The 2021 Local Search Ranking Factors

What you need to know to rank in Google’s local results

Introduction & Analysis

The Local Search Ranking Factors annual report was developed by David Mihm in 2008 and taken over by Darren Shaw in 2017. This report is the industry’s go-to resource for understanding how to rank in Google’s local search results.

Welcome to the 2021 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey results! Each year, I survey the top experts in local search across many topics to determine what’s working to drive rankings and conversions in local SEO, and what’s not.

A huge thank you to Jessie Low for all her excellent work planning, organizing, and helping to prepare this resource.

One quick note before we dive in: Google recently renamed Google My Business to Google Business Profile. When I surveyed the participants, it was GMB, and when I published this resource it was called GBP. So, you may see both names appear throughout this resource and you can just assume they refer to the same thing.

What Are Google’s Ranking Factors?

The 2021 survey had 132 potential factors that local search experts think Google might use to rank businesses in the local pack/finder/maps and local organic results. We don’t have any special access to the internal workings of Google’s local search algorithm. These factors are based on over a decade of analysis, experience, research, and local experts testing their various hypotheses when it comes to the specific signals Google is using to evaluate and rank businesses. That said, the factors at the top of the lists certainly appear to have the most significant impact on rankings, based on the observations of the local search experts that are optimizing businesses to rank in local results.

Local Search Ranking Factor Groups

Individual factors are organized into the following groups:

Survey participants are asked to estimate how much weight Google attributes to each ranking factor group within the local search algorithm for both local pack/finder and local organic results. The data is aggregated in the chart below to give you direction on the general importance of each group of signals.

Changes Over Time

The chart below shows how the local search experts’ opinions on the weighting of the groupings have shifted over the past 5 editions of the Local Search Ranking Factors.

A few things stand out in this chart:

  1. There has been a steady increase in the perceived importance of reviews. This makes sense. 
  2. There has been a steady decrease in the perceived importance of citations. I personally feel this might be a bit overstated and other research supports that Local Listing Management Matters.
  3. And most notably, there has been a significant increase in the perceived importance of GMB signals.

What is driving the increased importance of Google Business Profile Ranking Signals?

Over the past 7 years, local search practitioners have noticed that a few key factors seem to provide an outsized impact on local rankings, and they’re all categorized as GMB factors. These came in as the top 5 local pack/finder ranking factors in this year’s survey:

  1. Primary GMB category
  2. Keywords in the GMB business title
  3. Proximity of address to the searcher
  4. Physical address in city of search
  5. Additional GMB categories

It’s important to note that while GMB signals might be heavily weighted in the algorithm, your work to optimize for local rankings should not be so heavily weighted towards GMB. There are many incredible features in GMB to optimize for conversions, but there are only a few fields in GMB that have any impact on rankings, and they will take you approximately 5 minutes to optimize.

  1. Primary Category
    This is so important to get right. It has a massive impact on rankings. Choose the category that most closely matches with the primary search you want to rank for. For example, if your business is a law firm that specializes in criminal defense, then your primary category should definitely be “Criminal Defense Attorney” NOT “Law Firm”.
  2. Additional Categories
    This is the second most important thing to optimize in GMB. Add any additional categories that are relevant for your business. Think of every additional category as an additional keyword you can rank for (provided you have the relevancy signals on your website to support the category). Do not worry about “category dilution”, and do not even worry about “category confusion” (I’ll be publishing new research on category confusion soon).

That’s it. You’re done optimizing GMB for rankings. Go enjoy a beverage of your choice and watch the rankings roll in.

What about those other 3 top 5 ranking factors? Well, you can’t add keywords to your business name unless you plan to completely rebrand your business, and you can’t impact location unless you actually move your office.

What about all the other fields in your Google Business Profile? Shouldn’t you add keywords to them? Nope. Google does not use the description, services, or any other fields in GMB within the ranking algorithm. See the Myths section of this report for more information.

Optimizing GMB for rankings should definitely NOT take up 36% of your time. While it’s relatively quick and easy to optimize GMB for rankings, optimizing for conversions should be an ongoing focus.


This has just been the general overview of the local search ranking factors survey. There is so much more data and commentary to explore. Be sure to dive into all the sections of this resource.

A huge thank you to all of the amazing contributors to the Local Search Ranking Factors. These local SEO practitioners are the best and the brightest in local search. They are the digital marketers doing the work, testing theories, researching, writing, and speaking about what gets their clients ranking at the top of Google’s local results.