Local Search Results: How to Make Sure You Are Showing Up
If you are having difficulty with your business website appearing in the local three-pack on Google or even Google’s local search results, just know that you are not the only one. Over the years, the first page of search results on Google appear to have shrunk in size – there are often advertisements at the tops and bottoms of the pages, what was once a seven-pack is now a three-pack, and the majority of page one is now online directories. This leaves minimal room for local small businesses to rank on that prominent first page.
To make things worse, the search engine giant has a local filter that can cause business listings to “drop out” of local SERPs for essentially no reason at all and ultimately overnight. While this filter did not simply appear overnight, it did become more noticeable after the recent Possum algorithm update. This update resulted in many businesses being filtered out from local search results.
When you really sit down and think about it, this particular filter is very similar to websites ranking in search results in an organic fashion. Ideally, the best websites will rank at the top. Of course, with the Google filter, there is the potential for a negative effect on local businesses who tend to rely on their position in local search results to get traffic to their storefront.
What Exactly Results in Businesses Being Filtered?
Similar to the way that there are multiple factors for ranking organically, there are also numerous factors for ranking with the Local Finder and local 3-pack. Below are a few factors that may result in you being filtered and what steps you can take if it occurs.
Mobile search continues to rise in popularity, which is resulting in Google considering the proximity of mobile searchers when they conduct a search. In other words, local search results depend on the physical location of a business when a search is being performed.
Several years ago, businesses were at a disadvantage unless they were located in larger cities. This was because it was increasingly difficult to rank well for a certain business category plus that city unless your business was physically located within that city. Luckily, since then, things have changed – positively in the favor of businesses who are located on the outskirts of larger cities.
Not only does proximity help with the Possum filter, but the data from Google My Business does as well. Prior to the Hawk Update, this type of information was overly-exaggerated, but the radius has now been significantly reduced. What this means for you and your business is that there is a greater chance of your business appearing in the local search results regardless of whether your business is located in a larger city.
Categories for Google My Business
As you are choosing a category for your Google My Business listing, it is important that you choose the category that is most specific and appropriate for your business. Of course, at the same time, you need to look at your competitors. If you have one that is outranking you, see what category that they have selected and choose that same category (assuming that it makes sense for your business). Then, take a close look at the other online factors that your competitor is doing that is increasing their organic ranking and beat them at their own game.
If the selection of the category does not seem to work for you, then there is the possibility that you have chosen too many categories. The selection of an excessive amount of categories can cause confusion for Google resulting in Google not knowing what your business’ specialty really is. So, you may want to try deleting a few of the categories that are a tad less specific and see if anything improves.
Your Business’ Physical Address
Whenever possible, it is imperative that your physical address is never the same as any of your competitors. This can be difficult if you are located in the same office building or a virtual office; however, it could result in your business listing not appearing in local search results.
If you must share an address, then you need to make certain that your primary category is different than your competitor. This is because their listing could have gained more trust by Google, which will lead to you being at more risk of being filtered out.
Some businesses tend to think that simply adding a suite number to their address will create enough of a difference in the address, but it will not. Google doesn’t pay attention to suite numbers.
Also, it is important to understand that close proximity could affect your appearance in local search results – a block or two down the road could cause you to be filtered.
If you are an attorney, doctor, accountant or are in an industry with several professionals who work at the exact same location, there is a high risk that Google will filter some of the practitioners’ business listings. Why is this? Well, the reason is simple: the search engine giant does not want a single business dominating the first page of the local search results. Therefore, all practitioners in a single location are competing with each other despite the fact they may work for the same company.
To help offset this issue, each practitioner should list their business on Google My Business under a different category (whenever possible) and make sure that they are directed to a different URL (such as the practitioner’s about page or a page about the practitioner’s specialty – just not all to the home page).
To help clear up any confusion, a medical practice could have one doctor select the category of pediatrician and another doctor choose the category of family medicine/practice. Then, the landing pages need to be changed to reflect the respective categories.
One more thing be done to help avoid being filtered is to make sure that each doctor has a unique (yet still local) phone number.
