We're going to study not just the highest ranked GMB profiles out there, but profiles that have come to dominate Google Maps almost overnight!
I have written case studies of successful listings before, but I wanted to focus specifically on some of the newest and most successful listings. My theory is that we stand more to learn from these listings. After all, when an older listing is successful, understanding what really propelled them to the top is going to be harder.
For this case study, I'm using domain age as a rough estimate of GMB listing age. The domain age comes from the publicly available WHOIS database.
Measuring GMB Listing Age
Using age of the website domain associated with a GMB listing is never going to be a 100% accurate technique.
After all, the business may have purchased the domain long after it was first registered, or may have switched to a new domain years after establishing their listing.
In some categories, you might also use the date of their first review as a rough estimate, but this is a hard process to scale. Overall, I believe domain age is a useful method to spot trends in the data, even if it's not perfect.
This study involved 948 GMB listings from a variety of categories, including lawyers, plumbers, web designers, and more.
The ranking data came from performing Google Maps ranking grid scans for a head term like attorney or web designer.
The oldest domain registration was from August of 1992! The newest we came across was registered in April of 2021.
How related are rankings and date of domain registration?
There is only a weak correlation between ranking and registration date. This makes intuitive sense: if you haven't ranked a website registered in 2008 yet, it's probably not going to happen.
(In fact, if you look at the bottom left of the chart, you can see that our website from 1992 ranks pretty terribly.)
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.
Because the location of the searcher is so important for Google Maps, I perform a grid scan to get the best picture of how local businesses are ranking. Checking from one location gives a very limited view of what's happening.
How quickly can you rank a GMB listing with a new website?
We see a slightly stronger relationship between registration date and rank if we focus on listings with websites registered in 2019 or later.
Listings with websites registered in May of 2020 are the newest that have cracked into the top ten. That would make them about a year old at the time of writing.
This table shows listings likely established no earlier than 2018, that have managed to crack into the top 15, along with their website registration date.
|Drain Cleaners Houston TX||2018-05-19||1|
|Houston SEO Company||2020-05-14||3|
|Bridge Law LLP||2020-06-05||3|
|The Drain Fighter - Jetting & Drain Cleaning||2020-06-06||3|
|McKeny Law Firm||2019-03-21||4|
|PiltserCowan Law LLC||2018-10-30||5|
|Tants Web Design||2019-03-11||5|
|Dental Town DC - Best Dentist DC||2018-08-22||6|
|The Town Law LLC||2019-01-01||6|
|Law Office of Lawrence Christopher||2020-07-13||6|
|Nery & Richardson, LLC||2018-09-26||7|
|McAdoo & Lorick, PLLC||2018-12-31||8|
|YB Plumbing Services LLC- Sewer & Drain Cleaning||2019-02-01||8|
|Union Dental Center Family & Emergency Dentistry||2018-09-18||9|
|Downtown Raleigh Auto Sales||2019-11-13||9|
|Johnny Chen Media Houston SEO Company||2020-04-21||11|
|Lee Family Dentistry||2018-08-25||12|
|Local SEO Marketing - Fabian Local||2019-10-09||12|
|California Family Dental Center||2018-05-18||13|
|Jop Rooting and Plumbing Services||2018-06-10||13|
|Oummih Law Group||2018-03-04||14|
|Suma Plumbing and Drain Cleaning, LLC||2020-02-25||14|
|Roseman Law Firm PLLC||2020-10-26||14|
|True Marketing Agency||2020-12-27||14|
|Blue Collar SEO||2021-02-08||14|
|Robert J. Blazak Attorney At Law||2019-01-31||15|
|East Capitol Dental - Bowers Larry DDS||2019-03-21||15|
|Attorney Paul OConnell||2020-07-03||15|
I'll review a few of these listings to see if we can tell how they've progressed so quickly. Note that I'm skipping a few listings such as Bridge Law LLP because, in looking at their reviews, it's clear that this is an older listing that switched to a new website.
