What Is A Ranking Factor?
Ranking Factors describe the criteria search engines apply when evaluating web pages to compile search result rankings.
Ranking factors can relate to website content, user experience, technical implementation, off-page signals, etc. Locally, ranking factors like local signals, reviews, and proximity are added to the list.
Understanding local SEO ranking factors is a prerequisite for an effective SEO strategy.
How do you do that?
Every second of every day, SEOs and marketers rank websites on search engines. Through their effort, they compile data and experience that allows them to understand what works and what doesn’t. Ranking factors are not absolutes but strong correlations that allow marketers to make better decisions.
Google evaluates sites on hundreds of factors, ensuring that aiming your SEO efforts is nothing but challenging. This article will focus on the 20 local SEO ranking factors that matter most to Google.
Local SEO Ranking Factors: The Local Pack
We’ll start with the top 10 ranking factors for Google Business. Our data shows that a fully-optimized Google Business profile can generate most of a business’s organic leads.
1. Primary GBP Category
Google uses your Google Business profile to tell it what your business does so it can serve your business in relevant searches. The first place it looks is your business category. There are over 4,000 Google Business profile categories you can choose from.
From those 4,000 categories, you can choose one main category and up to nine secondary categories. Secondary categories come in handy if your fencing and deck installation company. Or if you run a grocery store with a deli inside of it.
The #1 factor in your decision should be the type of business you want to prioritize moving forward. If you choose mutliple secondary categories, ensure you have matching service pages on your website for each category.
2. Keywords in GBP Business Title
There’s a lot of controversy around this ranking factor because many SEOs and business owners spam this ranking factor. Regardless, the Whitespark report shows that having your target keyword in your Google Business title is the #2 ranking factor.
It’s likely that your official business name already has your main keyword or partial keyword in it’s name, like this example from our client below:
Warning: Changing your Google Business profile name can trigger an auto suspension, so tread lightly. You can also trigger a suspension later if Google thinks you’re trying to game the system by using a different name than your legal business name.
3. Proximity of Address to the Point of Search (Searcher-Business Distance)
The #3 ranking factor on the list is the proximity of the searcher to your business. This one is rather self-explanatory, as local searchers usually seek a mix of the best and closest solutions.
If Google determines that a search has local intent (about 1/3 of all searches do), then it will prioritize showing local businesses.
4. Physical Address in City of Search
- Physically moving your business address to the larger city.
- Setting up an office in the larger city, especially if you don’t see customers at your location anyways.
- Creating a city page for the larger location or optimizing your homepage for the larger location.
There’s no one-size fits all answer to this question, so speak with an SEO expert.
5. Removal of Spam Listings Through Spam Fighting
Moderating and removing spam listings from Google Business can significantly impact your rankings if you find numerous spam listings in your area.
Two ways to remove spam listings:
- Ask Google to remove fake listings that aren’t real companies.
- Ask Google to change the name of listings that are using keywords in the GMB name to game the system.
According to Google’s TOS, you are supposed to represent your business as it’s consistently represented in the real world across signage, stationary, and other branding.
6. High Numerical Google Ratings (e.g. 4-5)
It should be no surprise that Google heavily favors businesses with high ratings. Most customers seek out businesses based on their reviews, so it’s a conversion factor as well.
Another ranking factor that didn’t make the list is the timeframe in which a business receives reviews. Google prefers to see reviews spread out over time instead of large spurts.
7. Additional GBP Categories
It’s evident that Google Business category matters based on the #1 ranking factor. Google allows businesses to select nine additional categories. This allows businesses to expand their reach and rank for additional services.
8. Quantity of Native Google Reviews (With text)
We don’t know the exact secret formula Google uses to judge businesses based on reviews. Still, we can use our better judgment to infer the number of reviews a business has is important.
Let’s break down what Google considers when judging reviews (in loose order of importance):
- The numerical rating (From 0-5)
- The number of reviews
- The length and relevance of reviews (Including keywords and services)
- The velocity of reviews (Spread out vs. all at once)
9. Verified GBP
You’ll have a tough time getting an unverified Google Business account to show in the search results anyways. Moreover, having a verified Google Business Profile is the first step to visibility on Google.
Perhaps it’s not #1 because it’s so obvious.
10. Proximity of Address to Centroid
In layman, the “proximity of address to centroid” is how far the business is from the perceived center of the city. Businesses located closer to the city’s center have an advantage in local search rankings.
Also, remember that where a business ranks on one side of town may not be the same on the other side. You can use a tool like Local Falcon to see where your business ranks on a grid.
Local SEO Ranking Factors: Organic Search
The more SERPs your business can dominate, the better. Data from First Page Sage shows that ranking #1 generates a typical CTR of 39.8%. That’s more than double the CTR for the 2nd position, 18.7%, and nearly 4x the CTR for the 3rd position, 10.2%.
