Google Algorithm Explained!: Send Your My Business Listing to the Top of the Search Results
Eye-catching signs and an attractive storefront are all well and good, but gone are the days where these physical lures were enough to draw people in to visit your business.
Now, with nearly every person owning a smartphone, people turn to the internet—namely Google Maps—to search for and discover new businesses. That’s why optimizing your Google My Business (GMB) listing to appeal to Google’s ranking algorithm is an essential step for any local business.
Google ranks listings using three main factors:
Believe it or not, there are ways to improve your listing to appeal to all three factors. Sure, relevance and distance seem pretty definitive. I mean, either you have what they’re looking for, or you don’t. Either you’re close by, or you’re not. Right?
Google combines these factors to find the “best match” for users’ searches, which means, for example, that it’s not always about just finding the place that is physically closest to the searcher. The Google algorithm might, for instance, decide that a business that’s farther away from your location is more likely to have what you’re looking for than a business that’s closer and will therefore rank it higher in local results. There are, therefore, a few things you can do to make your business rank higher, even if you’re not the closest option.
We’re breaking down the three factors that influence the Google algorithm and talking about ways that you can optimize your GMB listing to earn your business a place in the local three pack:
Relevance refers to how well a local listing matches what someone is searching for. Basically, does the result match what the user typed into the search bar? Obviously, no matter what you do, your business isn’t going to show up in the results if you own a pizza restaurant, and the user is looking for an auto body shop. However, there are ways of boosting your relevance for the Google algorithm so that your listing appears more frequently over competitors in relevant searches.
Tips for Improving Relevance:
Claim Your GMB Listing
The first thing you need to do to improve your ranking is, obviously, to claim your listing. Google likes to keep things in-house as much as possible, so it favors its own accurate and current business listings when giving local search results to search users.
Now, it’s possible to already have a listing (or even multiple listings) without realizing it, so if you’re unsure, you can simply type your address into Google Maps and see if a listing pops up. Our introductory Google My Business article goes over where to go from there and gives instructions for setting up an entirely new listing, so check that out for more info.
Optimize Your GMB Listing
Google rewards accurate and complete listings with higher rankings. After all, businesses with complete and accurate information are easier to match with the right searches. Make sure that you’ve entered all of your business information in Google My Business, so customers know more about what you do, where you are, and when they can visit you. Provide information like your physical address, phone number, category, and attributes. Then, make sure to keep this information updated as your business changes.
This factor is just what it sounds like: How far is each potential search result from the location term used in a search? If a user doesn’t specify a location in their search, Google will calculate distance based on what’s known about their location.
There are, however, ways to “hack” the system and make your listing rank higher in searches with local intent.
Tips for Improving Distance:
Create Local Content
Think of how people search for local businesses. Most people will use a similar format when searching for local businesses. Usually they’ll type something like “pizza restaurant near Austin, TX” or “laundromat near Boston, MA.”
That’s why SEO experts often recommend creating a page on your site that targets this phrase, using the keyword in the title tag, meta description, copy, permalink, etc. to help Google to identify your location and match local users to your business.
Additional local content (blog articles that mention location, press releases, etc.) will also increase the likelihood of your business showing up in relevant location-based searches.
Ensure That Your NAP Information is Consistent
No, I’m not talking about your sleep schedule.
NAP stands for name, address, phone number, and if they aren’t consistent, that’s a huge problem. Tying a consistent name, address, and phone number (NAP) to your business verifies that it is legitimate. If that information isn’t consistent, it raises red flags.
To combat this issue, make sure that this information is the same across all the sites on which your business is listed (website, My Business listing, and any local directory sites). Also, the more “local citations” you have (on sites like Yelp, the BBB, local chamber of commerce, etc.) where your business information appears, the better.
Prominence refers to how well-known a business is—both on- and offline. If a place is particularly prominent in the physical world (museums, landmarks, well-known brands, etc.), that will be reflected in the listing. Even businesses with very prominent signage or an attention-grabbing design are more likely to be featured.
That doesn’t, however, mean that your business needs to be flashy to stand out online.
Prominence is also based on information that Google collects from across the web (links, articles, and directories). Google review count and score are also factored into local search ranking. (More reviews and positive ratings will improve a business’s local ranking.) Your website’s position in search results is also a factor, so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization.
Basically, Google wants to give its users trustworthy and reliable recommendations, so to improve prominence, social proof is essential.
Tips for Improving Prominence:
Utilize Google Posts and Q&A
Google Posts and Google Q&A are both relatively recent additions to the family of My Business features. Both are about giving local businesses a chance to provide more information about their business and help potential customers discover the places that fit their needs.
Google Posts are basically like status updates that appear on your GMB listing. Besides helping your ranking, Google Posts are a great way to show what makes your business special by:
- Promoting events such as grand openings, open houses, and guest speakers.
- Sharing current promotions including holiday specials and discounts.
- Showcasing new products with features and benefits.
- Featuring specific products and services— from free delivery to new menu items.
- Promoting online booking capabilities for salons, restaurants, or installations.
- Teasing new blog content.
As the name suggests, Google Q&A lets users ask questions about local businesses for others to answer. You can either answer existing questions from your customers or post your own, using the space as your own personal FAQ. Either way, the thing to remember here is that content is king, and adding more information, in the form of Posts or FAQs, will help to boost your listing’s prominence for the Google algorithm.
Solicit and Respond to Reviews
Social proof is a powerful thing. In fact, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as they do for recommendations from friends.
Reviews provide the social proof that people need to feel comfortable with their purchasing decision. So naturally, search engines like Google put a strong emphasis on reviews in their ranking algorithm.
Luckily, there are ways that you can increase the volume and quality of reviews you receive. (Check out our article here for more info.) Once you have those reviews, it’s a good idea to respond (respectfully, of course) to reviews. Businesses that actively engage posts on their listing are favored over businesses that just “set it, and forget it.”
Improve Citations and Backlinks
Prominence is all about ensuring that your business is trustworthy. To make your business appear more trustworthy to Google’s algorithm, you’ll want to build up your presence across the web. The more sites that mention or link to your business (with consistent contact information, of course), the more likely that your business is legit. Make sure that you’ve claimed your listing across all relevant web directories (Yelp, BBB, etc.), and try submitting content to relevant industry publications. Not only is this a good idea to help boost your prominence for Google search, it’ll also boost brand awareness across the web.