Own the Map: The Tour & Activity Company’s Guide to Ranking #1 in Google Maps

 

For better or worse, you and your website are no longer the first interaction that potential customers have with you.

Before most customers ever visit your website or pick up the phone to call you, they’re vetting you and your competitors, and they’re doing it on Google Maps. Imagery, reviews, hours, address, products, questions and answers, services, and more—whether you realize it or not, it’s all on Google Maps, and people are looking at it.

Or, they’re at least looking at the companies that rank on Google Maps.

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My goal in this post is to show you why you need to rank on Google Maps in order to survive as a tour operator, how to improve your rankings, and once you do rank well, I’ll show you how to maintain those rankings.

COVID-19: People Are Still Looking For You on Google Maps
Despite bookings and revenue basically flat-lining in recent weeks/months, people are still finding you on Google Maps. Because of this, it’s just as important now as it will be in peak season to have accurate and up to date information on your COVID-19 protocols, your hours, your availability, etc.

Here’s a screenshot showing the total Google My Business searches during the month of April for one of our zipline tour clients. As you can see, people are still planning their post-COVID19 adventures, despite this company being temporarily closed.

Jump to a section:

Why Your Tour & Activity Company Needs to Rank on Google Maps 

1) Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) can’t be listed in Google Maps

One advantage that local tour and activity operators have over online travel agencies (like TripAdvisor and Expedia) is your address. With a real address comes the power of being found on Google Maps—something OTA’s can only dream of. 

For example, if I Google “things to do near me,” the #1 organic result is a card from Google Maps with the top three things it thinks I would like to do near me—this is also known as the “Local Three-Pack”.

What shows up for me when I type in “things to do near me”… notice, maps beats out TripAdvisor.

You’ll notice that the very next result, as is often the case, is from TripAdvisor. But that follows three local organizations in the three-pack. 

Here are two other examples where search terms from customers with clear buying intent result in map results, and no OTAs:

Again, map listings own the top results.

The point here is that your address = organic ranking power that OTAs don’t have.

2) Map Listings Are More Helpful Than Organic Listings

Map listings on Google are a lot more visually compelling and helpful than organic listings. 

Not only can you give people a quick glimpse of where you’re located, but you can also begin to show them what you offer through imagery, why you’re better than others with your reviews, and you can share relevant updates with them through Google Posts (or Updates). 

Here’s the difference:

As you can see, the info provided on the left answers questions, provides visuals, and lets you take the next step that’s right for you. Said concisely, the map listing gives people a chance to pre-qualify themselves for the activity before they visit your website or give you a call. 

Local Listing ResultStandard Organic Result
Can you see where the business is located?YesNo
Can you look through pictures of the experience?YesNo
Can you read customer reviews?YesNo
Can you call the business and read their hours?YesNo
Can you preview their products or ask a question?YesNo

You’d much rather have people look at your Google Maps listing than your organic search result because they’re more likely to convert once they visit your website when they come from Maps than from a standard organic result. Which brings us to our third reason…

3) Traffic from Local Map Listings Convert at a Higher Rate Than Standard Organic Traffic

Almost without exception, the website traffic from Local Map listings / Google My Business has a higher conversion rate compared to standard organic traffic.

Here’s one example of many:

Most of the tour and activity companies we work with see a 10 to 30% higher website conversion rate from Local Map listing clicks vs. organic website clicks.  

Reserve With Google

Using Reserve With Google, users are able to make their booking directly from your Google My Business profile. And unlike most OTA’s, Google doesn’t take a percentage.

Here are the tour & activity booking systems that currently integrate with Reserve With Google:

See the full list of integrations here.


How Your Tour & Activity Company Can Rank #1 on Google Maps 

Google uses hundreds of signals to determine local rankings in Google Maps, but they can be grouped into three major categories. 

  1. The relevance of your map listing to a search
  2. The proximity of your location to the person searching
  3. The authority of your map listing and digital presence across the internet

1) Optimizing for Relevance in Google Maps

Google’s goal is to show the most relevant search results based on what people search for—and it’s looking through hundreds of data points as it does this. We’re not going to walk through those hundreds of data points, instead, we’re going to show you the most important thing you can do: Optimize the heck out of your Google My Business (GMB) listing—which is what shows up on Google Maps. 

