Stop for a second, and look around you. Take notice of the date and time. What are you using to read these words? Smartphone on your mobile network? Desktop computer in your office? Laptop at a coffee shop, perhaps?
The point is that you’re living in the present, and (as corny as it sounds) it really is a gift. Human beings have never been so connected with one another; and we’ve never had access to so much information at our fingertips, with just one Google search
A Brief History Of Google
From the rudimentary 10 links per page, to the modern layout which includes Google Local Services Ads, traditional Google Ads, Google Local Pack, and the classic 10 website links; Google has had one mission in mind: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Combine that with an ongoing obsession for improving user experience and it’s no wonder why their brand name is now used as a verb when any question is posed. The answer is as simple as: ‘I’ll just Google it’.
Google has also been keenly focused on developing and improving their local search functionality. Beginning with Google Local in 2004, the first iteration would see local search results appear as a list of links on the left hand side of the screen, and the organic links would display on the right.
In 2005, that all changed with the advent of Universal Search, which revolutionized how users would interact with the Google search engine. Images, Videos, News, and Google Maps all became part of the menu of possible results, and in 2007 Google went live with Universal Search on the main Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
Most recently, the local pack received a facelift, and now shows the Google Map to the right of the top three local results. This expansion makes it easier for users to visualize the Google Map, while still prominently displaying Google Business Profiles. The Map view has also become interactive. Users can move the view around, and when users hover over any map marker Google Business Profile ratings and reviews are displayed.
Google has been rolling out updates to Google Business Profile (formally Google My Business) throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. In late 2020, Google made it possible for business owners to update their profiles on Search and Maps, and this continued with the appearance of a Messaging dashboard and Call History log tabs on the Google Business Profile Manager.
The 5th Rebrand
Google Business Profile was born on November 4th, 2021 as the 5th version of their local business profile manager. In a blog post titled “Connect with local holiday shoppers”, Google made the subtle yet important announcement that “Google My Business” is being renamed “Google Business Profile.”
Not only that, they took the opportunity to let business owners know that the Google My Business app would be going away in favor of what they perceive as an easier alternative for business owners. Google now recommends “small businesses manage their profiles directly on Search or Maps”. They go on to clarify that the Google My Business app will be “retired (in 2022)… so more merchants can take advantage of the upgraded experience on Search and Maps”.
Understanding the Local Ranking Factors
For years, Local SEO professionals have referred back to Google’s own “Local Ranking Factors” support article in an attempt to decipher the Google local search algorithm. Relevance, Distance, and Prominence have been cited as the local search gospel, and it still is very important to keep in mind.
It is also important to note that these are not the only factors, as Google is prudent to mention that they do their “best to keep the search algorithm details confidential, to make the ranking system as fair as possible for everyone.” Having said that, let’s break down the three factors that Google has made available to the public.
Relevance, as stated by Google, “refers to how well a local Business Profile matches what someone is searching for”… They continue by encouraging business owners to “add complete and detailed business information to help Google better understand your business and match your profile to relevant searches.”
Not only does this include the basic information such as name, address, phone number, logo, website, hours of operation, main and additional categories, products/services; but also enhanced content such as attributes found within the Google Business Profile settings. Telling Google and local search users details like “Latino-Owned Business” or “LGBTQ friendly” can help businesses stand out among the rest by appealing to personal preferences.
This is an example of the “Post justification”.
What are “Justifications”?
Local Justifications are extra snippets of text that Google displays within a Business Profile listed on the local pack in Google Search, and on the Google Map. This feature was coined in 2019 by a former Googler (Joel Headley), and the content pulled into the GBP listing appears to match specifically with the perceived intent of the searcher in an effort to capture their attention to something that they’re actually looking for.
There are currently seven Google Business Profile justifications that can help a listing appear on a local search results page. These are the following:
- Review justifications: Displays keywords written within Google reviews.
- Services/Provides justifications: Displays the services setup within the Google Business Profile Manager
- In stock justifications: Google’s “Pointy” integration allows businesses to display their product menu live on the Google Business Profile. Google Business Profile’s Product Editor also provides data for In Stock justifications.
- Sold Here justifications: This data point is gathered from Google Local Guides which answer questions posed by Google about the business.
- Post justifications: This justification pulls information from the Google Business Posts.
- Website justifications: Content in a business website is scraped by Google bot and used for this type of justification.
- Menu justifications: This information is pulled in from both the menu items setup in the Google Business Profile manager, and from users that contribute photos.
This is an example of the “Provides justification”.
Local search marketers have tried to get around the Distance factor for years, many times without success. The reason is because Google uses distance as an important metric for user experience.
It’s simple if you think about it. Google knows exactly where the searcher is when they perform their local query, and Google wants to give that user the very best results possible. This means nearby, so as to maximize convenience, and minimize driving and waiting times. Prominence (which we’ll cover later on) can help a business expand their local presence, but it takes a concerted local SEO campaign (On and Off-Page SEO), lots of work, and even more patience.
“Prominence refers to how well known a business is…” states the Google Local Ranking Factors article. Some places, such as museums and landmarks, are so well known that they’re likely to appear prominently in Google Maps. Others, such as small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), require alternate methods of gathering and displaying information. These methods are Online Directory listing, Google Ratings and Reviews, and the position of a local business’ website in organic search results (the classic 10 links that display below the local pack).
For local businesses, Google uses information gathered from thousands of digital sources on the internet such as “links, articles and directories”. Google Business Profile itself is the most important directory for Google, so ensuring your profile is live and displaying as much pertinent information as possible is essential.
Online directories are also important because of how Google collects information to create a SERP. Googlebot visits websites such as Yellowpages.com, Yelp, Better Business Bureau, and even Facebook to gather, cross-reference, and apply a prominence ranking score based on the amount of consistent information and authority displayed across these sites.
“Google review count and review score factor into local search ranking. More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business’ local ranking” is stated explicitly in Google’s “How to improve your local ranking on Google” support article.
Google also encourages business owners to remind customers to leave reviews, although they make clear that “business owners shouldn’t offer incentives to customers to leave reviews”. Google has also made an effort to normalize negative reviews, and have recommendations on how to reply to these types of reviews.
Website SEO refers to on-page and technical Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics that ensure best practices are followed for things such as the Headers, copywriting, meta data, and Core Web Vitals. If Google views your website as lacking good user experience, website ranking will suffer. Google is all about user experience, and they rely on factors such as web page load speed, shifting views, and other aspects that can and do annoy human website visitors.
In today’s digital age, having a strong online presence is crucial for the success of any local business. With Google being the most widely used search engine, it’s important to understand and utilize the local ranking factors that can help your business appear in the top search results. This includes having a complete and detailed Google Business Profile, gathering positive reviews, and ensuring your website follows best SEO practices.
At OMG National, we specialize in helping local businesses improve their online visibility and drive more traffic to their website. Don’t miss out on the potential customers that are searching for your products or services online – act now and let OMG National help your business succeed.