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Understanding SEO: How Google Ranks Local Search Results

Prominent visibility on search engines is a key part of making your business a success. Many businesses make the mistake of ignoring search engine optimization, and this can lead to a significant loss of potential buyers in your target market. After all, almost everyone begins the buying process with an online search to discover solutions and to explore available providers.

Since the 2000s, Google has consistently maintained more than 90 percent market share in the search engine space. Consequently, when seeking to attract traffic from search engines, your rankings on Google's search engine results pages should usually be your primary focus. Results pages on Google are designed to be easy to understand, but there are nuances that you should be aware of when attempting to improve your SEO so that you can get the best results. Read on to learn some of the most important factors that your business should be aware of when seeking to drive local traffic from Google.

Understanding SEO: How Google Ranks Local Search Results - Graph showing Top Results

What You Need to Know to Get into the Top Search Results

First, you will need to recognize some of the unique factors that are relevant to Google, compared to other search engines. Understanding the nuances of Google rankings is especially important when you work on a tight budget. Some of the factors that make Google unique can present opportunities for your business. Some general facts that you should keep in mind before continuing with your SEO journey include:

Google Is the Conductor of Online Content: Every business that seeks to drive search traffic knows that when Google introduces an algorithm change, quick adaptation is crucial. Consequently, Google has enormous power to determine the format and nature of content found on business websites. If you act in harmony with the standards that the conductor, Google, has laid out, you can avoid ranking penalties that can cripple your business.

Rankings Can Change Quickly: There is no guarantee that you will attain and maintain your ranking position for specific keywords. Most businesses experience significant changes in rankings for reasons that appear completely inexplicable.

Ranking algorithms are constantly changing: Although Google has been continuously improving its platform for over two decades, it continues to roll out fundamental changes to its ranking algorithms on a regular basis. Algorithm changes can lead to enormous increases or decreases in your rankings and traffic. As a business dependent on search engine traffic, you will need to stay flexible to account for demand volatility and stay abreast of new algorithm changes to outcompete your competitors.

Google Is King: Throughout most of the Western world, Google is the undisputed king in terms of traffic from search engines. As of 2020, Google maintains over 92 percent market share in the U.S., and its market share is even more dominant in other countries. You cannot afford to avoid Google.

Understanding SEO: How Google Ranks Local Search Results - Google Page Rankings

How Google Results Pages Are Organized

When you enter a search query into Google, the website returns a page that shows results for your search. Unless you change your search settings, there are 10 results on the main area of the page that are determined organically by Google's search algorithm. Some results display multimedia or advertisements that are clearly marked "Ad." There is also a growing variety of specialized content boxes that Google will feature to display statistics, charts, quick facts, and much more. Additional results are paginated below, but are reviewed much less frequently.

It is important to understand how some of the main features on Google's results pages appear and how they can impact your SEO campaigns. You should have a strong understanding of how Google displays:

Paid Search Results: The first results that come up for most searches are paid ads that Google sells to other businesses. Ads are generally more costly than organic SEO, but they can drive quick traffic to your website. In many cases, competitors will buy ads for keywords that your business has the first organic listing for, so you will need to keep your eye on paid search results to avoid losing traffic.

Organic Search Results: The main search results that most of Google's users focus on are the organic search results. Organic results are determined solely by Google's algorithm, and the search engine does not offer any practical way for businesses to pay directly for higher organic rankings. Organic results get dramatically more clicks than paid results, so they will constitute the bulk of your efforts when doing SEO.

Knowledge Graph: Google increasingly makes use of what it calls "Knowledge Graph" at the top of search engine results pages to give readers quick answers. Knowledge Graph SEO presents a dilemma for marketers because the click-through rate on a page featuring a Knowledge Graph is very low.

One Box: Some businesses that properly configure their Google My Business account are able to have their phone number, address, and business information displayed to the right of organic search results that are highly specific to their name or products. One Box is advantageous for most businesses, but it is up to Google to decide whether One Box will show up when people search for your business.

Multimedia: Some search results also show previews for images, videos, shopping pages, and other multimedia elements. Results with images tend to get more clicks, but they also tend to attract lower-quality traffic.

Understanding SEO: How Google Ranks Local Search Results - Local Business Results

How Local Search Results Appear

Local search results are designed to allow users to more easily find what they are looking for close to home. These results increasingly utilize a user's location data, as well as data from apps like Google Places and Google Maps.

It is important to keep in mind that Google uses different ranking algorithms for what it sees as local business results. When a person in Portland searches for "landscapers Portland," only companies that Google understands to be based in Portland will show up in the search results. Additionally, results can be displayed on a map box that ranks businesses based on their reviews, reputation, and other factors that may or may not be applicable to general websites.

To understand local search results, you should keep a few important facts in mind:

  • Location is the most important factor in determining your rankings for location-specific terms.
  • If you run a brick-and-mortar business, over 35 percent of people searching for you will immediately visit your establishment if they can find your location.
  • Over half of people searching for the name of your local business will visit your establishment within 24 hours.
Understanding SEO: How Google Ranks Local Search Results - Steps to Improved Local SEO Rankings

How to Improve Your Local Search Rankings

Since local search results are likely to yield immediate sales, it is crucial for every business to take significant steps to improve their online rankings. Improving your local search ranking is a process, and results will not be achieved overnight. However, basic actions, such as updating your business profile and taking steps to get customer reviews, can dramatically improve both your website traffic and customer foot traffic in your retail locations.

You should also consider listing your business in prominent directories, such as Yelp, Facebook, and directories that focus on your local area. Directory listings tell Google that your business is serious while providing a platform for your business to potentially get more reviews that can improve your rankings.

Of course, there are a broad range of other actions that you will want to take to further improve your rankings. You should make use of social media, get published in local media outlets, and create content that is useful to your local audience. We've got some tips here.

By improving your local rankings, your business will attract a significantly higher volume of customers while building a foundation that can be leveraged to achieve further growth. In many cases, you may want to work with a professional who understands the specifics of how to implement a local SEO campaign. Regardless of the path that you choose for moving forward, the key is to start taking action to avoid missing out on substantial growth that can be achieved in the months and years ahead.

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