Here’s what you need to do (or double check, to make sure you’ve done it properly):

Business Name

What to do: Use your actual business name as your business name in GMB.

Probably the most common question we get is “should I keyword stuff my business name?” The short answer to this question is no. If you’re a zipline tour company located in Pigeon Forge, TN and the name of your company is “Adventure Park Ziplines” that should be the name of your company on GMB too.  

Google says: “Including unnecessary information in your business name is not permitted, and could result in your listing being suspended. Refer to the specific examples below to determine what you can and can’t include in your business name.”

Ultimately, it’s up to you, but best practice is to simply use the name of your company exactly how it appears on your physical signage. 

Pro Tip: Google may ask for store-front photos to verify your business name. So, unless you’re keyword stuffing your signage… 

If you have multiple locations, sometimes it can be helpful to include the region/place of the specific location like Six Flags New England:

An example where adding a location to your business name is acceptable.

Address

What to do: Use a verifiable address as your business address.

The address you use will need to be able to receive mail. So if you’re using an address that technically doesn’t exist (like something with a fake suite number, for example), you should verify the address to make sure it will validate on GMB. You can do that here

If you don’t have an address (maybe you operate a tour company from home), you may need to set up a service area business. More on that, and your address set up below. 

Hours

What to do: Set up your business hours to represent when you can actually help customers.

It’s important that you add your regular, customer-facing business hours for a regular work week. There’s a chance that Google will call you to check your listing, and they’ll only call during the business hours you listed. So, don’t say you’re open 24/7 unless you’re really answering the phones at 4am. 

If you close up shop for a few hours each day, for example during lunch, you’ll want to add that to your hours in GMB. You can do so by clicking the “Add hours” link next to the day, or series of days when you close periodically. For example, if you’re closed from 1 till 3pm on Mondays, you can add that to GMB:

Adding multiple hours to a single day in Google My Business.

Finally, you’ll want to add “specials hours” to your listing. Google will recommend days for you to adjust (typically holidays), but you can add your own special hours too. 

Pro Tip: By keeping your hours up-to-date, you can avoid receiving negative reviews from customers who came to your business to find you were closed.  

Phone Number

What to do: Use a local business phone number. Ideally, this would be the same number you use everywhere else on the internet. 

We recommend using a local number to all of our clients. One study found that 86% of consumers prefer local businesses to national ones, and 79% of consumers said that they perceived local company’s as more reliable than national or international companies. 

If you use a call tracking platform like Call Tracking Metrics or CallRail and you want to track calls from GMB, you can add a tracking number as the primary number. We recommend that you still add your primary local business phone number as a secondary number though. 

Adding your primary local number as a secondary number will keep that number associated with your GMB which will help with consistency likely since that number is tied to many other places on the web. 

Website URL

What to do: This one is pretty straightforward—just link to your homepage. 

It can be extremely helpful to track the traffic that comes from your GMB profile in Google Analytics. One example of the value of doing this, is you’ll be able to see how much revenue came in from your GMB profile vs your standard organic links.

Tracking traffic from Google My Business vs regular organic traffic.

To track this traffic, you just need to add the following UTM parameter to your URL: ?utm_source=GMBlisting&utm_medium=organic

So, for example, for the website www.mytourcompany.com, you would simply use the URL www.mytourcompany.com/?utm_source=GMBlisting&utm_medium=organic as your primary website link in GMB.

You can also attach the UTM tags to your GMB post and products.

Pro Tip: Make an annotation in Google Analytics when you set up your UTM parameter in GMB. 

Primary and Secondary Categories

What to do: Add relevant categories to your GMB.

Google’s recommendations for adding categories are:

  • Use as few categories as possible to describe your overall core business from the provided list.
  • Choose categories that are as specific as possible, but representative of your main business.

There are literally hundreds of options when choosing your categories, so it may take a few minutes to find the best one for your business—but it’s worth the effort. 

