Trying to understand Google’s algorithm for Google My Business (some folks might remember it being called ‘Google Places’ or even ‘Google + Local’) is sometimes just as difficult as trying to figure out the Google search algorithm. Which, if we’re honest – makes sense due to the importance of it’s key functions. It’s a crucial thing to local businesses to show up on Google search maps. It drives organic leads, tells your bio, gives reviews, and most obviously integrates your map and directions. It’s a known stat that 1 of 5 searches on Google are location based (we’ll dive into that more later.)
Local search listings are most obviously the search results that show up amongst the normal listings when you perform a Google search with a ‘local’ focus. Breaking down the most basic functionality, those listings are accompanied by a lettered balloon, as well as an address and and phone number. A map with Google’s ‘top 3’ business recommendations pointed out and highlighted are included in that search criteria. With this tool you can also see a vertical row of listings that will appear at the top of the screen allowing you to filter on common wants – rating, price, hours, etc.
Screengrab above for reference. We’re glad to see one of our best clients in that view. No more bragging – I promise.
Although Google has continued to change this algorithm almost constantly, we’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with a hefty number of clients to see it through it’s various forms. And with that, we can honestly say that the factors below significantly boost your chance of making it into the top 3 choices in local search for your business. Keep in mind it always changes and every business is different. Different regions are more competitive and going further, different industries are more competitive than others. Hard work and maintenance – the same focus as your ‘search’ initiatives will lead to your performance on Google My Business.
Google has a small number of local directories it trusts and pulls public data from those sources within an internal algorithm. These directories are ones you’d expect to hear – Tripadvisor, Yelp, Citysearch – but it also includes smaller high quality sites. Your complete presence on those sites triggers Google to know that your business is an active member of its local community. The point here is that if while creating a listing directly through Google My Business is crucial to ranking highly in local search results, creating a listing on all of the pertinent directories in your region is also very important. One key point to note is that all of your business listings should provide the same information. Phone numbers, addresses and sites linked should all reflect the most up to date data or it looks inaccurate to Google and hurts chances of ranking.
Do we even need to say more? If you’re doing any sort of SEO you understand the importance of links. That importance follows suit here.
Let’s hone back in on the reasoning behind Google’s algorithms. Google purpose is to help people find businesses that are near them. Good businesses that are trusted and legitimate. Here’s where we’re going – if you’re, say, a dog groomer in Rock Hill that would love to get business from Uptown Charlotte clients (hey, it’s only a 30 mile drive…) don’t expect an easy time of it from Google. In fact, the closer to the searcher you are, the more favor you curry with this component of Google’s local search algorithm. It’s more of a pre-requisite than an advantage; even if you are next door to a searcher, if you aren’t strong in the other components listed here, you probably won’t rank that highly (probably the most common mistake).
An often overlooked part of Google’s local algorithm is the actual name of the business. Watch out with here, as Google My Business’s reps are trained to look out for keyword-stuffed business names (thank the Man above), but if your company happens to have keywords in its name, you’re in for more favorable local rankings. Depending on what is being searched – having a business name with a keyword in it will generally make it a more reliable source of ranking higher. (Spammers – don’t get any ideas please!)
Tagging and Categorization
Whereas your website is meant to show up in Google’s organic search results without having to submit anything to Google, the My Business algorithm requires a bit more work from local business owners. You will need to manually verify your business, categorize it properly, and fully fill out all the information requested on the Google My Business website. Occasionally, you might even be called to re-submit your information when Google converts old local pages to new ones. Verification has typically been sent by mail over the past 8 months. You’ll often receive a ‘verification code’ in snail mail form where you’ll need to verify ownership and current address.
Reviews, Reviews, Reviews
While the number and quality of your business’ reviews on Google is not a large ranking factor, it still matters. We’ve competed against companies that have terrible ratings but a large number of ratings. We’ve found that having at least 7 reviews that are 4 stars or higher helps your chances of ranking highly in the local listings. Getting reviews should be fairly straightforward: just ask your most satisfied customers if they’d be willing to write a review for you on Google. (And please don’t ask them for positive reviews – that’s just tacky. If you are providing an awesome product or service it will speak for itself.)
Social Media Activity
When people you know click +1, rate, review, or even just visit a local business website, it is likely to show up higher in the local results. Obviously, Google gives special preference to the +1 button over other social buttons like Facebook or Instagram, since they own Google+. Currently, there is no explicit evidence that social signals from other platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.) impact your local search results. If you want more social interaction with your website (don’t we all?) a good strategy to follow is asking your customers to follow, rate, review, +1, or generally just advocate for your business in any way that works for them. We’ve seen that helping them do so by placing Google+ widgets on your site allows them to easily +1 your content and rate/review it on Google+, on every page.
Clicks and engagement
Here’s where some insider goes a long way. Just as 2016 was getting off to a start, some folks in the local SEO industry noticed that Google had quietly incorporated user engagement into the local search algorithm. Although Big Brother has denied using clicks, time on site, or any other engagement metric as a ranking factor for many years, it has always seemed logical to judge the quality of a site based on how engaged its visitors are, and it appears Big G now agrees. The reason they’ve stayed away from this ranking factor has always been that it’s too easy to manipulate it using bots, crowd-sourcing, or even just a group of motivated proprietors – and it does seem likely this kind of trickery is going to abound as the news of this new ranking factor spreads.
The big takeaways…
Google algorithms are never explicitly given to the masses. Trial, error and successes are the only way to know what’s working and what’s not. The main thing that we want anyone to know is that merely having a Google My Business account won’t get you found. Like all of your other efforts, put some time in this up front. You’ll love yourself for it – and customers will find you easier. If you need help in the meantime please reach out. We’re here to help and we love it. Until next time…