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A Little Light Reading On Google Maps Ranking Factors

May 13th, 2011
12 Comments



From a patent application Google filed in September 2010 entitled SCORING LOCAL SEARCH RESULTS BASED ON LOCATION PROMINENCE

[0047] When the document falls within the broad area (block 460–YES), then a location prominence score associated with the document may be determined (block 470). The location prominence score may be based on a set of factors that are unrelated to the geographical area over which the user is searching. In one implementation, the set of factors may include one or more of the following factors: (1) a score associated with an authoritative document; (2) the total number of documents referring to a business associated with the document; (3) the highest score of documents referring to the business; (4) the number of documents with reviews of the business; and (5) the number of information documents that mention the business. In other implementations, the set of factors may include additional or different factors.

Translation: Ranking factors could include your site’s/URL’s PageRank, the total # of citations that mention or link to your business, the authority of the URL(s) mentioning/linking to you, # of reviews and anything else we can think of.

[0048] The score associated with an authoritative document may be used as a factor in determining the location prominence score for a document. An authoritative document may refer to a document that is identified as being authoritative for the business associated with the document for which the location prominence score is being determined. For example, a group of documents may refer to a business by mentioning the name of the business, the address of the business, and/or a telephone number associated with the business. One of the documents in the group may be more authoritative for the business than the other documents. For example, a document corresponding to the home page of a restaurant may be considered more authoritative for that restaurant than a document corresponding to a review of the restaurant. In one implementation, the link-based score of the authoritative document may be used as a factor in determining the location prominence score for a document associated with the business.

Translation: Your site’s PageRank could be important. Get links/citations.

[0049] The total number of documents referring to a business associated with a document may be used as a factor in determining the location prominence score for the document. As explained above, a group of documents may refer to a business by mentioning the name of the business, the address of the business, and/or a telephone number associated with the business. In one implementation, the total number of these referring documents may be used as a factor in determining the location prominence score of a document associated with the business.

Translation: Get a lot of citations.

[0050] The highest score of documents referring to a business associated with a document may be used as a factor in determining the location prominence score for the document. As explained above, a group of documents may refer to a business by mentioning the name of the business, the address of the business, and/or a telephone number associated with the business. Each of these referring documents may have an associated link-based score. In one implementation, the highest link-based score of these referring documents may be used as a factor in determining the location prominence score of a document associated with the business.

Translation: Get citations from a URL/domain that has a lot of authority in Google.

[0051] The number of documents with reviews of a business associated with a document may be used as a factor in determining the location prominence score for the document. Reviews for businesses can appear in a number of documents, such as newspapers, magazines, web pages, and blogs. In one implementation, the number of documents with reviews of a business may be used as a factor in determining the location prominence score of a document associated with the business.

Translation: Get reviews and get reviewed on a wide variety of sites.

[0052] The number of information documents that mention a business associated with a document may be used as a factor in determining the location prominence score for the document. An information document may refer to a document that provides important information about a business, such as the address, telephone number, and/or hours of operation of the business, reviews and/or atmosphere of the business, whether the business accepts credit cards, etc. Examples of information documents may include Dine.com, Citysearch, and Zagat.com. In one implementation, the total number of information documents mentioning a business may be used as a factor in determining the location prominence score of a document associated with the business.

Translation: Get citations for your business on sites that are deemed “information documents” aka yellow pages sites, local directories, etc.

[0053] In one implementation, the location prominence score for a document may be determined by combining the above-identified factors. The factors may be combined and/or weighted in any manner. For example, the factors may be “squashed” and linearly combined. Squashing is a function that prevents one large signal from dominating the others. Some of the factors may also be normalized, if necessary, to have values between zero and one.

Translation: They were just looking for an excuse to use the word “squashed” in the application.

[0054] Optionally, the location prominence score for a document may be combined with a distance score for the document, where the combined scores will also be referred to herein as the location prominence score. As explained above, the distance score associated with a document may be determined based on the distance the postal address and/or the latitude and longitude coordinate associated with the document is from the location within the broad area (e.g., the location representing the middle of the search area). This factor may provide a better user experience by presenting the user with documents associated with businesses that are closer together rather than scattered apart.

Translation: Location, location, location.

[0055] In one implementation, the location prominence score (with or without the combined distance score) may be combined with a minimal value (e.g., one). This minimal value may ensure that documents that fall within the broad area are scored higher than documents that do not fall within the broad area. This may also ensure that the user is provided with relevant results in the geographical area of interest.

Translation: You best be located in your service area.

