When it comes to being found on search engines, it is not just for big businesses, every firm can be found online. If you are a local business, you should find that search engines are the ideal place for people to find you and you may be surprised at the number of consumers that go online and look for the best local options. This guide aims to outline the importance of local search rankings and what you can do to influence your rankings and get in front of your local audience.
There are many important factors that shape local search rankings and if you want to rank highly, you need to know what factors matter and how to get them right. This guide runs through the Top 20 local search ranking factors and provides you with insight into how you can ensure that you are giving yourself the best possible chance of ranking highly.
Proper Category Associations
When it comes to being found by the right people, you need to make sure that Google knows who you are and what you do. This means that stating the correct categories will make a difference and in creating a Google+ Local Page, you will get to select a category in two different areas.
Once you have entered your details, you will be asked to choose a primary category for your firm. This is a very important step, so make sure you choose the category that best fits or describes your business. You will also find that once you are inside the dashboard, you will be able to choose up to NINE other categories for your business.
Of course, all of these categories must be selected from the range offered by Google. It used to be that business owners could create their own categories but this is a feature that Google decided against and a phasing out process has been in place.
If your aim is to be found in localised results for a search along the lines of “dentists in Surrey”, your business needs to be listed as a dentist. If your business is listed as being an architects firm, you aren’t going to be listed for the relevant keyword terms that people use when searching for the service you provide.
Often the choice of your primary category will be obvious and you should keep things as simple as possible. However, it may be that you offer a range of services. The dentist from above may also offer cosmetic work and a wide range of orthodontic services, which means that they will look to be listed for these elements. Undertaking keyword research to find what people are looking for when they search for the services you provide will give you an insight into the sort of categories you should be selecting.
It is likely that you will also be creating listings for your business in a range of other indexes and directories. Annoyingly, the category options provided by Google are unlikely to be the same as the category offerings provided by these other directories but you should approach each one with the same keyword terms and try and select the most relevant terms for the services or products you provide.
You will be building listings for your business in a variety of other local business directories and indexes. These platforms will not necessarily offer categories that are identical to those in Google’s system. You must take time to discover the most relevant categories on each platform as you build each listing.
The Physical Address In The City That Is Being Searched In
When it comes to being returned in local results on Google, your business will mainly be listed for either:
- Searches that include the city you are located in
- Searches that originate from the city that you are located in
If you are a dentist in Surrey, you will most commonly be found in results for searches along the lines of “Surrey dentist” or in results from searches from people in Surrey who are looking for a “dentist”. This can be seen with the fact that a search on “dentists in Surrey” will only return dentists located in this area with no dentists from surrounding areas being returned.
It can be argued that Google is providing people with exactly what they are looking for with these results but there can be two problems.
(A) Service Area Businesses (SABs) who employ professionals who will travel into a particular town, city or area to undertake their work but who are actually based in another area. If the business doesn’t have a physical address in the searched for area, people won’t see their results.
(B) Bricks & Mortar Businesses that are physically located just outside of the major town or city areas. It is easier to travel around and with many out of town or city retail areas and office parks opening up, firms at these locations are legitimately recognised as being professionals in that area but Google may not consider them to be.
In both of these examples, businesses may find that the nature of Google results will mean that they miss out on hits and search results. In these cases, trying to rank organically for their main keyword terms with a wider locality could be of benefit.
Keep Your Structured Citations Consistent
When it comes to your business a citation can be any partial or complete stating of:
- Your business name
- Your business address
- Your business phone number
There are many places online where a structured citation for your business may appear including Google, your website or any local directory or listings site.
While you may think that it must be difficult or stupid to record the wrong address, name or phone number, it may happen a lot easier than you think. While it makes sense that the Smile Dentist Practice is the same firm as the Smile Dentist Clinic, it is recorded differently and a computer searching or trawling would recognises these returns as being different. If there is a typo or error in your address, the citation will be wrong. It may even be that one listing references your property as being the left property of an address whereas a different listing may reference you as being the 1st property of an address. Both of these listings may be technically correct but they are different. Phone numbers can change, people can make mistakes when listing numbers and it may even be something like a wrongly stated or different website.
