A few months ago, we took a deep dive into Whitespark’s ‘2020 Local Search Ranking Factors’ survey results presentation from the brand’s Local Search Summit. Since 2008, Whitespark has compiled this analysis of survey results from recognized experts in local organic and Map Pack search on an annual basis.
In this post, we’ll take a look at which of those local search ranking factors are most impactful for enterprise and multi-location brands—that is, organizations in any industry with 100 or more locations.
While there continues to be a great deal of uncertainty and many unknowns in planning for the year ahead, we’ll uncover some key areas to focus your brand’s marketing resources, as they best support your search ranking and local visibility goals.
Claiming, Verifying, and Optimizing All Available Locations in GMB
One of our top priorities for any new client is to claim and verify locations. Any data incompleteness or inaccuracies are surfaced and corrected as a part of this process. Some inaccuracies or spam-like features we look for with our own clients include:
- There is no website on the listing or the website listed is not legitimate
- There are keywords stuffed into the business name of the listing
- The phone number is not legitimate
- The listing category does not match the business the listing represents
- Duplicate listings for the same business/location
- The address of the physical listing does not seem to be at a legitimate location
- The listing has spam 5-star reviews
Whether or not your brand has the resources to initiate duplicate resolution and spam-fighting, it’s crucial to know how other listings on Google Maps affect your own.
Each location must have the right primary and additional categories (as many as are relevant). The primary category has a direct impact on ranking and also determines which GMB Attributes are available. See the GMB attributes for retail, financial services, and restaurant brands, for examples of attributes that may be available in your industry.
Getting the primary category wrong will negatively affect the listing to a greater degree than the positive impact of having the right category. Not only will the location not come up when appropriately searched, but it will also show up for the wrong searches, and ranking will decrease when user behavior favors other listings above your listing.
Take advantage of the many optimization opportunities within the GMB listing for each location. Accurate location data, quality images, and video, a keyword-rich description, engaging Google Posts, and more can help searchers understand the experience you offer. See our Anatomy of a GMB Listing Infographic for more.
Q&A, Messaging, and Local Reviews Management
The Q&A and Messaging features enable searchers to communicate directly with the location from the search experience. This is valuable for customer service and conversion for those franchisees and corporate stores with a dedicated resource at the local level.
Having quick response times is vital for customers to get the information they need, but delayed response times can negatively impact the business. Not only does a slow or missing response provide that consumer a negative experience, but response times are published for the world to see.
As Whitespark noted in their survey results, local reviews are a heavily weighted local search ranking factor, accounting for 16% of the Local Pack ranking. Local review volume, diversity, star ratings, and recency are all considerations. In addition to promptly responding to all reviews, brands can facilitate new reviews without running astray of platform guidelines around solicitation.
Learn how to adjust your review response strategy in keeping with the changing COVID-19 landscape here.
As Whitespark noted, GMB signals are the most critical Local Pack ranking factor at 33%. The optimizations and interactions we mentioned above are undoubtedly important, but GMB is not a “set it and forget it” channel. In addition to regularly sharing promotions, events, and other information in Google Posts, locations need to keep their store hours up to date in real-time.
Google recommends: “Set special hours if your business temporarily adjusts its hours of operation or remains closed for up to 6 days in a row.”
Holidays, weather events, political action, and more can cause interruptions in your regular hours of operation. Setting Special Hours ensures that when consumers find your listing online, they know your status, and poor customer experiences, such as arriving at a closed location, can be avoided. Google wants to see that your establishments are active in managing the profile; it makes the information shared more trustworthy.
Local Search Ranking Myths: Don’t Focus Here
More than ever, efficiency is vital for brands. You need to know that your marketing efforts have an impact. Don’t worry about these issues as ranking factors; they aren’t going to help you move the needle in local search. Instead, determine whether they have an impact on user experience and approach from that angle:
- Setting service areas
They are only used to draw the service area on the map and must be within a radius of two miles of the business. Be aware that addresses at PO boxes, mailboxes, and virtual offices are big no-no’s for service area businesses and may result in permanent suspensions. At the very least, the listing will be suspended until corrected, which will harm ranking due to zero visibility. Please contact your Account Director with any specific questions about service-area businesses.
- Keywords in GMB description
It is better to have a business description that matches branding rather than one stuffed with keywords. It won’t help the location rank any better and isn’t a good user experience.
- Participating in paid search
Spending on Google Ads won’t help your local rankings. However, paid search can be a great equalizer where you aren’t yet permeating the top 3 in the Local Pack. Your organic and paid search teams must work in alignment to ensure the best coverage for each location (and to avoid cannibalizing top organic/local listings with paid ads).
Want to learn more?
- Register now for an upcoming enterprise local webinar or watch previous events on demand
- Watch our recent “Top Ranking Factors in 2020” webinar, featuring local marketing experts Carrie Hill and Ben Fisher
- Browse the Rio SEO library of local marketing resources for multi-location brands
- Take advantage of a Free Local Audit and get a custom report on your local visibility in the current market