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5 Local Search Ranking Factors That Actually Matter

Jan 29, 2021

Local search optimization (or local SEO) plays a huge role in the success of your small business online. It’s what helps your business appear in local search results on Google so that customers can find you. But showing up in these results isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are several factors that go into how Google chooses when and where to show your business in search results.

Learn about the five most important local SEO ranking factors Google uses to determine which businesses it will show in local search results.

Google Business Profile

Google Business Profile (a.k.a. Google My Business) is a free service offered through Google that allows you to claim your business and add important data to Google’s local business directory, such as your address, phone number, hours, and more.

Setting up a Google Business Profile is one of the best ways to improve your search engine visibility because you can directly feed your business data to Google. This increases your chances of showing up for relevant search queries in Google local search results and on Google Maps.

If you haven’t claimed your business on Google already, create an account and verify your business. Be sure to choose business categories that are relevant to the products or services you provide. Business categories tell Google exactly what your business is, which makes it easier for Google to understand when and where to show you for local business searches.

Business Categories

Your business categories play a big role in determining which Google searches you will appear in. It’s important that you pick a primary category that best encompasses everything your business does. Then, pick secondary business categories that show off your services so you can appear in more specified searches. For example, your primary business category might be “Animal Hospital,” while your secondary categories are “Veterinarian” and “Pet Groomer.”

Photos on Your Google Listing

Though easy to overlook, photos on your business profile are one of the most important to your success in local search. Photos of the interior and exterior of your building, along with other touchpoints of your business, provide more context to potential visitors. Google likes when you give customers a preview of your business, as it helps consumers make an informed decision. Because of this, listings that provide context are more likely to perform well in local search results.

Google Reviews

As we’ll discuss a little later, reviews massively impact Google’s willingness to show you in local search results. The search engine uses reviews to decide which companies are worth recommending to others.

To prove to Google that you’re paying attention to your customers, your Google reviews should have a mostly positive sentiment, keywords, locations, and personalized responses. All of these factors are strong trust signals for Google that help your business perform better in local searches.

Local Citations

Local citations are online listings that show your vital business information—your business name, address, and phone number. Citations in online business directories, on your business website, and on social media platforms tell Google that your business is legitimate.

If you haven’t already, claim your business on popular local business directories like:

  • Apple Maps
  • Bing Places
  • Facebook
  • Foursquare
  • Yellow Pages
  • Yelp

After claiming your business on these platforms, confirm that your business information doesn’t differ from one citation to the next. Even a slight variation of your listing can confuse search engines and provide customers with incorrect information.

Online Reviews

Having a large number of online business reviews—particularly reviews on Google—can help your business be more visible in local search results. Not only does it show Google that you’re an authentic business, but it can also catch the attention of potential customers, as reviews are like personal recommendations. Here are some of the things Google looks for in online reviews.

Number of Positive Reviews

Positive reviews remain one of the most powerful local organic search ranking factors. 87% of consumers read online reviews before interacting with a business, often looking at the business’ star ratings, sentiment, legitimacy, recency, and quality. In other words, if your business has lots of positive reviews and good ratings from recent customers, you’re more likely to attract new customers.

To get more business reviews, encourage customers to leave reviews whenever they’re satisfied with a product or service you offer.

Location & Keyword Mentions in Reviews

Not only does Google pay attention to the star ratings and the sentiment of your business’ reviews but also to the specific terms used by customers. Reviews with the name of your products or services paired with a location are big trust signals to Google. These keyword-location mentions indicate to the search engine that your business is locally known.

Reviews With Responses

Make it a priority to read and respond to ALL reviews, regardless of positive or negative sentiment. It’s just as important to reply to bad reviews because it shows Google that you care about customer service, improving your chances of appearing both in the Map Pack and local organic search results. Regular responses can also show Google that you’re an active business, which could help you get a boost in search results.

Website Optimization

Website content like landing pages and keywords are being recognized more and more as important ranking factors in local search results. Website content can be optimized around your business location and the products or services you offer, which can help Google find your website and display your pages in relevant local search results.

Make sure your website content utilizes SEO tactics like keyword optimization. This is the use of terms and phrases related to your business, the intent of the web page, or your location.

You’ll need to incorporate a mix of keywords and phrases that online searchers would search on Google to find your business. For example, if you’re a retailer in Dallas that sells women’s clothing, you would include keyword phrases like “clothing boutique in Dallas” and “women’s clothing store in Dallas” in your website content.

With free tools like keywordtool.io, you can do some basic keyword research to discover what search terms you could be using in your online content to gain more exposure on Google.

Schema/Structured Data Markup

Schema—or structured data—is the information that exists behind the scenes on your website that signals to Google and other crawling bots what exists on the page. This data allows Google to crawl your page quicker and can help your website be favored in local organic search results.

Discuss with your web developer how to add optimized structured data to your website, or go to Schema.org to learn more about structured data and how to add it to your website.

