- Be wary of opinions on ranking factors. Everyone has them; few know for sure if they are correct.
- Don’t overlook seemingly minor features and take advantage of everything GBP offers your business.
- Engagement is likely the most important ranking factor based on Google’s search patents.
- Focus on factors like maintaining current Photos, Products/Services/Menus, Hours, and Attributes before worrying about spam filters, GBP title keywords, additional categories, etc.
Surveys like Whitespark’s 2023 Local Search Ranking Factors try to help professional marketers and newcomers by sharing the factors which may or may not impact your business’s visibility on Google Search and Maps.
Although well-intentioned and, in some cases, accurate, many people who read these studies don’t realize the studies are opinions, not facts.
“… local search ranking factors is a survey of opinions, not facts…”Darren Shaw, Whitespark
Google publishes their own resources on How to improve your local ranking. It outlines how they determine ranking and how you can improve your positioning in local search.
Obviously, Google isn’t sharing all of their secrets or the source code for their algorithms on this support page, but I often reference this information on customer calls.
Interestingly, there are some conflicting statements between Google’s support page and the survey conducted by Whitespark. This isn’t a surprise because, as we have already learned, these survey findings are opinions, not facts.
Throughout the rest of this article, I will cover some of the overlooked or underrated ranking factors and contradicting opinions held by some of my peers.
Before I get into it, it’s important to note that Google highlights three known variables when determining ranking on their support page:
- Relevance refers to how well a local Business Profile matches what someone is searching for. Add complete and detailed business information to help Google better understand your business and match your profile to relevant searches.
- Distance considers how far each potential search result is from the location term used in a search. If a user doesn’t specify a location in their search, we’ll calculate distance based on what we do know about their location.
- Prominence refers to how well known a business is. Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking. For example, famous museums, landmark hotels, or well-known store brands are also likely to be prominent in local search results.
In reality, businesses can only influence relevance and prominence. So we will focus on the ranking factors people aren’t talking enough about: Increasing relevance and prominence.
Overlooked Ranking Factor #1: Engagement (aka: behavioral signals)
On the 2023 Whitespark ranking survey, this factor first appears at positions #48 and #49 behind simple things like the business category (#1) and the number of inbound links (#20).
This isn’t surprising. Nearly every Local SEO on the planet doesn’t measure engagement on business profiles. However, as Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured, gets managed.”
Engagement (behavioral signals) include, but are not limited to:
- Direction Requests
- Phone Calls
- Website Visits
- Store Visits
- Time spent on profile
- Number of unique profile views
- Click-through rate
Despite the low score behavioral signals received in this year’s ranking factor survey, some of Google’s local ranking patents reveal to us that engagement from customers, specifically actions like direction requests, phone calls or a visit to a website, can carry 10x or even 100x the weight of other signals:
In some implementations, certain signals are weighted more highly than others to reflect their relative value in indicating interest in a business. For example, signals corresponding to business type queries can be given a small weight (e.g., 0.01). Signals corresponding to map requests for an address that matches a business or signals corresponding to requests from third party search engine can be given a larger weighted (e.g., 0.10). Signals corresponding to user actions on a map (e.g., request for directions to a business, request to call a business, etc.) can be given an even larger weight (e.g., 1.00).
Particular embodiments of the subject matter described in this specification can be implemented to realize one or more of the following advantages. Local businesses can be ranked by the level of interest users show in the respective businesses, as indicated by user actions on maps indicating the businesses. Local businesses can be compared relative to each other on criteria other than location. Association analysis can be performed on the user actions to determine possible business recommendations based on past groups of searches or to predict business in which the user is interested.Source: Google Patents
This Google search patent reveals that, above all else, engagement from users is one of the most important factors when determining ranking for local businesses.
Even the last sentence on their support page tells us that engagement is the ultimate tiebreaker:
“You may find that your business doesn’t show up for relevant searches in your area. To maximize how often users find your business in local search results, ensure that your business information in Business Profile is accurate, complete, and engaging.”Source: Google Support
Think about it: If every business has the same category listed in a search result, what differentiates them in Google’s algorithm?
This is why I always say: Engagement = Relevancy.
