Top Local SEO Ranking Factors
There are 3 main local SEO ranking factors: relevance, proximity, and prominence. All other local ranking factors can be found anywhere between these 3.
Relevance is undoubtedly the most crucial major local ranking factor that we’re able to control. It describes how well a business listing matches the customer’s search query. The more relevant a result is, the greater the chance people will find what they’re looking for. Any misleading information on your Google My Business listing can lead to a decrease in leads and sales. Don’t let customers hunt for the information they’re seeking. Instead, hand it to them on a silver platter.
Since we’re talking about local SEO, the distance from the searcher to the business is of higher importance than for searches with a national or global background. It’s the local intent that makes a distance-dependent algorithm so significant. If we need a new haircut, we don’t want to drive a few hours to get it; no, we want it here and now. We’re still trading time for money, don’t we?
Marketing is always about cultivating credibility and gaining trust. People need to trust you before they will do business with you. As the saying goes: Your trust account is more important than your bank account. Referring to local SEO means you will need to get famous across your local area and the internet. Reviews, online business directories, review sites, and general brand mentions can help you to build trust online.
Table of Contents
Top 11 Local Ranking Factors
You wouldn’t be reading my blog if it wasn’t a practical guide, and similarly, I don’t want to bother you with theoretical fluff. The following lines describe all “field-tested” local ranking factors that reflect the three primary ranking factors described above. The following local ranking factors are sorted by significance in ascending order.
I hope you’re not disappointed to see the most obvious ranking factor on #1. However, it is what it is: The most important local ranking factor on Google. If your business is not verified, you’re not ranking anywhere at all. Ensure you verify your business or check if it’s already verified. This is the reason why GMB optimization is always mentioned first when talking about local ranking factors.
#2 The distance
Distance of search location to the Business location
This is by far the most critical ranking factor in local search. The closer a searcher is located to your business, the higher you’ll be listed in the local search results. However, it doesn’t matter if your business is a service area business and serves its customers at their location, or a local storefront business where customers can physically enter a location. The address used to verify a Google My Business listing is primarily responsible for determining Google’s local ranking positions.
Center of City/Town/Area
Particularly geographical-related searches like “service in city” are dependent on the distance of the town’s center to the business location and the searcher’s location to the business location. Ok, that’s confusing, right?
Google includes the Maps’ center of a particular location in its ranking evaluation process when someone is looking for specific geographical places. When searched for a business, it seems like Google includes the driving distance from the searcher and the town’s center to the business into their evaluation process.
The following graphic shows the differences between a standard service search “hair salon” and a geographical-related search “hair salon New York”. You can see that the first search result (first image) focuses only on the searcher´s location while the second one places emphasis on the center of the city. The results are very different depending on the assumed search intent.
By using the center of a particular place, Google assumes that the searcher is looking for a place close to the center of the city in question. Now that makes real sense, right?
However, this system gives preference to companies located at the center. And if you’re not situated in the center, you’re not getting a piece of the prime geo-keyword-pie.
Tip: To find a center of a specific area, run a direction request from or to that particular place and Google will show you exactly what it considers as the center.
#3 GMB Business Name
The business name is a crucial local ranking factor. From my perspective, this is quite unfortunate. A business name doesn’t always say anything about the relevance of a particular business. However, in this day and age, it’s seemingly essential that your business name says what your business does.
Google gives more weight to an exact match business name (when a search query matches the business name 100%) than to the searcher’s distance. That works exceptionally well for long-tail keywords in business names. However, it´s still against Google´s policy to use a business name on Google that doesn’t match your real business name.
Nevertheless, a keyword-filled business name can be a significant profit factor. So you might want to consider changing it. I know it seems like a colossal barrier, but it’s probably worth it. At least, think about it.
#4 GMB Categories
Categories, especially the primary category, determine whether your business can be found for niche-relevant search terms or not. This becomes significantly important if your business provides many services or offers a variety of different products.
Make sure you choose the primary category that promises the most profitable jobs. This is usually not an easy task. You’ll need to do keyword, competitor, and infrastructure research to figure out which of the categories fits best. If you’re unsure what categories to choose, don’t hesitate to hire a local SEO expert or drop a question in our Local SEO Facebook group.
#5 The Business Website
While all GMB-related tweaks take effect immediately, local optimizations on the website need some time to function. It seems like Google applies the same system to local search as to organic search. It usually takes a while for optimization tweaks to be visual on local organic rankings. And by website, I mean the website you’ve added to the corresponding website field on your GMB dashboard.
On-Page is all about increasing relevance by adding keywords to particular parts of the website.
- Page title tag
- H1 headline
- H2..H4 headlines
- Keywords in URL
- keyword density in the body copy of x percent
- Image optimization (alt text, caption, description)
- Outbound links
- Internal linking
You want to add informative, yet educating or entertaining content to your site. Ensure to tell your readers everything critical about the local area, your business, and the industry you’re in.
Pro tip: Add the exact categories from GMB as they appear in your Google My Business dashboard to your respective web pages. That makes sure Google knows exactly what your pages are about. Note: You only want to rank one page per keyword (and its close synonyms).
- The quality of links pointing to your site
- The number of links pointing to your site
- Context of the content around the link
- Link anchor texts
Backlinks work like recommendations. The quality of a backlink is the primary factor that determines its power. It has way more weight if an expert recommends your business instead of a scam artist, right? However, the more recommendations your site gets, the higher its quality will be perceived. Also, the content on the page adds relevance as well as the link anchor text. That is usually not something you can control.
What kind of backlinks help?
