What Is Google My Business?
Google My Business (GMB) is the search engine’s business directory, similar to other online directories like Yelp or the Yellow Pages. GMB makes it easier for users to find the information they need about your business, such as your location, phone number, website, products/services, operating hours, and customer reviews.
Your listing information can show up in four places:
- The knowledge panel, a panel of information that a user gets when they search for a specific business.
- The local pack (also known as a snack pack or 3-pack), which shows up right under the ad portion on the search engine results page but above the organic results.
- Google Maps, which can be accessed either through the mobile app or through a browser by clicking
“Maps” in Google Search.
- Local Finder, which is what comes up when you click on a listing in the SERP or on the “More places” button
at the bottom of the local pack.
Local results have a prominent place on the SERP. This is why it’s so important to set up and optimize your GMB listing – a higher ranking directly translates into more eyeballs on your listing. But local SEO isn’t just about improving your brand reputation, it’s also about increasing conversions.
From 2017 to 2018, experts have found that clicks from GMB listings have increased by almost 30%. In that same period, phone calls increased by 22%. What this tells us is that Google My Business is a major potential source of leads – if you know how to make the most out of it, that is.
Google Local Ranking Factors: Explanation & High Level Action Plan
Many factors affect your rank in local search results, but some matter to Google way more than others. The good news is that we can break the algorithm down into three main pillars: prominence, relevance, and proximity.
All local ranking factors fall into at least one of these categories. We’ll take a deep dive into the most important factors under each pillar to help you understand how Google decides rankings. Even better, we’ve also included a concrete action plan that will help you optimize your content, build a more visible online brand, and snatch those top local pack positions.
The Three Pillars Of Local SEO
If you’re familiar with organic SEO’s E-A-T pillars (Expertise, Authority, Trust), you can think of “prominence” as local SEO’s counterpart to “authority”. Prominence simply refers to how popular or well-known your business is to its users. The more prominent you are, the more likely you’ll rank in the local search results.
Your prominence is affected by both online and offline factors. If you are prominent in the real world, then search results will reflect that as well. Google also takes into account your brand visibility online – more citations, links, features, and positive reviews boost your prominence.
Relevance is the foundation of not just SEO but Google’s entire algorithm. When a user searches for a specific keyword, Google wants to give them the most relevant and useful results that match their query. For example, a listing for a digital marketing agency wouldn’t be very relevant to someone who is looking for a place to eat.
Increasing your relevance is simple enough. You just have to optimize your content and other related entities so that Google understands what your business is all about. You can do this by completing your online profiles and adding relevant keywords.
Proximity is about how close your business is to the user. For example, if someone is searching “best pizza restaurants” in New York, then Google won’t return results in California – unless they include a location keyword in their search term (e.g. “best pizza restaurants San Diego”).
Google’s algorithm for proximity is more complex than most people realize. Your search term and location play a role, of course, but there are other factors involved as well. If you are walking and search for “pizza near me”, for example, Google would show you restaurants that are within walking distance rather than those that require a drive or commute.
Distance is a major factor in local SEO because a user is more likely to patronize a business that is closer to them. This is also an interesting pillar to try and work with because it’s a bit more challenging to influence compared to relevance and prominence.
Since you cannot move your business address to rank in other locations, you have to optimize your local business profile so that your business is displayed to the customers you want to reach. Conventional rank trackers are notoriously inaccurate because Google serves results based on the user’s location, and that varies wildly from user to user and even device to device.
Local SEO Ecosystem
Now that you know which factors are the most important for ranking in Google My Business, it’s time to take a deeper look into Google’s algorithm to figure out why things work the way they do. This section talks about the ins and outs of the local search ecosystem as well as the best data-driven practices for local SEO.
For more insight into the search engine algorithm, we turned to some of Google’s patents. SEO experts often look at patents to test local SEO theories and prepare for potential algorithm updates, especially since Google isn’t particularly transparent about its ranking process.
It’s important to note, however, that not all patents are useful or relevant. Google claims thousands of patents a year, including some which are not in use and some which will never be. You shouldn’t turn to patents as the end- all-be-all of your SEO strategy; instead, use them to test your theories and create a stronger, more effective approach.
With all that said, let’s get started on those patents.
According to this patent, Google’s system assigns a “score” to every document based on its prominence and geo- relevance. The number of referring entities (e.g. links, backlinks, citations, profiles, etc.) and the backlink graph are both essential to how Google handles document scoring.
