Ranking in local 3 pack is algorithmically determined by Google and when there are unknown variables there are assumptions made by Local SEO’s based on what Google says and results they see, which leads to the inevitable local SEO myths being picked up and followed.
What Google Says about Ranking in the Local Pack
Naturally Google My Business does not give out their secret sauce, but this is what they do say about local pack ranking factors.
Relevance: Relevance is how well a local listing matches what someone is searching for. Adding complete and detailed business information can help us better understand your business and match you to relevant search results.
Distance: Just like it sounds – how far is each potential search result from the location term used in a search? If you don’t specify a location in your search, we’ll calculate distance based on what we know about your location.
Prominence: This describes how well-known or prominent a business can be. This is based on information we have about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories). Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and we try to reflect this online as well.
For example, famous museums, landmark hotels, or well-known store brands that are familiar to many people are also likely to be more prominent in search results.
You can read more about these in where I describe these ranking factors in a bit more detail in the GMB help forum: Read Article
The Businesses Location or Proximity
The current mantra in local SEO is that proximity is the more weighted factor when it comes to local pack results being returned to the searcher. The closer the business is to the searcher, the more relevant it appears in local results. So you need to have a business location within the city to have a shot at the local pack.
The organic results do not typically change based on where the user is searching in a city and your website can still be ranking organically in areas where you are not physically located, although I personally feel that Google tightened this up during this Decembers algo refresh.
Local SEO Myths:
Creating location pages for every possible location near your business with boiler plate page layout is not the best use of your time and money. There is nothing wrong with creating well structured and optimised location pages for cities / areas that your business serves, but be aware of the local SEO that wants to create a wrath of boiler plate location pages on your site.
Although the proximity factor has been tightened up and plays a large role in ranking in the local pack, your organic positions still play a large part in your local pack appearance, assuming you have an actual business location in the area. If you are not ranking organically Pos# 1 – 5 for the search term, then your chances at the local pack are slim.
Over the past few years the number of reviews certainly was an important piece of the puzzle, however it was just to easy to game / buy / write reviews and Google has dialled this factor back over the past 6 months.
In fact Google is really think hard about reviews and you can see their thinking in a recent patent application that looks to understand a review and the reviewer. Recommended Reading
It makes sense that Google is looking at the reviewers location, and has the reviewer stopped visiting the location over time, which could lead to diminishing the review.
Local SEO Myths:
Throwing hundreds of gamed reviews at a Google business page may make the overall review average look good, its not going to propel you into the local pack any longer. In fact given the above patent application all those single review that your local SEO threw at the listing may in fact lead to a diminished authority of your listing in the long term.
Moving away from local pack rankings, aggregated review markup on pages to get those lovely review stars in organic results is widely misunderstood or gamed by local SEO and Google is cracking down with a lot of manual actions for spammy structured data being handed out recently. Only markup the applicable product or service with the correct aggregated ratings for that product or service.
Local Business Citations
I see far to many local SEO’s throwing about the “build local citations” advice these days. Yes a business will benefit from some well placed, high authority local business citations but local citations are not the bee all and end all of an SEO campaign.
The above client does not have a single standard directory listing or aggregation submissions. In stead we concentrated on high authority and industry relevant links.
Local SEO Myths:
If your local SEO is solely focused on building local business citations for you then you should be concerned as to your overall campaign strategy. Ask to see his intended target list before signing off on this.
Keywords in Business Name
Sadly this works and for some reason GMB does not have any plans soon about the weight they give to keyword stuffed names. I will however always remind a business that if you are intending to build a brand, then pick the name and stick with it. You can rank a name without keyword stuffing.
The above client took my advice on building a brand rather then short term gains of stuffing a keyword or two into the business name and it will continue to pay off in the future.
Local SE Myth:
Although there is no local SEO myth associated with throwing in a relevant keyword or two, you should make a conscious decision based on long term goals for the business and its long term goals. At some point users will grow weary of the “Best Glasses in London Optician” when they see it in the search results.
Users understanding of search and results are continually growing in awareness.