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What Really Goes Into Google’s Location Search

By Glenn Martin | Digital Marketing Director

With 600 different ranking factors, it is often difficult to decipher all the different variables that go into Google’s search results, not to mention that rankings are even more complicated nowadays with things like mobile search and location search results. So what really goes into a Google location search? How can you and your web developers and SEO experts create content conducive to location search?

How Common are Google Location Searches?

Before we can answer what exactly goes into one of these search results, it would probably behoove us to dive into what Google location searches are and how common they are in various industries.

First, let’s think about what type of businesses you would search for as “near me.” You’ve all probably done this before; you’re out shopping or on vacation and you’ve pulled out your phone and looked for a restaurant or shop near you. Typically, the businesses showing up in location results are either brick-and-mortar businesses or businesses delivering their services or goods to your location. This could be anything from specialty boutiques to restaurants to a landscaping business, as opposed to a car insurance corporation or government service. Oftentimes these businesses are B2C, but they can also be B2B as well.

How do we know that people are using location search keywords? Well, the data speaks for itself:

Search Console

web design near me screenshot

One nice, free tool that Google offers to marketers and webmasters is Search Console (formerly known as Webmaster Tools). We all know that Google is stingy about giving us access to organic keyword data, but this tool can help you find the frequency with which certain keywords are typed into a search bar and how often your website displays as a result. For brick-and-mortar businesses and service providers, one of the keywords with the most impressions is always their service with “near me” afterwards. This indicates that people are searching for your service near them, and even if you’re the closest business to them but you’re not on the first page of search results, your click-through-rates and leads may suffer. Luckily, this tool can help you get a clearer picture of how you’re performing for high importance keywords like the “near me” searches.

Google Results

The same goes for the results that Google displays. Let’s say a potential customer searches for your service near their current location. Since Google likes to make things challenging for marketers, keep in mind that when it comes to location specific search, Google varies what results will be shown based on a variety of factors like past search history, exact location of your device, or whether you’re searching from your work computer or a mobile device. With Google results, it’s also important to remember the order in which results are displayed; ads are always shown first, then a Google Maps listing, followed by the organic search results. This means that if you are not paying for Google ads and you have a highly competitive industry keyword, then even the most optimized organic results won’t display until half-way down the page.

How Does Google Decide What to Show You?

Dozens, if not hundreds, of factors are put into the equation of what information Google gives you and what order to list it in. For a search of something near you, Google weighs heavily on your current location. How does Google know where you are? Depending on if you’re using a cell phone or a desktop computer, Google knows for a couple of different reasons. If you allow your cell phone to use location services, Google will know where you are within a matter of feet. Even with location services off, Google can determine your location based off of your cellular provider’s tower information and surrounding wifi networks. On computers, Google can also determine your location by the internet service provider (ISP) that you’re using, your IP address, and if you’re logged into the Google Chrome browser.

If all of this pinpointing makes you uneasy, there are a few things you can do to hide or mask your location from Google. These include things such as using a private or incognito browsing window, and using a proxy or VPN to access the internet. Doing these things can hide your online activity to an extent, but Google will no longer promise accurate results because it doesn’t know exactly where you are.

So what factors does Google actually weigh from a web developer and SEO professional’s standpoint and what can you do to improve your rankings on Google for location search?

Is Your Google My Business Listing Claimed and Accurate?

One of the most important factors for Google’s location search is your Google My Business listing. This is the Google listing that you often see on the right of search results that has information about a business, such as its location, operating hours, reviews and more. If you own a business, it is vital to claim this business listing, which is free and only requires you to verify that you can receive mail or a phone call at this location. Once you gain control of this listing, it is also important to check that the address, phone number and hours are accurate. Since this is how your customers will find you and contact you, you don’t want inaccurate information to lose business.

By updating the listing on Google My Business, you automatically publish this information on Google Search results, Google Maps as well as Google+, the social media platform owned by Google. You can also update special hours to indicate that you will be closed (or open) on holidays, and if your business delivers its goods and services, you can select a delivery radius. This is very important for ‘near me’ search results, because if you have a 25 mile delivery radius, you’ll be considered near a location within 25 miles.

Display your Customer Feedback with Reviews

Another important factor in Google’s location search is reviews. By default, Google sorts its results for businesses by relevance, not by distance. So, for instance if there are two coffee shops near you, and one has much better and more reviews than the other, it will most likely be displayed first despite being farther away. digital marketing near me screenshot

It’s unclear what Google’s formula is in the order of listings that it displays; however, generally speaking, the paid advertisement listings go on top, followed by a combination of highly-rated and nearby businesses, followed by unrated or low-rated businesses. It’s a good idea to communicate with your customers and urge them to leave you a rating if they were satisfied.

Will there come a day where you can pay for a higher spot in Google local or maps results? Probably, but that day hasn’t quite arrived yet and you can’t put a price tag on quality customer reviews. Keep working on building up your reviews and relevancy anyway.

Use our review scan tool to see where your reviews stand across all channels.

Make Your Business Information Visible

When visitors go to your website, can they easily find your address and phone number? If humans have trouble finding that information, think of how hard it can be for Google. When indexing your website, Google takes note of your business’s information and how prominently your contact information is displayed. If your contact information is only on the contact page, then Google may not necessarily associate that address with your business. It’s best to have your address and phone number on every page, for example in the header or footer.

