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November 1, 2021

What Is Google’s Local Algorithm?

It’s widely known that Google uses a complex algorithm to work out where websites rank on its search engine pages, but not everyone is aware that it uses a slightly different set of factors for local results.

The difference may seem small, but the outcome can be significant.  

If you’ve got a local business, it could mean that one of your potential customers contacts a competitor instead of getting in touch with you.  The difference could simply be that you haven’t optimised your website for local SEO and they have, meaning they feature higher up in the search pages and therefore attract more clicks.  

So what is Google’s local algorithm?

Google is constantly tweaking its algorithms to give users the very best results for their searches.    While it is impossible to know every factor in these calculations (Google doesn’t disclose everything!), we do know that there are three central elements which correlate closely to the local search results.  These key factors are proximity, prominence and relevance and we’ll explore these in greater depth later. 

The local search algorithm is basically the way Google determines local search rankings related to Google My Business (GMB) listings.  A GMB listing is a public listing of relevant information about a local business which matches search requests (eg ‘find plumber near me’ or ‘digital marketing specialist in Perth’).   Obviously, the higher up that these website feature in the search engine pages, the more organic traffic they’ll get.  

The top three organic search results then feature in Google’s 3-pack.  This refers to the three businesses that are featured in the boxed search results at the top of page one.  The searcher gets convenient and relevant information at their fingertips (the 3-pack is generally served up with a map and is visible without the need to scroll down on a smartphone) while the businesses get excellent odds on attracting potential customers.  Basically, it’s a podium finish that every local business should aspire to.  

So how can businesses get into the 3-pack?

While there’s nothing specific that a business can do to guarantee a position, there are plenty of ways to optimise your website to increase your chances.

Making sure that your GMB listing is complete, accurate and up-to-date is a must.  If you have a bricks-and-mortar premises, your Google Maps listing also has to be spot-on.   Every detail counts with local search, so you really need to focus your attention on optimising your listing and hopefully 3-pack results will follow.

Let’s examine the three central elements of local search more closely:

Proximity

The proximity – or closeness – to a searcher is arguably the most important factor in Google’s local search rankings.    

A user can do a local search in three ways, namely geo-modified (eg ‘plumber in Joondalup’), non geo-modified (‘best hairdresser’) or ‘near me’.  Even if someone doesn’t enter the words ‘near me’ in their query, Google can infer that the search intent is local because it has ways of working out where it believes a searcher is.   

In order to showcase your proximity, it’s a good idea to optimise your website to accommodate all the ways users could search for your business.

If there are lots of similar businesses to yours in a condensed local area (for example restaurants or supermarkets), Google will need additional information to determine which three entities are the best fit for a search query.  For example, if a searcher includes the word ‘best’ in their query, Google will only offer up businesses that have four star (or higher) reviews.

Prominence

Prominence refers to how well-regarded and popular Google thinks a business is.   In other words, it’s how well a business stands out, particularly from its competitors.

Reviews are a major factor in determining prominence.  The greater the number of reviews, the higher the average star rating and the more reviews another business comments on, the more important Google will perceive a business to be.  

Google also values a combination of new and old reviews.  If customer feedback dates back several years, Google can see this as an indication of a business’s longevity. A good way to boost your prominence is to read and respond to ALL reviews, both positive and negative.  

Other ways that businesses can strengthen their online prominence include:

  • Link building
  • Directory listings
  • Having active social media profiles
  • Sharing relevant content
  • Building up mentions of your business profile

Relevance

Even if your business is in close proximity to the search query and is very prominent, it may still rank lower in the local search results.  And that will be because Google doesn’t believe it is the most relevant response to the search query.

Relevance is a key component of Google’s local algorithm.  It defines relevance by how well the profile on GMB matches a search query.  Does the business sell the actual products a searcher is looking for?  Does it have the right attributes?     Are the relevant keywords featured in descriptions and content?

Here are some important ways to step up your relevance:

  • Keep your GMB profile up-to-date 
  • Constantly refresh webpages with quality content that provides answers to popular search queries
  • Focus on keywords with local intent
  • Implement solid on-page SEO, such as headings, meta descriptions, title tags, meta tags, alt tags, image tags etc
  • Ensure your NAP (name, address, phone) is listed consistently and accurately throughout the web 
  • Choose the correct categories in business directories 
  • Schema mark-up

 

Even though Google keeps us guessing when it comes to the specifics of their local search algorithm, there are plenty of things that businesses can do to improve their chances of higher rankings and appearing in the 3-pack. 

To get started with your local SEO download Karen’s free ‘Beginner’s Guide to Google My Business’ 

If you’re interested in discovering more insider tips about how to boost your business’ online visibility, have a look at The SEO School.  This self-managed modular course has been specifically designed for business owners to get to grips with the essentials of SEO and ‘learn while doing’.

The course was designed by Perth digital marketing guru, Karen Dauncey, who has distilled her 20 years of experience and success into an easy-to-follow, practical and fully supported online course.  

To book your place on The SEO School or to find out more information, please visit https://theseoschool.com or email Karen at karen@theseoschool.com.

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