Ranking your local business #1: An introduction

Previously, we published an interview with local SEO expert David Mihm on our SEO blog. As a lot of you liked this interview, David and Yoast decided to join forces and publish a series of posts about local SEO. In this series, David will go over the various local SEO aspects that contribute to your local rankings. Take it away, David!

For the last nine years, I curated and published the annual Local Search Ranking Factors survey. Experts from around the world ranked the tactics to SEO success for their – and their clients’ – businesses in this survey. The survey results have become a starting point for many small businesses and marketers, as they learn about how to get their business more exposure on Google. This year, Darren Shaw of Whitespark took over data collection and analysis and published the results on the Moz blog.

The evolution of local search results

Since I conducted the first survey, the local search landscape has changed a lot. To give you a sense, back in June 2008, the first Android mobile phone hadn’t even been released yet.

evolution of local search results

In that time, we’ve gone from a world where local search primarily meant “ten blue links” for desktop searches and shifted to local pack results on mobile phones. Now we’re increasingly going into a world of single answers from voice-controlled assistants.

An important distinction: organic vs. place

You might say:

“It’s all Google – how different could those results be?”

And it’s true, at its core, Google has always tried to provide searchers with the ‘best’ result for a given query. (Though that’s modulated slightly in the last couple of years as ads have become more prevalent.) But the ‘best result’ depends on the context of the query. The type of search and the location of the person searching provide Google with two vital pieces of context.

Consider a search like [get more followers on Instagram]. No matter where I’m performing that search – mobile or desktop, home or on the go – I’m looking for an answer to that pain point, anywhere in the world. I’ll largely find the answers on webpages – through the ten blue links – featuring products, case studies, or articles about how to do so.  

With a search like [coffee shop], though, Google can have pretty high confidence that I’m looking for a place to grab a latte right that moment. I probably want a place pretty close to me, no matter where I’m performing the search or on what device. Sure, I could browse a magazine article about the best coffee shops in my city or look at a full list of coffee shops on a directory page. But it’s much more useful for Google to simply return a list of places, rather than other websites about places.

serp_comparison (1)


Google’s webpage-related results [Instagram followers] and its place-related results [coffee shops] are generated by two different algorithms. Searches with specific questions like [How do I make chimichurri?] are likely to trigger a third kind of result called a Featured Snippet. But that’s a topic for another day!

As a local business, you’re going to face fierce competition in the webpage-related results. If you offer services to help get more Instagram followers, you’ll have to compete with every other provider of this service on the planet to get your website ranked.

But in the second instance, when Google detects a search that has local intent you’re only competing with other coffee shops near you. Note above; I didn’t even specify my city, Google just inferred it. And even though Starbucks has coffee shops in just about every town and city in the world, it’s harder for them to stand out against local brands in these place-based results. And these results are also featured in Google Maps, in-car navigation devices, Google Home/Assistant searches, and many other media.

More place-based results

Over the last few years, Google has gradually shown more and more of these place-based results for local queries and fewer webpage results. I mentioned this trend earlier and will discuss it in more detail in the last installment of this series. Even the webpage results that show up beneath these place results on a local intent search have been infused with local business websites since early 2012.

Regardless of medium (desktop, mobile, or voice), and regardless of the type of result (webpage or place-related), Google remains a significant source of customers for many local businesses. So it’s critical to put your best foot forward to attract those customers in both algorithms.

A deep dive into local rankings

Inspired by the response from this community to my last interview with the Yoast team, I thought I might expand on my answers. I’ll, therefore, provide a more detailed look at each of the major building blocks of a successful local search strategy. Below, you’ll find a list of the building blocks I’ll deal with in the following installments of this series.

The major algorithmic components

What are those components? Google likes to say “relevance, prominence, and distance.” And while that’s not misleading, it is an oversimplification.

Both the organic and place-related algorithms have become staggeringly complex, and I don’t pretend to know all of the signals that Google uses to inform these rankings. But I’ve closely watched the algorithm mature over the last decade. I’ve found it helpful to break Google’s triplet above into slightly more granular components – most of which inform both relevance and prominence. (Darren Shaw continued this categorization in this year’s survey.)


Over the next seven weeks, I’ll be giving my take on the most impactful tactics and techniques to help your business succeed across each of these major algorithmic areas:

Google My Business

Hopefully, most of you know by now, Google My Business is an online tool where you can tell Google about your business – the kind of business you are, where you’re located, the hours you’re open, and more. I’ll look at the most important fields to fill out and explain why they’re important.

Read more: Make the most of Google My Business »

On-Page best practices

It’s important to structure your website in a way that reinforces what you’ve told Google in your My Business listing. (The Yoast Local SEO Plugin helps with a big one.) I’ll take you through the key components of your website to focus on.

