What Factors Drive Google’s Local Algorithm?
By Mike Cynar
Google’s algorithms treat local and organic differently. Discover the top local SEO ranking factors that drive Google’s local algorithm here.
When considering your site’s optimization, it’s important to make a distinction between local and organic SEO. Local SEO ranking factors are distinct from organic factors, and failing to realize this can really set you back from your competition.
We’re going to discuss local ranking factors in this article, giving you a better idea of what you can do to find success as a local business. If you’re totally out of the loop with SEO and what it entails, don’t worry.
We’ll give a little introduction to search engine optimization before we dig into the specifics of local SEO. Let’s get started:
What is SEO and Why Does it Matter?
Search engine optimization is the process of fitting your website to the preferences of search engines like Google with the intention of ranking highly in search results.
It’s a simple idea, but one that requires effort, thought, and some time. Optimization is difficult because so many other sites are competing for rankings on the same search terms.
We refer to the terms that users search as “keywords.” Keywords can include a number of words and phrases, but the point is that they’re being searched heavily by your user base.
In fact, keyword research and optimization is the foundation of optimization. When you know what your target audience is searching for, you can create content and optimize it to rank for those terms.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll have to leave out pertinent information about optimization in general. Instead, we’ll key in on “local” searches as opposed to organic searches.
Local vs Organic SEO: What’s the Difference?
Organic optimization is what people are typically referring to when they talk about “SEO.”
“Organic” refers to the idea that–location aside–the results in a search are organized according to how well-optimized the websites listed are. Results cease to be organic when location becomes heavily involved in the search.
There’s always going to be an element of geography in search engine searches, though. For example, a search that’s geared around information in the United States will be less valuable to someone living in the United Kingdom. As a result, you’ll get relevant information from the wider geographic area you live in.
Some searches are more heavily geared toward specific areas, though. For example, you might be looking for a particular product or service online before you head out and visit an actual business. These kinds of searches are local searches, and the process of optimizing for them is different.
Local SEO Ranking Factors
Before we start, try searching for a local business on Google. Something like “haircuts near me” will do just fine.
You’ll notice that there is a map, followed by three business listings. The map likely has icons for the three businesses listed underneath.
These are the spots you’re optimizing for. It makes sense that these selections are the most relevant, clicked-on, and successful links for the keyword search you entered. Naturally, you want to land somewhere in that selection.
It’s a coveted spot, though, and a lot of people are after those rankings. You can get there if you optimize well, but you have to understand the ranking factors and how to tune your site to them.
Let’s explore the local SEO ranking factors that will land you in the most valuable searches and drive business to your site.
1. Relative Location
The location of the user is the most important factor when it comes to local searches. This kind of goes without saying, but it’s central to the entire idea.
Your job on this front is to make sure that the zip code of your business is correct. To find out whether or not your page is listed under the correct location, do some research in an incognito tab.
Simply search for your business and examine whether or not all of the locations are correct. If you’re off, you might need to adjust the information on your website. This is crucial to the entire operation, and without a correct business listing, you will be out of luck for local searches.
Optimizing for Proximity
In terms of optimization, location-specific keyword research is the name of the game here. There are numerous keyword research tools that have the ability to look up the frequency of keyword searches for specific zip codes.
The nature of your business and the volume of similar businesses in your area will determine how specific you need to be with this research. If you’re a restaurant, you will certainly want to optimize for the zip code your business is in.
If you’re a business that has little competition within your zip code, you can expand a little bit when it comes to finding terms to optimize for.
2. Business Importance
The next search factor that Google considers is your business’ prominence.
Remember that search engines are also businesses that face competition. Their goal is to provide the most relevant search results to users. If the results of one search engine are lacking in relevance and usefulness, users will migrate to another site.
So, it makes sense that Google lists the sites they think are more important than the others. These are the ones that users are more likely to find value from.
There are ways to improve your perception in the search engine’s eyes, though.
Optimizing for Prominence
Your prominence is essentially how popular you are. Search engines rank this factor using some context clues.
These are usually indicators that come from input from users and other websites. One optimization factor that sticks out here is link-building.
If your site accumulates a number of links to a page from other pages, search engines will assume that you’re valuable enough for other sites to recommend you to their own users. The trick is figuring out how to generate these links.
When your website accumulates enough traffic, links will start to pop up out of the blue. Before that, though, you’ll have to put in some leg work. This could mean offering to write a blog post for the site in exchange for the chance to insert a link.
