How Google Determines Authority for a Business in Local Search

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A healthy local search presence is an essential element of every modern business. Despite the opaque nature of the Google algorithm, our team of industry experts has dissected a 2006 Google patent to understand how Google ranks and organize local content.

Furthermore, to enhance your visibility and get your business recognized as a local authority, it's important to connect the dots between the authority score given to your website and the visibility of your Google My Business (GMB) listing.  While that may seem obvious it is a component of local search.

Google's local search algorithm has a trimodal structure:

  • Relevance
  • Prominence
  • Proximity

While several foundational elements are used to establish visibility and authority in the context of local search, the factors above work together and offset each other to build three essential pillars. To stand out as a local authority, it's important to understand the specific signals used by Google to rank your content.

The patent

The overall architecture of your website is critical in determining its authority status, as is the relationship between your content and the rest of the world. Google utilizes a range of signals to associate web pages with specific businesses and geographic locations, and locations with specific businesses. Looking into the various patents filed by Google is one of the best ways to understand how they make these connections.

The Authority Pages patent application from Google was filed in 2004 and granted in 2006, with this document providing some clear insights into how Google determines authority content. The patent includes 29 claims, each of which is concerned with the relationship that exists between the location identified in documents and the authoritativeness of these documents based on specific signals.

The problem of location and authority

To understand how this patent affects your business, it's important to look into the problem Google was trying to solve. Despite the seamless nature of the modern local search experience, there are no automatic links made between locations, businesses, and ranking signals. There is always an algorithm involved when making these connections by linking specific location search terms with authority web pages and businesses.

A problem arises when websites fail to include their physical location (read address), or when they include it in sub-documents or images that aren't easily accessed. This is common with lots of relevant authoritative documents, with Google looking for a more pro-active way to access this important information. Along with a lack of physical addresses and other important local information, businesses are also likely to suffer due to outdated information, inconsistent information, and isolated content.

Google utilizes several signals to connect individual businesses with specific locations, with external and internal signals both playing an essential role in how Google determines authority and orders the Local Pack. Internal website architecture and external links are both integral to this process, with link signals and on-page signals accounting for 31% of the trimodal algorithm.

Using signals to associate location with authority

The search engine has numerous ways to create links between businesses and locations, which it uses to create authority by ranking local content in terms of its relevance to local search terms:

  • Local documents associated with a location
  • Links between pages associated with a location
  • Anchor text for links associated with a location
  • The frequency of specific words associated with a location in a document
  • The relevance of document titles to a business associated with a location
  • The relevance of domain names to a business associated with a location

These signals stack up in two major categories, with link signals referring to your connection with the outside world and on-page signals referring to your local website architecture and document content.

On-page signals are worth 13% of the trimodal algorithm, as an important signal to determine relevance, prominence, and proximity. While link signals are worth even more at 17%, they only have a direct impact on the prominence pillar.

How signals define your GMB visibility

To stand out from the local crowd, it's important to understand the relationship that exists between website pages and your GMB visibility in the Local Pack. Rather than simply claiming your GMB name, it's important to understand how Google uses signals to create connections between businesses and locations.

Citation signals and GMB signals account for 32% of the trimodal algorithm, so it's more important than ever to master the local side of your marketing. As we've seen from the Authority Pages patent, however, there is an intimate connection between your website, your links, and your GMB listing.

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Chris Tabb

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