- local businesses in your area
- social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and co.
- business directories (citations) and the local chamber of commerce
- Google entities like the Google business site or links from self-made maps
Schema Markup is a code that you put on your website that helps search engines understand your website. WordPress users can add Schema Mark Up by installing specific plugins. If you’re unsure if your website already contains Schema Markup, you can run a rich results test on Google.
The number of Schema Markup code matches the number of planets on the milky way. Here’s a very brief overview of Schema Markup Code examples that you can use for a local business website:
- local business schema
- service schema
- Social Media
- blog post
Mobile-friendliness is especially critical because many people search on the go. If your website is not mobile-friendly, you’re refusing many potential customers access to your business.
You can perform a mobile-friendliness test to see how your mobile version is doing. Also, try to test your mobile version from various devices.
Reviews are definitely a local ranking factor. The big question is, how big of an element are they? From my perspective and what I’ve found out through research, they’re not super powerful. The power of reviews lies in the chance of increasing the click-through rate. The more 5 star reviews you have, the more likely it is your listing gets clicked. And you know, the more clicks, the better for our local rankings.
Try to get reviews on a regular basis. The more, the better. There are studies about keywords in reviews that could lead to better rankings – We can’t be sure how effective this is, but I assume Google to pay attention to the content of reviews. A 5-star review with 0 content is probably less worth than an extensive review.
It’s not really something we can control, but the more energy we put into getting new reviews, the more likely it is to see detailed reviews that also encourage prospects to do business with you. Another pleasant effect you’ll notice when you get a bunch of new reviews, the bad ones don’t do much harm anymore.
Reply to reviews
As I mentioned before, having a complete GMB profile is crucial to your local search marketing success. Make sure you answer all reviews within 24 hours of their publication. Bad reviews, as well as good reviews!
#7 Citations & NAP Mentions
Citations are a great way to increase the prominence of your local business. It´s a considerable local SEO ranking factor. A citation is typically created by adding name, address, and phone number (also termed as NAP) accurately to a business directory or other website. Strictly speaking, your business information (NAP) on Google My Business is a citation. The more NAP matches and brand mentions (including the website URL) can be found across the web, the higher the chance Google will perceive your business as an authority. However, keep in mind that Google places importance on business directories or websites that get real traffic and engagement. It doesn’t make sense to get listed on 100+ directories if they’re not getting any traffic.
What kind of citations should we focus on?
I’ve published top citation lists for the US, UK, CA, AU, Germany and NZ.
#8 A complete Google My Business profile
The more information we provide to Google, the better it will treat us. Make sure you fill your GMB profile with as much relevant content as possible. Leave no stone unturned, and you’ll be just fine. Check out the Ultimate Google My Business Checklist. This will help you reach a 100% completion score.
The GMB Grader from Wordstream is a nice tool to get an overview about all GMB sections and how particular profiles perform.
GMB features we need to focus on
- Business description (at least 700 characters)
Try to answer the following questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Where are you located or what (main) area do you serve?
- Services and descriptions (use as much space as possible to describe your services appropriately)
- Products (your primary category determines whether your business listing is eligible to showcase products or not)
High-quality images and compelling descriptions are a must. Those products will appear on your Google My Business profile at the same spot as GMB posts.
- Short-name (Choose a short-name that matches your business name at best)
- Appointment link
- Telephone number
- Menu/Booking link
- Opening hours
- Photos / Videos
Add a logo, a cover image, and a video to your profile. The better the quality of your photos, the more appealing it is to your customers.
#9 User behavior - the most underrated local ranking factor
User behavior, or in other words, the amount of engagement on your Google My Business listing plays a significant role in ranking locally.
What types of engagement can we expect to have an impact on our rankings?
- general click-through rate (clicks on the listing)
- website visits
- direction requests
- clicks to call
- post-CTA clicks
- post views
- photo views
- message requests
As I mentioned before, having a complete GMB profile is crucial to your local search marketing success. Make sure you answer all reviews within 24 hours of their publication. Good reviews, as well as bad reviews!
Regularly check for new questions on your Q&A feature and answer them accordingly. They usually appear at your profile frontend – that’s what your customers can see.
Maintaining your GMB is crucial. Google loves fresh content and up-to-date information. I mean, your customers like that too, right? Consistency is vital in marketing. You want to update your data regularly to show accurate information to potential customers and Google.
How to be consistent with Google My Business
Google My Business Blog posts
Posting regularly adds relevance points to your listing and makes your GMB profile more attractive. Users can follow you on GMB so that they will get notified when you post on GMB. That is what marketing is all about: Engage your audience as often as possible. The more they think about your business, the less time they can think about other things.
Photos and Videos
Upload new photos and videos to your GMB profile regularly. Especially your loyal fans love to see new stuff. Every view counts as engagement, which should be our primary goal.
One of the most frustrating situations a customer can experience: A business is closed, although it stated open on the Google profile. Make sure you update your hours – your customers will value that. It’s a very indirect local ranking factor, but the worse your reputation, the lower your ranking positions. Remember prominence.
#11 Social Signals
Let´s start with the still mentionable but least significant local ranking factor: Social Signals. Social traffic is an indication of exciting content for Google. Great content is shared more often and indicates a fantastic content strategy. Ensure to share your own blog posts as well. (we still want to rank, huh?)
The more shares you get, the better. Also, social sites like Facebook often secure spots on the first page on Google. As you can see, just by running an active business channel on social, you’ll get more attention on search.
Thanks for reading! I really hope you can take advantage of the information in this blog post. Feel free to share this post and I always appreciate comments. 🙂