By searching for zipline in Hawaii you can see other people who have categorized themselves as high ropes course, tour operators, tourist attraction, etc all of those are relevant so could be added as secondary categories. 

Pro Tip: GMB allows you to add up to 10 secondary categories but that doesn’t mean you should. Too many categories may result in diluted search results. Don’t go overboard, be accurate and comprehensive.

Pro Tip: The categories that you choose are the categories that you build your business’ “services” under—so make sure you have a service for each category you select.

Attributes 

What to do: Turn on any attributes accurate to your business. 

Based on the category of your business, you will have different attribute options. Be sure to turn on any that you have available. 

Examples: free wifi, handicap accessible, military discounts.

Attribute examples.

Business Description

What to do: Write a compelling description for people—not for search engines. 

Good business descriptions are written primarily with your customers in mind, and secondarily with Google in mind. They should read naturally, and should serve as your business’s elevator pitch. The should answer the question: why should someone do your experience? 

Once you’ve honed in a good description, it is also helpful to Include a few relevant keywords if your description doesn’t already. 

Pro Tip: The first 250 words display on your listing before the “Read More” button, so make sure the beginning is enticing.  

Products & Services 

What to do: Add any relevant products and services that you offer. 

So, what’s the difference between a product and a service? Here’s how we like to think about it:

ProductsServices
Fixed Priced Items: We mainly use products to categorize tours and offerings that have a fixed price.Service Categories: We mainly use services as a way to describe general offerings a company might have, such as group meeting organizing, wedding planning, etc. 
Notice that Products and Services are both featured in the info cards in Google Maps.

So we recommend listing specific products your business offers include pricing, descriptions and photos. Use the services section to highlight broader offerings like group meetings, or planning services.

Pro Tip: One thing to keep in mind when working on your products and services is that they are often featured in separate tabs in your Google Maps listing. 

COVID-19: Add Gift Cards as a Product in Google My Business
Since most tour and activity companies are shut down due to COVID-19, one of the few things you can sell right now are gift cards. We would suggest adding your gift cards as a product in Google My Business.

Photos

What to do: Make sure your cover photo is seasonally appropriate and an image that’s representative of your activity. 

The most important photo is your cover image. This is the image that most often shows up in search results. If you live somewhere where your activities or tours look different throughout the year, it’s a good idea to update your cover photo seasonally (or at least for the summer and winter—you don’t want a summer image showing when you’re trying to sell snowy winter tours).

You’ll also want to upload your logo, any videos and 360 footage you have, as well as any other photos you have that show off your experiences. 

Include a profile picture, cover photo and logo. Also add interior and exterior shots so that users can recognize your business easier. Provide an extra layer of depth with 360 shots and video.

COVID-19: Add 360 Footage to Allow Customers to go on “Contact-Free Tours”
Video and 360 Photos are a great “contactless” way for people to be able to tour our facility. Anyone who does a lot of group business could benefit from doing this. Maybe link to one we have done.

360 images are a great “contactless” way to let people “tour” your activity or space.

Website

Make sure your website supports your key products and different modifiers or tours you offer like “private” or “party”.

Notice how Google Maps pulls in keywords from your websites for relevant keywords and searches.

Google Posts 

Write posts on popular search queries and post them on the day of the week that customers are engaging with your listing the most. Posts are a great way to provide customers with current events, offers, or general business updates.   

Posts are especially important because they can show up in local 3-pack listings or in a “related to your search” panel.

Sample Offer GMB Post

COVID-19: GMB Post Ideas During the Crisis
Google My Business posts are one of the many ways that you can stay connected with your customers while you’re temporarily closed. Here are three post ideas to send out during the crisis:

  1. Post an Update: Give people an update of why you’re closed, when you’re tentatively planning to re-open, and give them a link to your website for the most up-to-date information.
  2. Post About Season Passes or Gift Cards: Even though people can’t book tours right now that doesn’t mean they won’t buy a gift card or seasons pass.
  3. Ask for Reviews and Photos: People are spending a lot of time on the internet these days, so it isn’t asking much to request a review from your customers. This will resonate especially well with people who don’t have the means to buy a gift card, but who want to help in some way.

