What Makes a Business Rank for Local SEO?

There are several factors that make a business rank for local SEO: on-page optimization, links, Google Business profile optimization, citations, reviews, behavioral, and personalization.
Google logo painted on a wall
Google uses more than 200 ranking factors.

Google has over 200 ranking factors to determine where to put your business on the search engine results page (SERP).

And when it comes to local SEO, there are two places where your business is going to compete for a prominent spot in the search results – local pack and organic results.

Local Pack and Organic Results.

The local pack is a set of local business listings displayed in a map format at the top of the search results page, specifically for local search queries.

The local pack typically includes a map, the business name, address, phone number, and average rating.

Local map pack displaying local businesses for the search query "attorney miami"
Local map pack displaying local businesses for the search query “attorney miami.”

Organic results refer to the non-paid search results that appear in the main body of the search results page, below the local pack and Google Ads.

Organic search results displaying local businesses for the search query "attorney miami"
Organic search results displaying local businesses for the search query “attorney miami.”

The main difference between the local pack and organic results is that the local pack is specifically designed to display local businesses in response to local search queries, while organic results display a mix of local and non-local websites and information that are relevant to the search query.

Additionally, businesses in the local pack typically have to meet certain criteria, such as having a complete, accurate, and up-to-date Google Business profile, to be displayed.

The weight that Google puts on certain ranking factors differs for local pack and organic results.

For the local pack results, it is very important how well your Google Business profile is optimized, how many reviews you have, and how many citations you have across the web.

For organic results focus steers toward on-page optimization and backlinks.

How Are Businesses Ranked in Local Searches?

As mentioned above, Google uses more than 200 factors to rank websites in SERPs.

Those factors can be divided into categories:

1. On-Page.

On-page is the most important group of factors for organic search results. Those factors help Google understand what the page is about and whether it’s relevant to the specific search query.

In general, on-page optimization refers to the quality of your content and how well it is optimized for the target keyword.

It also involves the overall User Experience (UX) of your website, internal linking structure, and trust signals that help Google understand that you are a real business (contact information, business address, copyright, privacy policy, etc.)

2. Backlinks.

Backlinks are incoming links from one website to another.

Think of backlinks as a popularity contest, where search engines look at the number of high-quality links pointing to your site and consider it a vote of confidence. The more “yes” votes you have, the more authoritative and trustworthy you appear.

But backlinks aren’t just a status symbol, they’re also like a roadmap for search engines. They help search engines find new web pages and understand the connections between them,

Backlinks play a critical role in off-page optimization, they are the second most important ranking factor after on-page factors.

3. Google Business Profile.

In the local map pack, Google ranks Google Business profiles, not websites.

So to rank well in the local pack you need an optimized and up-to-date Google Business profile.

4. Citations.

Citations refer to mentions of a business’s name, address, and phone number (NAP) on other websites, even if there is no link back to the business’s website.

They help Google understand that you are a real business.

It’s important to have accurate and consistent NAP information across multiple high-quality business directories.

5. Reviews.

Reviews refer not only to Google Business profile reviews but to all platforms where your customers can leave you a rating (i.e. Yelp, Facebook.)

They don’t play a very important role unless you have a highly disproportionate amount of 1-star ratings.

But they can send a trust signal to Google and can help budge your business a little higher in the SERPs.

6. Behavioral Factors.

Behavioral factors mainly refer to Click-Through-Rate and Time On Site metrics.

They can negatively impact your rankings if they are significantly lower than that of your competitors.

7. Personalization.

Google also takes into account the user that typed in the search query to personalize the search results.

Google looks at the user’s location, search history, device (desktop, mobile, or tablet), etc.

Those are the factors that don’t depend on you, so you can’t optimize them.

Only make sure that your website is responsive on mobile and tablets, but this refers to on-page optimization which we talked about above.

Final Words.

Thinking that you need to optimize for more than 200 ranking factors is overwhelming.

Competitor analysis plays a big role in local SEO. So start with analyzing your competition for the keywords you want to rank for and try to reverse engineer their SEO strategy.

It’s not necessary to perfectly optimize for every single factor. You just need to optimize a little better than your competitors.

Denis Cherkasov is the founder and CEO of Hot Local Spot, a boutique local SEO marketing agency for small businesses. | LinkedIn

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