Local SEO is fundamental to brick-and-mortar business as it seeks to promote such businesses through location-based searches. Google uses geo qualifiers to identify your geo-location and provide search results relevant to that area. But how does Google know how to rank local businesses? How do you appear in the local-3 pack?
All these questions are easy to answer once you know how Google’s local algorithm works. It focuses on three key factors- relevance, proximity, and prominence.
Local SEO is harder as it is, and the local algorithm makes it even harder for local businesses. Initially, Google had seven prime spots on the first page that were dedicated to top-ranking businesses. These prime spots are like snippets, and they are highly coveted. However, Google made a few changes and reduced the prime spots to 3.
This has made it even harder to break into the top pages since every local business is fighting for the coveted spots. However, understanding how the local algorithm works and its influences on rankings could help you rank higher.
Google Local Algorithm
The local algorithm is based on three factors:
Google is keen on providing search results that are relevant to user queries. Therefore, Google will crawl your site and go through your content to determine whether it’s related to specific search queries. This helps Google provide search results that are most relevant to a search query.
This also means that if you want relevance, you have to at least provide content that’s relevant to local search results. You need to see the bigger picture and remember that Google algorithms keep getting smarter. For example, you can approach relevance from an SEO content point of view, but it will only help you rank for so long.
Providing location-specific content isn’t enough; you need to offer value. However, it’s quite hard to evaluate value for humans and even robots. Start by changing your perspective, especially how you view your site. Provide wholesome content instead of keyword stuffing and fluff. Search engines want value, and if you are stuffing keywords in your content, Google will reduce your visibility, relevance, and authority.
When it comes to proximity, Google’s local algorithm looks at the location of your business in relation to the user’s search location. For example, if you type you want to go to a restaurant near you, Google will look for restaurants that are near your search location.
If you scroll down a typical Google results page, you will see the zip code or area that Google thinks you are at the moment of your search. This is especially true for desktop searches. Google will narrow down your location to your current zip code. However, the use of your mobile to browse often yields more accurate results.
Google uses your geo coordinates as a reference point when answering your search queries. It’s kind of creepy how accurate Google is when providing location-based search results. Google uses the same principle when providing local search results. The search engine tries to provide results that are closest to your current location.
Google is choosy when it comes to ranking businesses. The first pages are reserved for well-known businesses, and the rest follow. That’s why large companies like Amazon and eBay dominate the first pages. Google knows and recognizes these brands. These are prominent brands that are known worldwide; thus, Google prioritizes them when offering search results.
The same applies to local businesses. You see, Google will rarely rank your business over a more prominent business. Google looks at your average foot traffic to gauge your importance. They will also check your reviews to learn what customers are saying about your business. Citations will also play a key role in ranking.
Google’s Latest Algorithm Update
The last two months have been hectic for the local SEO industry, especially after Google released an algorithm update on November 5. Since the update, local results have changed, and for a few weeks, it was chaotic. It didn’t take long before Google released another update on November 13.
The first rollout was a bit aggressive, and most businesses witnessed a drop in rankings. It was so severe that some businesses dropped out of the local rankings entirely. However, Google realized it was too severe and made a few adjustments, which saw some rankings restored. After two months, it’s certain that this update is here to stay.
The update focused more on relevance, unlike the last major update in 2016, which focused on proximity. Google is trying to understand local business and how certain keywords relating to your business. Previously, rankings were influenced by primary categories, which meant that having the right categories could be your golden ticket.
The update has also capped the service area limit to 20 cities, districts plus postal codes per listing. Your listing is now limited to 20 service areas, which means you’ll have to update your service areas if your businesses cover more than 20 service areas. You can expand the existing areas to include larger service areas.
Can You Rank Well Without the Three Key Local SEO Factors?
Every business wants to rank well and focusing on the three factors seems to help. You can ignore them in the hope that you’ll grow and rank organically. However, this strategy doesn’t always work, and eventually, you’ll need at least one of the three factors.
You can expand your service radius by improving your prominence and relevance. If you’re providing content that’s relevant and answering search queries, Google is bound to notice you. You can also use long-tail keywords to expand your radius. However, the most effective strategy to expand your reach is via prominence.
Google will rank a business even when it’s outside the search area simply because it’s prominent. This typically favors businesses with domain authority and a lot of reviews. Some use fake listings to fool the algorithm into ranking their businesses well. This strategy is easy as it doesn’t however it is an exceptional risky move to make because your rankings will be much worse off once Google catches on. Others use keyword stuffing, but eventually, Google catches up with everyone in the end. Therefore, the best strategy is to follow the set guidelines, and in due time you’ll get your shot at the top pages.