For all of the ideas above, consider posting on social media as well, and possibly emailing your customers.

2) Optimizing for Proximity on Google Maps

What do we mean by proximity? How far your business is from the person searching on Google. 

Your actual distance from whoever’s searching on their phones is a significant ranking factor on Google Maps. Obviously you can’t change where your business is located but you can use the right tools to make your business visible when it should be. 

Use the same address, everywhere.

One of the most important things when it comes to listing your address on Google Maps, is that you use the exact same address on Google as you use everywhere else. Inconsistencies in your address around the internet can hurt your local rankings 

Make sure your address is verifiable with Google. 

As we mentioned above, the address you use will need to be able to receive mail. So if you’re using an address that technically doesn’t exist (like something with a fake suite number, for example), you should verify the address to make sure it will validate on GMB. You can do that here

If you have multiple locations, you can save some time with Google’s “bulk location management” tool.

For businesses that manage more than 10 locations use bulk location management. To do this, upload a spreadsheet of all locations’ information and request bulk verification. Once verified, you will be able to maintain location information individually or in bulk.   

Tip: Maintain up-to-date business information on a shared document as a reference point for those who manage the listing. 

If you don’t have a physical location, set a “service area”.

Maybe your business serves a certain area but does not have a physical location. GMB allows service area businesses to set up a radius by specifying up to 20 cities that fall under a set of boundaries. This allows you to rank across a further range of locations.  

Example of a tour company that doesn’t have a physical address, but services a region around Milwaukee, WI.

Embed a map on your website.

Embedding a map on your website is just another level of credibility that tells Google your business is where you say it is.

Pro Tip: Link directly to your “get directions” page of Google Maps from your website. 

How to link directly to the “get directions” area of Google Maps

This will send users to the right place right away when they’re trying to drive to your business. 

3) Optimizing for Authority on Google Maps

What do we mean by “Authority”? How well-known your business is from Google’s point of view.

In some ways your “authority” on Google is just a big popularity contest. The company with the most mentions, the most links, and the most reviews around the internet wins. And just like a referral letter from your mom wouldn’t have quite the impact that a referral letter from the Governor would have, not all mentions, links, and reviews are created equal. The more “popular” the source, the better. 

Your main goal: Get your product in front of people who are looking for that product. To do this, you have to know where your customers are looking for you around the web—and then you need to be in those places. 

Secondary goal: Take extra measures to help Google understand / recognize your authority. 

Here are a few practical ways to increase your authority across the web:

Be in all the places that your competition is, and more. 

You want to be listed on the web in all the places your competitors are, and (ideally) more. 

  • Step One: Find where competitors are listed across the internet. DON’T do this manually! There are lots of tools out there that will quickly generate this report for you. Our favorite tool for this is BrightLocal and SEMRush. But there are other tools that will run you this report too. 
  • Step Two: Be mentioned where your competitors are mentioned. Sometimes, this will look like manually reaching out to a local blog or media outlet to let them know that you exist, and try and get on their radar so they write about you. 
  • Step Three: Build citations. A citation is basically anywhere on the internet that mentions your business’s name, address, and phone number (think Yellowpages.com). You’ll need to build some citations yourself, but tools like BrightLocal or Yext can help automate this.

Sample listings report.

Be in all the places that your customers are looking for you.

Finding the places where your customers are looking for you is actually pretty simple: just pretend that you’re a customer. 

For example, maybe you’re a walking tour company in Charleston, SC. Just hop on Google and start searching for things that potential customers would look for. One key thing to consider here is something we call “Commercial intent”. The most important keywords to rank for are keywords that have commercial, or buying, intent. 

For example:

Keywords with commercial intentNon-commercial intent keywords
Walking tour in Charleston, Tours near Charleston, Best walking tours charlestonTop sites to see in Charleston, Vacation ideas in Charleston, A day in Charleston

You should prioritize the keywords that have a combination of high search volume and commercial intent. And then, take a look and see if you’re being mentioned in the pages that rank for these queries. 

Increase review count, rating, and velocity. 

