How Does the Google Local Algorithm Work?

Have you found yourself wondering how the Google local algorithm works? Or just need to find out how to rank in local search and boost your placement in the local pack? Here, Kyle Goodchild (Associate Manager of SEO Company at Walmart, Canada) breaks down what goes into the local algorithm and takes you through the three core pillars of ranking in local search: relevance, prominence, and proximity.

Ranking in local search is becoming more difficult every day. Why? Competition. The Google local algorithm is constantly updating to ensure that search results best match the intent behind a user’s query.

As SEO Company specialists and digital marketers, we need to be aware of these updates and be able to pivot or make changes in strategy accordingly. If we don’t, we can lose our local search presence in the blink of an eye. This advanced guide designed to help you understand the local search algorithm will break down the three major ranking pillars, so that you, like myself, can stay ahead of the competition and know what to look out for.

The three major ranking pillars that I will discuss are relevance, proximity, and prominence. By understanding each core pillar, you can set yourself (and your clients) up for success in local search and conquer Google’s local algorithm.

So, without further ado, let’s unpack what makes up the Google local algorithm:

Relevance

Relevance is a key component of Google’s local algorithm. To ensure that search engines such as Google view your business as relevant enough to surface, you’ll want to ensure you’re targeting keywords or topics that potential customers would be searching for. For example, if you ran a pizza place in New York, you’d want make sure that Google relates your business to keywords such as “pizza New York”.

In this next section, I’ll explain just how you can inform Google’s local algorithm that your business is relevant to the right search queries:

Local Listing Signals

Whether you’re optimizing your Google My Business listing, Bing Places listing, or Yahoo Local listing, there are several key components you need to pay attention to. Aside from making sure that all your business’s NAP (name, address, phone number) is correct and that you have just one claimed listing, make sure you have properly filled out the below two features.

1. Local Category Selection

One of the most important factors in ranking locally is selecting relevant categories for your listing. These categories are essentially tags that you associate with your business. You want to ensure that you only select categories that define your business — the more relevant or specific the better. For Google My Business, head here for a full list of categories; for Bing Places, click here.

2. Add a Business Description

By adding a description of your business, you allow users to know exactly what you do (as well as search engines). This shouldn’t be salesy, or an attempt to market your business. Instead, it should give users (and search engines) the info they require to determine if your business matches their needs or intent.

On-Page Signals

Optimizing your web pages for given keywords will increase relevance and enhance your chances of being favored by the Goolge local algorithm. By performing basic competitor research and analyzing results you can determine what a search engine likes for a given search query or keyword.

Below I have made a list of on-page attributes that should be considered when trying to increase relevance for a given keyword or topic. You can also check out the on-page checklist I have put together.

1. Content

How you write your content will determine if it deserves to rank or not. Google rolled out a core algorithm update in 2018 that focused on content with relevance. This means that it is not necessarily how long your content is or the quality of it that matters. In fact, all that matters is if your content is relevant to a user’s search query. Web pages that had strong relevance for a keyword or topic were rewarded with an increase in rankings.

Search engines are looking for whether or not your content matches the intent of the user’s original search query. Does it give the user the answer they are looking for? Here are two tips to increase relevance when writing your content:

  • LSI Keywords: By including keywords that are semantically related to each other you increase relevance to your target keyword or query. Search engines are very smart; they are capable of drawing connections between keywords and rewarding pages that do so properly. Tip: Use Google’s search predictor or a tool like this to help.
  • Long Tail Keywords: These keywords differ from LSI keywords but also add relevance. Although these keywords are longer, they do tend to convert higher. This is because they are usually more specific and descriptive. Long tail keywords help add context to your content which helps search engines determine if your page matches the context of a user’s search query.

50% of search queries are four words or longer – Hubspot

2. Title Tag

First impressions count! A title tag is a great way to incorporate your page’s target keyword, as well as draw a click from a user. Not only is it great to incorporate your keyword for search engine purposes, it allows the user to know what to expect upon clicking. Below is an example of how you can ensure that your title tag is related to your page.

Here, I’ve used an example of this article. You can preview how any page’s meta description and title will appear in Google SERPs with a tool like Metatags.io or even Yoast.

Meta description preview example

3. Meta Description

Your meta description allows you to expand on your title tag and add more context to what your page is about. Again, be sure to include your target keyword. The example above shows how to use a meta description to increase relevance and gain a click.

