Google has told us that the main factors that determine local ranking are:
See Google’s description of relevance, distance, and prominence:
Google is light on the details, however, and doesn’t really tell us specifics, so let’s dive deeper.
What is Relevance?
Relevance is the degree to which a listing “matches” the search.
For example, if you are searching for a “car mechanic”, the algorithm will try to match your search keywords by returning businesses that primarily have those words in the business name or related categories.
Relevance is improved by adding complete and detailed business information to help Google better understand your business and match your listing to relevant searches.
What is Proximity?
Proximity describes the physical distance of a business from the origin point of the search.
Unless you specify a location in your search query, the algorithm will default to displaying businesses that are in your immediate area.
What is Prominence?
Prominence refers to the strength of the business in terms of SEO.
We can demonstrate the influence of prominence by using the same image from above. Notice how the business listing which is ranked first has the same category as the business in second position, and is also further away. However, it is most likely in first position due to the fact that is has many more high ranking reviews. Because of its generally good, consistent reputation and plenty of search engine power, Starbucks has more prominence than Mike’s Coffee Shop and will dominate the local area, except when proximity takes over at Mike’s doorstep.
Prominence is based on information that Google has about a business from across the web (like links, website content, and directories.)
Some places are more prominent in the offline world than online, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking.
Prominence is improved by factors that Google has deemed important such as the presence of plentiful good reviews, website strength, website content (so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization,) and interactions on your Google My Business profile.
Relevance Factor Components
Google has provided many fields for Google My Business listing managers to fill out. Many of these fields contribute to the assessment of relevance. The most important ones are:
- Business Name
The information found in these fields directly or indirectly helps the algorithm match a listing to a search query.
Other information that can provide relevant information is text that comprises reviews and the Q&A section.
Distance Factor Components
The closer a searcher is to the address of your listing, the higher it will rank. There is not much you can do as a Google My Business profile owner to influence this factor.
However, the algorithm does contain some complexity that will moderate results. For example, all these searches may return different results for the same person as the algorithm tries to adjust to provide the best results:
- Dentist near me
- Dentist Springfield
Trying to optimize your Google My Business profile and website for different variants of these types of searches is good practice.
Also, note that zip codes have nothing to do with rankings. This is an artificial element because many rank trackers are based on zip code centers. Any scan with Local Falcon will demonstrate that crossing zip code boundaries does not affect ranking in any way.
Prominence Distance Components
This is the most complicated ranking factor as it is derived from a multitude of, most of which are kept secret by Google. However, we do know (from the above-quoted text) that Google assesses:
- Directories (how well the citation information matches the Google My Business information)
- Reviews (positive sentiment)
- General optimization of your Google My Business associated website
- Backlinks to your website
- Website content matching Google My Business categories
Other factors they did not mention, but we have surmised to influence ranking directly or indirectly are:
- Age of the Google My Business listing
- Driving direction requests
- Interactions with the Google My Business listing (how many times people click on the listing to read reviews and posts, view photos, etc.)
There is debate in the SEO community about a new ranking factor called E.A.T, which stand for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. At this point there is no concensus about the specifics factors that influence E.A.T., nor is there any proof that it affects Google Maps rankings.
For a better understanding of which factors you should prioritize, please see our guide to increasing your Google local rankings.
About The Author
Yan is the creator of Local Falcon, the original Google Maps grid tracking system.
Currently the VP of Product & Growth here at dbaPlatform and Senior SEO at Toronto based, SterlingSky.
When not in front of a computer, he is either working on a house project or coaching soccer.
Connect with him on Twitter @YanGilbertSEO