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Pipeline Marketing Blog

Local Ranking Factors – Google Places Optimization

By Alex Booth
Mar 19, 2012

We revised our Google Places local ranking factors report to include the recent “Venice” update by Google (and any other changes made by Google in the past month.)

Given the information we have gathered in our studies, here are our recommendations for Google Places Page optimization. If you’re interested in gory details, see the side-by-side numbers below:

  • Verify your listing (obviously)
  • Add photos and a video if you have them available.  These may not directly play into Google’s algorithm, but even if they don’t they are likely to increase engagement with your listing, which is  a signal in the algorithm.
  • Make sure your listing is categorized properly, and add additional categories if they apply.  Be sure to include “more general” categories as well.  For example, if you are a pizza place, include restaurant in your categories.
  • Include the search category and city in your business description.  For example, a pizza place in Seattle would include “Seattle pizza” or “great pizza in Seattle” in the business description.  Obviously, this needs to be organic and not spamy.
  • Having the search category and/or the city name in the business name that appears in search results has shown to help ranking.  Actually adding these to the business name is not a good idea for spam and name/address/phone consistency reasons.  However, often times Google grabs the title tag from your homepage and uses it as the business name in local search results (rather than the business name from your listing).  So including city and category information in the title tag of your homepage is a good idea (it’s also good for other reasons…).  For example, a title tag of “Bob’s Place | Pizza in Seattle, WA” on the home page.
  • Having the search category and city name in Google reviews helped ranking.  You can’t control this directly, but given the opportunity it helps to have your customers leave reviews with “Seattle pizza” in the review (to continue with Bob’s pizza place analogy).
  • Having at least 5 Google reviews has consistently shown to help ranking.  Much like the photo’s and videos, I think it is unlikely that this signal is directly in the algo, however click through rate (CTR – the percentage of the time the user clicks on your listing in search results) is undoubtedly a strong signal in ranking and the stars show up on your listing only after you have 5 reviews.  People like to click on shiny objects with stars, so your CTR increases and your rank with it.  Our data backs this up as well.  Getting your 5th Google review is associated with a 1.85 increase in rank (almost 2 positions), while getting your 4th, 6th, 50th, etc shows a negligible increase in rank.  More specificly, after your 5th review, we see a .01 increase in rank for each review.  These means you need to get 200 reviews to see the same increase you saw with your 5th review.  Given this, our recommendation to our customers is to get 5, then steer customers to do additional reviews on other sites (City Search, Yelp, Yahoo!, …)
  • In our most recent study the presence of coupons was associated with an increase in ranking.  This was a bit surprising, but it is likely that this is having an indirect impact on ranking (like photos, videos, and 5+ Google reviews) by increasing engagement and CTR.  The more you can do to draw attention to your listing, the more likely people will click on it.

A few things to note about the raw numbers:

  • These results are from statistical correlation which does not imply causation.  In other words, we don’t have the source code to Google’s search engine; we are statistically analyzing it.  Also, Google’s ranking algorithm is obviously very complex and has many signals we cannot control or measure (like click through rates.)  This study is meant to help better understand the impact of the ranking factors we can control.
  • We surveyed 22 local business categories (i.e. photographer, hotel, etc.), 22 major U.S. cities and searched Google for the given localized term (i.e. “Seattle photographer”). We grabbed the first 30 results in Google Local and all the local results from the integrated web results (1/3/5/7 packs, universal results, etc.) We then inspected each Places page for all of the ranking factors we could extract (see below for the complete list). In total, we analyzed 464 queries, 13,919 individual search results, and 417,570 data points. We removed the twenty queries that 1) did not generate integrated local results, like “Phoenix insurance” or 2) did not produce at least thirty results in Google Places.
  • Don’t take the numbers verbatim, this is a statistical analysis.  There is noise in the data and your specific city and vertical will differ some from the average.  We meant for the study to be a good general guide, looking at the average across many verticals and cities.  In our next studies we are going to broaden the number of cities and verticals significantly (resulting in thousands of queries instead of the 464 we covered in this one).  We may even segment those into different groups (service based businesses vs. location based businesses, etc).

What local SEO questions you would like answered in our future studies?

Side-By-Side of Before and After Google’s March Update (“Venice”)

Pure Local Results

Factor Late Feb Late March
Owner Verified Listing 0.52 NSS
Listing has Photo(s) 0.66 0.59
Listing has Video(s) NSS 0.67
Listing’s Primary Category Matches the Search Category 0.79 0.49
One of the listing’s secondary categories matches a broader category of the search category (i.e. search was for “Chinese restaurant”, and one of the listing’s secondary categories was “restaurant”) 0.69 0.85
The search category is in the listing’s business name (i.e. searched for “restaurant” and the business name in Google Places is “Bob’s Restaurant”).  This includes synonyms of the category like “Bob’s Diner” 0.75 0.95
The search category is in the listing’s business description.  Again, this includes synonyms of the category like “Bob’s Diner” for “restaurant”. 0.85 0.94
The search category is in the listing’s “at a glance” section.  Again, this includes synonyms of the category like “Bob’s Diner” for “restaurant”. 0.85 1.1
The search category is in the contents of one or more of the Google reviews on the business’s Places page.  Again, this includes synonyms of the category like “Bob’s Diner” for “restaurant”. 0.97 0.91
The business has a physical address in the city of the search. NSS 1.0
The city name appears in the listing’s business name (i.e. search for “Seattle plumber” and business name is “The Seattle Plumbing Co”) NSS 0.47
The city name appears in the listing’s “at a glance” section. 1.42 NSS
The business has at least 5 Google reviews. 1.47 1.85

Integrated Results

Factor Late Feb Late March
Listing has Coupon(s) NSS 0.46
Listing has Photo(s) 0.25 0.21
Listing’s Primary Category Matches a broader Category 1.41 0.43
One of the listing’s secondary categories matches a broader category of the search category (i.e. search was for “Chinese restaurant”, and one of the listing’s secondary categories was “restaurant”) 0.41 0.85
The search category is in the listing’s business name (i.e. searched for “restaurant” and the business name in Google Places is “Bob’s Restaurant”).  This includes synonyms of the category like “Bob’s Diner” 0.64 0.67
The search category is in the listing’s “at a glance” section.  Again, this includes synonyms of the category like “Bob’s Diner” for “restaurant”. 0.36 0.28
The business has at least 5 Google reviews. 0.31 0.27

Legend:

  • The numbers represent the associated improvement in ranking for each associated ranking factor
  • NSS – Not statisticly significant. These factors were not associated with an improvement in ranking.

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Topics: SEO, Local SEO, Google Maps

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