[0073] For example, one factor may relate to the numeric scores of the reviews (e.g., how many stars or thumbs up/down). Another factor might relate to some function (e.g., an average) of all the scores of the reviews. Yet another factor might relate to the type of document containing the review (e.g., a restaurant blog, Zagat.com, Citysearch, or Michelin). A further factor might relate to the types of language used in the reviews (e.g., noisy, friendly, dirty, best). Another factor might be derived from user logs, such as what businesses users frequently click on to get detailed information and/or for what businesses they obtain driving directions. Yet another factor might relate to financial data about the businesses, such as the annual revenue associated with the business and/or how many employees the business has. Another factor might relate to the number of years the business has been around or how long the business has been in the various listings. Yet other factors will be apparent to one skilled in the art.

Translation: it couldn’t hurt to be “skilled in the art”

Good luck my dear Watson.


Tags: Google Maps · Google Place Search

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Matt Grant

    Nice to see the patent application validate the ranking factors we already understand: reviews and citations.

    The only question is, how will Google judge “skilled in the art”.

  • 2 Stever

    @Matt, those that are skilled in the art are those that do not get easily “squashed”….by panda’s perhaps.

  • 3 Miguel

    Local ranking factors irritate the crap out of me. I’ve nailed all of these things, well the subjective ones that is, like links, high PR site, high authority links, distribution of local data across all the local directories (localeze and/or UBL), location in service area, reviews, etc, etc… And it has still not always resulted in the Maps listing becoming ranked any higher than before. And this is also with totally crusshing any of the other businesses in Maps rankings ahead of me in all categories that have been laid out as ranking factors.

    It is all just SO fickle and there does not really seem to be any one or two factors that make a big difference.

    Has anyone experimented with pointing links to the Places page URL? Does that work?

  • 4 Toledo Marketing

    @ Miguel,

    Are you talking about your organic seo site? If not then please disregard.

    If so, then I would say the first issue I see is that there isn’t any mention of location on y0ur site. No address, phone # or even city.

    Just like Ad Words, content and relevancy are king. If your onsite seo isn’t optimized for local search then it will never show up as being most relevant.

    The second part of this equation is the fact that Google slaps us as seo companies. So the next question would be what 7 or 10 box are you trying to show up in? If your trying to show up in a local marketing box and your site is only relevant to seo, then it isn’t going to show.

    Personally I learn more by looking at the issues that others have and then trying to reverse engineer the problem to solve it.

    Again, if this doesn’t apply to your site then please disregard but I offered up the info just in case it does speak to your problem or maybe someone else.

  • 5 Miguel

    @Toledo Marketing
    I was not referring to my own site. As I mentioned in my comment, I’m intimately familiar with all of the local SEO ranking factors and implementing them. I’m referring to client work.

    I appreciate the advice and agree that SEOs get a bad shake in the results too. I’ve been so consumed with work that I have not concentrated on ranking my site for about 8 months now. I can’t take on anymore work as it is so I haven’t been worried about it. :-)

  • 6 Toledo Marketing

    I kind of figured that was the case and why I was cautious about how I worded my reply. Hopefully the info will help someone else. Too much business is a very good thing.

  • 7 Dave Oremland

    Andrew: Bill Slawski first wrote about this patent in Dec 2006: http://www.seobythesea.com/?p=374

    I suppose it was just released. Been around for a while.

    Dave

  • 8 Dave Oremland

    Andrew: Couple of things. I loved your interpretations of the legaleze patent language –which is virtually indecipherable by a normal human.

    2ndly; this is an UPDATE of the original patent as described by Slawski, whom I referenced above.

    Slawski is a great worker and mind as to these myriads of patents (as opposed to me who is pretty lazy and likes pizza)
    I sent him references to your article and the patent and he responded that it is an update with changes…..as noted….


    Looking at the patent Andrew is pointing at, it looks like Google refiled
    this patent, canceling the old patent claims, and adding new ones.

    These are the new claims (and the last paragraph is pretty interesting):

    1-45. (canceled)

    46. A method performed by one or more server devices, comprising:
    receiving, by a processor associated with the one or more server devices, a
    search query; identifying, using a processor associated with the one or
    more server devices, a geographical area; identifying, using a processor
    associated with the one or more server devices, a first document that is
    associated with a geographic location within the geographical area and that
    is related to the search query; identifying, using a processor associated
    with the one or more server devices, a second document that is associated
    with a geographical location outside of the geographical area and that is
    related to the search query; assigning, using a processor associated with
    the one or more server devices, a first score to the first document based
    on a location prominence factor that is independent of a measure of
    distance to or from the geographic location within the geographical area;
    assigning, using a processor associated with the one or more server
    devices, a second score to the second document based on a distance factor,
    which is related to the measure of distance, and not based on the location
    prominence factor; and presenting, by a processor associated with the one
    or more server devices, information associated with the first and second
    documents based on the first and second scores, respectively.

