The data doesn’t lie – users rely on local search: 61% of people expect search results to be customized to their location. Search engines are increasingly trending towards personalized, localized results, regardless of whether or not the searcher includes their location in the search query. As a result, local search optimization is essential for ranking at the top of the page for any business with one or more physical locations.
On Friday, April 1, Google updated its local search guidelines, revealing that brand awareness and traditional organic search optimizations are critical for improving those local search rankings. They are a part of the new Prominence signal, which incorporates brand affinity and traditional organic search ranking factors into the local algorithm.
Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking. For example, famous museums, landmark hotels, or well-known store brands that are familiar to many people are also likely to be prominent in local search results.
Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories). Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking.
Your position in web results is also a factor, so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization.
Prominence is very similar to the ranking signal of Expertise-Authority-Trust (EAT) that SEO teams have been working to optimize for several years. That said, prominence only affects local search results – which means the “3-pack” of local searches, instead of more traditional search results. Google notes that prominence is already reflected in overall search results.
What are Google’s Official Local Search Ranking Signals?
- Distance: How far away is the user’s device from the business location?
- Relevance: Is the user’s query relevant to the business?
- Prominence: Are there well-known businesses or landmarks in this location that support this keyword?
WHAT MARKETERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PROMINENCE
Is this ranking signal brand new?
Officially, yes. This is the first time Google has gone on record stating that traditional SEO and brand awareness are directly correlated to local search visibility. The July 24, 2014 Google Pigeon update incorporated “traditional web signals” into Google’s local algorithm, but at that time Google did not provide specific factors or best practices.
How will Prominence affect ranking?
NHI does not expect rankings for most queries to see a major shift. If a brand is competing for the same keyword as a major local landmark or national brand, it is possible to see some decline in ranking. For example, if you are a store that sells baseball memorabilia in Minneapolis and have optimized your website for “baseball in Minneapolis,” you may slip down in rankings to a more prominent but less technically optimized website – such as the official websites of the Minnesota Twins or even a popular farm team like the St. Paul Saints.
Conversely, it’s likely that websites with large amounts of national brand equity will see a boost in rankings, if their Google My Business accounts are tied to their website.
How does Prominence impact SEO and content strategy?
Organic search ranking signals, brand reputation, and brand awareness directly influence how and when a business ranks in local results. This means companies with physical locations need to incorporate all three elements into their organic search strategy in order to rank well at the local market level.
Does this mean that if I get a bad review in Google, my ranking will go down?
No. In its search quality evaluation guidelines, which determine prominence ratings, Google advises quality raters to have sympathy for the overall tenor of online reviews: most businesses have some negative reviews, especially for customer service. Try to find as many reviews and ratings as possible and read the details of negative reviews and low ratings before inferring that the business has a negative reputation.
Negative reviews are, unfortunately, a fact of customer service in many businesses. Google wants to see that businesses respond to reviews and address quality issues.
Looking Forward at Local SEO and the Prominence Ranking
If a brand is trusted and builds valuable, informative content, its prominence grows. Cultivate a positive brand reputation, establish a delightful user experience that translates into good reviews in store and on your website, and ensure that you are recognized in the local community. Vertical-specific directories, articles from news sources, and links from influencers all impact overall prominence.
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