In the last couple of years, Google has put a lot more emphasis on local results in search. Depending on their query, users often get “blended” search results with places from Google Maps and traditional “organic” search results appearing together on the first page.
The changes in Google Local search have a lot of a small businesses and SEO consultants wondering how to put themselves on the map, so to speak. Google+ Places is a factor of local business search results along with Google’s recent search algorithm updates that removed a lot of low-quality results (i.e., websites with keyword-stuffed content and deceptive SEO practices) from its rankings.
But how does Google decide if your small business is found in local search? Its exact algorithms are secret, but three important factors seem to be location, relevance and prominence. Optimizing for local search isn’t easy, but these are important principles for crafting your local search marketing strategy.
How to get on the map in local search
Location: Your business needs a physical address in order to be found on the map. And if you want to be found in searches in a certain city, then you must have an address in that city. Your address, along with your business name and phone number, should also be consistent across the sources that Google indexes to create your listing.
Claiming your Google+ Places listing and keeping it updated may help to reduce duplicates or outdated information that might confuse both potential customers and web crawlers. It can be a great business finder for people looking for your business.
Relevance: This includes things like categorizing your business appropriately in Google Places. You can include a few category associations, so if you’re a veterinarian, for example, you might choose some variations like animal hospital, pet care, dogs, and perhaps supply, boarding and kennel, if relevant. You might also consider using keywords in your business name, though the jury is still out, marketing-wise, on whether it is better to be memorable and clever than searchable and obvious.
Prominence: This is where it gets a little trickier, including factors like the age of your web domains and Places page, number and rating of reviews and other user-generated content about your business, and citations about your business elsewhere on the web. These social activity and authority signals send messages to search engines about how established, reputable and engaged your business is with the community – and thus recommendable by way of display in search results.
The importance of citations
The number of citations you have counts toward your search engine ranking. Citations are mentions of your business on other websites, which don’t necessarily have to link to yours. Examples of quality citations include directory listings like Yellow Pages; appearances in public registries and government sites; and membership listings with organizations like your local Chamber of Commerce, area business association or professional association. Mentions in the media or local blogs also count. Citations that appear to be manually generated may also be seen as more trustworthy—as it shows that real humans have validated the existence of your business.
All things being equal, citations should boost your ranking, so make it part of your local marketing strategy to get your business name and address out there. It can be the best local advertising to get your business on local search results.