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The Most Important Local Search Ranking Factors You Need To Know Now

By Krystal Taing, Solution Engineer @ Uberall

Most businesses know that they need to increase their search rankings to increase traffic for their brand but don't understand that the ranking factors to optimise for Google local search are different to what drives traffic to their websites.

This is especially true for multi-location businesses that want to bring more customers from online searches into their stores. Based on the results of the Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, we guide you through the most important ranking factors for google local search.

What is the Local Search Ranking Factors Survey?

The Local Search Ranking Factors Survey was started by David Mihm in 2008 and in the past has been published on Moz. David joined forces with Darren Shaw who has taken over the survey and this year’s results have been published by Whitespark. It’s an annual-ish survey, publishing every 1 to 2 years. It’s a study by a few dozen search practitioners measuring the features that impact a business’ position in the map pack and local organic search results. The survey respondents rate a number of different themes and strategies that digital marketers employ to help improve online rankings, visibility, and conversions.  

The goal of the survey is to deliver a guideline to businesses, agencies, and brands about what is most impactful to their local search ranking. Keep in mind that the exact impact of these ranking factors will vary based on a number of different elements including business size, industry, geographical location, and more.

Measuring the local map pack and Google Local Search Results

The survey reviews both a business’ local map pack ranking and search position. The map pack or standard ‘local ranking’ is a Google My Business listing and how it appears on search and maps. Local organic ranking is where a local landing page (blue link) appears in search results for local intents and queries. While related, local map pack and local organic ranking should be measured and tracked separately as the elements and weights of these elements vary in how impactful they are to a business’ visibility. 

Local Map Pack Results

Local organic search results

What are ranking factors?

Ranking factors are the components used by search engines to measure and evaluate web pages to determine how they will order and display the results. 

When Google determines the intent of a query is local, they will use these factors to rank results: relevance, distance, and prominence

Relevance: “Relevance refers to how well a local Business Profile matches what someone is searching for. Add complete and detailed business information to help Google better understand your business and match your profile to relevant searches.”

Distance: “Distance considers how far each potential search result is from the location term used in a search. If a user doesn't specify a location in their search, Google calculates the distance based on what it does know about their location.”

Prominence: “Prominence refers to how well known a business is. Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking. For example, famous museums, landmark hotels, or well-known store brands are also likely to be prominent in local search results.

Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business, from across the web, like links, articles and directories. Google’s review count and review score factor into local search ranking. More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business' local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so search engine optimization best practices apply.”

Now that we understand the survey and the basis for measurement, let’s review the elements of a holistic local SEO strategy. These include: 

  • Google My Business - all of the features within your Google My Business profile such as name, category, reviews, and images
  • Reviews - first and third party reviews for your business around the web
  • Links - inbound links and mentions of your business, typically for the local landing page that is linked to your GMB profile
  • On Page - elements and content on your local landing page, typically the one linked to your GMB profile
  • Behavioral - actions happening on your listings and your pages such as clicks and calls
  • Citations - location data presence volume and consistency
  • Personalization - largely based on the language and location of the search 

What are the most important local ranking factors?

The most recent edition of the Local Search Ranking factors survey shows that focusing on Google My Business and reviews alone account for almost half of your local map pack ranking. However, you have to do more than just manage GMB and reviews in order to get the most impactful rankings signals for your business. Let’s start with Google My Business. 

How to Rank Higher On Google In 2021

There are dozens of features and fields in Google My Business. In order to set your business up for local ranking success, you shouldn’t skip anything. Businesses should complete every field accurately, including as much detail about the actual location as possible. 

For the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on the top 3 most impactful elements of your Google My Business profile. 

Your Primary Category on Google My Business

Your primary category on GMB should be the most specific categorization of your business or service. Google My Business currently offers nearly 4,000 categories for businesses in the United States and this varies slightly for other countries. How do you know which category is the best for your listing? While you can have up to ten total categories on GMB (one primary and nine additional), the primary category is most impactful to your local ranking so you want to be the most thoughtful here. You should also remember that a category should tell searchers what your business is, not what your business has. Supplemental business features should be reserved for attributes, descriptions and other areas. 

