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The Most Important Thing for Local SEO   

What is the most important thing for local SEO?  The most important thing for local SEO is Google My Business (GMB).   And yet, most local businesses we deal with seem much more focused on various social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (which is great for certain market segments – bridal shops come to mind), and other ones such as Twitter, Linked In and so on. They generally don’t pay much attention to Google My Business. This is, in our opinion, a huge mistake. We’re not saying those other networks aren’t helpful for drumming up or building business, but in terms of priorities, we believe effort directed towards GMB offers more bang for the buck, especially if it’s largely been ignored in the first place.
It’s important to remember that when it comes to Google search results, one key principle to keep in mind is that “Google loves Google”.   And Google My Business is, of course, a Google creation.

Technically Google My Business is the tool you use to manage a Business Profile. You might well have a Google Business Profile but don’t have a Google My Business account. If this is the case, that’s the first thing you want to do. Make sure you claim ownership of your Business Profile. If you’re not sure how to do that and need help, feel free to get in touch with us.

What is Google My Business?

Google My Business is Google’s tool that allows you to manage any Business Listings you have with Google.   Your “Business Profile” is the term Google uses for your Google Business Listing.

Your Google Business Listing is really important because that’s what will show up in the Google Map area of search results and in the local search results. This is critical because Google is very focused on showing search results that have ‘local intent’ and separating those out from more general search results.

“Local intent” means a search that is intended to give results related to the local area you are in. Local intent obviously relates directly to searches where people are looking for local products or services, or even events. This includes things like lawyers, dentists, real estate agents, , restaurants, sporting events, musical events and so on.

Also important is that these local results show up ahead of the rest of the organic results. They are higher up on the page and therefore have greater visibility and are more likely to be clicked on versus listings further down.

Here’s an example. We’re going to search based on the search works (called a keyword):

bridal dresses Belleville Ontario

This is clearly a local search because right in the search words we’ve included a location.

The first thing that comes up in the search results is ‘Product Listing Ads”. That’s a relatively new thing that Google added to search results (search results, btw, are called SERPs – short for ‘search engine results page’).

local search image

These are paid ads. The business that pays Google for the privilege of having these here.

Notice the area just under the search words we typed in.  Here’s a close-up of that:

all search categories
What many people do not realize is that the search results they get back from Google includes these various tabs “All”, “Shopping”, “Images”, “Map” and so on. The default setting is ‘All” and Google displays this information in a certain way (starting, as mentioned, with the ads, then the local map, then local listings, followed finally by the general organic search results. In this post we will focus on the “All’ page and the “More places” button which expands upon the local listings. Ideally, if you are local business, you’d like to rank in the top three of the local search results and be displayed in the summary local map that is shown. Let’s have a look at that section now. This is what showed up in our search underneath the paid ads:
Local search map results

Google displays the ‘local map’ with pins for the three listings that show up underneath the map. In this case, Lily’s Bridal Bouitique, Runway Bridal, and Janine. Runway Bridal is one of our customers, btw!

Obviously if you are one of the three listings show here, you are likely to get a significant amount of the available business generated by the initial search.

Notice the “More Places” button that is underneath these three listings.

Clicking on that reveals this page:

Second page of local search

Basically, this is the expanded view of all the relevant local listings.

Note that the first listing is a paid ad.  Realize that most people probably won’t clicked the ‘more places’ button at all and will likely choose their results based on what they find on the previous page.

After the paid ads (only one in this specific search) we see the same three listings we saw on the previous page, and this is followed by more local listings.  The map that shows to the right of these listings is populated with all the listings to the left of the map and is thus a busier map than the one we saw previously on the main page. This reinforces the value of being one of those top three listings!

This then brings us to the question of what it takes to rank in the top three of the Google local listings. No one can say for sure EXACTLY what it takes to rank in the top three as this is based on what Google wants to display and their algorithm for doing so.  Moreover Google makes adjustments to its algorithm at various times, in part to deal with people who try to ‘game’ them, and because of various other factors.

That said, we do know that these factors are very important:

1. Proximity

Because we are talking about ‘local search’ obviously your physical location is very relevant and important to Google (and, of course, the people doing the actual search!).   Google determines where you are via a variety of online ‘clues’. Your business profile may show up in any number of online places such as Facebook, Yelp, various business directories, Linked In and others. These are collectively referred to as ‘citations’ and one thing we are quite certain of is that Google likes to see a certain level of consistency amongst your various citations.

In particular, they are looking at four things:

  1. The name of your business
  2. Your business address
  3. Your business phone number
  4. Your website address

Any inconsistencies in these things across all of the various social and other internet locations where your business shows up will impact negatively on Google’s perception of your business and affect your rankings in the local map.

 And if this wasn’t clear before, let’s restate this –

The most important citation for a local business is your Google My Business business listing.

In our SEO business, we use a very specific tool that will find all of your various social and other internet listings and flag any inconsistencies in any of these things. We provide this tool, called MyPresences, to all of our SEO clients at no additional charge. This tool can be used to do social posting to multiple social profiles such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Linked In, etc.  And it does one other very important task – it finds all of the reviews of your business that are online and allows you to read them in one place and to respond to them. This is important for reputation management.

2. Prominence

The next important factor is prominence. This is Google’s understanding of how important your business is in terms of the search term used. It’s also a measure, in a way, of your popularity. Why would Google want to show businesses that are unpopular high in the rankings?   To measure this Google most definitely takes into account both the number of your online reviews and the rating users give you in those reviews. In short, you want lots of reviews with the highest rating score you can get.  Google also looks at things like social signals (what is your engagement on various social platforms, how many and what quality of inbound links to your website do you have, what is your user engagement and what is the overall domain and website authority.

3. Relevance

This comes back to your alignment with the search term. Google’s primary objective is to provide people with the most relevant search terms available, and generally speaking, they do a good job of it! How often do you find yourself looking at search results that go beyond the first page?  It may happen but it’s rare.

To be relevant is to be true to what value you are providing to your customers and making sure you have content that articulates this, properly optimized for SEO.

Use Google My Business

To conclude we’d like to re-iterate that you pay attention to your Google My Business listing and put at least as much effort into it as you do Facebook, Instagram or any other network that you use to promote your business.

Among other things, make sure your hours of operation are posted and updated for the seasons or for whatever reason you change your hours. Also, make it a point to post on GMB if you are closed for various holidays, or open.

Post relevant photos on GMB! And do regular posts there like you would on Facebook as an example.

There are also mechanisms to showcase your products for free on Google. For details on that you can start here.

And also watch this set of videos.

And finally, Google also provides this PDF guide