‘Near me’ searches are increasingly common for consumers shopping on-the-go via smartphone. To serve up the best local results regardless of where searchers are, Google’s algorithm is getting better and better at understanding ‘near me’ intent and determining which local businesses to rank in maps and organic results.
This past weekend I was running errands when my check oil light came on. Hoping to swing in for maintenance that afternoon, I did a quick search for ‘oil change near me’ and saw firsthand that businesses who were farther away from my location but more likely to have exactly what I was looking for were ranked higher in results.
For your business, this means that while you can’t control when you show up for near me searches, you can make changes to influence your likelihood of appearing. This is because ranking for ‘near me’ searches is not as simple as being the closest business that lists ‘oil change’ in its services. These searches are competitive. And they're only increasing in popularily. In automotive, Google reported a 200%+ increase in car-dealer related searches containing "near me" over two years.
Because ‘near me’ is first determined by the actual location of the searcher, Google does consider distance. But to determine which businesses are most relevant for ‘near me’ searches, Google uses a combination of relevance, distance, and prominence to ultimately dictate which listings to serve in map and organic results.
- Relevance: You can influence this. Google first looks at how well your business matches what someone is searching for. Being explicit about who you are and what you provide on your website, across social media, on Google My Business, and in local business listings will help Google better understand your business and understand which types of searches you should appear for in map and organic results.
- Distance: You can’t influence this (but you can mess it up). This is a big one -- Google needs to know where your business is and what it is near to look at how far your business is from the actual location of the user searching. If a user does not have location services enabled, Google calculates the physical distance based on what’s known about the user’s location. If you don’t have your address clearly and consistently defined across your website, social media, and local directories, Google won’t be able to trust your location.
- Prominence: You can influence this. There are a few factors that play into prominence. Google gauges how prominent or well-known your business is by looking at information about your business across the internet -- the more info that’s out there, the better. Things like links, mentions, reviews, and current rankings of your website all play in to how prominent Google considers your local business to be.
So how can local businesses stand out in searches and ensure they rank for ‘near me’ results? Here are a few tips for optimizing for ‘near me’ searches:
1. Remember that ‘near me’ isn’t an exact keyword
Using ‘near me’ in website copy would sound unnatural. Instead, local businesses should optimize their website using a variety of ‘near’ keywords, including nearby, near you, near [landmark], near [city], near [highway], etc. Start with your location page and about us page. Embed your Google maps location and provide written driving directions. If you’re involved in your location community, include content about the organizations you work with or businesses you partner with. When relevant, consider adding blogs about local events, landmarks, and create local guides of your own.
2. Optimize your Google My Business profile
Providing complete, accurate information on Google My Business can directly improve your local rankings. Start by claiming your business and verifying your listing. Add all your business information, including your name, address, phone number, categories, services, website, attributes, photos, and hours. During holidays include special hours. Remember that users can upload photos and suggest edits to your business listing; monitor monthly to ensure your business information stays accurate and up-to-date.
3. Consider other local directories
Websites like Yelp and Groupon were ranked high in organic results when I searched for ‘oil change near me.’ When optimizing for local searches, think beyond your website and Google My Business profile and consider local directories that usually show up for ‘near me’ searches. Using listing management software like Moz Local will ensure your business information is accurate and up-to-date across local directories and aggregation sites like Better Business Bureau, Yelp, YP.com, and even Apple Maps. In addition to helping with ‘near me’ searches, there are a number of SEO benefits from optimizing your business listings across the search ecosystem.
4. Manage (and encourage) online reviews
Reviews play a large part in determining local rankings. Google wants to provide the best results and best search experience for users, so it’s unlikely that businesses with poor user ratings will rank highly. In fact, Google’s best practices recommend asking for and responding to reviews in order to help your business stand out on Google. To improve your ratings and your rankings, start by proactively encouraging online reviews. Review management software like Podium can help your business get more, good reviews. As your reviews increase, respond to the positive and the negative using Google’s tips for responding to reviews.
5. Don’t lose SEO focus
The biggest thing to remember is that SEO is all about the user. While ‘near me’ searches matter and you can optimize for those results using these tips, you shouldn’t neglect your overall SEO strategy and focus on providing the best user experience. Continue to prioritize providing helpful, relevant content for car shoppers and you’ll continue to build trust and authority overall with search engines.