The 2021 Local Search Ranking Factors
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?
Local Search Ranking Factor Groups
Changes Over Time
A few things stand out in this chart:
- There has been a steady increase in the perceived importance of reviews. This makes sense.
- 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.
- 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?
- Primary GMB category
- Keywords in the GMB business title
- Proximity of address to the searcher
- Physical address in city of search
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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.