4. Body Tags (H1, H2, etc.)

Within your content, you can create headings to capture users and encourage them to read on. This is another great way to increase your relevance. Your heading tags should be descriptive and explain the content they precede. Especially your H1, as it stands out the most on a webpage. Search engines detect these tags and give higher importance to what they contain. (Hint Hint, try to include your keywords.)

H1s are usually the most visually notable content on the page – Neil Patel

5. Alt Text

Every user consumes information differently, and some people are very visual. As such it’s best to try to include images with your content wherever possible. These assets will help increase user engagement, which helps with ranking.

Whenever you add images to a page you have the option to add alt text, which is a way for search engines to easily crawl and understand what the media is. This is another great place to incorporate keywords. If you have an image that showcases a service your business offers, you want that alt text to include the service keyword. It’s also a really important aspect for accessible reasons, to ensure your content can reach as many people as possible.

6. Internal Linking

Creating internal links helps users navigate to relevant pages on your website. They help establish hierarchy and spread link equity throughout a website. You can use internal linking to increase relevance for a page by creating a navigation path to similar pages or pages that help strengthen your topic or keyword.

7. Outbound Links

An outbound link is an external link from your website to another website. Very similar to internal links, these links allow users to navigate to external websites for additional information on a related topic. Outbound links will help the Google local algorithm identify your chosen niche — so be sure to focus on giving relevant links, as well as getting them.

8. Schema

Schema helps you organize and provide search engines like Google with the information they need to understand your content. It helps ensure the best search results possible and improves the way your page is displayed in search results. By adding schema to a page, you can increase the relevance for a given topic or keyword. Search engines can easily find schema and make sense of the content that it represents, helping to ensure that you show up when you should.

9. Relevant Reviews

We all know how important reviews are to a business and rankings, but how important are relevant reviews? For example, if you have a product page or a location page you want to make sure that any reviews on that given page reflect the topic. All reviews or testimonials on a given page should be relevant to that page and refer to the product or service described on the page. If you have reviews that mention specific locations, showcase them on the relevant areas of your site.

10. URL Structure

Setting up your website’s hierarchy and site architecture is very important. It essentially allows you to tell search engine algorithms how they should prioritize and crawl your website. The URL slug that you use should reflect the topic of the page — this is another quick way to increase relevance.

Treat these on-page signals as a checklist. You should be able to go through your target page and check off every one of the above attributes. Once you get through this checklist, you should be able to confidently say that your page is relevant to your target keyword or topic, and so your site is more likely to be favored by the Google local algorithm.

Off-Page Signals

Trust and credibility are two major ranking signals. Off-page signals are external links from one website pointing to yours (also known as backlinks). The more good backlinks you have, the higher your website/page authority will be. This shows search engines that you are trustworthy and credible. Before you ask, a ‘good’ backlink is a link from a credible website (usually with good Page or Domain Authority) that is relevant to the page it is linking to.

If you have a service page on “car insurance”, for example, you would want links from insurance-related pages, and even better, car insurance-related pages. You would not want a link from a “home insurance” page pointing to your “car insurance” page because the topics are different. Below are two great examples of off-page link building strategies.

1. Guest Posting

By using the right set of Google search strings you can find guest posting opportunities. These opportunities are great because you get to create and share your own content. Most of the time these opportunities will be relevant and help increase your website authority (as well as relevance) as well.

When you are reaching out to websites, you want to stand out from the rest. Remember, you’re not the only one reaching out. Your initial message should sell yourself or your business and contain more than one topic idea (options are always good).

2. Creating 10x Content Pieces

What better way to build links to your website than leveraging your own great content? A lot of research and planning goes into creating great 10x content pieces, but the payoff is always very rewarding.

Your content needs to be captivating and needs to knock readers off their feet (so to speak). Once you have your 10x content you will find that promoting it is fairly easy. Experts (external site owners) love linking to high quality, relevant content. The better your content, the easier it is to attain links!

For one of my clients at Powered By Search (where I worked previously), we built this cigar pairing guide. After we performed our research, we found that users were searching for “cigars + drinks,” etc. We used this information to create an interactive piece of content that users can engage with. As a result, experts wanted to link to it. This piece, in particular, has acquired 2.26K links to date!

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