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This is Google being cute, thinking it can control internet traffic on its own site, since we can go straight to Google Maps and find our way there, and the phone number and all other kinds of generic information, as if local businesses didn't have their own websites and phone book listings, if we didn't want to find them.
Even more maddening, it seems that the big G chooses the three businesses it lists under "local results" based on how far they are from some theoretical "center" of the city,as if "Cleveland," or "Pittsburgh" exists on a single coordinate, and the businesses that are 0.1 miles from that center are more relevant than other businesses within the city limits.
This is not only maddening, but it gets in the way of business, bricks and mortar style.
I am not talking about widgets here, this is real business at stake.
I have done serious SEO for my clients to be #1 for "cityname businesstype", only for their sites to be subordinated to "search results" below "local results" which are for far inferior businesses.
In my town, there is ONE widgethouse that visitors go to. It's the widgethouse you bring your relatives to when there's a local funeral, or when they come to town for a show. It is the only widgethouse that has served presidents, major league baseball hall of famers, international heads of state, academy award winners, you name it...
When you search for "townname widgethouse" there are 4-5 reviews websites and/or directories before the actual widgethouse's listing. That's understandable, but even before the directories and reviews sites, there's the local results for widgets, which lists the three widgethouses listed in Google Maps which are closest to the city's center (which is some theoretical point on their map, apparently, and it doesn't matter how close the widgethouse is to the theaters or the airport, it is just a theoretical point on a map).
Anyone know a way around this GoogleMaps lunacy?
Fortunately, if you don't want to splash out on AdWords, our experience is that people still click on search results, the basic local results aren't as appealing yet.
Remember that Google can do anything they want with their serps, no-one has the 'right' to be number one for any given term (apart from ones which have strong IP associated with them).
The OP is aware of this. The problem isn't getting listed, it's the fact that those businesses closer to the theoretical "city center" dominate on all local listings for that city-name, apparently regardless of all other factors.