Ensure All Your Listings Are Accurate

Along those same lines, it is also crucial to check to make sure that your business listings are accurate across the web. If Google has one set of information, but Yellow Pages and Yelp have something else listed for your address, phone number, or hours, it can decrease your rankings or visibility in local results. Since Google uses other third party sites to rank and verify your information, if there is conflicting data, then it will become confused and not know which set of information is correct.

Unfortunately, it can take several hours to go through every listing service, login and verify each individual page and update the information there. There are several paid listing services available on the web to bulk update your listings, or the digital marketing team at Webspec will also perform these listing services if you don’t have time to do so.

Use Schema to Feature Events in SERPs

Something more on the development side of your website that you can do to improve your location search results is to use schema to add additional information to search results. The way this works is that you add information to your site’s code to expand search results on the search engine results page, or SERP. This information could be, for example, information for upcoming local events, so that if somebody searches for “upcoming 5K races,” the Google result under your website would not only have the title and description for the landing page, but also have expanded information about the dates and information about individual races.

These custom SERPs are not for every business, however, and would need to be updated in the code regularly. It is also up to the search engine to actually honor these listings, and they may not display for every search. They are simply an additional tool for you to utilize to reach a broader audience with more specificity in your search results.

Optimize Photos for Location Based Searches

Another way to improve your location search results is to optimize your website’s images to have location specific descriptions and alt-text. Although this plays a more minor role in Google’s algorithm of their rankings, it does play a larger part when people are using Google Image Search. For example, if someone is using Image Search to find pictures of local birds, an image with a description and alt-text indicating the type of bird and where it was photographed may lead to a higher ranking for your photo, possibly leading to more visits from local visitors.

Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly

As you know, people are using their cell phones much more frequently now to access the internet. Especially when people are out of their homes and they need to find a local business, they most often will pull out their phones and search for the business type, leading to a large number of location searches.

Google has different search results for mobile than they do for desktop. Another factor that Google considers for its mobile ranking is the responsiveness and site speed of the mobile site, and penalizes non-mobile-friendly webpages. If you see in your analytics that you have a lot of mobile visitors, it is absolutely essential nowadays to have a beautiful, fast and intuitive mobile website.

Acquire Backlinks with Geographic Anchor Text

As was mentioned earlier, Google’s search has hundreds of factors that go into its results. Another one of these is the number and quality of backlinks to the website. If your website has many backlinks, especially those from reputable local sources with geographically strong anchor text, your location search results will improve.

For example, if a local newspaper or tour company features your company and website in an article or blog, since that company’s site is very reputable in your geographic area, it will also boost your website’s location search. Therefore, if your business ever has the chance to be reviewed or featured by a local newspaper or blog, take that chance, because the backlinks are well worth it.

Create Different Web Pages for Each Business Location

If your business has several different locations, it is wise to have separate Google My Business listings for each location. However, there are a few different options of what to do with your website. Many businesses with multiple locations have individual webpages for each location. This allows you to have the relevant information for each location listed separately, helping Google better decipher this information and gives you an opportunity to optimize this information for organic results.

Alternatively, some businesses choose to have completely different websites for each business location. This is especially popular if each location offers different services or products from each other, and the businesses are only related by name or LLC. There are pros and cons to each option, so if your business has two, three or more locations, let our sales staff know, and we’ll recommend what approach would be best to get your businesses listed and optimized online.

What About Facebook, Yelp, Yellow Pages, TripAdvisor, etc.?

So, we just discussed all the things that Google takes into account when listing your business on its location search, but what about all the other platforms? Yes, it’s true that all of these other listings are important to be accurate, but as far as searching for businesses, think about how often you use those services to find a local business—do you ever pull up the Bing or TripAdvisor app to find a local photographer or search for landscaping businesses. Chances are you’ve Googled it and not used any other services, but they are still important all the same. Most of your users might get to your business through Google, but you never know if a great lead might be using Bing or Yelp to find you.

All of the aforementioned things, and more, are taken into consideration when determining Google’s ranking for location search. It can be a bit overwhelming and daunting to try to stay on top of everything while at the same time successfully running a business.

I always tell people, “I’m not a dentist—that’s why I come to you, a dentist.” That applies to you as well. If you’re not a specialist in SEO, come to the experts; it’s what we’re good at. At Webspec Design, we’ve got a whole team of Digital Marketing Coordinators and Strategists, who can help you boost your “near me” rankings. Contact us today for a quote and let’s talk strategy.

What part of Google local search do you struggle with the most? Let us know in the comments!

Glenn Martin

Glenn grew up primarily in Ames and graduated from the University of Iowa with a double major of Russian and linguistics. He moved around a lot as a child, from being born in Georgia, moving to Iowa at the age of 2, but also lived in Germany for several years in grade school (his dad’s German). He has also studied abroad in France, the Czech Republic and in Russia. Prior to joining the Webspec team, he worked at a large tech company, dealing with domains, websites and servers, ending up in a training role teaching others. In his free time, Glenn enjoys to cook, travel, read and spend time with his wife. He also tried starting his own business a few years back as a Picklemaster at Glenn’s Gurks.