As we’ve mentioned previously, one very effective way to get high visibility on the first page of Google search results is to secure a spot in the ‘local 3-pack’.
This is the three search listings that usually precede other organic listings in Google’s results for queries that have local intent.
Local intent can either be explicitly stated by a searcher specifying a defined location in their query, such as “emergency plumber christchurch” or by Google automatically doing this based on a user’s location when they do a search without specifying a location (“emergency plumber”).
For the former query, Google shows me Christchurch results (first image below); but for the latter, it shows me Auckland results because Google knows that’s where I’m located (second image).
In these particular examples, the only way to appear higher in the search results is by buying your way into one of the three or four AdWords ads displayed at the top of the page. Obviously, this costs money and in competitive industries, it can become exceedingly expensive.
Which is why website owners frequently ask: How do I get my website to feature in the local 3 pack?
Google gives some guidance on this in its help page which you can find here. The information given is pretty thin, but still worth reading.
Clearly, Google is not going to spill the beans on their algorithm, but what they do say is that Relevance; Distance; and Prominence are key factors. This is an extract from the page…
Relevance refers to how well a local listing matches what someone is searching for. Adding complete and detailed business information can help Google better understand your business and match your listing to relevant searches.
Just like it sounds–how far is each potential search result from the location term used in a search? If a user doesn’t specify a location in their search, Google will calculate distance based on what’s known about their location.
Prominence refers to how well-known a business is. Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking. For example, famous museums, landmark hotels, or well-known store brands that are familiar to many people are also likely to be prominent in local search results.
Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories). Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization.
There’s no way to request or pay for a better local ranking on Google. We do our best to keep the details of the search algorithm confidential to make the ranking system as fair as possible for everyone.
The SEO community is continually trying to reverse-engineer Google results to determine what it takes to rise to the top. This also applies to local search.
This week the 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors survey was published. This report distills the views from leading local SEO specialists of what it takes to rank well in local search and looks at what’s changed since the last survey.
The general view is that links and reviews are considered more important now, while citations appear to be losing importance. The relative importance of different factors is shown below in a graphic from the report.
Why should you care?
There’s a lot to digest, but if you’re interested in improving your local search rankings it’s worth investing the time reading this.
One big improvement in this year’s report in my view is that the author, Darren Shaw, has done a great job by distinguishing between what he calls “Foundational factors” and “Competitive difference-makers”.
The former are base factors you must have sorted to be in the running, while the latter can move your rankings beyond your competitors. It’s important to note you need both. You’re unlikely to rank in the 3 pack with only the foundation factors unless you’re in an extremely low-competition market. And no matter how many links you have, you won’t rank if you’re missing key foundation factors.
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Mark is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire which he founded back in 2002. Prior to establishing SureFire he worked for KPMG Consulting. Today Mark heads up SEO, embracing the challenges that can come with complex website implementations. Outside of work, his interests beyond his family are running, snowsports, diving and fishing (badly).