Google Maps is still in it’s early stages of evolving and improving the ranking algorithm. Lots of easy, often spammy, methods for ranking are still working, but slowly many of these will be getting picked off by the G team. Are the current optimization methods you’re using today going to continue to work in 3 months? 6 months? A year or more? Or will you be one of the many complaining in the maps forums or various blogs about how your highly ranked listing suddenly dropped to page five.
Strive for Quality

Google ultimately wants to provide relevant and quality results to it’s users. It’s simply in their best interest to do so. It’s in your best interest then to satisfy Google to that end. Give them reasons to believe your business is a quality one. Give those quality cues early.

I see many small business owners, too many really, hoping for that quick fix home run, only to be continually chasing it over and over again when something in the ranking algorithm changes. Think about each and every aspect of your listing and why you are doing it the way you are.
Tone Down the Keyword Spam

Keyword spamming of business name titles, descriptions, and additional fields is a common tactic. About a month ago there was a rash of complaints over lost rankings due to keyword spamming in category fields. This sent hundreds of business owners scrambling to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it. The same is likely to happen when Google ads more filters to cut other forms of keyword spam.

Much has been discussed elsewhere about keyword usage in business name titles, and Google’s stance on it, so I won’t say much about it here other than to say if you do it, keep it light.

Writing and crafting descriptions and additional field information is not simply about jamming in keywords, the quick and dirty way. Instead take your time to craft a good description that uses a couple of your main keywords in a natural way. You should really only need 1 or two variations of your main service keywords and one instance of your city name within your description. At 200 characters your description field may just give you enough room to word it in such a way as to also include a Call to Action of some sort.

Use Additional Fields to help target other service keywords, as well as reinforcing your main keywords one or twice more. Write nice little sentences that may provide real information to a potential customer.

Some examples of bad Additional Field usage;

* NYC Laptop Repair : Yes
* Laptop Repair : New York

This would be an example of quality in an Additional Field;

* Laptop Repairs : Our NYC computer technicians can repair your laptop or notebook with ease. From broken monitors to dead batteries.

See the difference? Those bad examples, I’ve seen all kinds of that out there. Not only from small business owners that don’t really know better, but from some larger scale SEM agencies optimizing listings for clients. Tisk, tisk.

Just look at what we accomplish with the higher quality Additional Field that is targeting the exact same keywords. A user can actually read it and get some value out of it, thus building goodwill and trust (not much, but miles above that lame crap in the bad example). You are hitting not only your main keywords, but a few other relevant ones as well.

It might take an extra 5 minutes to try to write something decent that will fit inside the 120 character limit but in the long run it’s well worth it. When Google adds a keyword density filter, or something similar, you won’t be scrambling to rewrite your Maps listings again.
Be Careful with Reviews

Upon realizing reviews have an effect on Maps rankings many business owners jump to trying to amass a number of reviews quickly. Often taking the easy route of creating fake reviews. Woa! Careful there. Fake reviews are easy to spot, both by users and by search engines.

Comments about fake reviews

I repeatedly see legitimate reviews commenting upon what looks like a fake review for the same business. If a couple people are taking the time to write such a comment in the reviews how many more are noticing it and are left scratching their heads as their trust levels diminish. Fake reviews are also quite easy to spot by a computer algorithm. Where has that user left other reviews? Did that same user claim that business listing? Is that same review content appearing for other business listings, or from other review sources? Copypasta is easy but tastes horrible.

Instead, create and implement a system that will continually encourage the generation of reviews over the long haul. Include links to review sites in thank you emails sent to customers. Hand out a thank you card at the cash register that includes information on leaving online reviews. Get creative, there are lots of easy and non-spammy ways to get real reviews.
Recognize Inherent Limitations

Maps search is primarily about the broader categories of business services, for the vast majority of businesses out there. It is not much of a long tail search play. That is much better suited to organic SEO and Pay Per Click advertising.

Now there is a bit of a long tail effect in Maps but it is very weak in comparison. With only 5 categories to choose from, very limited space for descriptions and other information, and the fact that a map is only triggered in the Universal Search Results for mainly those broader category types, the system itself creates limitations. Recognize them and work within them to maximize your relevance to the types of key phrases people are actually using to find your services.
Diversify your Local Marketing

As Google Maps has grown in prominence I get more requests for help with Google Maps listings but I’m seeing many who are relying solely on Maps to generate business. That’s a dangerous position for a small business to be in. Anything could change at any time such as a massive algorithm adjustment that bumps you out of the top results, or a silly mistake in your optimization triggers a filter, or Google completely changes the game with a new version of Universal Search Results, perhaps as simply as occupying the entire visible page, before scrolling down, with paid ads.

Don’t neglect organic search optimization and the long tail riches it trickles your way. Or PPC ads that help you pull a larger fraction of total available traffic (yes, even for same keywords you already rank well for in maps and organic). Experiment with social media marketing via Facebook and Twitter. Try the Pay Per Click options through Facebook. Advertise locally on relevant local websites. There is a lot more yo can do besides just Google Maps.

So for 2010, and beyond, focus on quality to win the local SEO game now and into the future.