Sometimes we get too far down our own silo in our industries to remember to address some of the basics. I will have a discussion with a client or prospect that will ask a question that reminds me once again that they don’t dig into the weeds of this stuff every day.  Whitespark just came out with the 2023 local search rankings study a few days back, and it will serve as fuel for a few posts, but I wanted to start with some of the absolute basics that can be confusing for people. I wanted to start by looking at the top 5 factors from the study and explain what they mean, how much control you do (or should) have over them, and what to do about it.  We will dive into more later in the week and probably even into next month. There is always a lot of great data to learn here.  But it is good to start by looking at what is the most important because many have it wrong. Let’s take a look at each one below.

Whitespark 2023 Top Local Pack Ranking Factors

Primary GBP Category

When you set up your Google Business Profile (often referred to as GBP), one of the key pieces of information you will provide about your business is your category. Google provides a long list of options here, though frustratingly still not long enough for some.  Many of you will find the perfect match here, but it is worth searching the list to find that exact match. There are many choices and your decision here, as you can see from the factors ranking in the image, has a huge weight of where and how you rank.  There are often a few different classifications of a core service. If that service is important to you, as with many factors in search, it is best to be specific and meet your key customers where they are.  For example, many business owners are tempted to go with the broadest topic, but being more specific will actually typically help you get the best rankings and traffic.  With law, there are many types of attorney and lawyer categories to choose from as well as very generic choices like lawyer or attorney.  You will likely be better off focusing on your bread and butter service as your primary category and list others as secondary.  This gives you more weight for your primary category thet brings you the best customers. The lists are always changing, so check in from time to time and make sure you still have the best choice. This is still something you can choose and it means a lot, so make the right decision here. Many of the others you have far less control over.

Keywords in GBP Business Title

This is another opportunity to make a mistake if you don’t know what you are doing. “Keyword stuffing” is a common tactic because Google gives weight to having the keyword in the business name.  However, for long term stability and to stay out of trouble, it is best to use your actual business name. The name you use when you answer the phone. If you are a locksmith named “Smith’s Locks”, calling your business “Smith’s Denver Locksmith Near Me” is likely going to get you in trouble in the long run, even if you might get a quick immediate boost when the algorithm sees the keyword. If you get caught by Google or a competitor turning you in, you can potentially have your entire listing suspended and not rank at all, or even lose hundreds of reviews you have worked on building up. Remember, Google views itself as the owner of your reviews, not you. Stick with your real business name. Don’t try to cheat the system. Google is getting better and better at figuring this out faster and faster.

Proximity of Address to the Point of Search

That’s a mouthful. Essentially, it means where you are compared to where Google understands the searcher to be.  This is often easiest to explain at a high level. If you are in Seattle looking for a chiropractor, you don’t want your local search to rank chiropractors from Miami.  It makes sense that being close, or local, to the searcher would have a lot of weight in the rankings. It holds true at a more granular level too. Your results may change for a city simply by doing the same search on one side of town vs. the other side of town. Chiropractic offices that are physically closer to you are going to gain weight in the algorithm.  It’s not everything, but it matters a lot.  You can’t necessarily change your office location (at least not easily), so you have to try to outrank businesses that are closer to the other side of town with other tactics. In competitive markets it can come down to a review or two.

Physical Address in City of Search

This is very similar to the proximity factor above. Again, location matters a lot for local searches. It makes sense. This one can be frustrating for many businesses as it blends into the total algorithm though. Sometimes we are hurt or helped by a political line that divides towns.  Being just on the other side of a city border can have major repercussions for your business for city searches.  The algorithm tries to use proximity and address and blend them together for a “smart” answer, but we still see times when a business that is closer, but outside the city border, can be outranked, even though it thinks it has a competitor beat in many other areas.  It is always helpful to have an address inside the city you are trying to show up for in local searches.

Removal of Spam Listings through Spam Fighting

This has almost become an industry in itself.  Because so many black hat SEO‘s are always trying to game the system, there are a lot of fake or cheating business names out there.  Reporting them and getting them removed can be a very helpful tactic to get you moved up the rankings. It is also important to make sure you don’t have accidental duplicates of your own business that may be confusing and suppressing you in search. If you see clear rulebreakers in your market, go take the time to report them. Google provides a form here. Keep in mind that you need to attach your name and account to these spam reports, so if you are reporting legitimate businesses, your reputation with Google can be hurt.  But if they are real spammers, definitely report them and help get them removed. It helps Google and your whole industry, as well as yourself.

More to come on the local ranking factors. Darren and the folks at Whitespark do a great job with this survey and research every year.  There is so much great information provided. We will try to provide the key headlines for small business owners to help them understand a bit more what everything means. If you need help with a local search plan, please give us a call.

This blog post was written by a human being.