It’s clear from the patent that authority is still paramount. We’d recommend boosting the backlink profile of your referring links or the entities that point to your assets. Tier two link building can pass a lot of authority, but you have to be cautious – many of these link building networks are read as “spam” by search engines because they’re often used for black hat SEO. You should not cut corners or engage low-quality PBNs for your link building unless you want to get penalized by Google.
Two other factors can affect your document score: reviews and keyword relevance.
Reviews are a huge location prominence signal, and proper reputation management (both online and offline) can significantly impact your local “score”. The patent also talks about how Google scans documents for search terms. Adding keywords in your document title, content, and/or category will help you rank for relevant local searches.
“Location, location, location” is a common mantra in real estate, but it’s been co-opted by the local SEO industry as well. Proximity is one of the biggest factors when determining a local search result’s relevance, which is why it’s important to add necessary geographical markers to help Google match you with nearby customers.
This Google patent tells us that the search engine indexes documents according to geographical relevance, based on a wide range of location signals (e.g. addresses, zip codes, latitude/longitude, etc.). This validates what pretty much every SEO expert tells you: if you want to succeed at local SEO and rank in GMB/Google Maps, you have to make sure that you have your NAP (name, address, and phone number) in as many of your online assets as possible – and make sure it’s consistent.
If you add location signals to your content, it becomes an unstructured citation for your business. Collect structured citations alongside these to further reinforce your geo-relevance. You should also add geographical data to your website, GMB posts, backlinks, and more. This could be in the form of your business address, GPS coordinates, a Google Maps location, and even driving directions.
Adding location markers alone won’t boost your rankings, but it does provide the geographical data necessary for Google to return relevant results to its users. Combine it with other local SEO practices for an effective campaign.
Originally filed in 2004, this patent tackles how Google determines a particular document’s authority. It’s a relatively simple process – Google looks for documents associated with a location, then it identifies authority signals that are associated with the documents such as backlinks, anchor text, document titles, and more. After weighing all the associated signals, the algorithm determines the “authority score” of the document. Documents with higher authority scores are more likely to be displayed in a prominent position in the SERP compared to documents with a lower authority score.
This reinforces what we already know about authority while tying it in with geo-relevance. The best way to boost the authority of your document or page is by increasing the number of referring links, tapping high-authority referring domains, and improving the strength/relevance of those links. Then, they pass that coveted link juice to your assets.
Another helpful practice is associating all documents with your entity/business by adding your NAP where relevant.
You should also link to other related documents/pages to help Google’s bots crawl and index your content.
Another proximity-related patent filed by Google in 2004 talks about how Google assigns location markers to a document that doesn’t have any by looking at the geographical signals of relevant or associated documents. What this means is that Google’s search engine algorithm can analyze a set of web documents, determine the location of the first document based on keywords and other geographical data, then assign those geographic location identifiers to a second web document if Google determines that there’s a relevant link between the two.
You can make it easier for search engines to “assign” the right location by including addresses, phone numbers, and other geographical signals throughout your document/page. Anchor texts in link building – specifically those that mention your town/city – can also potentially increase your geo-relevance.
Semantic Geo-Tokens & Nearby Locations
Whenever you add a geographical marker (e.g. address, driving directions) to your document, it receives a “geo- token” that represents the location. These geo-tokens are responsible for providing relevant local search results to the user by operating off a “confidence system” – the more defined geographical information you have associated with a document, the higher the confidence score, and the more likely you will appear as a result for that location.
Again, this strengthens the importance of adding geo-relevant signals to your content and documents. This patent makes it clear that the system looks at both on-page and off-page signals to determine your location. It scans your document for addresses, city names, landmarks, neighborhoods, zip codes, and more. It also reads backlink anchor text (see the figure above for an example) to figure out the correct location.
Nearby locations can also be associated with your document. For example, a document for a business in Atlanta can be associated with nearby towns or cities within a certain distance. This helps you rank for searches even if you are just outside the given location.
Trusted Sources & Spam
Google’s goal is to provide its users with the most relevant and useful results, which is why they developed a system for determining a source’s trustworthiness. Before retrieving business information to display to a user, Google looks to see if the source is trusted or not. If the source is trusted, it displays the result. If the source is not trusted, then Google weighs several factors, assigns a “trust score”, and displays or withholds the result depending on that score.
The patent gives many clues as to what could trigger a spam classification. Using subjective terms like “best” or “cheap” repeatedly throughout the content, adding commercial modifiers where they shouldn’t be, and stuffing your content with keywords are a few things that could get your document categorized as spam.