Keep reading: Website optimization for local search »

The foundation of Google’s organic algorithm is not going away anytime soon. I’ll give you some ideas for how and where to get people to link to your website.

Read on: Inbound links »


Citations refer to online mentions of your business that may or may not include a link. I’ll explain why they’re important and highlight the ones you should care about.

Keep on reading: Citations for local search »


Customer reviews are one of the easiest and most sustainable practices you can implement to improve your SEO. I’ll show you how to find the review sites that matter for ranking in Google and give you some ideas for how to implement a consistent and impactful customer review program.

Read more: The impact of local reviews »

Social signals

While not a major piece of the algorithm, I’ll highlight some of the evidence that suggests that social media can improve your local search visibility.

Behavioral signals/personalization

An emerging area of interest for a lot of professional SEOs, and the piece of the ranking pie that I see growing the most over the next few years.

Along the way, I’ll be eager for your questions in the comments of each post and on social media, and will do my best to address them in subsequent columns!

Read on

Other parts in the Ranking your local business series:

  1. An introduction to ranking your local business
  2. The importance of Google My Business
  3. How to optimize your website for local search
  4. Why inbound links are so important and how to get them
  5. Citations for local search
  6. The impact of reviews for local ranking
  7. Social media and local SEO
  8. The impact of behavioral signals

Coming up next!

36 Responses to Ranking your local business part 1: Introduction

  1. Bruce Bowman
    Bruce Bowman  • 5 years ago

    Great start – and I’m already starting to benefit from this info. I’m super excited about this series of articles that you’re going to be doing. Very timely for me!

  2. Fabian Hallo
    Fabian Hallo  • 5 years ago

    Thanks for the information David Mihm, I’m looking forward to the next chapters of this series, in the meantime, I already created my google my Business account and started to get green lights in the Yoast SEO plugin in my webpage http://otiswebsites.com/ I develop websites for local businesses here in Quito, Ecuador and want to provide the best local SEO for my clients, so thank you very much.

  3. Android
    Android  • 5 years ago

    Hi David,

    Yes Yoast SEO plugin in best and I am using it for almost all of my sites as it has so many options that helps in the best SEO. Thanks for sharing these additional tips to know the differences between the organic and place results.

  4. Minakshi
    Minakshi  • 5 years ago

    Hello David,
    Thanks for the article, really getting much to know about local ranking, behavior signals, inbound links and so on.
    Keep educate us about latest strategies an tactics. Thank you!

  5. Sequim Web Design
    Sequim Web Design  • 5 years ago

    I actually get excited about reading Yoast posts, especially those about local businesses. There doesn’t seem to be much info and advice for local business SEO on the internet. Can anyone confirm the importance of directory listings? I could spend days creating listings with the numerous directories, but don’t want to waste time.

  6. All The Way Up Media
    All The Way Up Media  • 5 years ago

    thanks for the insight. I look for more chapters about local SEO.

  7. MUTT
    MUTT  • 5 years ago

    How ranking is done on bussiness listing ? Is that depend on reviews as my competitor is always no 1.

  8. Marcin Kordowski
    Marcin Kordowski  • 5 years ago

    Thanks for this article. It is very interesting. Please can you to prioritize factors you mentioned? If I correctly understand Social Media are not most important factor? What about Google Plus?
    Best, Marcin Kordowski

  9. Abhishek Das
    Abhishek Das  • 5 years ago

    Thanks David for sharing this article with us. It gave me a lot of new ideas on how to optimize my website for local rankings.

  10. Ankeeta
    Ankeeta  • 5 years ago

    Actually a good article about improving Google local ranking without penalized, I do appreciate your article, need to dive deeper into it though.

  11. John Peter
    John Peter  • 5 years ago

    Thanks for your info David. Can you give me some additional information about citations? Why it is important?

    I have seen there are so many SEO professionals suggest citations for local SEO. But, I didn’t find complete information about citations. Can anyone know where I can read complete information about citations?

  12. Mario C. Countess
    Mario C. Countess  • 5 years ago

    Great article! I have a small Local Business Website.Thank you share this information.

  13. Marek Antoszewski
    Marek Antoszewski  • 5 years ago

    Great advice. Thanks David. How do you get a business listed on google places ( google my business ) if your business is done at locations and your own business address is not relevant, is not based where you do the work and being listed local to the business/home address would be counter-productive as it doesn’t refer to where the business is being done ?

