for its success.Keep Your Name, Address, Phone Number ConsistentLet’s start with what many SEO professionals believe is the most important factor in optimizing your local search ranking. It just so happens to also be one of the most frustrating elements of local SEO.Your business name, address and phone number (sometimes referred to as NAP) needs to be consistent across the web. If you have a difference from one site to another, this can wreak havoc on your rankings. Why is it also potentially the most frustrating aspect of local SEO? Because it can be like pulling teeth getting citation sites to make the changes you need.The Correct Places CategoryMake sure your business is in the proper Places category, otherwise you run the risk of lower local search ranking. Include the category as a keyword in your Places page content as well.Citation VolumeAlong with keeping your business data consistent, you also want to have a high volume of citations on third party websites. This includes structured citations (business listings with your NAP) and unstructured citations (articles, blogs, press releases, etc. that include your NAP). The more you have, the more likely you are to be deemed a trustworthy site by Google.A Thorough Places ProfileIt’s not enough to just claim your profile. The evidence shows that having your profile filled out completely plays a significant role in your ranking. So, beyond making sure your name, address, and phone number are there, include hours of operation, business description and even several photos related to your business.The motivation is logical. If Google wants to give their users the best possible service, they want to give them search results from websites/companies that have as many details about their business as possible.Positive Customer ReviewsPositive customer reviews are another logical element to high local search ranking. Google wants to give people websites with the highest customer satisfaction. Just be sure to do it the right way – faking reviews can get you reprimanded.That doesn’t mean you have to sit back and do nothing. Be proactive. Give customers an incentive to review your business. You can even reach out to customers who have expressed their satisfaction with you in the past.Traditional SEO FactorsTraditional SEO factors also play into how you rank in the local section of the search results. When the local results are merged, meaning organic and maps results show up as one, traditional factors tend to be more heavily weighted. Traditional SEO factors would include the quantity & quality of inbound links to your website as well as how SEO friendly your website is.Optimizing local listings for Google can be a complex, frustrating, yet immensely rewarding challenge for businesses and SEO professionals. If done correctly, it plays a major role in increasing your online presence, brand awareness, and most importantly, your bottom line.MicrodataWant a bigger advantage over your competition? Of course you do, and that’s why you benefit from having an advanced SEO-minded web designer as opposed to the amateurish one-size-fits-all approach. Microdata is one of three coding languages that provides Google and other search engines easy access to important information about your website content.Microdata is particularly relevant in clarifying your business information: Name, address, phone number, website and even the latitude and longitude of your location to the search engines which can help give you a boost in the local maps results.KML Site MapAnother important markup language for SEO and your local listings is KML. Short for Keyhole Markup Language, KML is used to identify your geographic information for applications like Google Earth. It’s yet another way to help your website gain trust with Google, since it can verify that you are a business with a real physical address. It also helps make it easier for Google to index your business listing. A KML sitemap can be submitted to Google Webmaster tools and Google will check it for update information regularly.The moral of the story is this: if you make Google’s job easier to index your website and crawl your content they will make it easier for your potential customers to find you.