You can avoid getting tagged as spam by using natural language, incorporating keywords organically, and getting listed on trusted platforms. Increasing your trust signals and avoiding spam triggers are the two most important takeaways from this.
Local Search & Universal Search
If you’re familiar with SEO, then you should already know that local and organic search are different things. But there are times when the two aren’t completely separate; this patent explains how search results are merged.
Documents are scored through two different search engine algorithms – one for local, the other for universal/organic. A document may have different rankings for each. But when the search query requires the two to be merged, Google combines the two results and rescores the document based on the second algorithm.
This just means that ranking well in organic search results could positively affect your local rankings and vice-versa. Higher authority in one system can still benefit you across different search engines, so it’s still a best practice to include organic SEO in a local SEO strategy.
Structured Data For Entities
This patent demonstrates how Google collects structured information about your entity/business from all over the web, including data aggregators, directories, and more. Structured information refers to your structured citations – usually, these mean your business directory citations.
Make sure that your business information is consistent no matter where it appears on the web. This involves standardizing your NAP and updating old listings with the correct information.
Term Frequency For Entity Knowledge
In 2011, Google filed a patent on assigning “terms of interest” to an entity, giving us an idea of how Google builds its database and categorizes documents. When you add keywords (or “candidate terms”) to your content, the algorithm is more able to determine what your content – and therefore, your entity/business – is about. The patent also talks about “learning” this information from user input and queries as well.
This patent reinforces the importance of adding keywords, related terms, and variations throughout your content. You should also make sure that any referring entities use the correct keywords since the algorithm also looks at off- page signals to determine an entity’s subject matter.
Google isn’t entirely transparent about how it ranks results, but understanding the algorithm is the first step to a truly successful local SEO strategy. By looking at Google’s patents – past, present, and future – we can test out our SEO theories, prepare for upcoming algorithm changes, and figure out which practices could get you ahead of the competition.
How To Rank Locally In Google
So how can you use your knowledge of prominence, relevance, and proximity to influence your rankings?
The trick is to create an action plan that specifically targets each of the pillars. You need to have all three to rank high – focusing on just one or two won’t cut it. This doesn’t mean that you should put equal effort into all three; you can push harder on a specific factor if you’re lacking in it, as long as all three are present.
Keep reading for hard-hitting, actionable optimization tactics for better local rankings.
Increasing Your Prominence
Building prominence is all about building brand reputation and awareness. In this section, we’ll cover some of the
most impactful prominence-building tactics: social media, link building, and reviews.
Establish Social Media Profiles
It might sound very basic, but you’d be surprised at how many businesses don’t get this step right. If you want to do
SEO – heck, if you want to do any kind of business – you need to have your social media profiles fully fleshed out.
Categorize each social media platform into either essential social profiles and secondary profiles. Essential profiles include the major social media networks like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other industry-specific
platforms (e.g. Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc.). These have to be set up first. Once you’ve established your essential profiles,
you can move on to lesser-known secondary sites like Academia.edu or Square Cash.
Link building is not as impactful as it used to be, thanks to shady businesses using black hat SEO tactics. But having a strong backlink profile is still an important ranking factor because it signals to Google that your content is accurate, relevant, and trusted.
To build citations the right way, turn to Google-approved techniques like adding your business to a directory site, writing guest posts, and reaching out to blogs/newspapers/journals/etc. to get featured.
Reinforce Your Backlink Profile
Linking to your “properties” can pass link juice. Take advantage of this by creating a backlink graph, or a list/collection
of your most important backlinks. Adding this to your website comes with plenty of benefits:
- It encourages faster indexing since Google can just crawl that page for new links.
- It adds authority/prominence signals because you have a lot of sites linking back to you.
- It adds relevance signals because Google takes each citation in context. This means that they look at who is linking to you, what type of site they are, the content your link was placed in, the anchor text of the link, and many other factors to determine the “topic” of your site/page.
Reviews are a controversial aspect of local SEO – some experts say they matter while others say they don’t. Our tests show that most businesses should see a minimal increase in rankings thanks to review generation campaigns. This means that, while reviews are important, they shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all of your SEO strategy.
Aside from rankings, there are many ways that reviews can help your business. More positive reviews increase trust and prominence with Google, even if your reviews are hosted on a third-party platform. Higher ratings also develop trust with potential customers, putting you in a more advantageous position compared to lower-rated competitors.
Increasing Your Relevance
When trying to improve your relevance score, there are two things to keep in mind: your location and your niche. In
this section, we’ll look at how adding niche and geographical keywords can help increase your relevance.
