Google’s local search algorithm can be reduced to the following equation:
Ranking = Location + Information + Corroboration + Input + X
Understanding these variables is a critical part of successfully marketing your business online. Small Local Businesses have just two meaningful representations in the local search space: a website and a business listing or “LBL”.
Business listing optimization and improving your “findability” in the local search space is the hot market right now. Local search is mainstream. And If you’re not already convinced of this, all you have to do is measure the real estate Google allots to their 7-pack (listings that appear adjacent to the large map of business locations) in the universal results – on many screens almost pushing the index-based results below the fold.
Surprisingly, only about 11% of Businesses have even claimed their business listings. And roughly 25% of the existing “Name, Address, Phone Number” representations floating around online are incorrect.
This is an opportunity for those of you who take full advantage and correct the mistakes of what Google represents about your business.
For any local search, the major search engines (e.g., Google Maps, Yahoo! Local, Bing Local) all use their own “black box” algorithms to deliver results they determine are most-to-least relevant. I’ve found a handful of factors that influence rankings.
Ranking Factors: What Determines the Ranking Results in Local Search?
Back to my equation: Ranking = Location + Information + Corroboration + Input + X; X being defined as the consistent unknown and ever-evolving factor contributing to the unpredictability we see in results. The definition of X might as well be stored in the same vault as the Coca-Cola recipe. The other criteria of the local search equation are better understood.
1. Location: Distance from the geographic center of the area searched – the closer your business is, the higher you rank — well kind of. This factor has been reduced in weight recently, but at a minimum, claim your basic listing and make sure business name, address and telephone numbers are accurate and complete to take advantage of this location factor.
2. Information: Listings containing more robust information and links rank higher in results (e.g., a website link, keyword-rich content, media, etc). Enhance your listing with keyword-rich content targeting the top keyword phrases prospective consumers may use to find you. Businesses with product/service keywords in their LBL title get an extra boost (some businesses actually change their name specifically for this reason). I also suggest supplementing your listing with as many “extras” as possible. One example would be adding a custom coupon.
3. Corroboration: How many other local search engines or directories have your same listing published? Each time the information contained in your listing matches the Name, Address, Phone and description on other “relevant” sites, your listing gets a “citation” (award) — the more citations you have, the higher your business ranks.
4. “Objective” Consumer Input: How many consumer reviews/ratings or other sources of user input does your business have on “relevant” sites? How many are positive/negative? To maximize citations and achieve the highest possible ranking you need to get as much positive feedback as possible. Encourage your happy customers to go online and give you a positive review on multiple sites. Google recognizes unique and non-unique URL’s within the review section – so don’t think you can get carried away with rating your own business.
Negative ranking factors: Avoid using an 800# or multiple phone numbers across listings for tracking purposes; non-local area code; use of a P.O. Box; multiple LBLs with same phone number and/or DBA and/or address; stuffing geo-targeted keywords into non-related categories or fields; high percentage of bad reviews.