Decoding Google's Local Search Algorithm

Navigating the intricacies of local search presents an ever-growing challenge, primarily due to intensifying competition. The dynamic nature of the Google local algorithm constantly evolves to align search results with user intent. As SEO specialists, digital marketers and business owners staying attuned to these updates is paramount, enabling us to adapt our strategies swiftly. Failure to do so could result in a rapid decline in local search visibility.

This guide is tailored to enhance your comprehension of  Google’s local search algorithm, dissecting its three pivotal ranking pillars: relevance, proximity, and prominence. Exploring each fundamental pillar equips you with the knowledge to outpace the competition and navigate the nuances of Google's local algorithm effectively.

Now, let's get into the intricate workings of the Google local algorithm without delay!


In Google’s support page post How Google determines local ranking they state:

“Relevance refers to how well a local Business Profile matches what someone is searching for. Add complete and detailed business information to help Google better understand your business and match your profile to relevant searches.”

Local Listing Optimization

Whether you're refining your Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business), Bing Places listing, or Yahoo Local listing, several crucial elements demand your attention. Beyond ensuring the accuracy of your business's NAP (name, address, phone number) and claiming a single listing, it's essential to thoroughly complete the following two features.

Strategic Local Category Selection

An integral aspect of achieving high local rankings involves choosing pertinent categories for your listing. These categories essentially function as tags associated with your business. It's crucial to opt for categories that precisely define your business—aim for relevance and specificity. For a comprehensive list of categories applicable to Google Business Profile, refer to this link, and for Bing Places, visit this page.

Crafting a Business Description

Integrating a detailed description of your business into your Google Business Profile provides users (and search engines) with a clear understanding of your offerings. This description should not be overly promotional but rather informational, offering users (and search engines) the details they need to assess if your business aligns with their requirements or intent.

On-Site Signals

Enhancing your web pages for specific keywords is a crucial step in boosting relevance and increasing your chances of gaining favor from the Google local algorithm. Conducting foundational competitor research and scrutinizing search results can unveil insights into what search engines prefer for a given query or keyword.

Outlined below are key on-page factors to consider when aiming to amplify relevance for a particular keyword or topic. Additionally, you can explore the comprehensive on-page checklist I've curated.

Content Quality:

The way you craft your content plays a pivotal role in determining its ranking eligibility. A significant algorithm update by Google in 2018 underscored the importance of content relevance. The focus is on how well your content aligns with a user's search intent rather than its length or general quality. Web pages that exhibit strong relevance to a keyword or topic saw a boost in rankings.
Search engines evaluate whether your content fulfills the user's original search intent. Does it provide the sought-after answer? Here are two strategies to heighten relevance in your content:

LSI Keywords (Latent Semantic Indexing):

Integrate semantically related keywords to bolster relevance to your target keyword or query. Search engines, being sophisticated, can draw connections between keywords and reward pages that execute this effectively. Tip: Utilize Google's search predictor or tools like this to assist.

Long-Tail Keywords:

Differing from LSI keywords, long-tail keywords contribute to relevance. Despite being lengthier, they often yield higher conversion rates due to their specificity and descriptiveness. Long-tail keywords provide context to your content, aiding search engines in determining if your page aligns with the context of a user's search query.

Meta Description Enhancement:

Craft a compelling meta description to elaborate on your title tag, providing additional context about the content of your page. Once again, ensure the inclusion of your target keyword.

Body Tags Utilization:

Embedding headings within your content serves to captivate users and entice them to delve deeper. This serves as an effective strategy to heighten your relevance. Each heading tag should be descriptive, offering an explanation of the content that follows. Search engines recognize these tags and assign greater significance to their content. (Pro tip: Incorporate your keywords for added impact.)

Strategic Internal Linking:

Strategically deploying internal links on your website aids users in navigating to pertinent pages, establishing a logical hierarchy and distributing link equity. By crafting a network of internal links, you can enhance the relevance of a page, creating a guided pathway to related content that fortifies your chosen topic or keyword.

Mindful Outbound Links:

Outbound links, directing users to external websites for additional information, play a role akin to internal links. These links, when chosen judiciously, contribute to the Google local algorithm's understanding of your chosen niche. Focusing on relevance in both giving and receiving outbound links reinforces the authority of your content.

