Overall, Google’s algorithm ranks websites in their search results based on 200 different factors. This can make it difficult for businesses to know where to focus their efforts.
The factors vary depending on the type of search results we’re looking at. For businesses focused on local SEO, we’re usually looking for ways to rank in the local pack or local organic search results.
What’s the difference between the local pack and local organic results?
Local pack results are the Google Maps results that show up at the top for search terms that have local intent, like ones including “near me” in the keyword. SEO people call this the “3-pack.” These are shown in 23% of all searches performed in Google.
Local organic search results are the ones that show underneath the map pack results or for any keywords where the searcher is looking for something local. It’s also estimated that 46% of searches have local intent.
Here’s a screenshot illustrating the difference:
In this article, we’ll talk about each of the primary seven types of ranking factors that drive rankings in both of these areas based on data from an annual local SEO survey conducted by Whitespark.
For each of the ranking factor types, we’ll give you a set of things you can focus on that will help drive Google rankings for your business.
Let’s dive in.
The 7 Most Important Types of Local SEO Ranking Factors in 2023
The table below shows what the expert survey respondents believed were the most important local search engine ranking factors throughout the year.
As you can see, the responses are separated into local pack and local organic results. This is because Google weighs the ranking factors differently based on the purpose of the user’s search query, and searches that contain the map pack have a different purpose for users than those that don’t.
For businesses that are focused on improving their local organic and map pack results, we also included a “combined average” section to help you see the shared importance of the local SEO ranking factors as a whole.
|Rank||Local Pack Ranking Factors||Local Organic Ranking Factors||Combined Average|
|1.||Google Business Profile (36%)||Website (34%)||Website (25%)|
|2.||Reviews (17%)||Backlinks (31%)||Backlinks (22%)|
|3.||Website (16%)||Behavioral (11%)||Google Business Profile (21%)|
|4.||Backlinks (13%)||Citations (7%)||Reviews (12%)|
|5.||Behavioral (7%)||Personalization (6%)||Behavioral (9%)|
|6.||Citations (7%)||Google Business Profile (6%)||Citations (7%)|
|7.||Personalization (4%)||Reviews (5%)||Personalization (5%)|
Below are more details about what specific factors Google looks for in each of these groups along with some additional info to help you optimize for them.
1. Google Business Profile
By far, the Google Business Profile, formerly Google My Business, is the most significant driver of SEO success for businesses that leverage local SEO.
This set of factors involves everything related to your Google Business Profile (GBP) outside of reviews, personalization, and behavior factors, which are viewed by SEO professionals as a separate ranking factor group and are discussed later in this article.
Here are the factors that are believed to have the biggest impact on your rankings:
- Your Business Title – Including the exact keyword you’re trying to rank for in your business name may impact your ranking in a significant way. But according to Google’s guidelines, the name you enter into your Google Business Profile must be the official name of your business. Consider adapting your business name to include your target keyword. For example, “Nick Realty – Tampa Real Estate Agent” includes keywords a Google user would search for, like the location and the service provided.
- Categories – There are over 4,000 Google Business Profile categories. You can select one primary category and up to 10 total categories, including secondary categories. If a searcher is looking for a car repair shop, Google is more likely to bring up a business that has chosen “Auto repair shop” as one of their categories than a business simply categorized as “gas station”. When choosing your categories, be as specific as you can and niche down as much as possible. When you have more reviews and authority in your local market, you can go after more competitive ones.
- Website URL – The page you link to from your Google Business Profile impacts your rankings. For most small businesses, linking to your homepage is enough. But for businesses like restaurants or doctor’s offices that might have reservation links, those should be checked as well. For businesses with multiple locations, each GBP profile should link out to the web page specific to the location it represents.
- Proximity to the searcher – This is very much out of your control, but when users perform a search, Google gives a bump to businesses that are geographically closer to the user.
- Listing completeness – Filling in more areas and providing more information for users to read and consume will keep them on your profile longer and help you rank for more searches. Making sure your holiday hours are set up can help you rank for things like “businesses open on New Year’s Eve,” for example.
While these are the things that help your listing perform in search, there are other Google Business Profile features that can be used to drive conversions. These include things like photos, posts, Q&As, bookings, messaging, hours of operation, and popular times.
There are always new studies going on to determine if these impact rankings, but with user behavior signals being such a big factor in all of SEO these days, it’s best to aim for perfection when setting up and managing your Google Business Profile.
Google, like regular people, uses reviews as signals of trust. So, generally, more reviews will lead to more rankings and traffic.
In addition, to review quantity, Google also appears to look for specific keywords written into reviews as a ranking factor.
You can’t ask users to leave specific keywords in your reviews, but by asking them to tell their story and be deep about explaining their experience when you ask, you can encourage users to leave reviews that contain keywords and drive more conversions.
Google does look at reviews on other platforms as well, so make sure you’re also getting reviews on directories like Yelp, WebMD, and others specific to your industry.
Finally, there are a few other things related to reviews that may impact search engine rankings, including:
- Recency – Are the reviews from recent dates, or are they old and outdated when compared to reviews on other listings?
- Velocity – How frequently is a business receiving new reviews vs. other listings?
- Diversity – Does the business have reviews on other platforms relevant to its industry?
- Authority – Reviews from professional reviewers or members of programs like Google’s Local Guides might carry more weight than the first-time review from a “random” member of the public.
