Last week in sunny San Diego, Community Manager for Google My Business Jade Wang opened Rio SEO’s Local Search Summit conference with an information-packed keynote for local and multi-location marketers.
Wang launched her Going Local with Google presentation by identifying Google’s goals in local search: to help searchers discover new places and interesting facts; to get them to the places they are trying to reach; and to deliver great content wherever they are at the time.
Google’s Ranking Factors for Local Search
The first of the search engine’s main objectives is based on discovery. So what is Google looking for when ranking local search results? The local search algorithm really comes down to three factors:
Google measures relevance by relating the keywords in your query to our search results. They combine categories, keywords, locations and other information to deliver more relevant results.
With restaurants, for example, they’re looking at:
- hours of operation and whether they’re open now
- whether social contacts have left reviews.
Prominence determines the ranking of items among listings with similar relevance. This is critically important in crowded markets where a person might be searching for a specific type of business, but there could be hundreds or thousands (eg.: “sushi restaurant” in Tokyo).
Google gauges prominence using relevance signals from around the web, but also citations. How many people are talking about any given business? This helps them stand out and rank higher in relevant local searches.
In the early days of local search, Google favored businesses closer to the geometric center of a city being searched. Today, they try to more equally weight the distance across the viewport of the map. Basically, they’re looking at relevance and the most prominent results over the entire map, instead of centering in on any given city.
Navigational Queries in Local: Relevance, Prominence & Distance in the Palm of Your Hand
Google Now brings relevance, prominence and distance considerations to the palms of users’ hands, driving great experiences wherever they are at the time.
They aren’t just giving directions when answering navigational queries; sometimes it means a person is just trying to navigate to a friend’s house, but that’s just one example. Users might also be thinking about navigating places they’ve never been before. They also want as much information as possible to help make decisions about the places they’re going. For example, Wang said, Google will bring as much information as possible about a restaurant to a user with a navigational query for that restaurant.
Google wants to provide mobile searchers as much information as possible. Of course, it’s up to businesses to ensure their local listings are complete and wholly accurate.
Rich Local Content & Our 3D World, Online and Off
The third of Google’s objectives is to bring better experiences to people on their mobile devices, wherever they are at the time. This may mean searchers are just discovering a place while they’re already present in that location.
Google Maps for mobile has a new explore mode which brings top restaurants, quick bites, parks, bakeries, popular attractions right to your fingertips and just moments away from your location. Broad categories in Maps help searchers drill down into Zagat lists, fun things to do, local-preferred places, etc.
All of this is powered by data pulled from across the web, into a single SERP.
Google Maps is just over a decade old and launched on February 8, 2005. You may remember that at that time, it really was just a map that combined local directories with local information. Google soon realized, however, that updates from their map providers were too slow. In 2009, they took over the provision of mapping services themselves, enabling them to update far more quickly and accurately.
On top of that base map, they’ve since added Street View data, then a layer with imagery. Imagery helps Google create an immersive experience in Google Maps, she said.
The final layer is business information, including user-generated content about businesses, helps make this 3D model of the real world as accurate as possible.
Where Do Local Listings in Google Search Come From?
Local business listings include data from a number of sources, including:
- Information submitted directly to Google and verified by the business owner;
- Yellow Pages data, which actually includes information Google gets from all directories and third-party sources;
- Enhanced content fed from other websites via feeds, eg.: payment methods, business hours, etc.;
- UGC or Web content.
It takes all of this data combined to power an accurate, relevant and useful Google My Business profile.
When Google gets a new source of data into the local database, it runs a process called “matching” and can tell instantly whether it’s going to assign that data to a new business, or add it to an existing business. Google recommends that you log in to your My Business account on a regular basis, as the algorithm does see account activity as an indication that business owners keep their information accurate and up to date.