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Unlock the secrets of local search rankings! Learn to optimize Google Business Profile, landing pages, reviews, backlinks, and more for business growth.

Implement Top 35 Local Search Ranking Factors Like a Pro


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Ever found yourself planning a holiday but couldn’t zero in on a destination among the several in your bucket list? Talk about the kid in a candy store. I was in such a situation once and what I did was to come up with an objective way of picking by listing out all the parameters that mattered to me and then ranking them in the order of importance. By looking at the top five factors, I could immediately cut my possible list to just a few. And in no time, I knew where exactly I was going and even had the tickets booked. 

There’s something similar about the way Google picks up the top three businesses that go into the local 3-pack for a given search query.  Only, the list of parameters is a lot longer. 149 to be precise! But don’t worry. Just like how I focussed on a few of the factors, you can do an amazing job of your local ranking by looking at 35 of these 149. 

Further, it must be noted that the factors considered here can have one of the three results:

  • Influence both your local pack and local organic rankings
  • Influence only your local pack rankings
  • Influence only your local organic rankings

We suggest that you don’t distinguish between the three as all the factors presented will have some impact on both the rankings. 

The Methodology

Once every couple of years or so, the who’s who of the local SEO field participate in a survey to determine what factors according to them are affecting local rankings the most and to what extent. The responses are purely based on their observations in terms of what seems to be working for them or their clients rank in the local pack, local finder, and Google maps. 

The final rankings are published by Whitespark, the company that’s been  conducting the survey, based on further analysis of the responses against known changes to Google’s algorithms available in the public domain and to a considerable extent by their own experimentations. The results are a good indication of the general manner in which these factors are believed to contribute to the overall rankings. 

This year, the participants were asked to rank 149 local search ranking factors and the results were arranged based on the weightage as perceived by the participants. 

To generalize the results for the sake of convenience, all the 149 factors were categorized into 7 groups and here’s how they stack up for both local pack/local finder/Google MAps and local organic search:

Local Pack/Local Finder and Google Maps:

  • 32% GBP Signals
  • 19% On-Page Signals (the page that’s linked to from GBP)
  • 16% Review Signals
  • 11% Link Signals
  • 8% Behavioral Signals
  • 7% Citations
  • 6% Personalization Signals

Local Organic Search:

  • 36% On-Page Signals
  • 26% Link Signals
  • 9% Behavioral Signals
  • 9% GBP Signals
  • 7% Personalization
  • 7% Citation Signals
  • 6% Review Signals 

Overall, here are some key takeaways from changes to the broad categories of factors

Shift in GBP Signals

Although GBP signals continue to dominate the ranking factors for local pack and finder, there's a noticeable shift from Google Business Profile (GBP) and link signals to on-page and behavioral signals. This change seems to align better with the current dynamics of local search, indicating that previously, GBP signals might have been given too much importance.

Increased Focus on On-Page Content and User Behavior

Local search experts are now investing more in website content. This shift indicates that quality content on websites is increasingly influencing local pack/finder and local organic search results. Enhancing website content not only helps in ranking but also addresses user behavior, which is becoming more significant in SEO.

Enhancing Google Business Profiles

While the emphasis on GBP signals has decreased, experts are still focusing on optimizing their Google Business Profiles. This optimization is aimed at increasing behavioral signals rather than just improving the profile's direct impact on search rankings. The goal here seems to be to enhance user engagement and conversions.

Personalization Signals – Low Impact but Increasing

There's a small increase in the impact of personalization signals in search results, rising from 4% to 6%. However, the piece suggests that this is not a significant area to focus on since personalization plays a minor role and is largely outside of one's control in SEO strategies.

How Google Business Profile Influences Local Search Rankings

Among the categories of ranking factors, GBP signals scored a whopping 32% weightage for local pack and local finder search results. While this category consists of several factors, here are the top six factors that together constitute a bulk of the weightage.

Primary Business Category

Of all the ranking factors related to Google Business Profile, your choice of primary business category is the most important and powerful factor.  There are over 4000 categories to choose from and that’s the reason why it can be both helpful and tricky to choose the right category. Helpful because given the broad range, there’s a very good chance you’ll find a category that best suits your business. Tricky because you might find more than one category that’s appropriate. 

The idea is to think how your customers perceive your business as that is more likely the term they search to find you. What’s more helpful is Google allows you to select up to 9 secondary categories. So, set a broad umbrella category that defines your business in a generic way and use secondary categories to cover the rest of your business, 

Keyword in Business Title

Including relevant keywords in the GBP title can enhance search visibility, but it's crucial to maintain authenticity. The title should reflect the real-world business name. Avoid keyword stuffing, as it can be perceived as spam and harm long-term credibility. Even though Google may currently favor keyword-rich titles, prioritize a genuine representation of your business for lasting brand reputation. Monitor competitors' titles and report any misuse to maintain fair competition.

