How did the number one law firm listing on Google Maps come to dominate the local search market in Chicago?

In this case study, I'll dive into the techniques and strategies that propelled their listing to the top of the search results.

I'm going to keep the name of the business itself anonymous, but that won't stop us from learning about the strategies and tactics that they've employed.

Organic vs. Google My Business Ranking

I should be clear about what we're measuring before jumping into the study. These case studies measure the rankings of Google My Business listings, as opposed to the organic results of the websites they are associated with.

In other words, we're measuring against what we see on Google Maps and on the Local Finder. Local and organic search each have their own Google ranking algorithm. While some of the techniques covered here apply to both kinds of search, some are only applicable to local.

How is share of search visibility determined?

Searching for the term divorce lawyer across a grid of GPS coordinates, and then taking the average of the results was how I determined which GMB listing had the greatest share of local visibility.

The header image of this post is the result grid for the listing in position one.

So, how did they get there?

Only Google knows precisely how ranking works, but in this post I'm going to dive into five of the most well known factors.

Some supposed factors, like keywords in GMB descriptions or posts, have been pretty thoroughly debunked, so I'm not going to spend any time on those.

What factors are we going to dig into?

  • Title used on the GMB listing
  • The GMB categories that were selected
  • Review rating
  • Number of reviews
  • The quantity and quality of links to the website

What's in a title?

Google My Business titles play a huge role in local ranking, according to the Local Search Ranking Factors study.  Google guidelines state clearly that titles should reflect real world business names, but in reality, it's kind of the Wild West.

Adding keywords to a GMB title can give listings a pretty clear boost.  

What is the subject of this study using as their GMB title?

Business Name LLC | Divorce Lawyer, Family Attorneys, Child Custody, Free Consultation

The term divorce lawyer appears in full, matching my search query.  

That is probably not a coincidence.  Before we move on, however, I'd like to back that assertion up with some experimentation.

How many listings include divorce in the title, and where do they rank, as opposed to those listings without the title term?

I repeated the same search across 15 different cities to see how often the term divorce appears directly in the GMB title.

Measuring how often the term "divorce" appears in titles, by search position

From this data we can say, for example, that divorce appeared in the GMB title of the number one result 5 out of 15 times.

You can see from this data that the trend is for higher ranking results to have the term divorce in their title more often than lower ranked results.

Hey, if it works so well, shouldn't I do it too?

GMB titles should reflect real business names, as indicated on signage, according to Google. Enforcement of that rule, however, is spotty at best. While the keywords might give you a boost, it can also cause a suspension if your listing is reported.

As absurd as it sounds, changing the name of your business might be the most foolproof way to include keywords in your title.

Categories, categories, categories

Although categories are kind of "table stakes" when it comes to setting up a GMB listing, it's worth taking a moment to study them.

Using a certain category is not going to give you a big ranking boost, but making sure you have the right set of categories will ensure that your listing is seen as relevant to the query.

I'm not going to spend too much time on categories, but I've put together a breakdown of their frequency versus ranking for the divorce lawyer search.

Category1-56-1011-1516-20> 20
Administrative attorney00003
Adoption agency00011
Attorney25232321183
Attorney referral service01001
Bankruptcy attorney203032
Business related00001
Business to business service00001
Child care agency00001
Civil defense00001
Civil law attorney012132
Counselor00010
Criminal justice attorney353052
Department of Social Services00001
Divorce lawyer70737271563
Divorce service1511162193
Domestic abuse treatment center00002
Elder law attorney210115
Employment attorney002110
Estate planning attorney523384
Family counselor00001
Family law attorney61615053434
Family planning center00001
Family service center00001
Foreclosure service00100
Forensic consultant00001
General practice attorney033422
Immigration & naturalization service00001
Immigration attorney001119
Insurance attorney00102
Labor relations attorney00002
Law firm17191817111
Lawyer10005
Legal services171271070
Mediation service71113976
Medical lawyer00001
Meditation center00101
Notary public00100
Paralegal services provider00215
Patent attorney00002
Personal injury attorney224044
Psychotherapist00001
Real estate attorney201142
Real estate fair00001
Service establishment00001
Social security attorney00004
Social services organization00001
Tax attorney00002
Trial attorney246342

The main takeaway here is that listings with categories like Personal injury attorney that aren't relevant to the search tend to perform poorly.