    • David Mihm
      David Mihm  • 5 years ago

      Hi Marek,

      Stay tuned! My next installment to be published later this week will answer that question in more detail :)

      • Marek Antoszewski
        Marek Antoszewski  • 5 years ago

        Excellent news, David. Thanks

  14. Abin Sheen
    Abin Sheen  • 5 years ago

    Sir, Is there any Article about ” Info magnet ” SEO method?

  15. James Huon
    James Huon  • 5 years ago

    Great article. I am not running my website for my local people but I really want to increase the traffic and can help people out there reach me. Will this local SEO method also applied?

    • Victoria Anderson Namusisi
      Victoria Anderson Namusisi  • 5 years ago

      Thanks David. This is very good. I look forward to your next release. I would like to follow the series closely for my Taxi business in Uganda http://vikenstaxicab.com/ . I hope the rules of the game are the same.

      Thanks again.

  16. James Sigley
    James Sigley  • 5 years ago

    Great article! Looking forward to rest of the series.

  17. NogenTech
    NogenTech  • 5 years ago

    Optimization of your website in google map is also the great way to attract more local audience and visitors for your business. By the way brilliant suggestions shared by you.

  18. Manivasagam
    Manivasagam  • 5 years ago

    Exactly, i’m seeing more and more local businesses showing up for search queries. But How is that possible for a business to rank #1 without any citations, and despite we build lots of citations to our business , we still can’t outrank them ?
    Eagerly waiting for next series.

    Thanks David.

  19. Billy Williams
    Billy Williams  • 5 years ago

    Excellent start to the series! I am looking forward to the other 7 parts.

  20. Jason
    Jason  • 5 years ago

    Curious for opinions. My business isn’t necessarily a local business (I can freelance for whomever from wherever), but I am certainly happy to help businesses in my community. Should I be focusing on local SEO too? Actually asking the question makes it seem like a no-brainer, but I’ll keep it up. What are your thoughts?

    • David Mihm
      David Mihm  • 5 years ago

      Hey Jason,
      It wouldn’t hurt, I don’t think — always easier to own your own backyard before you try to tackle world domination :)

      Depending on your business, I’d imagine that a certain percentage of your customers would convert at a little bit higher rate if they knew they were working with someone local, as well.

      • http://www.airductcleaningsa.com
        http://www.airductcleaningsa.com  • 5 years ago

        Agree ! Excellent points, Thanks.

      • Jason
        Jason  • 5 years ago

        Great points, David. Thanks!

      • Leah Fein Roque
        Leah Fein Roque  • 5 years ago

        Excellent relevant useful and verifiably the best methods for local online digital SEO and best page practices! Thank you.

  21. Logan Yerbey
    Logan Yerbey  • 5 years ago

    I’m liking this a lot. Can’t wait to see where you go especially as I’m competing with some out of state companies who seem to spoof their location and have no real office where I am.

  22. Greg
    Greg  • 5 years ago

    Anticipating a great series ! Am I correct in thinking that also mentioning my city and state within my webpages may not play such a significant role as it had in the past or even be necessary to call out my location to google spiders as Google sees me as a local business anyway?

    • David Mihm
      David Mihm  • 5 years ago

      It’s less important — see my response to Mark Narusson, directly below :)

  23. Mark Narusson
    Mark Narusson  • 5 years ago

    Excellent start to the series. So am I right in thinking that you now no longer need to mention your location in any factoring keywords?

    • David Mihm
      David Mihm  • 5 years ago

      Hi Mark,

      Well, that’s not *entirely* the case, but Google has definitely gotten smarter about detecting the geographic area in which a given business is relevant. It’s still a best practice to use geographic/location keywords where it makes sense on your website, but you don’t have to over-do it.

      I’ll be covering on-page factors in a couple of weeks!

      • Donna @ Giordano Law
        Donna @ Giordano Law  • 5 years ago

        I’m looking forward to reading the next 7 installments. Do you think there is anything different to be done with a business that has two locations, one in two states?

        • David Mihm
          David Mihm  • 5 years ago

          Hi Donna,

          There are a couple of differences for on-page optimization, and I suppose inbound links, if you’ve got a business with two locations..but generally speaking you should consider each location you operate as independent with respect to the other. It will need its own citation profile, review profile, and will certainly have its own behavioral profile. I’ll try to touch on each of these in future posts.

          • David Mihm
            David Mihm  • 5 years ago

            Hi Donna,
            I will be explaining the concept of citations in more detail in the fifth installment in this series :) The best way to stay updated is probably to subscribe to Yoast’s newsletter (above).

          • Donna @ Giordano Law
            Donna @ Giordano Law  • 5 years ago

            Thanks, David. That makes sense. Citation profile (Facebook)? I want to be sure I get notified about the next installment. What means is best?