How Google Can Improve Its Updated Local Search Pack For SMBs

For one thing, Google should start giving greater weight to the quality of the review -- as a start, says iQuanti's Michael Bertini.

Google’s recent update to its local search pack that uses a 2:1 clustering formula is meant to provide consistent results about a place, but the emphasis on “near me” searches versus someone seeking local information about a locality they plan to visit.

And that can make things difficult for SMBs who want to rank highly for all searchers.

That’s the problem diagnosed by Michael Bertini, senior manager of Search Strategy at digital agency iQuanti. Bertini has a few recommendations on how Google can further refine its algorithm and how brands can adjust to this change.

According to Michael, Google can improve its algorithm by placing higher emphasis on the quality of reviews. For example, a company that doesn’t have thousands of reviews, but has quality reviews, should focus on promoting the review on a social profile and keywords like “best” and “top” in order to show up higher in search results.

Google can use more of the data they have on consumers based on search history to deliver a better set of map pack results, he adds. While this does not seem to be a priority of the company at the moment, as they have put more of a focus on the shopping feature and the ability to read images better, but this would help deliver a more personalized response for users and draw them into the service even more.

For companies looking to improve their ranks in local searches, reviews and ratings are certainly most important. However, Bertini advises that they can also ensure a better a rank by providing additional backlinks, filling out information on their business page, using local business directories that direct to that local page and using keywords in their title, description and category.

What do you find lacking when it comes to the way Google’s algorithm impacts local businesses?

Google has been making too many changes the last five months and it’s becoming more difficult to keep up with updates when Google is consistently making big changes. Google should start giving a higher weightage to the quality of the review as a start. They are giving too much weightage to proximity and it’s starting to hurt local businesses.

In terms of reviews, what’s your sense of how Google treats local businesses’ reviews?

When it comes to quantity I think Google gives it too much weight. Google should focus more on the quality of a review. A quality review should consist of the amount of words in the review, multiple images, shares of the review on a social profile, and keywords like “best,” “top,” and “#1” used in the copy.

How does Google deliver map pack results now? Google will look at the searchers proximity, keywords the searcher used when searching, and how well known that business is, to determine what listings Google will display.

Do you believe that Google doesn’t adequately reflect users’ search histories when delivering map info?

What improvements would you like to see in the way map results are ranked and delivered to users?

It would be great to see Google using more of the data they have on us based on our search history, to deliver a better set of map pack results. I’m sure they could use Rankbrain to tie in our other search queries and deliver a more personalized response.

I’m sure Google will eventually get there, but I wouldn’t foresee this being a priority on their list of things to do. I can only imagine that they are going to be more focus on the shopping feature and the ability to read images better without the need for a description than providing more personalized local results.

What are the main things local businesses can do to improve their rankings in terms of discovery via reviews and map results given the problems you point out with Google?

Many people are inclined to write a review if either the product or service was amazing or if it was the worst they’ve had.

  • Number of reviews
  • How high your rating
  • How many backlinks pointing to that local page
  • Information filled out on your business page
  • Local business directories pointing to that local page
  • Keywords used in your title, description and category.

A study done by MOZ in 2017 showed that links was the 2nd highest ranking factor for a local page. That means, just as focus as you are to acquire reviews, you should have the same focus to acquire backlinks because they are critical to your success.

Voice search on smartphones and smart home devices via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are becoming more mainstream. How do you think voice search will impact SEO strategies, particularly ones at the local level (“Hey Google, where’s the best burger near me?” “Hey Alexa, order my favorite item at Starbucks…”)?

These smart home devices know your location and will deliver results based on proximity. I think the real interesting nugget here is that users don’t search the same way they speak… Some users will search for “sushi restaurant near me” while as you become more comfortable with voice search, a user will say “what is the closest sushi restaurant to me?”

When it comes to local results, focus on optimizing your local page to rank for local terms, and Google will give you semantic value for voice search. Although, organically speaking, you should start thinking of ways you could create content that better fits a user who is using voice search. There are lots of opportunities to build upper funnel supporting content that match those search phrases users are searching.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.