Evaluate the [Correct] Steps Your Competitors Are Taking
If you have noticed that your business listing is being filtered, take a look at the ones that aren’t. They must be doing something right, and you need to determine what that is. Look at Google Maps, Google my Business, Google+, on- and off-site, as well as other areas. If you can, perform an SEO site audit, as this will help you determine some correct steps they’re taking that will help you outdo them in rankings.
As you are evaluating them, make sure that you are focusing on organic ranking signals. Is there Google+ description better than yours? Is their Google My Business page filled out completely, while yours is still incomplete? What is their listed business category? Do they seem to have more five-star reviews than you do? Do they currently have more authoritative backlinks? Do what they are doing, but make sure that you do it 10 times better.
Overall, Google wants to make sure that they are listing the best businesses at the top of the search results. So, you want to compete with the competitors that are listing higher than you, and your goal is to eventually take their spot.
Additional Factors to Help You Appear in Local Search Results
As previously mentioned, Google takes a variety of factors into consideration when determining whether to consider your listing in the search results or whether to filter it out. Below are some additional factors that you need to pay close attention to when you are trying to optimize specifically for local search results.
Assuming everything else is entirely equal and the same, let’s say that you have more five-star reviews than your competitor. If this is so, then there is a good chance that you will beat your competitor out of showing up in the local search results. Google is one review site that encourages businesses to actually ask customers to go online and leave reviews. So, it is important that you take the time to ask your customers to please leave you a review on your Google My Business listing as well as on third-party review sites, such as Yelp, Facebook, etc.
Are you engaging with your site visitors by offering them something special? Interacting with prospective customers by creating posts will inform Google that you are actually paying close attention, on top of your game, and providing users with a one-of-a-kind deal. Taking the time to interact with your customers is a great metric to have on your side and can improve your chances of appearing in local search results.
Although critics may say otherwise, Google+ is not long and gone. When you create posts for Twitter and Facebook, don’t hesitate to post them to Google+. Make sure that your posts are relevant to your business as well as your prospective customers. For Google+ posts, they should need around 300 words and your primary keyword should be listed within the first 100 words. Believe it or not, you can sometimes see a small increase in your rankings with your Google+ posts as long as they are properly optimized – the same goes for if your Collections are properly optimized and if you can lure an engaged audience.
One thing you want to keep in mind is that you should not simple post content on Google+ to rank higher in local search results. This is known as spam. Make certain that your posts are valuable to your audience.
Maintain a Current Google My Business Listing
To ensure that your Google My Business listing remains up-to-date and current, you will want to add photographs, update your business hours when the holiday season approaches, utilize booking and Q&A features, etc. All of these things can improve your rankings. However, again, don’t simply add content to rank higher – this is spam and Google My Business, like Google+, is not the place for it). You want to ensure your added content is high-quality and timely. Google will know that your added content is accurate and that you are engaged.
You want to always interact with your customers, as this is good for customer relations and your local search ranking. In fact, some experts suspect that engagement will be the main deciding factor by 2020 more so than directory citations, links, and reviews. If this is true, you should start now by engaging with your current and prospective customers by utilizing, instant messaging, Google My Business’s booking and Q&A features, Google+ posts, responding to reviews (on Google and third-party sites, enabling the “click-to-call” feature on your website, etc.
Consolidate Duplicate Listings
It isn’t uncommon for businesses to assume that multiple listings on Google My Business is beneficial. However, the truth is that it can do more harm than good. If your business has more than one Google My Business listing, make sure that you quickly consolidate them into one.
Sources That Link Back to Your Site
If you currently have verified sources, such as the BBB, chambers of commerce, professional associations and organizations, online directories, etc. linking back to your website, they may be helping you show up in Google’s search results. Therefore, you want to ensure that your business is listed on as many authoritative and high-quality online directories as possible. In addition, you must make certain that your business information – particularly NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) is accurate and consistent across the board.
If you would like to learn more about being filtered out of Google local search results and what you can do about avoiding it, don’t hesitate to contact our professional team at WebDetail. We are happy to discuss things in more detail with you or begin putting a plan that will ensure you remain an “unfiltered” business.