Proximity of Business to the Customer

Although this is something beyond your control, it pays to be aware that when a prospect searches for a product/service you offer, the nearer they are to your business location higher the chances of your showing up in the local pack or finder.  That’s no reason to be disheartened. Remember that this is one of several factors and not the only one. 

Proximity significantly influences local search rankings. Google often prioritizes businesses closer to the searcher, which is beyond a business's control. However, understanding this factor can guide SEO strategies, such as optimizing listings for broader services or attributes appealing to a wider customer base. Tailoring your SEO strategy to this dynamic factor can leverage your reach beyond local confines.

Physical Presence in the City of Search

A physical address within the search city's limits is crucial for higher local search rankings. Businesses outside these boundaries should focus on niche services or robust local search marketing to mitigate location disadvantages. Conduct thorough market research and competitor analysis to identify opportunities to enhance visibility within Google’s defined city limits.

Average Rating

The average star rating on GBP profoundly affects search rankings and customer trust. Businesses should focus on providing exceptional service to encourage positive reviews. Regularly managing customer feedback and actively encouraging satisfied customers to leave reviews are key strategies. Strive to maintain a high average rating to improve both visibility in search results and appeal to potential customers.

Additional Business Categories

Leveraging additional categories in GBP can comprehensively represent your business's diverse aspects. Beyond the primary category, secondary categories are vital in appearing in a wider array of relevant searches. For instance, a veterinary clinic that also offers grooming services should include 'Veterinarian' and 'Pet Groomer' as secondary categories to maximize visibility across all offered services.

The Impact of Local Landing Pages on LSRF

Dedicated Local Landing Pages for Each Service

To effectively target different service areas, it's important to create dedicated local landing pages for each service or location. These pages should feature unique content that is tailored to the specific characteristics, offers, and customer needs of each area. Using unique content for each page avoids issues of duplicate content and improves SEO effectiveness. 

For instance, a restaurant chain might have distinct pages for each location, highlighting local specials or staff members. This approach ensures that each landing page is directly relevant to the local audience it aims to serve, enhancing the site's overall local search visibility

Name, Address, and Phone Number Consistency

Maintaining consistency in the name, address, and phone number (NAP) information across your website, local listings, and directories is crucial for local SEO success. Inconsistencies in NAP information can lead to confusion for both search engines and potential customers, negatively impacting your local search rankings. Regularly auditing and updating your NAP details across all platforms helps to ensure accuracy and uniformity, which is key for improving local search engine visibility.

Internal Linking Within the Website

A strategic approach to internal linking, where local landing pages are interconnected with other relevant pages on the site, is beneficial for SEO. This not only helps in spreading link equity across the site but also enhances the site's navigability and user experience. By linking related service pages and local landing pages, you can provide a more cohesive and informative experience for visitors, which in turn aids search engines in understanding the site's content structure better.

Optimized GBP Landing Page (Page Linked From GBP)

The landing page linked from your Google Business Profile should be thoroughly optimized with local-specific content, including the use of local keywords, updated service information, and customer testimonials. Ensuring that this page is regularly reviewed and updated with current information and including media relevant to the specific location, like images and videos, increases its effectiveness in attracting and engaging local customers.

Inbound Links From Locally Relevant Sites

Gaining inbound links from locally relevant websites, such as local businesses, community portals, or local news sites, can significantly enhance the local relevance and authority of your landing pages. Engaging in local community events, partnerships, and collaborations can provide opportunities to earn valuable backlinks, which are crucial for improving local search engine rankings.

Product/Service Related Keywords Across Website

Integrating relevant local and service-related keywords throughout your website, especially on local landing pages, is key to improving the pages' relevance to local search queries. It's important to use these keywords naturally and contextually, avoiding any form of keyword stuffing. This approach helps search engines understand the focus of your pages and improves their relevance to specific local searches.

Page Authority of GBP Landing Page

Building the page authority of your Google Business Profile landing page involves creating high-quality content that resonates with your local audience. Encouraging customers and other businesses to link to your landing page can further enhance its authority. This combined effort of quality content creation and link-building helps in improving the page's visibility and ranking in local search results.

The Engagement Criteria - Behavioral Factors

Dwell Time

Dwell time refers to the length of time a person spends on a web page after clicking a link from a SERP page but before returning to the SERP. It's a significant metric because it indicates the relevance and satisfaction of a user with the page content. A longer dwell time generally suggests that the content is meeting the user's needs, which can positively impact search rankings. However, the importance of dwell time as a metric varies and should be considered among many other factors. It's not advisable to chase dwell time alone but to focus on overall improvements that boost user engagement.

