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December 16, 2010

Google’s Local Search Algorithm and Rankings

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Google recently released a video explaining how its local search rankings work. I mean, Google would never really tell you everything, but the video gives some highlights and maybe even clues. Beyond the ranking factors Google talks about, local search has its own algorithm. In this post, we’ll go over some of the factors Google highlights, then next week, I’ll reveal research and dive further into other factors that might affect rankings and give insight into the local search algorithm.

Google explains that the factors it takes into account when serving up local listings are relevance, prominence and distance to your search query. Google also calls the local results “organic listings” – hmm.

The three products that Google presents right after it tells us what the ranking factors are is Google Hotpot, Tags and Boost. We know that Google Hotpot, which customizes results based on things like you and your community’s reviews when signed in, makes the search more relevant to the user and affects the rankings. It also brings the important element of social into search.

Do Tags or Boost have anything to do with prominence and distance? I don’t think so, but it can’t hurt to help a business “stand out,” as Google says. Seems like the video was just as much potential clues to search marketers and businesses as it was a nicely packaged promotional piece.

Google Tags

So, what is Tags? For a flat monthly fee of $25 per Google Places listing, Tags is a yellow marker that shows up on a local map or results for your business and allows you to further promote your business through things like coupons, photos, videos or posts to your Place page. Posts are updates you can give that are limited to 160 characters (Sound familiar?).

Google’s Boost puts together small business ad campaigns for you. You write a business description, choose the industry categories and set a budget, and Google does the rest. It’s basically AdWords for dummies. All analytics data is accessed through the Places dashboard and the budget must be at least $50 monthly.

Using Boost can make a business show up in the sponsored ad section and as a blue pin on the map. This makes it clear why Google pushed the local map to the top far-right side of the SERP around the time Google Place Search rolled out. I remember Bruce saying at that same time, “Google is going to start selling pins.”

With regards to distance, some internal BCI research suggests (depending on the query) that the maximum distance a business can be from a searcher’s query is 30 miles out. The closer the business is to the location, the more priority it’s given.

Google emphasized that claiming a Place page does not result in preferential treatment, nor does using Tags or participating in Boost. So what else factors into ranking? Enter the local algorithm. Next week, I’m going to provide an in-depth look on some of the things we’ve found here at BCI that affect local rankings in Google. We’ll also talk about some of the solutions we’re providing to address it.

Stay tuned!

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13 responses to “Google’s Local Search Algorithm and Rankings”

  1. Peter writes:

    Great post Jessica. It is good to see Google pushing out some of these videos. Another good one is the one on Duplicated Listings – a headache for most people to deal with.

    Keep it up…

  2. Jessica Lee writes:

    Thank you, Peter! I was looking for that video you mentioned but couldn’t find it. Do you have the URL?

  3. Louiek writes:

    Thank you for that. The only video I could find on duplicate listings was this one:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bn79kBaVGLo

    And im wondering, is boost still only limited to certain cities at the moment?

  4. Andy @ FirstFound writes:

    I still can’t get over how ridiculous a name “hotpot” is.

  5. Jessica Lee writes:

    Yeah, that’s the one I saw, too. Not an official Google video looks like. Yes, I’ve seen from some sources it’s only in a handful of cities. A report in Nov. showed 11 cities: http://bit.ly/d00GQm. I have not confirmed whether more have been added. Makes you wonder about the significance of those cities through Google’s eyes though, eh?

  6. Jessica Lee writes:

    Ha ha — Hi, Andy — you’re funny :)

  7. Tihomir Petrov writes:

    Very intersting and practical :) Thank youuuu!

  8. JT KING writes:

    I loved the old format for local search…the 3-7-10 box. Now the locals are relegated to the right side of the page. Speaking of hotspot, isn’t it on the upper left quadrant? Interesting tha Google doesn’t use that real estate for the Maps.

    Can’t wait for next weeks analysis.

  9. Jessica Lee writes:

    You are very welcome, Tihomir! Thanks for reading.

  10. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi, JT! Yeah, the SERPs are looking very different these days, eh? And the way we optimize for local results is changing, too. For Hotpot, I’m not quite sure what you mean. I haven’t seen it in that position, but I also have not played around with it a ton. Can you give us a little more detail? Thanks!

  11. Jeff Pohl writes:

    It really seems to me that the distance is the main variable. I mean relevance should be a given as I don’t want health insurance results when I search for coffee shops.

    I gotta believe that prominence is best represented by reviews and other local search exposure to things like yellowpages.com, superpages.com etc.

  12. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi, Jeff. Yes, distance is a huge factor. And prominence, that could be a mix of the social aspect (reviews) as well as the business listings and other things. Thanks for contributing.

  13. Jeorge Peter writes:

    Haha, what about hotpot? That name is strange.



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