Optimize Your GMB Content
If you aren’t optimizing your GMB content for relevant keywords, then you’re losing out on a lot of relevance. Just make sure that you don’t over-optimize by stuffing your listing with keywords – that’s the best way to get penalized by Google.
Make sure that your content contains the right keywords while still being natural and easy to read. Use synonyms, related search terms, and LSI keywords. You can also use a tool to generate keywords and calculate ideal keyword density so that your content is on par with your competition.
Choose The Right Category
The category that you choose on GMB can significantly impact which search terms you rank for. Choose the most specific and most accurate category possible. We’ll go into more detail about GMB categories in a separate article.
Add Geo Markers
Increase your geo-identifiers or any information that specifies your location. This includes postcodes, neighbourhoods, GPS coordinates, Maps pin location, and more. The more of these you have, the stronger your geographical relevance.
Optimize Your Website’s Location Page
Although organic SEO is a completely separate field, it synergizes with your local SEO efforts. Google looks at your organic rankings to help determine your local search rankings, so it’s important to keep your website optimized for both niche and location keywords. You can even add a location page to your well-ranking website to boost your local performance. We’ll talk more about optimizing your website in a different guide.
Optimize Your Photo & Video Content
Optimizing your visual content is a small yet impactful step you can take to get better local rankings. Photo/video optimization covers a wide range of practices, from choosing the best images/videos to adding alt text to compressing file sizes to improve page speed.
Connect Related Entities
Connect your online brand entities such as your website, GMB profile, social media profiles, and more. Creating an interlinked network of pages is a great way to build relevance and authority in Google’s eyes. Plus, linking out to your profiles can encourage users to learn more about what you do and further engage with your brand.
Increasing Your Proximity
As we’ve mentioned earlier, working with proximity is tricky. We’ve conducted a lot of tests and experiments to see what works to increase proximity signals, and we’ve compiled our findings into our 50-minute GMB State of the Union video. Watch the video to learn more about effective proximity-building strategies.
At the end of the day, your local ranking is based on a complex web of factors. It’s important to know which ones affect your rankings the most and which are a waste of resources. Focus on building your prominence, relevance, and proximity through our concrete action plan steps, and you’ll see your online brand grow in no time.
GMB 101: The Basics Of Local SEO
The 3 Main Types Of Businesses
Before we get started on the basics of GMB, you first have to understand the three kinds of businesses that are accepted on Google My Business. Below, we break down what they are as well as the advantages and challenges of each.
Knowing which type your business is will guide you throughout the rest of the process. But if you’re struggling with this step, don’t worry – you can always change your listing later. Choose the one that best fits your business right now, and update it if it changes.
Storefronts are the most common type of business. To qualify as a storefront, your business must satisfy three conditions:
- You must have a physical location, office, or storefront where you conduct business.
- The physical location must be staffed during office hours.
- You must not conduct business anywhere else other than your storefront (e.g. customers’ homes).
Storefronts include most retail stores, restaurants, gas stations, supermarkets, and the like. The exception is when those businesses offer delivery services, but we’ll get more into that later.
Ranking for storefronts is mostly based on relevance. You’ll want to rank for the area that your business is based in since customers are usually looking for the business nearest to them. However, you can also rank for surrounding areas and even neighboring cities. This is especially true for businesses based in small towns or those that don’t have a lot of competition in the area.
Service-Area Business (SAB)
Service-area businesses (SABs) are businesses that don’t require their customers to visit a physical location. These businesses send people out to the customer’s location instead, like in the case of construction, plumbing, electric work, or delivery-only restaurants.
Because you don’t conduct business with your customers on-site, your business address should be hidden from public view. Some of these businesses may not even have a “proper” business address since SABs are often run out of someone’s home. Hiding your address will prevent customers from showing up at your office.
Unlike storefronts that may target surrounding cities, SABs can only rank in the area/s they serve. You cannot rank outside of that service area since those customers cannot benefit from your business.
GMB currently allows you to choose up to 20 service areas for each listing. We recommend choosing the largest or broadest service area first to cover as much ground as possible.
Hybrid businesses, as the name implies, are businesses that combine both storefronts and SABs. These businesses serve customers on-site while also serving customers at other locations. Examples of hybrid businesses include pizza restaurants or flower shops that have a delivery option.
How To Set Up Your GMB Listing
If you want to start ranking the local search results, then you need to have a GMB listing set up. The process is simple enough that you can set it up on your own. But if you want pro tips for higher rankings, check out our additional guide.