How Google Search Works (Local)
Google uses sophisticated search algorithms to sort through billions of web pages and bring up the most relevant results each time a person enters a search query. Although on-page factors like content organization and page speed play a role in determining which results Google pulls up, the user’s location, device, and preferences are important as well.
For instance, if you search for “bicycle shop” while you’re using a computer in Kansas City, you’re going to see different results than if you typed in the same phrase while you were in a different city. Google shows different search results based on where you’re at in the world, even if you’re not logged in on the Google platform.
Perhaps one of the most important things for brand marketers to understand is which ranking signals influence local SEO, and why results differ so widely based on a user’s location.
Google’s local algorithm is somewhat mysterious. Nobody knows exactly how it works. However, there are many things that we do know. These are the basis for any strong local SEO strategy.
Winning Local Search on Google
Prioritizing local content is essential to performing well in Google local search. The factors that we know influence Google’s local search results include:
- Backlink profiles
- Name, address, and phone number (NAP) on the website, identified with Schema markup
- Quality of local content
- Number and quality of citations
- User clicks on a local pack result
- Google My Business verification, reviews, and completed profile
- Location of the business relative to the user’s search
- Age of domain
As a general rule of thumb, domains that contain location names usually rank better in the location where the search takes place. So, a bike shop with the domain www.PhoenixBikeShop.com would theoretically rank higher than a bike shop without the location in the domain when people are searching for a bike shop in Phoenix, Arizona. Businesses that already have a domain in place can create a new website that has the city name in the domain and 301-redirect it to their existing website, if they choose.
If you want your brand’s local web pages to rank in local search, then you should focus your efforts on citation building and NAP (name, address, phone number). Although content quality is always important for Google search, it does not play as important of a role in local pack placement.
Dominating Google Local Results
The ranking of your web page is, of course, not the only thing to be concerned with when it comes to local ranking on Google. Many users rely instead on Google’s own local results, showcased in places like the Google Maps app and special sections of the search results page, such as local packs and business profiles.
The most important considerations in local ranking on platforms like Google Maps are the claiming and management of your business profiles. All information relevant to your business should be filled out and updated regularly. In a help page called “Improve your local ranking on Google,” the company points out that to rank well, businesses must do the following:
- Enter complete data
- Verify your location(s)
- Keep your hours accurate
- Manage and respond to reviews
- Add photos
Google’s help page goes on to explain that local listings are ranked by weighing three factors:
- Relevance: How well the listing matches what the searcher is looking for
- Distance: Proximity of the business to the person searching
- Prominence: How well-known a business is
It’s not easy to optimize for distance, but you can optimize for relevance and prominence. Relevance is more straightforward: fill out all the details about your business that you can in your Google My Business profile, including secondary categories as appropriate, so that Google will understand what kinds of searches you should show up in.
As for prominence, Google looks at information about a business that can be found across the web, such as links, articles, and directories, as well as review count, positive ratings, and the ranking of your local store page in organic results. All of these can be influenced by good SEO and reputation management practices.
Although Google dominates consumer attention, many other platforms get a sizable amount of traffic or are favored by users when searching for certain kinds of businesses. We recommend optimizing your profiles on, at a minimum, Yelp, Facebook, Apple Maps, Bing, and Foursquare, in addition to Google. To rank high in voice search results, the most important platforms are Google My Business, which powers local results in Google Assistant and Google Home, and Yelp, which provides local content to Amazon’s Alexa devices.
If you struggle with managing multiple locations for your business, we can help.