The subject of the case study is using Divorce service, Attorney, Law firm, Family law attorney, and Divorce lawyer.  Not surprisingly, they are using the highly relevant Divorce service, Divorce lawyer, and Family law attorney categories.

Reviews

Consumer reviews published on Google My Business are one of the core ranking factors for Local Finder and Maps.  

Google doesn't often share how their algorithms work, but they're pretty clear about the importance of reviews.

Google review count and review score factor into local search ranking. More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business' local ranking.

Reviews also factor into Local Service Ads, so even if you're willing to pay for visibility, you can't escape the importance of reviews.

Using the search results from the same query, repeated across 15 cities, I believe you can see the weight that reviews have on ranking.

Search results bucketed into ranking groups, compared with average rating.

This is based on roughly 1,000 GMB listings, so admittedly not a massive study, but the correlation between ranking vs. rating is apparent.

Search results bucketed into ranking groups, compared with average quantity of reviews.

Here also I've bucketed GMB listings according to their search position, and compared that to their quantity of reviews.

I've written previously about reviews and their impact on ranking – that case study examined hundreds of GMB listings, tracking individual rankings vs. ratings.

The case study subject had a healthy 58 reviews, but the result in 2nd position had only 2 reviews.  Reviews play a strong role as a ranking factor, but from data like this, it's safe to say they are only one among many ranking signals.

The authority of the website linked to the GMB listing plays a large role in how well that listing will rank.  This is where more general SEO practices merge with local SEO.

Backlinks have always been one of the most important parts of ranking a website, and that's no different here.  Before diving into link techniques specific to this case study, let's first take a look at the Ahrefs domain ranking for each of the associated websites.

After using the Persuaded.io grid tracker to get an average of GMB search positions, I took each listing and looked up the Ahrefs rank of its associated website.

GMB Rank Ahrefs Rank
1 949,627
2 16,884,364
3 8,906,689
4 13,692,009
5 8,758,718
6 9,048,048
7 28,022,559
8 24,879,278
9 24,392,503
10 18,471,912
11 37,054,019
12 110,079,709
13 112,365
14 28,297,805
15 47,179,652
16 34,574,335
17 14,910,947
18 18,482,764
19 26,679,557
20 58,496,888

You can see from the results that the listing in position one has a particularly strong website, especially for a local business like a law firm.  The strongest of them all, in position 13, is a legal chain linking to a location page.

Interestingly enough, their main tactic seems to be 301 redirecting links from high DA websites to their own website.  If you're unfamiliar with status codes, a 301 means that the server responded by saying "this resource is no longer here, so look to this other domain instead."

The links are not at all contextual, but Google doesn't seem to be penalizing them, at least not yet.  As an example, one link goes from the ActBlue website to a Nebraska Young Democrats page, only to 301 to a page about child custody.

Another link goes from duke.edu to a charity known as Youth Life Foundation, which then serves a 301 to a page about divorce proceedings.

Buying expired domains, or even purchasing live domains, is the main technique at work here.  This seems to be working very well for them at the moment, but given the lack of context around the links, I would worry with each roll-out of a new Google update.

Wrapping up

I hope this case study has given you some interesting insights into ranking a GMB listing. The number one listing in this study seems to have earned their place at the top with a strong link profile, the right keywords in their GMB title, a solid choice of GMB categories, and a respectable amount of positive reviews.

There are many other factors to investigate, such as the content of reviews, site speed, and much more, that I hope to look into with another case study!

Local SEO Software

Most of the research for this case study was done using the Persuaded.io local SEO toolset. You can use Persuaded.io for hyper local rank tracking, spam busting, and much more. New users start with a credit, and you can try it without any signup required.