Google ranking factors – that is, the factors that determine how high or low a given site ranks when a Google search is performed for a particular keyword – have long seemed to be shrouded in mystery. It can seem at times as if they must be kept in a closely guarded underground vault alongside KFC’s secret “11 herbs and spices” recipe – so how can you possibly determine the factors that will help you to, erm, ‘vault’ your own local business up the rankings?
Thankfully, if you read our previous Marketing Mondays piece on the five pillars of a successful local SEO campaign, it actually isn’t that much of a mystery as to what makes a site excel in the search engine rankings. After all, if it was really so unknown, the whole field of search engine optimisation would scarcely exist (gulp).
Then, there’s the fact that plenty of other people out there are constantly doing the serious work to figure out precisely what the most influential local SEO ranking factors are.
So, starting with the most crucial one and working down, let’s give you a quick rundown of the local SEO marketing factors that especially matter right now.
An Optimised Google My Business Listing
Again, if you’ve been keeping up with our Marketing Mondays series of articles, or perhaps even if you haven’t, you’ll know a little something about Google My Business (GMB). Your GMB listing is the formal listing that you have as a local business on Google, complete with a wealth of information about your firm. It should therefore hardly be a big surprise to you that it’s the most powerful local SEO ranking factor.
In short, then, if you want to bolster your brand’s search engine changes according to this factor, you need to ensure your GMB profile is nice and complete. That means ensuring you’ve provided an accurate address for your business, placing your business in the right category, supplying a functional and crawlable website link, accurately stating your business’s opening hours… and so on.
Quality & Quantity of Links
Yep, that’s right: link building, the practice of getting as many reputable and relevant sites as possible to link to your own site, is still as important as ever when it comes to climbing those rankings on Google. To re-emphasise, accumulating backlinks that will actually serve your site well is all about both quality and quantity. The better you can do with both, the higher the rankings your site is likely to achieve when local people search Google for products and services like yours.
It’s not really news that a lot of us check online reviews to assess the quality of a product or service – indeed, one recent study found that more than three quarters of UK consumers do this. What you might not have known, though, is that Google and other search engines are now beginning to actively consider the online reviews that a given brand attracts when determining its rankings. The more detailed reviews you receive the more Google will trust you and associate the positive attributes mentioned, with your business.
Just before you rush to your Google My Business listing to review your own business and ask all of your employees to do the same, we can’t emphasise the following enough: coming up with a load of fake reviews in an effort to artificially bolster your business is a really bad idea. Even if Google doesn’t penalise you for such fake reviews – which can definitely happen – customers can often easily spot them. It just comes across as a bit shameless and shifty.
Anyway, your business will look more authentic if its reviews aren’t exclusively gleaming five-star write-ups. In fact, responding graciously and helpfully to negative reviews can even make your business look better than it would have otherwise done… and in the process, help it to rank higher in the search engines in the long run.
As the term ‘on-page’ indicates, this factor is all about the various things that you do on your actual web pages to help them to rank better in the search engines.
By that, we’re referring to such things as whether you’re using the most relevant and powerful keywords on your business’s web pages – including its location – as well as how consistent the name, address and phone number (NAP) information is across those pages.
The meta title and meta description are also great places to include some keywords to boost your site’s on-page SEO. Be careful here, though – ‘keyword stuffing’, which is the practice of shoving keywords here, there and everywhere in an attempt to attract the attention of the search engines and to the annoyance of human users, doesn’t work. Or at least, it certainly doesn’t work anymore.
The simplest way to describe this one is that it’s about how your site is mentioned – or ‘cited’ – in other parts of the web. Another way of putting it is that it concerns how easy it is to verify your business details from other sources online.
Is your business, for example, listed in plenty of trusted online directories like Yelp or TripAdvisor? Are there also reviews of your business on other sites and social networks? And when your business does get mentioned by others online, is it consistently referred to using the same name, address and phone number? Yep, it’s that NAP factor again.
The more such citation signals you can gather for your brand from sites that are credible in and of themselves, the more credible Google will also regard your brand as being. This, in turn, will translate into higher search engine rankings over time.
You might initially feel a little helpless when you learn what this one is. It’s about the actions that your audience takes when interacting with your business’s listing – which in turn, tells Google a lot about how prominently it should rank your site.
There’s a lot of technical information about user behaviour that search engines collect. This includes the click-through rate, which is how frequently someone clicks on your business’s link in the search rankings compared to any other, as well as the bounce rate, which is the rate at which visitors head straight back to the search results immediately after landing on a given page.
People ‘checking in’ to your business location will also impact on the Google rankings that your brand achieves, as will mobile clicks to call. The latter refers to mobile phone users selecting the option to call your business directly from the search results. As you might imagine, if people do it a lot with your firm, Google will reward you by improving your ranking.
Social signals have long caused confusion among local businesses because Google has given us conflicting information in the past about whether they do or don’t play a role in local SEO. However, there seems to be an emerging consensus that social signals do count among local SEO ranking factors, even though they don’t seem to carry as much weight as others.
What we mean with social signals is the level and nature of the engagement that your business gets on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. As for how you can bolster your own local firm’s social signals… steps like growing your Facebook audience, likes and comments, as well as encouraging social media shares and accumulating followers on Twitter, will all help.
So, there you have it – these are some of Google’s more influencing ranking factors that your local business really should be aware of.