Ideally you want to choose the most specific category. For example, Italian Restaurant will be more relevant and specific than Restaurant. We’d also suggest researching some of your known and unknown local and global competitors. See what category they have selected to help determine where your business will compete. With the help of location marketing platforms you can organize the categories for all your locations with only a few clicks. Find out more here.

Keywords in Your Location Name on Google My Business

Should you add keywords to your location name to improve your ranking on Google? Only if these appear in your legal business name as it’s against GMB guidelines to add modifiers to your listing name. If you don’t have any relevant keywords in your legal business name, is there anything you can do about this ranking factor? Other than legally changing your name, adding any other keywords to your name on Google My Business could put you at risk for suspension. 

If your business ever goes through a rebrand, consider how you can surface the importance of naming from a digital perspective to internal teams. You can help influence future conversations and decisions around naming by stressing the importance this has to online visibility. 

Proximity to Searcher

The physical distance between your business and the location of the searching is one of the most impactful ranking factors. Picking up and moving your business isn’t an option for most businesses, no matter the size, so there really isn’t anything tactical for this ranking factor. The most important element is to understand how much this impacts your business’ visibility. When evaluating competitors and other businesses ranking for specific queries, always remember that their proximity to the searcher is going to have an incredible impact. 

A Winning Google Review Strategy - Keywords, High Ratings and Reviews with Text

The most important approach to having a strong review profile is to provide an extraordinary product and/or service. This should not be overlooked or replaced by other short term strategies. 

You’ll also want to let customers know throughout their purchasing journey that feedback is valued and used to make improvements to your processes and products. This helps make the feedback loop authentic. Having a strategy for reputation management is more critical today than ever.   

Make it as simple as possible for users to leave reviews, ideally by linking them directly to the review section of your GMB profile. 

When a user leaves a review, Google My Business will prompt the reviewer to provide feedback about one of the services listed if the business has added these. This will help specifically by prompting users to leave reviews with text, not just a rating, as well as push them more towards using particular keywords that are relevant to your business. All service based businesses, and any business offering any supplemental services, should take advantage of the Service Editor in order to trigger these prompts. Include all relevant services you want users not only to know you have, but provide feedback on so future customers see this when considering you. 

You should also be aware of the newer review attributes as Google asks reviewers to evaluate these topics when leaving feedback. These are set by Google and vary by industry but cannot be influenced or changed. This is another function to be aware of as it can influence how searchers and customers interact with your business on GMB.

How do I improve my local search ranking

In summary, we’ve covered the core of your local search ranking. There are a number of other factors that Google evaluates when determining to rank your business. Google My Business optimization and Reviews are simply an entry point. 

If you are asking yourself how to improve your local search ranking, you should begin with the following:

  • Review your primary category. If your business changes your core focus throughout the year, or seasonally, consider updating your primary category to reflect this. Always analyze competitors’ categories on Google My Business to understand where your business is positioned. 
  • Consider your online visibility when naming your business, especially if this is decided by a team far removed from SEO. Keywords in the business title can impact how you appear in results, particularly in competitive markets. If you can influence your legal business name, this can help in moving the needle.
  • Encourage those in front of your customers to provide a great experience and reinforce how important feedback is to your organization. Understand how new workflows like the services and review attributes are embedded into the feedback process.  

We can help you automate your efforts to save time from manual work and achieve better results. Get in touch with us and we can show you around the Uberall platform. 

Krystal Taing
Krystal Taing

Krystal is a Solutions Engineer for Strategic Partnerships at Uberall where she crafts solutions for businesses to easily manage search, discovery, engagement, and conversion across mobile, voice and desktop networks. Uberall delivers a memorable ‘Near Me’ Brand Experience for SMB and enterprise resellers to offer clients along every step of today’s customer journey — from online interactions to offline sales. Krystal is also a Google My Business Gold Product Expert and a faculty member at LocalU. Krystal has spent the last decade working in SEO and e-commerce with a focus on local since 2014. Prior to joining Uberall, Krystal led Local Product Strategy at Rio SEO. Her experience devising local strategy aids brands and agencies in solving their most persistent marketing challenges.