Schema Implementation:

Harnessing the power of schema organization empowers search engines like Google to comprehend your content more effectively. This not only ensures optimal search results but also enhances the visual representation of your page in search results. The addition of schema to a page significantly increases relevance for a given topic or keyword, as search engines adeptly interpret and contextualize the information, securing your visibility where it matters most.

Relevant Testimonials:

Recognizing the pivotal role reviews play in shaping a business's reputation and rankings, it's crucial to delve into the significance of relevance in testimonials. When dealing with product or location-specific pages, ensure that the reviews align with the page's focus. Each testimonial should be contextually connected to the product or service discussed on the page. If there are mentions of specific locations in reviews, strategically display them in the corresponding areas of your website.

Structured URL Blueprint:

Establishing a coherent website hierarchy and well-thought-out site architecture is paramount. This strategic setup guides search engine algorithms on how to prioritize and navigate your website. The URL slug you choose should seamlessly mirror the page's central theme, providing a swift avenue to augment relevance.

Consider these on-page signals as a comprehensive checklist. As you review your target page, ensure that each attribute is duly checked off. By meticulously completing this checklist, you can confidently affirm that your page resonates with your target keyword or topic, positioning your site favorably in the eyes of the Google local algorithm.

Off-Site Signals

In the intricate web of online presence, trust and credibility reign supreme as pivotal ranking signals. Off-site signals, often manifested as external links from one website to another (commonly known as backlinks), play a crucial role. The accumulation of high-quality backlinks not only elevates your website's authority but also communicates to search engines that you embody trustworthiness and credibility. It's essential to note that a 'good' backlink emanates from a credible website, typically boasting commendable Page or Domain Authority and relevance to the linked page.

Picture this scenario: If you have a service page centered around "car insurance," the ideal backlinks would originate from insurance-related pages, with a preference for those specifically dedicated to car insurance. The synergy between the linking and linked pages should be seamless. Conversely, a backlink from a "home insurance" page to your "car insurance" page might be less desirable due to thematic disparities.

Here are two distinct off-site link-building strategies:

Crafting Engaging Guest Posts:

Unlocking valuable guest posting opportunities involves employing refined Google search strings. Guest posting not only allows you to share your tailored content but also contributes to enhancing your website's authority and relevance. In your outreach efforts, it's imperative to stand out. Given the competitive landscape, your initial message should not only showcase your business but also present multiple topic ideas for added appeal.

Developing 10x Content Pieces:

Forging strong links to your website can be ingeniously achieved by leveraging exceptional content. Creating stellar 10x content demands meticulous research and planning, promising gratifying results. Your content should captivate and astound readers. Once you've crafted this remarkable content, its promotion becomes relatively straightforward. External site owners and experts are naturally drawn to linking with high-quality, relevant content. The superior your content, the more effortlessly links can be garnered.


Google Stats in their Support Post How Google determines local ranking

Distance considers how far each potential search result is from the location term used in a search. If a user doesn't specify a location in their search, we’ll calculate distance based on what we do know about their location.”

Now that we've established the relevance of your business to the user's search query and its prominent standing, let's delve into another ranking factor: distance. Local algorithms undergo continuous updates to ensure search results align with the most pertinent queries for users. As you may be aware, proximity to the searcher remains the paramount ranking factor, and this principle remains steadfast.

Regrettably, while proximity holds utmost importance in local search, it also stands as the factor most beyond your control. The geographical location of your business is a fixed aspect.

What becomes pivotal in this context is to effectively communicate to Google the specific location of your business, ensuring that it prominently surfaces for nearby search queries.

Varieties of Local Searches

Users employ three distinct methods when conducting local searches: non-geo-modified, geo-modified, and "near me." It's crucial to optimize for these diverse search approaches. Let's explore the distinctions.

Non-Geo Modified Searches

This search behavior is typical when users seek something in their immediate vicinity. For instance, if I'm situated in Destin Florida and search for "Bars," the local search results will likely feature bars closest to my location. Search engines place considerable emphasis on proximity in such cases.

Geo-Modified Searches

While not universal, users often perform these local searches when planning to visit a specific location or traveling to another city. Suppose I'm in Destin Florida searching for a bar in a nearby city; my query might be "Bars on 30A." The search results in this scenario differ from those obtained by searching "bars" while physically present in Destin Fl. Geo-modified searches place greater reliance on relevance and prominence over proximity if it's detected that you're not within the city specified. Typically, the results include listings close to the city centroid with strong relevance and prominence.

