Do you ever wonder how local businesses get listed at the top of the search results page? Do you wonder why yours isn’t? Do you wonder how local search works?
I like to order Chinese food on the weekends. Now that I’ve lived here for a while, my favorite restaurant is entered into my contacts for quick access. Several years ago I might have used the yellow pages in the phone book to find the one that was located closest to me. Or I might have asked a coworker or neighbor for a recommendation.
With nothing more to go on than one person’s opinion and the fact that the business had both a display add and a listing, I would have placed an order and hoped for the best. The last part hasn’t changed, the quality of the food is still an unknown until you experience it for yourself.
But what has changed is the way we go about finding a local business like a restaurant. I googled Chinese restaurant and in less than a second there was a list of seven choices (the 7 Pack) all within a 10 mile radius of my house. The list is followed by more than ten pages of additional links and includes everything from blog posts to general restaurant reviews. With seven viable options just a click away, there’s no way I’m going to look any further.
Not only does the list include address and phone number, there’s also a map and the Google review information provides me with some insight into what other people think of the business in the list.
What’s interesting is that if I narrow my search further and include my zip code as a part of the keyword phrase the list appears in a completely different order, with one exception; the top listing for each search was Golden China Restaurant. Another interesting note is that only three of the seven are common between the two lists.
So why are the lists different and how does Google “decide” which businesses to show in the 7-Pack?
There are three major things that are taken into consideration when ranking and returning results:
- Relevance: How related is the business to the search term. If you search on Chinese Restaurants, you don’t want to see gas stations or dentists. Google knows this and only returns businesses that match what your search. This is why it’s important to think about your business name and the information on your website. Let’s say you wan to be found for the phrase “Chinese Buffet” in addition to “Chinese Restaurant.” If you don’t mention “Chinese Buffet” in your content, Google has no way of knowing that you offer it and you will not get a place in the 7-pack.
- Prominence: This is determined how prominent or “well-known” a business is. This is gathered from a variety of sources on the web. It’s all about citations, which in the case of local SEO, are a good thing. A citation is a mention or ‘citing’ of your business on a web page. The more often Google sees your business listed, the more certain Google is that your business is legitimate. It’s very important to have consistency across all of the places you are listed. whether it’s in an online directory like yellowpages.com or within the profile of your various social media platforms, make sure you are consistent with everything from how you spell your business name to whether or not you abbreviate the word street.
- Distance: This is the easy one. Google calculates the distance from your location to the businesses in the area. The more specific you make your search, the more is taken into consideration. For example, you might include landmarks in your search. If you have a business that is close to a landmark, that is a good thing to include in your content along with other basic geographic information such as city, state, and zip code.
So in my example, Golden China Restaurant was the most relevant, had the most prominence, and the location was close to me. Some of the restaurants that were missing from more refined list could have improved their chances of being in both results by applying some basic local search engine optimization techniques.
I didn’t include reviews in the mix because it’s a piece of the puzzle you don’t have as much control over, but they do matter. Generally speaking, more is better, good reviews are more valuable than bad ones, and it’s important to have a variety of sources. Google will figure it out if the only people leaving comments and good reviews are your mom and Aunt Minnie.
Does your business show up in local search?