The Google algorithm is the stuff of great speculation as companies strategize about how best to rank high on Google when customers search for their service or product. According to Google, local search results are calculated using the criteria of relevance, prominence, and distance. Google’s support page advises business owners to list their business for free on Google My Business to bolster local search rankings.
Google’s Search Criteria Relative to Distance
While distance is the main criteria, relevance is defined as how well a local listing matches up with the exact words used to search. One of the factors that frequently comes into play is the business listing details. Providing an accurate and complete listing on Google My Business improves a company’s chances of being identified in a search related to that business. This is a simple step that business professionals can take to gain a competitive edge over other nearby stores that don’t take the time to prepare an accurate business listing.
Since the Google algorithm changes continuously, it is essential to cover all your bases when competing online. Proximity to the person doing the local Google search is the primary ranking criteria used to return results. For example, when you search for pizza restaurants near me, the results will return the restaurants closest to you geographically without much concern for whether the businesses rank well for quality or popularity. Distance appears to be weighted more heavily than website content, reviews, citations, and links in local searches.
Interestingly, desktop searches are slightly different than mobile searches since Google can’t calculate where the search is originating from exactly. In these searches, Google is forced to guesstimate where the searcher is located using the IP of the WiFi or internet connection. That’s why searching on your mobile device and desktop can yield different results.
Prominence is also factored into search rankings. This factor is considered along with distance to refer results and is tied to links, articles, and directories. Depending on the exact words used in a search, prominence may factor in as more or less important.
Why Businesses Are Seeing Local Search Results and Referrals Decrease
Local SEO is more competitive than ever. Companies who are romancing online customers are being forced to step up their local SEO efforts. Essentially what has happened is that Google has decreased the radius of the area where your business will meet search criteria. The only way companies can combat these changes is to commit more effort to increase organic SEO traffic.
Near Me Searches
Searches for local businesses are often searched using the words “near me” when consumers are trying to find specific types of businesses close by. Whether you are looking for a drug store or an Italian restaurant, it is likely that you don’t want to drive very far, except on rare occasions.
These “near me” searches are usually B2C (business to consumer) searches looking for retail products or services. It would be less likely that consumers would search with distance as a number one consideration for business services like accounting or legal work where a referral might be more appreciated.
How Google Voice Searches Factor Into the Local SEO Landscape and Distance
Online voice searches are expected to increase significantly by 2020. The question becomes one of how to harness local SEO rankings with voice search. An impressive 22 percent of people were found to be searching for local information, according to The Internet Trends Report.
Since voice search is an on-the-go way to access information, local searches related to distance are often conducted with simple questions on a mobile device. Considering that voice searches are so much more comfortable than typing, this type of search activity is expected to increase and contribute to local searches for companies closeby. SEO managers must decide what key phrases will be used, to dominate search results.
Mobile Optimization and Local Searches
Companies with websites optimized for mobile searches will rank higher in local searches. While distance continues to be an essential factor in showing up in search reports, so are other factors. If your corporate website does not load quickly on a mobile device, impatient mobile users will simply start over. Patience is not one of the hallmarks of the digital age.
Google’s ongoing goal is to offer relevant and high-quality information to its users. This commitment to excellence has contributed to a better user experience that is far superior to the Internet of earlier days. Local search, mobile optimization, voice searches and “near me’ searches have fueled shifts in the way Google Search operates.
Since the algorithm changes regularly, it is impossible to game the system easily. A company’s website needs to regularly and naturally evolve with its consumers; gone are the days when you could build a website and forget about it. Businesses will continue to rank high based on distance, Google My Business listing accuracy and by being recognized via backlinks to other credible sites.