This should give you the idea that it is easier to have your address or structure stated wrongly and this can cause you problems when it comes to rankings. When there are different versions of your name, address or contact details, it hampers Google’s ability to trust what they find about a business. This can lead to lower rankings.
You should take the time to search your business on Google and note the results you find. If results are incorrectly stated, make a request that they be amended. You should also look to notify all relevant places of any changes to your business name or address.
Quality of Listings
While there is a lot to be said for having information about you in as many places as possible, there are some schools of thought against this, including:
- When your information is in more places, it is harder to control
- Being listed in poor quality places may harm your reputation
This means that it is often best to focus on being listed correctly at reliable and effective directories and listings as opposed to aiming to be listed by everyone. There are tools and apps available, with GetListed.org being one example, that will help you to ensure that you have the correct details listed in the correct places.
You can also undertake your own searches for directories or for the areas that these listings provide (category terms, geographic terms, service terms) and then opt for the sites and listings which are ranked highest on Google. You can also look for sites that have been around for a while and never underestimate the importance of looking at a site and getting a feel for it. If you don’t like the look of a site, avoid it.
HTML NAP matching place page NAP (Name, Address, Phone Numer)
Google will use the website address linked to from your Google Places or Google+ Local page to double check the name, address and phone number of your firm. If everything syncs up, you can progress but if there are discrepancies, google will not be sure of what to use or what is the correct answer. This means that you should look to ensure that the information (the NAP) is correct in both places.
Quantity of Listings
It has already been noted that the quality of listings is important, and it is best to focus on having your business correctly listed at the best sites, listings and directories. However, once you have achieved this, you will find that you can benefit from rolling out your information (again correctly, always take the time to ensure that your information is listed correctly) to more listings and directories.
The Domain Authority of Your Website
When it comes to your website being ranked, the strength of your site plays a big role, both in the organic listings and the local listings. This means that you should place considerable attention to the “Domain Authority” of your site. The “Domain Authority” is a metric that is used to determine how well a site is likely to rank in search results in comparison to other websites. If you are looking for an effective tool that will you help you to calculate the DA of any website, Moz offers a toolbar that makes it easy to check.
There are a lot of factors that impact on the Domain Authority of a site including the website’s age and the quality and quantity of links pointing towards the website. All of this means that you should be looking to create as strong a website as possible. You should be looking to create a user-friendly site that is optimised with high quality content, with links from social media and other sites.
Have an Owner Verified Local Plus page
You should look to set up a Google+ Local page for your business as this is the initial step to being indexed by Google. The next step is to then verify that you are the owner of the listing. For this stage, you should not use a medium to undertake this service for you, it is a lot easier to undertake this step by yourself.
There is nothing wrong with hiring the services of a local SEO expert for many of the tasks that you need to take care of to boost your site’s rankings but when it comes to verification purposes, it makes sense to be in full control.
Use your City and State in the Title of your Landing Page
In your Google+ Local Page you should have a link to your website and on this page you should have a Title Tag which contains your city and state. This will provide users users and search engine bots with important information regarding where your company is located. If you have a number of locations, it is worth setting up an individual Google+ Local Page for each location and then linking through to an individual landing page for each destination.
The Distance Between your Address and the Centroid
The centroid is referred to as the city centre in Google Maps. To find the centroid in your city, you would normally type in your city and state and you will receive a result that contains a red pin on the centroid of your city. This isn’t really something that you can have too much control over because it may be that a destination away from the city centre is best for your business.
The Level of Authority and Quality of Inbound Links to the Domain
Organic signals will always play a major role in local search rankings so if you are able to pick up good quality links from respected sources it will help you to receive a better ranking. If you are a local business, you should be looking to obtain links from local newspapers, national newspapers, business indexes in the local community, respected bloggers and industry associations. This means that you should look to develop relationships with these respected parties and hopefully you will receive good quality links in return.