Just think about how you use Google in your personal life. If you didn’t find a result that you ultimately engaged with every time you went to Google, would you keep coming back? Probably not. Google knows that if they serve low-quality results to users, they will look for another solution. This is why Bing and Yelp have such low user engagement and, therefore, market share.
Remember, Google wasn’t the first search engine. They overtook the market in the early 2000s by providing the absolute best results to users because they could better match the user’s intent to the information on the search results page.
If users aren’t engaging with the results, then Google will remove those results in favor of another business or website that users do engage with more consistently than the competition.
So, how do you improve your engagement?
Looking at Google’s support page for How to improve your local ranking, there are some clues.
- Add photos – High-quality/high-resolution photos perform better. Google gives preference to images uploaded by the business owner over user-generated content.
- Add products/services/menus – Give users more information to interact with. This keeps them on your profile for longer. The more detailed, the better. Don’t just do the bare minimum and list the name of a product/service/menu item. Include descriptions, images, pricing, etc. The longer someone spends on your profile, the better. Even better is if they call your business, request directions, etc.
- Respond to reviews – You don’t need to stuff keywords in responses. Still, Google states that review responses are a factor in acknowledging your customers and reciprocating engagement. This is one of those factors that slid in this year’s survey from Whitespark, but Google clearly lists the response to reviews as an important signal of engagement:
“Respond to reviews that users leave about your business. When you reply to reviews, it shows that you value your customers and their feedback. High-quality, positive reviews from your customers can improve your business visibility and increase the likelihood that a shopper will visit your location.” – Google
- Complete all your business’s information – Add all relevant and available URLs, hours of operations (more hours), business description, attributes, etc.
- Use Google Posts – Don’t recycle your social media and blog posts on your Google business profile. Start by looking at the keywords via performance insights to figure out what people are most interested in when visiting your business profile and create content that matches their intent.
- Activate third-party integrations for Bookings/Appointments/Food Orders – If Google knows that users transacted with a business, then that would count for bonus points in validating that a business is, in fact, the most relevant for that keyword.
Overlooked Ranking Factor #2: Photos
Appearing on the Whitespark Local Ranking Factors survey at #82 are GBP photos. This is way too far down the list and isn’t being given nearly enough attention.
We’ve all heard the expression that a “photo is worth a thousand words.” For years Google has been using Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence to evaluate what those words might be.
And this is another item listed on Google’s support page:
“To showcase your goods and services, and to tell the story of your business, add photos to your Business Profile. Accurate and appealing pictures may also show shoppers that your business offers what they’re searching for.”Source: Google Support
Every image added to your profile is scanned by these advanced algorithms, which determine what objects and other relevant information might be contained within the image.
You can use Google’s CloudVision AI to see what objects and labels are visible to these algorithms.
Let’s say you’re a hamburger restaurant and want to increase your visibility for searches like “hamburgers near me.” Then you better add a lot of images of your burgers! Why? Because Google can “see” what is contained in an image.
So, if your business wants to be more relevant for keywords associated with your business’s products/services, then you need to add images to reinforce that you offer these items at your business.
As a bonus, high-quality images will also increase the likelihood of customers picking your business over the competition. Low-quality images are unlikely to get anyone excited about your business.
Don’t just dump images on your business profile because you want to increase your keyword relevance. Make sure it also looks good and appeals to prospective customers so that they choose your business over the competition.
Overlooked Ranking Factor #3: Products/Services/Menus
On Whitespark’s survey, Services first appear in position #81 and Products in positions #120 and #130.
Menus aren’t even found on their survey, which is most likely a result of the survey participants not having any clients in the food and beverage industry.
With that said, if you want to index your business for all your keywords overnight, add your products/services/menus to your business profile.
Again, this is another item listed on Google’s support page:
“If you run a retail business, you can show nearby shoppers what you sell by adding your in-store products to your Business Profile.”Source: Google Support
If you’re a retailer selling products with registered SKUs, check out Pointy.com to automatically list products in stock on your business profile via the “See what’s in store” feature. Did I mention that it’s FREE? You don’t need to pay to list your inventory on Google if you are eligible for this service.
Although Google’s support pages don’t explicitly cover menus and services, it’s easy to see how those features would provide the same effect on your business’s relevance for keywords related to your business’s offerings.
Adding products/services/menus is probably the easiest way to drive impressions and subsequent conversions to your business.