Content Optimization

Content optimization is your secret weapon to rising in local organic search results. Here’s what you need to consider when building a quality content marketing strategy for your local business.

Page Titles & Meta Descriptions

One of the biggest indicators Google crawlers look at while indexing a webpage are the page titles. The main header (H1) should embody the entire page within 20 to 70 characters. This is what Google uses to determine what your page is about, so try to use keywords related to your page’s topic in the H1.

For example, if you own a chain of co-working spaces, you might want to structure the H1s like this for your location pages: “Co-working Spaces in [Location].” This will help you match with search queries like “co-working spaces near me” (for people searching in the location), “best co-working spaces in [location],” and more.

Like your H1, your meta title also indicates to Google the intent of your page. Instead of being displayed on the page, though, the meta title is the title shown on the Google listing that appears on the search engine results page (SERP). Meta titles should vary slightly from your H1, but you should still look to optimize them with related keywords.

Finally, your meta description provides Google and potential customers with more context about your webpages. This keyword-rich blurb should be kept between 50 and 160 characters. This off-page optimization is displayed right below your meta title on SERPs.

On-Page Location & Keyword Optimization

Outside of your titles and meta description, there are other aspects of webpage content Google uses to determine search ranking and domain strength.

Keywords can tell Google what your page is about, where you are located, who you hope to serve, and more. While you don’t want to stuff keywords in your content unnaturally (seriously, it can hurt your ranking performance), creating content where keywords can naturally be used is a great way to improve your chance of ranking in local results.

Localized Content

Use content specific to your local area to leverage local keywords and improve your local search ranking performance. Localized content can look like location pages, blogs, social media, and Google posts with topics focusing on the local area. You can also try to use local keywords throughout your business descriptions and online interactions across the internet.

Internal Links

Internal links are a great way to gain exposure on your other content and boost your website’s performance. If you can get users to navigate to the second page of your site after discovering you in search, your bounce rate will go down, which can help your local search performance go up.

Internal linking also helps users navigate your site naturally. If they are interested in something you discussed, they can click a link that takes them to a separate page on your website dedicated to that area of interest. For a stronger internal linking strategy, be sure to frequently publish to your blog so you always have fresh content to link.

Quality & Diversity of Inbound Links

One of the most effective, and difficult SEO advantages to gain over your competitors is earning high-quality inbound links. This is when webpages or online content link directly to a page on your website.

It can be hard to convince other sites to link to yours, but there are a few things you can do to give yourself a better chance to earn inbound links:

  • Claim and optimize local citations
  • Sponsor local events
  • Create high-quality content
  • Create content consistently
  • Guest blog on another site
  • Link to other sites in your own content

Remember: If you write blog content, there are even more opportunities for someone to use your pages as a linkable resource in their content.

Website Experience

How do visitors interact with your site? You might be surprised to know that a good website experience can positively impact your local search visibility. Google looks at these website metrics to understand the way visitors engage with your site:

  • Bounce Rate: Did the site visitor enter your website and then leave right away?
  • Page Per Session: Did the site visitor click through to other pages?
  • Average Session Duration: How long did the site visitor stay on your website?

These metrics signal to Google whether users have a good experience with your website or not. If site visitors stick around and click through your webpages, you most likely offer useful information and an easy-to-use website. If they leave immediately, however, that could be a sign that your website design, function, and content need some improvement.

Behavioral signals are a difficult ranking factor to control. Fortunately, Google Analytics allows you to keep track of how users are behaving on your website. This tool allows you to analyze the overall experience of your website, which webpages are performing well, and where you need to make updates.

Let’s take a look at a few more user experience factors that could affect your search ranking.

Mobile-Friendliness

With the introduction of mobile-first indexing from Google, websites are now judged on their mobile version first. This means websites that are more responsive, don’t have long loading times, and have interfaces designed for taps instead of clicks are viewed more favorably by Google when determining local search ranking.

Click-Through Rates from Search Results

Google pays attention to how many users decide to click on your listing. While the click-through rate from search results is more of a local organic search ranking factor, website popularity, in general, can help you appear higher in local search results.

Make sure your meta information and title are clear, inspire interest, and are optimized with keywords to give your website the best chance at earning those all-important clicks.

Bounce Rates from Search Results

Google pays attention to the behavior users exhibit when they visit your website and then uses this information to determine if the site is helpful or not. One of the best ways to find out if users think your site is engaging is by examining your site’s bounce rate.

Bounce rate is the percentage of people who leave your site after viewing only one page. Google tracks when a visitor does this after finding your listing in search results. Oftentimes, the higher the bounce rate, the less likely your website is to appear in local organic search results.

Struggling to appear in local search results and be found by customers online? Local Search Fuel by Hurrdat is designed specifically to help small businesses claim, update, and manage their local business listings. Get started today!

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