Drain Cleaners Houston TX
The Drain Cleaners Houston TX listing has a fairly new website registered in 2018, and their first review is from a little over a year ago. They're dominating the Houston area for the drain cleaning search term.
The amazing thing about this listing is that they have only 18 reviews, and their website has just 4 referring domains. The website is a single page.
To put that in perspective, the listing ranked in 2nd has 1,890 reviews, and 285 referring domains. And to top it off, their listing performance wasn't even a close 2nd for the search term.
So how does a relatively new listing like this, especially with so few reviews, rank as highly as it does?
The listing is laser focused on a single search term.
In fact, for the more general related search term plumber, they don't rank at all. Their website might be a single page, but everything about it, from the domain name to the title and H1 tag, are focused on drain cleaning to the exclusion of all else.
The handful of website backlinks are using drain cleaning as their anchor text.
The reviews are where things get really interesting. First of all, this is a lead gen listing – most of the reviews are fake. (Broken English, profile pictures of women paired with men's names, and one reviewer is even named Michael Jackson. The phone number is a VOIP from Bandwidth.com.)
Each review is stuffed with the drain cleaning keyword, and repeats the name of the listing, in full, several times.
In fact, Google seems to like this keyword rich review text so much that they pull it out and highlight it in the Map Pack (i.e. "they came right away and did a perfect Drain Cleaning.")
Their strategy has been to conquer a single keyword with a moderate traffic volume (49,500 searches per month and a CPC of $16.00, vs. 673,000 and a CPC of $34.00 for plumber near me).
My conclusion is that despite being fake, the keyword rich review text must be driving at least some of these ranking results. Remember, this listing has basically no backlink profile.
CTR manipulation is another possible explanation for their huge ranking increase, but that's difficult to investigate. I'll do a follow-up on this listing a few months down the road, and see where they fall at that point. If CTR manipulation is at work here I would expect to see a decline in rankings over time.
Houston SEO Company
This listing has also ranked fairly quickly, having registered their website in May of 2020. Interestingly, they don't have any reviews, and still rose to an average rank of 3rd in total visibility.
The website itself does not stand out as a driver for its rankings, with a domain ranking of 8 and around 30 referring domains. That isn't a bad domain at a glance, but several competitors have DR in the 30 - 40 range, with hundreds or even thousands of referring domains.
I believe the main ingredient here is in the name – my search was for seo company, and that term is not only in the GMB name, but it's repeated in the title tag, H1, and body text of the website. The top three results in the above Phone Preview also contain the keyword in their GMB name.
It's hard to deny that Google places a lot of weight on GMB name (so much so that it can lead to some pretty egregious stuffing). Nonetheless, it's interesting to see a case where there isn't much else to point to, other than the name. This listing's website is fairly unremarkable in terms of domain strength, and has zero reviews.
The Drain Fighter
This is a business that has shot nearly to the top of the results in just a little over a year. It bears some similarity to Drain Cleaners Houston TX, but by all appearances this is not a lead gen listing.
This listing has a healthy 91 reviews and average rating of 5.00, accumulated in less than a year no less. Most of the reviews have a good description of the services provided, and the owner frequently responds. They most likely are pro-active about requesting reviews.
The associated website has only a few backlinks from citations, so the domain isn't responsible for propelling the listing to the top.
Just like Drain Cleaners Houston TX, however, this is another example of finding a niche and owning it – they are solely focused on this keyword, and don't attempt to compete for overly broad terms.
So how quickly can you improve Google Maps ranking?
You'll notice that out of all the listings I studied, only one from 2021 has ranked 15th or higher overall.
On the other hand, once a website is a year or older, it becomes harder to find much of a correlation between rank and age.
From what I've encountered in this study, it seems possible to go from nothing to real results in about a year – but that's if a target niche is carefully chosen.
Google Maps Ranking Check
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.