There’s been a big focus over the past couple of weeks in in the online business community, trying to get every single business who could ever be online, online due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. There’s been a big push for all local businesses to go online, and to show up in search … and this training is a response to that demand for local SEO information.

8 factors Google considers in local search results

Google keeps most of its algorithm weighting under wraps, so the information I’m sharing comes from Moz’s research on Local Search Ranking Factors. Moz did side by side comparisons of very similar sites and then made tiny tweaks to figure out exactly what Google is looking for for local searches and for local maps views.

1. Your Google My Business profile

If you have a Google My Business account, you have a direct line of communication to tell Google exactly what you do and who you’re trying to reach. If you don’t have GMB yet, here’s my guide to set-up your Google My Business profile.

2. Inbound backlinks

It’s easy for you to say “I’m the best option for your search!” but Google doesn’t know you very well yet, so it considers links coming from other people’s websites to see whether they endorse you.

It looks at a few factors in your “backlink profile,” namely:

  • the quantity of other websites linking into yours,
  • the quality of those websites (if they’re spammy, they won’t do you much good, but if they have a great variety of high-quality links into their website, they’re seen as more authoritative).
  • the words those websites use when they link to yours, and
  • the relevance of those websites to your industry

All of the links coming into your site are a major factor in whether Google promotes you or not.

3. Reviews

Google loves to use reviews to figure out how your customers really think about you. It considers how many reviews you have, whether they’re giving you 5 stars or 1 star, whether you reply to them, and more. Plus you easily can request Google reviews from happy customersusing a link from your Google My Business account!

4. Citation signals

Citations are any instance on the internet your business name, address & phone number shows up. (This is abbreviated as your NAP: Name, Address, Phone number.)

If you’re in a local chamber of commerce, if you have a review on Yelp, if you’re in any sort of directory listing that has the name of your business and how to get in touch with you, that’s really important in Google Maps.

If you want to make sure your business is listed in all local and/or industry specific directories, you can use a tool like BrightLocal to check your existing citations and easily add yourself to more (for a small fee of about $3/listing). This can also be really useful if you’ve moved lately, to make sure that your address is updated around the internet!

5. The words on your website

In addition to the info directly on Google (like your GMB and Google reviews) and the links, Google also considers the words that you’re using on your website. So have a clear value proposition about who you serve & what you sell!

And make sure that your name, your address, your phone number are listed on your website — I usually suggest on the footer and the contanct page.

(Pro tip: Double check that the way you’re writing your address is the exact same as Google Maps – if they shorten Road to Rd. or abbreviate Saint Paul to St. Paul, you should do the same.)

6. SERP Behavior

If searchers see your business show up in the search results and they click through to your website, then that will help you rank whether they’re on a desktop or a mobile. And if they engage with your Google My BUsiness profile at all — like looking for directions, reviewing your menu, clicking to call or checking out your photos — that will help you too!.

7. Location & personalization

Where they are. It’s a key factor here. So looking for something like acupuncture near me, and I’m here in Rochester, New York, and you’re trying to get found for acupuncture in Portland, Oregon. Then there’s not a lot that you can do to get yourself, to show up in my search results based on where I am and what Google knows about me as the searcher. So that’s a factor.And then the smallest factor in all of this, of our eight ranking factors,

8. Social signals

Whether people engaging with you on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram can also have a tiny impact on your local search results — especially if people are adding your location in their posts (like an Instagram post or story with a location tag).

The difference between Google Maps & local search results

How to get your business to show up on Google Maps

I looked last night for Thai food near me, and here’s what showed up at the top of my screen:

This map that’s embedded into the search engine results with the top 3 local business results is called the “Google Local Pack” — it’s Google’s best guess at which local businesses will help you.

The order of their results isn’t solely about proximity to you or reviews — it’s takes all 8 of those factors above into consideration, which is why the top results isn’t the one with the most reviews, and the closest one to me is actually listed second.

Here’s how Google prioritizes those 8 factors when it comes to position ranking on Google Maps:

  1. Google My Business (~25%)
  2. Links (~17%)
  3. Reviews (~15%)
  4. Website content (~14%)
  5. Citations (~10%)
  6. GMB & Google results interaction (~10%)
  7. Personalization  (~6%)
  8. Social engagement (~3%)

When I saw this list I opened both of the top two restaurants, looked at both their menus, then clicked the “Call” button to order from the second one on the list — so both of those businesses benefited from my behavior signals, but the second one would benefit more because I took a more serious action.

Local organic search results

When I scroll down below the Local Pack map, this is what shows up:

The first search result below the map wasn’t a business, it was the Yelp directory for Thai food in Rochester, followed by TripAdvisor, then Grubhub, then finally one of the restaurants … but not the same list as the maps!

That’s because for these listings, the factor that’s the most important is how many inbound links these sites have. Yelp,TripAdvisor & Grubhub are all content production machines, with hundreds of thousands or pages for each restaurant or attraction they can include. Those websites have tons of inbound links from a variety of highly relevant websites, so Google trusts them more than the restaurant websites. That’s always why sometimes you’ll see a Roundup post from a local media source showing up in those search results before you get to the actual businesses that you’re looking for, because my local newspaper has more backlinks and domain authority than the restaurants.

If there’s a specific search that you want to show up for, and the first thing that shows up on there is a directory (like OpenTable or Wedding Wire or Houzz), it might be worth the investment to get your business onto that directory, So that way, at least you’re represented in the top listing, so that you get a link from that reputable domain into your website … that could help boost YOUR local SEO.

So we know that Google local organic search results are heavily influenced by links, but the other 7 factors we discussed above are still factors in this algorithm too! Here’s how important they are:

  1. Links (~28%)
  2. Website content (~26%)
  3. Google engagement (~12%)
  4. Google My Business (~9%)
  5. Citations (~9%)
  6. Personalization (~7%)
  7. Reviews (~6%)
  8. Social engagement (~3%)

Next steps for your local business SEO

While I hope this post helps you understand how Google ranks different websites in local search, it may have also left your head spinning in terms of what you can do to boost your local SEO.

Here’s a 4-step process:

  1. Set up your Google My Business account, and optimize everything in it! Make sure to include keywords you think your customers are looking for in your descriptions and services list, and if you’re a visual brand, regularly upload photos & videos.
  2. Do some backlink outreach from local media outlets or industry publications.
  3. Ask for reviews from your customers directly from your Google My Business profile!
  4. Install code for Schema Markup for Local Businesses on your website, which will pull all your reviews from around the internet (like Facebook or HomeAdvisor) into your Google reviews aggregate ranking
  5. Don’t nap on NAP — make sure your website says your Name, Address & Phone number in key places (like your footer, contact page, etc) and use a service like BrightLocal to check your current citations and add your NAP to other relevant local & industry directories