Local SEO is all about knowing where you stand. More specifically, it’s about knowing where you stand in terms of your ranking on Google Maps. This is because the Google Local Pack — the box on top of Google’s homepage featuring the three local businesses that it has determined to be close (geographically), the most relevant and the most prominent in regard to a search query — is fed by Google Maps. Google Maps, in turn, is fueled by information contained within a location’s Google My Business (GMB) profile.
Thus, a fully optimized GMB profile is always a good place to start when discussing local search engine results pages (SERPs). What do I mean by that? At a minimum, the name, address, phone number, and website (NAPW) data from your GMB profile is directly supplied to Google Maps. Consistent citations, or mentions, of this information elsewhere online, bolsters the trustworthiness and authority of your business in the eyes of Google. Pictures and videos, reviews, Google Posts, and feedback further elevate that.
The Difference Between Local SERPs And Regular SERPs
The key distinction between local SERPs and regular SERPs on Google is the inclusion of the Local Pack, and it’s why leveraging the GMB/Google Maps relationship is so important. This is how and why a small, locally owned business with one location can outrank national chains with multiple locations in the same area: On local SERPS, Google measures the gravitational pull of your business; on regular SERPS, it measures the sway of your website — content, links, user experience, etc.
That’s not to say that your GMB/Google Maps info has no impact on universal search ranking or your website has no influence on your local search ranking — it’s just that they have different weights.
A Refresher On Local Ranking Factors
Even when you have that straightened out, many in the local SEO world express frustration about the variability of Google Map rankings depending on where search queries originate. How do you accurately measure local SEO rank, track your progress and gain an edge on your competition? How do you become a candidate for the Google Local Pack, strategically positioned to draw more customers who are currently in or will be in your area?
As you may be aware, the Google local search algorithm returns results based on their relevance (does this pertain to the search?), prominence (is this a quality result?) and physical proximity to the searcher. Google has become smarter over the years at interpreting context, and it will weigh these ranking factors differently depending on how a query is worded. Proximity is the most fluid of the three and is given more or less cachet depending on the phrase modifiers (or the lack thereof) used within the search terms. I’ll give you some examples.
• ‘Near me.’ Obviously, proximity becomes a higher priority with search queries containing “near me,” as Google tries to find relevant businesses within your immediate physical area. Prominence (i.e., best rated, most visited or mentioned), while still a consideration, is on the back burner to a degree.
• Conditions such as ‘open now,’ ‘outdoor’ or ‘pet friendly.’ Relevance becomes Google’s main mission here, as it is looking simply at whether businesses in the category you’ve searched for satisfy the condition or not. They may well be scattered across the map.
• Qualitative modifiers such as ‘best’ or ‘most popular.’ Prominence takes a lead when using terminology such as “best” or “most popular,” with Google pushing the superlative examples of what you’ve searched for (relevance) to the top. Results may be farther away than you’d see otherwise (the best French bistro may be on the other side of town).
Another thing to pay attention to when tracking keyword phrases is whether or not they are geo-modified — that is, is there a named geographical area that Google has been instructed to search within? If so, prominence and relevance are given more weight, as these queries are typical of someone planning travel or already in transit. In searches that are not geo-modified, Google elevates proximity as a rank factor, implying you’re looking for something nearby.
Tools To Track Local SEO Rankings
There are a handful of local SERP tracking tools out there — in the form of web browser plug-ins, desktop applications and web-based software as a service (SaaS). Smaller SEO operations (three or fewer keywords) may be able to get away with a browser plug-in, but larger web marketing outfits with multiple clients should probably invest in web-based SaaS, which offers more advanced features and can handle larger keyword volumes.
With just a few local rank tracking tools available, you are bound to do some additional research, so when evaluating local rank tracking tools, consider the following:
1. How many keywords can you track?
2. Can you scan on a schedule?
3. How many times does your business appear in results?
4. How do your numbers stack up to competitors?
5. Are reports available?
Locally Rank Tracking Your Business
Google Maps results for the same keyword phrase may look slightly or even very different depending on the searcher’s location, even within the same zip code. Many of these rank tracking tools pull in local map data — examples include GeoRanker, Whitespark or BrightLocal.
In general, these calculate rankings from a centralized location within the zip code, which is somewhat valuable information but may not be as specific enough to simulate a real-world search. If you need to track your rankings on a more granular level, you may be interested in LocalFalcon, which visually represents rank variability within a locality through a series of pins, as seen here, while also comparing your ranking to competitors.
Companies now have numerous resources to determine how they stack up in search, locally and hyper locally. The trick is harnessing that data and using it to guide a path of continuous SEO improvement so that you become a magnet for both search engines and the customers who make a point to shop local.