Continuing with the example of a restaurant that offers sandwiches, you’re more likely to get a high ranking for a keyword that matches your business’s menu. Then once customers see your menu in your GBP, they will be more likely to pick your business because you offer exactly what they are looking for, which drives engagement.
Here are some real-life examples of keywords related to items on a restaurant’s menu improving their visibility for keywords contained on the menu:
If you’re not a retailer or a restaurant, then definitely check out Google business profile services. It follows the same concept for adding your menu of services and makes it just as easy for Google to match your business to customers searching for those products and services.
Overlooked Ranking Factor #4: Hours of operation, special hours and more hours
Coming in at #85 on the Whitespark local ranking factors are hours of operation.
Now, this might seem insignificant or obvious, but it’s not something that enough marketers realize actually has a huge impact on your ranking on Google Maps and Search.
As consumers, we’ve all probably experienced a situation where a business is open on Google Maps but is actually closed in real-life. As a consumer, there might not be anything more infuriating. If you’re someone who suggests an edit to that business, then it calls into question whether your information is accurate and can have an impact on the trustworthiness of your business profile.
Again, this is clearly listed as a ranking factor on Google’s support page!!!
“Update your business hours regularly, including when you open and close, and special hours for holidays and events. Accurate hours info lets shoppers know when you’re available and gives them confidence that your business will be open when they arrive”Source: Google Support
It’s a no-brainer that your business should have the correct hours. Being open and available to customers will also likely drive conversions and engagement.
Something most marketers don’t know is that you’ll drop out of search results when you’re closed and your competitors are open. In a previous article, we highlighted that one of our clients – in the automotive industry – sees a huge decline in impressions, views and actions on Sundays. Why? Because they are closed on Sundays while competitors are open.
Around the holidays, this is even more relevant as there is a considerable increase in searches with the term “open now” during peak periods like Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
So being open is important no matter the day/time of the week or year. If your business is closed and a competitor is open, you’ll be found much lower on search results. During holidays, it’s essential to verify that your business is operating during regular or special hours on Holidays. Even if your business hours aren’t changing for a major holiday, you still need to add those hours to your “special hours” so that Google can confidently display your business during those dates/times.
Last but not least, something not included in the Whitespark survey is “more hours,” a feature that Google has been experimenting with for a few years.
Granted, many of these are mostly applicable to restaurants, but we see it having an impact on those businesses when the keyword search includes topics that are covered by these “more hours”:
It’s not enough to have “happy hour” listed on your website, in customer reviews, or on your menu. How does Google know WHEN happy hour is at your restaurant if you don’t use the “more hours” feature?
Adding this additional layer of information gives Google even more knowledge about your business and can put you at the top of search results during those dates/times.
Overlooked Ranking Factor #5: Attributes
Are you still with me? If so, I’m glad you’ve gotten this far.
Similar to “more hours,” attributes from the business are noticeably absent from Whitespark’s survey. The survey includes user-generated attributes, but businesses have control over this setting from the GBP dashboard and are critical to indexing and increasing visibility in search results relevant to these keywords.
This is important because… !!!
“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. That’s why Search makes it easy to discover a broad range of information from a wide variety of sources.”Source: Google’s Mission
Attributes help Google have a deeper understanding of your business and, again, are listed on their support page:
Enter complete data
Local results favor the most relevant results for each search. Businesses with complete and accurate information are easier to match with the right searches.
Important: Make sure you keep your information up to date as your business changes.
Make sure you’ve entered complete business information in Business Profile so users know what you do, where you are, and when they can visit. Provide information like, but not limited to, your:
Source: Google Support
- Physical address
- Phone number
It only makes sense that adding more detail to your business profile will yield a greater understanding of your business and, therefore, reward you with more impressions and views.
Like all of the above overlooked ranking factors, managing attributes gives Google more confidence that your business is the right match for customers based on their keyword search.
Like “more hours,” this might have the most application for food and beverage businesses, but the list of attributes on GBP is always expanding and becoming more specific for different businesses based on their primary category.
There you have it!
For years, I have been working with businesses of all sizes to use ALL of the Google Business Profile features. You should, too, because that’s the best way to extract the most value from this channel.
I hope this was helpful and that you’ll take these ideas and apply them to your business.
Reach out if you have any questions. I love a good conversation.