Again, try to think like your customer. If you were looking for a walking tour in Charleston, would you click on the company that has 475 5-star reviews, or the company that has three 5-star reviews? Because people regularly choose the company with more reviews, Google prioritizes showing their listings higher than the companies with fewer reviews. 

This might not seem fair for companies just getting started, but like I said before, Google’s job isn’t to play favorites, it’s to show the result most likely to help the person searching. So you need to generate reviews. 

After a customer has visited your business, send a follow-up email asking them to post a review. If they had a good time you might be surprised by how many leave you a review. Many booking engines such as Xola, Peek and FareHarbor let you automatically send a post trip review email.

Total count, average rating, and velocity of new reviews being left are all ranking factors on Google Maps.

What to do to Continue to Dominate Local Search Rankings

Your GMB listing is optimized, you’ve built up your mentions around the internet, and you’re seeing a steady flow of good reviews coming in—nice job! Now you need to maintain your rankings.

Consistently drive a high volume of quality reviews across multiple platforms. 

Consistently driving reviews across all the platforms out there can be overwhelming. Here is a typical prioritization flow for tour and activity companies we work with:

Review Platform% of New ReviewsWhy This Platform Is Important
Google 50-70%A good flow of high-quality reviews on Google will improve your local rankings.
TripAdvisor20-30%Review volume and quality are two of the factors that TripAdvisor uses to prioritize which experiences it shows on it’s “top things to do” pages. 
Yelp10-20%Yelp has a committed fan base. It’s usage is much smaller than Google and TripAdvisor, but most likely, you have customers on Yelp. Generating good reviews on Yelp will impact your ranking and visibility on the platform.
Facebook10-20%Because who isn’t on facebook? 

Depending on your local market other platforms like Airbnb Experiences, GetYourGuide, Klook, etc may need to be in the mix.

Responding to reviews. There is some debate whether responding to reviews impacts your rankings, and the debate goes on. What we recommend is to be genuine. If someone leaves you a great review, thank them. If someone leaves a bad review, respond because you care about that person’s experience with your brand. 

What we do know is that people read reviews. So if you’re responding to reviews, potential customers will notice. 

Pro Tip: Use a platform like WhiteSpark or BrightLocal to keep track of all the reviews and be notified when you receive a bad review. 

Post on GMB and engage with your customers through Q&A and messages.

Why posting on GMB is important

  1. The practical answer to this question is that it gives you a chance to communicate with your customers. Posts can show up in a lot of places, including:
    • In the main description tied to your Google Maps listing
    • In the info-card in the desktop version of Google My Business
    • In the “Updates” tab of your business’s Maps listing
  2. It communicates to Google that your business is alive and well. Posting on GMB shows Google that you’re a real business, and open/accepting new business—which matters for your ability to rank well. 
  3. You can list offers you’re running, upcoming events, updates to your business, and feature a product. 

Why engaging in the Q&A is important

When your business shows up in a search query, users can post a question and the business owner or other users can respond. This gets people interacting with your profile. Which, in turn, makes your business look more credible and or valuable to Google. 

Depending on how active your GMB’s Q&A is, it’s a good idea to hop in daily, weekly, monthly, whatever makes sense to…

  1. Answer unanswered questions, or, in some cases, correct an incorrect answer. Because anyone with a Gmail account can respond to a question, and answers aren’t always accurate. 
  2. Ask new questions. As a business owner, you can ask and answer your own questions. 

Talk to, and have an ongoing relationship with the pre-website visit behavior of your customers. 

If you don’t stay in tune with where your customers are and how they’re finding you and your competition, it won’t take long for you to fall behind. 

Send customers follow up surveys. Talk to your customers. Ask them what they liked and didn’t like about their experience finding you. Keep an eye on new players in the market.

We’re Really Passionate About Helping Tour and Activity Companies Rank on Google Maps

The hardest part about writing this article was figuring out what not to include. There are literally hundreds of things you can do to rank on Google Maps. What we listed above is a great start, and will likely give you a head start.

If you want to take your Google Maps rankings to the next level, let us know. We’d love to help. 


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