Click Through Rate to Website

The click-through rate (CTR) from the search results to your website is an important behavioral metric. It indicates how often people who see your site listed in the search results decide to click through and visit it. A higher CTR can signal to search engines that your site is a relevant and appealing result for the query, which may positively impact your rankings.

Click to Call on GBP

When users click to call your business directly from your Google Business Profile, it's a strong signal of engagement. This action indicates that the user found your listing relevant and was motivated enough to initiate immediate contact, which can be a positive signal to search engines about the relevance and quality of your business listing.

Click to Get Directions on GBP

Similar to click-to-call actions, clicks to get directions on your GBP demonstrate a high level of user intent and engagement. It shows that users are not only interested in your business but are also considering visiting your physical location. This level of engagement is a positive indicator to search engines about the local relevance of your business.

Google Post Interactions

Interactions with posts on your Google Business Profile, such as views, clicks, and shares, can be a useful engagement metric. These interactions indicate that users find the content of your posts interesting and relevant, which can contribute to the overall engagement signals your GBP sends to search engines.

Reviews - GBP, First Party, and Third Party Reviews

Reviews are an online version of word-of-mouth marketing and everyone loves to boast about them. Whether it’s on your website or on a third-party platform, reviews can have a tangible benefit in terms of affecting your local and organic search ranking while the intangible benefit being improved conversion rates. 

There are five attributes of reviews that play a role across platforms: 

Frequency - There’s enough empirical data to understand if the frequency of reviews seems natural. You don’t want to run a review acquisition campaign and get around a hundred reviews within a short period of time. You want a steady flow of reviews, not in bursts. 

Diversity - Diversity can mean different things in different contexts. Are most of  your reviews from a narrow neighborhood despite having your business across multiple locations? Are you getting reviews from a single source such as a third-party review management platform? 

Recency - The freshness of reviews is an important factor in rankings in general, and in local rankings in particular. Even your prospective customers prefer recent reviews. According to one survey, customers ignore reviews that are three months or older.

Authority - Not all reviews are the same. Some reviews are considered to be more authoritative than others. For instance, native reviews on your website are considered to be more authoritative than reviews acquired from third-party platforms. Same goes with reviews from professionals who are experts in your field. 

Let’s look at how each type of review affects your local search rankings. 

GBP Reviews

GBP reviews are crucial for local SEO. The number of reviews, especially with an average rating above 4.1, can significantly impact your Local Pack performance on desktop. Additionally, reviews containing relevant keywords can boost your visibility in local searches. It's important to note that reviews with visuals like photos and videos tend to stay at the top of the GBP review section longer, as Google views these as more relevant. Monitoring GBP reviews is essential for gaining strategic insights and ensuring a steady flow of new reviews, which is a local ranking factor.

Reviews on Website

Reviews directly collected and displayed on your business website play a significant role in local SEO. These reviews can improve click-through rates to your website and influence purchase decisions. Displaying positive reviews on your site can boost your credibility and help in converting more customers. Encourage customers to leave reviews on your site, and make sure to showcase them effectively. Consider integrating these reviews into your website's design and using them in your marketing materials.

Third Party Reviews

Reviews on third-party sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, or industry-specific platforms also impact local SEO. These reviews contribute to your overall online reputation and can influence your search engine rankings. Ensure consistency across different platforms in how your business is presented and engage actively with reviewers. Respond to both positive and negative feedback to show that you value customer opinions and are committed to improving service quality.

The Effect of Backlinks on Local Rankings

Backlinks have traditionally been the number one ranking factor since the time search engines came into being. Everytime a part of the content (known as anchor text) from another webpage is hyperlinked to a page on your site, you have a backlink. However, not all backlinks have the weightage. In fact, backlinks from certain websites can do more harm than good. When it comes to local search ranking factors, backlinks can play a crucial role.

Number of Backlinks

Common sense says that the more the backlinks the better. While there’s some truth to it, it’s not always the case. Again, just like other ranking factors, the idea is to be natural and not game the system. 

Quality of Backlinks

Over a period of time, search engine algorithms have evolved a lot. One aspect where this improvement is more pronounced is determining the overall quality of backlinks.  Gone are the days when one could rank well by paying for links from what were called link farms. There are some objective ways of determining the quality of backlinks. The primary ones are:

Local Relevance of Backlinks

The nature of websites from where you get your backlink and the website’s relevance to your business has a huge impact on the quality. As far as local SEO is concerned, this can be in two ways:

  • Backlinks from websites that are relevant to your geography. For example, backlinks from local news websites that serve the same geography as your business.
  • Backlinks from websites that are relevant to your business. For example, if you are an attorney, a backlink from a website that’s directly related to the law practice is relevant to your business. 