The Number of Google Places Reviews
The number of reviews for a business on Google Places will impact on the rankings but it is important to know that you don’t need to have a lot of reviews and you shouldn’t receive too many reviews too quickly. This is because too many reviews in a short period of time will act as a warning signal to Google. It would be expected that a local business would receive some reviews but it wouldn’t be likely that they would receive a high volume of reviews in a short period of time. As a business, you should encourage your customers to provide you with positive reviews on social media platforms but Google Places is also a site that is worth directing your customers towards. It is also important to know that while Google is happy for you to request reviews, you must never provide money or other incentives to receive a positive review. You are also not allowed to hire third parties to refer to themselves as a customer and then provide a review of your product or service.
With respect to rankings, the volume of reviews appears to be the most important aspect for search engines but obviously if you are looking to impress potential customers, you want to have positive reviews that will encourage people to visit your premises.
Volume of Citations from Local and Relevant Domains
If you can have your contact and address details listed on a locally relevant site, you will give Google confidence that you are a website to be trusted. Examples of locally relevant domains and sites include the Chamber of Commerce, local news sites, professional associations and respected blogs that have a focus on local business. You don’t even need to have a link to your website from these sites but that will be of benefit too.
The Distance between your Physical Location and the Location of the Searcher
This is sometimes referred to as the Searcher-Business distance and it takes advantage of the fact that there is no longer a need to include geographic terms in searches to obtain local search results. If Google believes that there is a local intent involved with the search, they will determine the physical location of the searcher and then provide them with a local result. For instance, if someone in Surrey searched on “dentists”, they will be provided with dentists located close to them.
This is becoming an increasingly popular search factor, especially when you think about the number of mobile users. You don’t have any control over where searchers search from but if you are in a busy area or have a lot of people living close to you, you may find that your business will benefit from this style of search rankings.
Volume of Citations from Respected and Relevant Domains
In virtually every component that has an impact on your local search ranking, quality beats quantity, but once you have achieved good links or citations on the best sites, you should look to be located on the next level of sites. This may mean trying to be located on sites that are slightly less relevant to your industry but close to your area or perhaps of a slightly lower standard of site. You shouldn’t just take any site, if it has absolutely no relevance to your business, there is no point in obtaining a link but the relevancy to your business doesn’t necessarily have to be an immediate one, it can be of a slightly lower standard.
Have a Local Area Code Phone Number on your Local Plus Page
When it comes to best practice, using your local area code as your main phone number on your Google+ Local page makes sense. You can see why some businesses look to offer a Freephone number, thinking that this will encourage more people to contact them, but it can lead to a drop in the number of local or interested people who will phone them. There is nothing wrong with setting up a Freephone number for complaints or general contact but the lead number you provide onsite should be one that is recognised as being relevant to your local area.
Have your City and State in most if not all of your Website Tags
The title tag is very important when it comes to being ranked but there is also a lot to be said for including your city and state in virtually of the title tags on your website. This means that on every page of your site, you should have a title tag that makes reference to where you can be found. This will be of benefit to crawlers and to individuals.
Volume of Third Party Reviews
Google are clearly taking notice of the volume of reviews on your Google+ page, but they also take reviews on third-party platforms into consideration. Even without Google looking towards these sites for information, you will benefit from reviews on third party platforms because people will read them and form a better impression of your site, but there are indicators that Google is looking at key sites, like TripAdvisor, and anything which showcases your business in a positive light will help you improve your rankings.
You can find out which sites are of benefit by analysing rival sites and seeing if they are drawing customer attention to review sites talking about them. This is also another area where thinking like a consumer can make a difference. When you are out and about, are there stores or service providers imploring you to place a review anywhere. If the same sites crop up, these are likely to be the sites that are being used in the local area.
The Level of Page Authority on your Places Landing Page URL
This is similar to the idea of the Domain Authority of your entire website. The landing page that you link from your Google+ Local page will have a level of authority and the higher the level of authority, the better the impression Google will have of your site. Having a specific and relevant landing page is often the best suggestion for businesses and you have an opportunity to make sure that this page offers exactly what people want and expect from it.
There are a lot of steps involved here, but now you know the factors that are important, you have an opportunity to take action and really boost your local search rankings. Being informed of how to improve your SEO is a great step, and one that many professionals don’t take, but to really move your business forward, you have to take action. Looking at these factors and making changes to these different elements will see your local business rise the search engine rankings.