Near Me-Based Searches

Several years ago, searches explicitly containing "near me" were widely used, such as queries like "pubs near me." However, as of 2018, this trend has seen a decline.

Why, you might wonder? The decline is attributed to the fact that the concept of "near me" is now implicit in local searches. Users naturally anticipate receiving the most pertinent results in proximity to them without expressly including "near me" in their search queries. Nonetheless, it's worth noting that some users still utilize this variation in their searches, and I thought it was essential to mention.


On Google's support page - How Google determines local ranking page they talk about Prominence.

Prominence refers to how well known a business is. 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 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 review score factor into local search ranking. More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business' local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so search engine optimization (SEO) best practices apply.

Tip: There's no way to request or pay for a better local ranking on Google. We do our best to keep the search algorithm details confidential, to make the ranking system as fair as possible for everyone.”

Consider prominence as the measure of how effectively your brand distinguishes itself positively from others. This can manifest in various ways, such as through links, articles, directories, mentions, reviews, and more. It represents the trust and credibility your brand has established with search engines.

Brands with a robust online prominence are perceived as more trustworthy and credible by the Google local algorithm. Given that search engines, particularly Google, aggregate data from diverse sources on the web, having your brand presence online results in search engines assigning a prominence score to your brand. Let's delve into some key strategies to enhance, sustain, and fortify your brand prominence, thereby bolstering your standing in the digital landscape.


Reviews hold the potential not only to bolster ranking signals but also to sway a consumer's decision-making process. The quantity and quality of reviews

significantly impact the perceived trustworthiness of a business.

Consider this: would you rely more on a business with 100 reviews or one with only 10? The former is likely to instill greater trust, mirroring the expectations of users and the discerning eye of the Google local algorithm. To enhance online prominence, it's crucial to strategize and actively manage reviews.

Here are some pointers to cultivate robust signals through online reviews.

Strategize Review Acquisition:

Developing a review strategy is paramount for a business aiming to amass more reviews. This foundational step is crucial for establishing a commendable online brand prominence. Utilize available tools designed to facilitate the generation of reviews.

Engage and Respond:

Once a review strategy is in place, effective monitoring and management of reviews become equally critical. Search engines keenly observe businesses that engage with customers and respond to their feedback. Active interaction demonstrates your commitment and willingness to connect with your audience. Services like Reigns Media Reputation management can be invaluable for monitoring reviews, especially in handling negative feedback positively.

Remember, turning a negative review into a constructive interaction can profoundly impact your brand's perception in the eyes of users and Google's local algorithm. Stand out from competitors by fostering a positive brand prominence that resonates with both your audience and search engines.


A citation serves as an online reference to your business's name, address, and phone number (NAP). Unlike external links, citations don't necessarily require a direct link back to your website; the mere mention of your business details earns you credit for a citation.

Businesses with a substantial online presence in terms of citations are deemed more credible by search engine algorithms. 

While building online prominence, inbound links, or backlinks, play a pivotal role. As mentioned earlier in the relevance section, it's crucial to reiterate their significance in the context of prominence. Acquiring relevant backlinks is a substantial means by which a business can enhance its online reputation.

When assessing why a competitor might be outranking you, a key metric to consider is the quantity and quality of backlinks. The more high-quality links pointing to your page, the greater trust and authority your page will command.

In Summary

In this journey through the pillars of Google's local algorithm, we've delved into the strategies and tactics that elevate businesses in local search rankings. From the intricacies of on-page signals to the art of acquiring relevant backlinks, each facet contributes to the digital prominence that distinguishes businesses in the competitive online landscape.

As businesses implement these insights, staying abreast of algorithmic updates and continuously refining strategies becomes imperative. This guide serves not only as a roadmap but as a dynamic resource, equipping readers to adapt to the evolving nature of local search. Embracing these principles ensures that businesses not only feature prominently in local search results but also foster lasting trust with both users and search engines.

In the dynamic and competitive realm of local search, the journey towards sustained visibility and success is ongoing. May your endeavors in mastering Google's local algorithm be met with increased relevance, unwavering prominence, and a proximity that positions your business where it matters most—right in front of your target audience.

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