Linking Domain Authority

Another parameter that determines the quality of a backlink is the domain authority of the website. Abbreviated as DA, it’s a score between 0 to 100, where 100 is the highest. Again, it’s important to consider the relevance of the site. A high DA score by itself may not add any value if it’s not relevant to either your location or your business. 

Anchor Text Relevance

This relates to the content on the page from where you get your backlink. Anchor text is the portion of the content that is hyperlinked to your page. It’s a good idea to hyperlink a phrase that’s topically related to the content on your local landing page it’s pointing to. 

Diversity of Backlink Sources

Search engines are wary about SEO practices that seem unnatural. A naturally acquired set of backlinks comes from a variety of sources such as local news channels, chambers of commerce, business directories, and the likes. 

Backlink Freshness

SEO is an ongoing process and search engines are adept at incentivising websites that implement strategies at a natural pace. To this extent, the presence of fresh backlinks indicates that you are doing it the right way. 

Geographic Location of Linking Domains

The geographic location of the linking domain is the physical location of the server that hosts the website linking to yours.  Before you get a backlink from a website, check if they are physically located in a locality that is relevant to your business.  

Business Listings and Citations 

While backlinks essentially link to your website, listings and citations mention your business details, what’s it about, and other details. Business listings are purpose-built directories that present all this information in a structured manner and citations can be any type of websites that merely mention the details without necessarily having any formal structure to the information presented. 

Some of the major business listings that search engines rate highly are:

  • Google Business Profile
  • Apple Business Connect
  • Yahoo Local
  • Bing Places for Business
  • Yelp

There are also what are called data aggregators that should consider having your business listed on:

  • Data Axle
  • Neustar Localeze
  • Foursquare
  • YP Network

Business Listings and Data Aggregators

Business listings play a key role in local SEO, as they help in establishing a business's presence and legitimacy online. Data aggregators are services that collect and distribute business data to various platforms. Accurate and comprehensive business listings across various directories and aggregators ensure that search engines have consistent data about the business, which is essential for improving search rankings and visibility 

Relevance and Accuracy of NAP Information

The accuracy and consistency of NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) data are crucial for local SEO. This information helps search engines verify the legitimacy and accuracy of a business’s location. Inconsistent or incorrect NAP data can confuse both customers and search engines, potentially hurting the business's local SEO efforts. Therefore, it’s important for businesses to maintain consistent NAP information across all online platforms, including Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, and their own website.

Citation Source Distribution

The distribution of citations across various platforms is important for local SEO. It's beneficial for a business to be listed in both general and industry-specific directories. This wide distribution helps in enhancing the visibility and credibility of a business across different online channels.

Domain Authority of Citation Sources

The domain authority of the platforms where a business is listed also matters. Citations from high-authority sites can lend more credibility and can have a greater impact on local SEO rankings. Prioritizing listings on reputable and widely recognized platforms can therefore be more beneficial.

Relevance of Citation Sources to Geography and Business

The relevance of citation sources to a business’s specific geography and industry is also crucial. Local citations on platforms that are geographically relevant, as well as those specific to the business’s industry, can further enhance local search ranking effectiveness. This targeted approach ensures that the business appears in searches most relevant to its location and service offerings.

Personalization Factors

There are a host of factors that Google and other search engines consider that are highly specific to individual users.  These are generally based on cookies stored on the browser and other info stored on the device. Browsing history and device location are two examples. These are the factors that are beyond your control. 

For example, if your competitor's business is physically closer to a potential customer's prevalent location, they naturally have an advantage in search rankings and you cannot do anything about it. 

Just be aware that there are a few such factors and they will affect your rankings from time to time despite your best efforts. 

The Bottom Line

If there’s one aspect of search engines that has frequently and drastically evolved over the last few years, it’s been the local search and quite understandably so. With over 45% of the global searches having local intent, search engines are constantly coming up with ways to present the user with the most relevant search results possible. And that’s not all. Because a spot on local search results is so coveted and lucrative, a lot of businesses are trying to game the system. So the algorithms are changing almost everyday, slightly on some days and massively on others. 

As a local business owner, you must understand one fundamental truth very clearly - all the endeavors of Google and other companies are to further the interests of their users who happen to be your prospects/customers. So, the principles of running a good business should always come first. Focus on providing the ultimate customer experience, before, during, and after they’ve done business with you. 

While implementing the factors outlined above, keep in mind that these practices can augment and strengthen your position and reputation in the market. They can never be tools to plug the loopholes. 

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