Not only does ranking on the first-page matter, but ranking in the top spot. Let’s analyze the top ten organic local SEO ranking factors.
1. Dedicated Page For Each Service
Let’s start our analysis of the #1 local organic search ranking factor by recalling the #1 local-pack ranking factor. Remember, Google uses the Primary GBP category as its #1 signal for your business’s niche.
The top SEOs say the same is true for organic SEO. The difference is you have more control over how this is done.
- You have control over what keywords you target
- You have control over what pages you use to target those keywords. For example, you can target your main service with your homepage.
This is a process that many businesses mess up.
2. Internal Linking Across Entire Website
The #1 priority for SEO is building a website that Google can quickly and accurately crawl/understand.
Fail to tell Google all of your services, and Google will not rank you for all of your services. Make it hard for Google to find all your pages, and Google may decide not to rank them.
An efficient internal linking structure allows your strongest pages to pass authority to your sub-pages and make navigation easier for users and crawlers.
3. Quality/Authority Of Inbound Links To Domain
Inbound links, or backlinks, are links from one website to a page on another. Google views backlinks as votes of confidence, with some backlinks earning more confidence than others.
What qualifies as a “quality” inbound link?
- The authority of the domain linking to your site
- The relevance of the site linking to your website (proximity or niche)
- The relevance of the page the backlink is pointing to.
- The relevance of the anchor text containing the link.
Google heavily dislikes “link schemes” that artificially pump backlinks to websites, usually through paid methods.
These link-schemes include:
- Buying links
- Over-optimized press releases
- Automating comment spam
- Link circles
4. Geographic (City/Neighborhood) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content
Google will look towards two types of keywords to gain an understanding of your site:
- Service-based keywords
- Location-based keywords
Geographic keywords focus on the location of your business, customers, or delivery area. You can and should spread geographical relevance throughout your site in your website URL, headings, image titles, content, and more.
Examples of geographic keywords:
- Mexican food delivery near me
- Topeka deck contractor
- Health grocery store in Pacific Heights Neighborhood
- Business accountant Huntington Beach, CA
5. Keywords in GBP Landing Page Title
The most important local SEO ranking factors are the signals that could give Google a clue about the purpose of your website. Those purposes being “Who you serve and where”
Google Business allows you to place one link. This link can be to a website, social media profile, or elsewhere. Ideally, you’re linking to an SEO-optimized homepage.
Google crawlers will first look for the keywords on your homepage and in heading tags.
6. Quality of Inbound Links to Domain from Locally-Relevant Domains
Earlier, we defined inbound links, or backlinks. We also discussed their importance and what defines a “quality” backlink.
Another quality metric is the local relevance of the inbound domains. Quality local links could include newspapers, review sites, and partner businesses. These “votes of confidence” indicate your location and authority in your geographical area.
7. Topical (Product/Service) Keyword Relevance Across Entire Website
We’ve established that search engines use a combination of content, keyword, and backlinks to determine if a page is relevant to what the user is searching for. The more relevant your entire website is to an entire topic, the more likely you are to show up for relevant searches (Surprise, surprise).
Avoid this SEO mistake: Many companies and SEOs underestimate the importance of topical research and overestimate the importance of keyword research. This leads to thin websites that rank for tons of keywords, but never rank in the top three spots.
8. Volume of Quality Content on Service Pages
This aligns with #7, which is the importance of going a step further than standard keyword research. The more quality content you create on your site, the more likely that Google will find your website relevant and rank-worthy.
The question is, how can I create quality content on service pages?
These four ideas can help:
- Include all of your target keywords, this includes the service and all similar sub-service that don’t warrant their own service page.
- Do topical research for the target keywords. Ask yourself, “How can I answer every question a potential customer might have on this page?”
- Include images, videos, and customer reviews to add social proof and ranking factors.
- Include CTAs sprinkled throughout the page’s beginning, middle, and end.
9. Volume of Quality Content on Entire Website
I recently worked with a website with about 80 location pages but only about 85 pages. This may look like blatant location page spam, but they legitimately had 80 separate locations (self-storage industry).
Google was de-indexing their location pages due to duplicate content. This is an extreme examply of having quality content throughout your entire website.
- Unique content on all of your similar pages (location and service pages)
- Creating helpful content like blogs, FAQs, and guides to increase your topical relevance and help users.
10. Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain
Anchor text — or link text — is the visible, clickable text of a link. Anchor text optimization is an extra layer of SEO that can supercharge your results.
Ideally, when receiving inbound links, you want the anchor text to match keywords you want your website to rank for. This will happen naturally as your website builds links, but you can manipulate this process, especially if you’re paying for links with your time or money.
Understand Google And Win Local Search
If this article gave you clarity towards the local SEO ranking factors at your disposal, then you’re better of than 99% of local businesses.
Before we go, know this.
Understanding what meets the needs of Google is the same as understanding what meets the needs of searchers.