- Format – Text-based reviews have more impact than textless star ratings. Especially if they contain a keyword related to the user’s search query.
Whatever you do, don’t spam with fake reviews. This is illegal and the FTC will come after you.
3. Website SEO
There are tons of factors that contribute to the ranking of your website.
For this article, we’re going to focus on the ones related to improving your local SEO rankings.
In the context of local SEO, here are the factors that are believed to have a strong impact on rankings:
- Domain and Page Authority – Domain authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how likely a website is to rank in search engine result pages (SERPs). A local business with high domain authority is more likely to rank higher in both the local and organic results than one with lower domain authority. Page authority (PA) is the same thing, but for a specific page rather than the domain as a whole. Domain and page authority are both only really improved with link building, which we’ll discuss later.
- NAP Presence – NAP stands for name, address, and phone number. These things should all be highly visible on your website and should match the NAP that has been published on the Google Business Profile. I always make sure I embed the link to my Google Business Profile too for local SEO projects as this passes stronger signals to Google.
- Technical and On-Page Optimization – The text content, tags, and internal links of a local business website impact how well the site is positioned in the search results. Search Engine Journal has some good tips for local organic SEO optimizations.
If you want a more advanced look at website optimization techniques, check our article about moving up in Google based on your position in the search results.
Backlinks are links from one website to a page on another website. Google uses them as “votes” for specific pages. Generally, if you have more votes (or links) you’ll have higher Google rankings.
With backlinks being one of the biggest ranking factors overall according to Google, it’s important to understand how they drive rankings.
Here are some elements of a backlink that influences how Google “reads” them and attributes value:
- Editorial Placement – Google wants to analyze backlinks that were placed inside of content because the writer wanted to reference something of value, not because it was paid for. Many SEOs try to manipulate their Google rankings by buying backlinks, but this is against Google’s guidelines and they’re very good at finding paid links. They even punished themselves for internally buying backlinks, so don’t try it.
- The number of Inbound Links – According to this Backlinko study, the number of backlinks you have is one of the most important ranking factors in Google’s algorithm. This is true even if you get multiple links on the same domain, even though that may have diminishing returns.
- Authority of Linking Domain or Page – If a website or page that Google considers important has a link to your website on it, your website will gain more of a boost in rankings. This has been a factor since Google’s early days and still is.
- Bad Neighborhoods – Links from so-called “bad neighborhoods,” like networks of websites that sell links, may hurt your site.
- Anchor Text – Anchor text is the actual words the visitor clicks on when clicking the link. So this is anchor text. Search engines read this and attribute this to ranking changes for specific keywords, but spamming it can result in a penalty.
- Link Diversity – Having a large number of links pointing to your website from a single source (like directories or press releases) might be a sign of webspam. Avoid this by getting links from a diverse set of websites. Keep your anchor text diverse, too.
- Link Relevance – Links from websites that cover subject matter that’s relevant to your business will carry significantly more weight than links from domains that serve more general audiences. If the link is from a website that’s based in your city, even better. The more relevant the link is to your physical location and area of subject matter, the more weight it will add to your rankings. There’s a lot that goes into this on the technical side of things, but in general, you can use human judgment when analyzing backlink relevance.
If you need ideas on how to get links for your business, check out our guest posting and infographic link building articles. These are our most popular link building strategies, even for local businesses. You can also hire a link building agency to run these campaigns for you.
5. User Behavior
There are dozens of potential behavioral factors. But when it comes to local SEO, it ultimately comes down to how internet searchers are actually interacting with your listings and the pages on your website.
Because of this, improving these things will help:
- Dwell Time – Once a person has clicked on your listing or page, the length of time they spend engaging with your content may impact your rankings. Posting regularly on your profile can increase rankings, and this is likely because of increased dwell time.
- Clicks-to-Call – How many people are clicking on the “call” button on your listing will impact your rankings.
- Clicks-for-Directions – When people click the “directions” button on your listing to get driving directions, Google sees this as a signal that they found what they’re looking for.
- Clicks-to-Site – If more people click to your website, this can help your rankings. However, if your website has a bad user experience and this causes users to pogo stick, this can tank your rankings. Website optimization is a must.
Everything on your profile plays a role in encouraging people to click through to your website. This is why we suggest auditing and updating your Google Business Profile at least weekly.
Local citations are online mentions of your business on different websites that include your name, address, and phone number (NAP).
Google checks these citation references to determine the accuracy of their own data. In general, the factors that are believed to count when it comes to citation are:
- Accuracy – The contact information on your citations should match across the internet, on your website, and on your Google Business Profile.
- Distribution – The number of platforms listing your information.
- Quality – The authority of the platforms that list your information.
- Relevance – Many local business directories list all types of businesses, but it can also be good to get listed on sites specific to your industry.
- Reviews – Some citations have their own review systems, like Yelp and WebMD. It’s believed that Google uses reviews on these platforms in addition to their own when determining Google rankings.
If you need to get citations for your business, check out this guide. Or you can pay us to do it.
Personalization is something Google has implemented more with product features than with search results. Even according to Google’s Danny Sullivan, personalization of search is “very light,” with location and language being the main factors that determine what different people see for one and the same query.
This is why personalization as a ranking factor often ranks quite low in local SEO professionals’ areas of focus. When it comes to boosting local search rankings, much of the personalization is limited to the user’s location and device.
The location isn’t something you can control, and when it comes to devices, just make sure your website runs well on all browsers.