February 20, 2015

Unlocking Google Maps and The Imitation Game

Photo by wallorg.com

By Lewis J.

I went to see The Imitation Game with my parents on Christmas day. When we sat down with our popcorn, what we watched was amazing: the story of Alan Turing and Bletchley Park, Britain’s code breaking division during World War II. Played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Alan Turing is a cagey, misunderstood genius whose technological innovations smashed the German Enigma Code, which had over 107 sextillion (107,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) variations and was considered unbreakable. 

The film, which has won a slew of Oscar nominations, has quickly become a favorite with audiences. Perhaps they see some of themselves in Benedict Cumberbatch’s eccentric and charismatic performance. I know I couldn’t help seeing some parallels between the film and my own work. Although Google Maps Optimization is far less thrilling than Turing’s codebreaking, Google Maps also relies predominately on codes and technology. Here are the three secrets to Google Maps optimization I found in The Imitation Game.

Understand the Nuts and Bolts.

Early in the film, Turing and his team are shown a working enigma machine, smuggled over from Germany. By breaking down the machine’s parts, layout, and operation, Turing is able to construct a machine to counteract Enigma’s cryptographic capabilities. Google Maps Optimization operates along similar lines. Its local search algorithm is a secret, but by observing its operation, we have been able to uncover how it works. It looks for websites with:

  1.  Neighborhood names, conventional and colloquial. Businesses that feature their neighborhood names rank better on local searches. Businesses featuring their neighborhood’s official title and its nickname (e.g. Chicago and Chi-town) on their website are turning up twice as much, because, for the first time, Google Maps recognizes and ranks them.
  2. NAP (Name, address, and phone number). Google looks for signals tying businesses to their local area, and your NAP is the clearest signal you can send. List your NAP on your website. If your website has multiple pages, list it on all of them.
  3. Backlinks. The more local businesses and websites that link to you, the more Google trusts you and the better you rank. 
  4. Product or service keywords. Google’s local search algorithm relies heavily on traditional SEO signals. Make sure you mention what you do in your website and, if possible, in your company name.
  5. Google Reviews. Your customers are a great resource. Their Google reviews confirm your location and boost your rankings. If you don’t have a lot of reviews, ask your favorite customers to write a few the next time you see them. 

You have to know how the machine operates before you can act on it. Turing understood Enigma. You need to understand Google. 

Make the Right Connections.

Turing encounters an obstacle early in the film. The head of Bletchley Park, Commander Denniston, refuses to fund Turing’s research, believing it’s a waste of resources. To continue working, Turing writes a letter to Winston Churchill, who overrules Denniston and grants Turing all the money he requires. Connections like this are increasingly important for small businesses. Because they contain hundreds, if not thousands of small businesses in your neighborhood, large search directories like Yelp and Merchant Circle will often rank higher on Google’s SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) than you can. To get around this, you need a powerful ally, like Google+ Local. It’s a small business directory too, but because it’s run by Google, businesses there have better visibility than businesses anywhere else. If you don’t have a Google+ Local profile, create one.

Be Patient. Results can be Explosive.

Towards the end of the film, Turing has an epiphany. Because German weather reports all end with “Hail Hitler,” he can use them as a key to break the Enigma code. This revelation allows Turing and his team decipher all German communications overnight and bring the war to an early end. Google Maps optimization is similarly explosive. Most businesses expect their rank to increase gradually, but more often they increase dramatically, once their websites have the right signals. All it takes is time and patience to crack the code.

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