Another key factor is positive online business reviews. The more good things people say about you online, the higher you will rank. We recommend incentivizing your customers to leave reviews with discounts or some other benefit.
3. Relevance to the Search
Next comes how relevant your content is to the idea that users are looking for. All other factors aside, you aren’t going to rank if your content isn’t clear about the keyword phrase.
The first thing here is ensuring that you’re optimizing pages for specific terms. You can write an article about a subject without actually maximizing on the keyword phrase that’s popular for users.
Make sure that the keyword phrase is listed on prominent sites of your page. Things like tags, meta descriptions, body content, and headings are all solid places to list the keyword.
Local searches also tend to have the city name included as well. Whenever it feels natural, you should list your city and state. Additionally, you’ll have success if your keyword is included in your business title.
There’s not a lot you can do about this one if you’re an established business. If you’re still conjuring up the business, though, finding a sly way to incorporate a prominent keyword will yield results.
Throughout the process of optimization, local or otherwise, remember that your ultimate goal is to be as relevant to the user as possible. Google’s algorithm is extremely skilled at sniffing out relevant sites and those that are trying too hard to appear relevant.
It seems intuitive to place a lot of keywords on a page designed to rank for specific keywords. Placing key terms unnaturally, though, means that your content is not as organic and relevant.
Human beings can tell whether or not content is readable, useful, and unforced, and search algorithms are getting progressively better at doing this, too. Develop the skill of placing keywords whenever it is natural, and only then.
You can actually be punished for over-optimizing. Not only will you fail to compete with other local businesses, but “Black Hat SEO” can actually cause your site to be unindexed.
Black Hat SEO is essentially any dishonest effort to rank in search results.
Optimization in Practice
Now that you know the terms that you should be thinking of for local searches, let’s talk a little bit about how to establish your site in search rankings.
Make sure that your site is in great shape. That means you have a clear site architecture, well-written content, and the various pages you have are optimized for popular keywords in your area.
“Site architecture” refers to the organization and layout of your website. Essentially, search engines want to see that your pages are designed in a logical way and that it’s easy to move from one page to another. If you were to go to your site in search of information, would it be quick and easy to find that information?
The less complicated, the better. Your site should also be comprised of two primary kinds of pages: tertiary and pillar pages.
Your pillar pages are the ones that are the most essential. These are the pages that you want people to explore right before they move on to make a purchase. Pillar pages are optimized scrupulously and serve as a foundation for your SEO.
Tertiary pages, on the other hand, kind of serve as branches of your SEO tree. While pillar pages are the trunk, tertiary pages gather web traffic and send it back down to the pillar.
Creating pages that spread around the web to generate interest in your site is called “content creation.”
The Value of Content Creation
You can’t optimize all of your pages for all popular keywords. Saturating your web pages with numerous keywords at high volumes will probably hurt your rankings.
You want to capitalize on popular keywords, though, because users are online making searches that could lead them to your site. Content creation addresses this problem perfectly.
Research popular keywords with low competition, and try and see from the eyes of the users who are searching those terms. What questions do they want to be answered? What is their underlying issue?
Answer those questions for yourself, then create keyword-optimized content that addresses the users’ questions. At the end of your content, insert a call to action that directs the reader back to your main page or a sales page where they can see your product or service.
As these tertiary pages begin to have success, your pillar pages will also see an increase. Remember the ranking factor of prominence. Each time you post something that increases traffic to your site in general, Google will take note and rank you accordingly.
So, if you do excellent keyword research and produce regular content, you should see increased traffic from a tide that lifts all boats.
Take Note of Successful Sites
One way to improve your odds of competing is to look at the sites that are ranking for your area. Go into an incognito tab if you can, and search the keyword phrase that you would like to rank for.
You’ll see the local businesses who have optimized or are successful enough and are listed in the top three. Go on to their sites and take note of all relevant details.
Is their content keyword optimized? Where, specifically, has their team placed keywords, and how often do they use them? Do they use diagrams, photos, videos, or infographics?
How long is their content? How often are they posting to their blog, and are they sharing all blog content on their social media sites? If a page is doing these things and ranking in the top spot for your desired keyword, you should be doing those things as well.
Want More Information?
Understanding local SEO ranking factors are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to running a successful SEO campaign. There’s a lot to learn, but knowing how optimization works will help a lot with your success online.
If you’re interested in digging a little deeper into SEO, explore our site for the information you need.