I have seen a lot of ads in 2022 for services that talk about focusing only on the Google Business Profile (formerly known as GMB) for small business success. I wanted to chime in on how this can be misleading for a few reasons and to generally avoid these services and focus on what truly brings you local search success. First of all, some background on local search ranking factors.
Local Search Ranking Factor Sources
As someone who has helped businesses rank through SEO and local search for over 15 years, I have lived through Google+ and the many re-brandings from Google. I have seen a rise and fall of Yelp due to some sketchy sales tactics. I have also seen a lot of companies try to take advantage of business owners with misrepresentations of information. One of the most important things in local search is to know what information sources are reliable. The Whitespark annual local search rankings study is definitely a trustworthy and reliable source. This study has been coming out for years. It has always been a great source, no matter who was officially in charge. It has changed ownership, as to who did the official work over the years, but has always been run by a highly reputable source within the industry. It has been a great and reliable source since it started. I highly recommend checking in on it every year.
Google Business Profile (GMB) as a Factor
So one of the misleading pieces of the puzzle is how much the information you provide on your Google Business Profile matters to ranking. I want to be clear here. It does matter. There are some caveats though. Some of the information that matters most, you don’t have a lot of control over. You would have that credit on your side whether you hired a company to help you with your profile or not. Though the 2021 study shows your Google My Business (now called Google Business Profile) information as being the leading bucket of ranking factors, it needs to be looked at more closely.
Proximity is the Top Ranking Factor
The number one ranking factor in local search is proximity. That has always been the case. Whatever category bucket your location sits in is going to have a boost in overall relevance in any of these studies. It makes sense right? If someone is searching for a dentist in Toledo, you want to only show dentists that are actually in or near Toledo. It should always be the top local ranking factor. At the same time, just by having a Google Business Profile (GMB), which you can claim quite easily and which will often exist for your business even if you don’t create and claim it, you already have whatever benefit or deficit that this factor provides you. If your business is outside of the town you are targeting, you already have a bit of a challenge here. Hiring a Google Business Profile company isn’t going to change this, unless they recommend black hat tactics that will get you in trouble down the road.
Now it is a good idea to fill out your Google Business Profile (formerly GMB) with as much information about your business as possible to represent what you do. The other top ranking factor is your business category. This should also be somewhat obvious to the business owner when you claim your listing. If you are an electrician, you should choose electrician as your primary category. This seems obvious and not worth paying someone to set your category for you. It is relatively straightforward. Fill out all of the information on your profile as much as possible with correct and relevant information and images about your business.
Reviews and Website Factors are Difference Makers
Once you get beyond the fairly obvious things you state on your Google Business Profile, we see that the true difference makers in local search are doing a good job, good review management, and a strong and relevant website. These are all things that happen outside the direct Google Business Profile info. If you look at this other chart below on the specific factors from the 2021 study, you see we circled the items related to review management and your website to focus on to make a difference. Having a review management program as part of your business and a good website are still the top ranking factors, beyond the obvious things you can do in 5 minutes to your profile, that you have control over.
What You Should Focus On (after the first five minutes)
Review and Site Content
So once you have done the basic info set up in the first five minutes after claiming your GMB (Google Business) profile, what should you focus on? Ask everyone for detailed reviews. The review scores and the things your customers say about you mean a lot to your relevance in different searches. Especially searches that are specific to a category. For example, a search for “best espresso martini” is going to trigger results where people mention espresso martinis in reviews. If it can’t find it, it will look at the website for mentions. This is why you should work on making sure your website, and especially your landing page from your Google Business Profile includes information about the key things people search for related to your business. You should have pages that describe all of your key offerings. Your website matters substantially in your ability to rank locally, even if the searcher never goes there.
The other key factor is links. In “regular SEO” links to your pages are very big ranking factors. Google views another website or page linking to a page as a vote of credibility for that page. The more credible links to a page, the more credible that page becomes. The most valuable links are links from other sites to yours, but even internal links or links from other pages on your own site show that you value and give power to that particular page. Internal linking is easier to do than getting external links, but both are things you can focus on. This is something that an outside company can help you with, but even basic links like from our chamber of commerce or local sponsorships will help your credibility here. Always include links in your ranking plans.
It should be pointed out that there was an update in late 2021 that was not necessarily factored into this study that was meant to drastically reduce the importance of keywords in the business name, which is one of the top factors listed here. This was to fight the sketchy strategy many were doing of stuffing keywords into their business name to rank, and causing horrendous-looking business names with 20 keywords jammed in. This has been reduced to some degree in 2022 and I look forward to seeing how this changes as a factor.
SEO is NOT about Outsmarting Google
Another ad I see out there regularly speaks to SEO being dead because it is about outsmarting Google. If you are trying to outsmart Google and look for loopholes in their algorithms, you are definitely doing it wrong, or working with someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. The O in SEO is for optimization. Google is trying to give searchers the best answers and experiences for their search queries. SEO is about that too. Providing a great user experience (UX) for users and knowing the rules and which improvements move the needle the most in terms of getting your business presence ranked highly, whether in the typical organic search result links, or in the Google Business Profile (GMB) listings. They all lean on what you are presenting on your website and what others are saying about you. A good SEO will help you with this. A bad SEO or a scammer will tell you it doesn’t matter.
If you need help figuring out where to truly focus your important budget to move the needle, give us a call. We have been doing it right for over 15 years. No gimmicks, just results.