What are the criteria for local SEO ranking? Which method does Google use? What should you focus on to get to the first positions of the Local Pack in local search results?

Here is a list of relevance criteria the search engine uses for local SEO. It is based on some public parameters shared by Google and on the results of a 2021 study by Whitespark.

Important: Whitespark does not know more than us about how the algorithm really works. Google hasn’t provided any information about it. However, years of studies, analysis and research allowed to make the following conjectures supported by facts and by experts’ statements.

What are Google local SEO criteria?

Google doesn’t really go into details about the criteria that affect its ranking. What we know is that its method is based on 3 pillars. It’s the combination of these factors that helps the algorithms determine the better results according to the user’s search.

1. Relevance

Google evaluates how well your business listings match the user’s query. To do this, the algorithms must be “nurtured” with updated and detailed business listings. This will make your listings appear higher in the search results page.

2. Distance

In the case of a discovery research, the proximity of establishments to the user is very important. If the location is not specified in the research, Google calculates the distance between the user and the points of sale searched. If they are relevant, the closest ones will tend to be at the top of the ranking.

⚠️ Beware, proximity is not everything. Google may deem that a location further away than another will be more convenient for the user. In this case, the store will be ranked higher.

3. Reputation

It is an indicator of reputation taken into account by Google. The search results take into account the “fame” of places in real life. Some are better known than others and, as such, they move up more easily in the search results. Big brands, hotels, museums, monuments or famous restaurants can benefit from it.

How does Google measure reputation?

It relies on several parameters:

  • An assessment of the business’ online presence through the analysis of data available online. Links, referencing on directories, articles… the algorithm takes all this information into account
  • The number of Google reviews and the average rating. The e-reputation is therefore an indicator of reputation. The more positive reviews you have, the more likely you are to be well referenced
  • Your position in the organic results. Your natural referencing influences your local ranking. Therefore, it is better to know and respect Google’s advice on SEO

Google makes the deliberate choice not to give more details about the functioning of its search algorithm

Why? “To make the ranking system as fair as possible for everyone.” Also, to make sure no one finds a backdoor to get a better place in the local ranking.

Optimize your listings: Google’s recommendations

Google also insists on the optimization of the listings. This is a prerequisite to appear in the search results.

What are the best practices to follow?

Make sure all data on your listings is complete

Name, physical address, phone number, description, categories, hours, exceptional hours, website, attributes… Make sure all this information is up to date.

This will allow Google to determine the relevance of your businesses based on local searches. The more data available, the easier it is.

💡 You can add up to 10 categories (1 primary and 9 secondary). The secondary categories are used to specify your activity.

The attributes are used to provide more information about the services available and the benefits offered.

No need to do “keyword stuffing” in the description by repeating your keywords. Google doesn’t like it and might even penalise you.

Verify all your listings

When all your listings are filled in and proofread to avoid errors, Google must verify them.

Depending on your profile (network of less or more than 10 points of sale), the verification process is different.

Learn more about the verification and group verification of business listings

Add your exact opening hours

Don’t forget to update them when they change and to fill in your schedules for holidays and special events. This is a positive signal for Google but also a valuable help for your customers. They always know when they can or cannot visit your establishments.

Add photos

In addition to the marketing advantage of beautiful photos, they also boost your SEO. The more pictures, with good quality, and the more views your photos get, the better your establishments will be referenced.

Manage and reply to reviews

In 3 words: nurture your e-reputation. Customer reviews have a proven impact on local SEO. They improve your online visibility and encourage users to visit your establishments. That’s why you need to take the time to answer them.

Add your products or services

The whole point of business listings is to boost your web-to-store traffic. Adding a part of your catalogue on your listings is not superfluous. Your potential customers will be able to take a first look at your catalogue.

Google’s local SEO criteria according to Whitespark

To carry out its study, Whitespark asked local SEO experts for the criteria they considered the most impactful for the SEO. The answers were purely subjective, but they are nonetheless interesting.

They are based on 132 potential referencing criteria divided into 7 categories detailed below:

  • Google Business Profile listings optimisation
  • The clients’ reviews
  • Links, with netlinking and in particular internal linking
  • User behaviour (click rate, dwell time, click-through-rate…)
  • The level of on-page optimisation (presence of all useful information, use of the right keywords, domain authority…)
  • Presence management (NAP consistency, referencing on relevant directories and platforms…)
Une illustration montrant les principaux critères de référencement selon des experts du SEO local
The main SEO criteria according to local SEO experts. (source: Whitespark)

The professionals interviewed later ranked these factors in order of importance. For the ranking in the Local Pack and Local Finder first. Then for referencing in local organic results.

Let’s see what the study showed, especially for the Local Pack and Local Finder:

  1. Optimization of the Google Business Profile (address, description, main category, secondary categories, use of the right keywords in the profile, attributes…)
  2. Management of customer reviews (number and average rating)
  3. The on-page optimisations performed on your website
  4. Meshing and netlinking
  5. User behaviour and interactions with the listings and their content
  6. The Presence Management, the fullness and quality of the online presence
Deux graphiques montrant les résultats de l'étude Whitespark
Graphs detailing the results of the study. (source: Whitespark)

What to learn from this study on the important criteria for local SEO?

We already knew that, but Google Business Profile listings are essential for the local visibility of your business. Updating and optimizing your listings is essential.

According to the study, here are the top 5 criteria that influence the local ranking of Google Business Profile listings:

  • The main category (only 1). This is the most important criterion. To be well referenced, you must select the category that corresponds to your activity.
  • The keywords used in the name of the listing. On the other hand, adding these keywords in the other fields of your listings will not be very useful. Google does not use them for its ranking.
  • The proximity of the user making the search to the business
  • The physical address
  • The secondary categories (up to 9). By adding relevant secondary categories to specify your activity, you increase the number of keywords on which you can be referenced.

Now you know all about the important criteria for local SEO. These are the parameters that influence Google’s local ranking. Therefore, it is important to pay special attention to it if you want to appear high in the search results.

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