    47. A system, comprising: one or more computer devices to: receive a search
    query; identify an area for the search query; identify a first document
    associated with a geographic location within the area; identify a second
    document associated with a geographic location outside the area; assign a
    first score to the first document based on a plurality of first factors,
    where each of the plurality of first factors is independent of a measure of
    distance; assign a second score to the second document based on a distance
    factor, which depends on the measure of distance, and not based on any of
    the plurality of first factors; rank the first document and the second
    document based on the first score and the second score, respectively; and
    present information regarding the ranked first and second documents.

    48. A computer-readable memory device that stores instructions executable
    by at least one processor, comprising: one or more instructions to identify
    a document; one or more instructions to determine that the document is
    associated with a geographic location that is located within a particular
    geographical area; one or more instructions to generate, when the document
    is associated with a geographic location that is located within the
    particular geographical area, a score for the document based on a
    combination of two or more of the following factors: a score associated
    with another document that is identified as authoritative for a business
    associated with the document, a total number of documents referring to the
    business, a highest score associated with the documents referring to the
    business, a total number of documents with reviews of the business, a
    quantity of documents that mention the business, a numeric score of a
    review of the business, a function of a plurality of scores of reviews of
    the business, a type of document containing a review of the business, a
    type of language used in a review of the business, user logs relating to
    user interactions with the document, financial data associated with the
    business, or a number of years that the business has been operational; and
    one or more instructions to rank the document with regard to at least one
    other document based on the generated score.

    That last paragraph contains a nice list of things that might be considered
    in ranking documents.

  • 9 Andrew Shotland

    Thanks for pointing this out Dave. If I am reading these correctly, here are the translations:

    46: When comparing two URLs to rank for a local query, if one is relevant to the location of the query and one that is “outside” of the location (e.g. the next town over), the URL in the location will not use distance from the query location as a factor when comparing it to the URL outside the location which will use distance from the query location as a factor. Translation of the translation: If you are not in the physical location of the query your distance from the query will likely count against you v. a URL that is in the location.

    47: Distance from the query location is a more important ranking factor for URLs located outside the query location v. those located in the query location. And if I am reading it correctly for those outside the location, distance may drag down your other ranking factors.

    48. Think you nailed it. No need to regurgitate. “Financial data” associated with the business is a kind of weird one. I wonder if they are thinking stock prices on this one?

  • 10 Dave Oremland

    Andrew: On a more general basis I’ve followed Bill Slawski for a long time as he has written about search patents. In some cases I’ve been amazed at the accuracy of the commentary regarding how the patents and patent language has been applied to rankings.

    On the other hand, the way these things are written …..there are a lot of “mays” written into the patent language.

    I take that to mean….that Google may apply a certain aspect of a patent to its ranking algo…..or it may not.

    Then it may apply that facet of a patent such as the references to reviews and citations and financial matters at a high level or at a very minimal level. Then it may apply a filter.

    After it does all that stuff I’m usually at a loss. :D

    One thing though….and it gets back to the interpretive language you originally used in the blog post, at least in some of my observations:

    Say you have a business or service in the outlying suburbs of a thriving Metropolitan City…lets say its Topeka. Say there are up to 7 competitive services for the same business inside Topeka’s borders. Lets assume the competitive industry is “rat extermination” and there are a healthy number of home owners in the general metro region in Topeka who always look up some versions of Rat Extermination/Topeka to find the best “rat exterminators” around.

    Now if your the one with a suburban location but you hired a great great seo who gets you wonderful linky links and many many citations, and signals (such as reviews) (but IMHO just great relatively exceptional linky links)……and lets say that some or all of the “rat exterminators” located within Topeka….have relatively weak websites with few nominal (no value) linky links and a paltry number of citations)…..you, with the suburban location have an absolutely great shot at getting seen high up in the coveted 7pac for Topeka/Rat Exterminator(extermination) search phrases….let alone have an organic website that may sit above a pure 7 pac.

    In those cases, even w/ the relatively inferior location….you could still be the King of Rats in Topeka.

    In any case, I’ve seen that kind of thing, and its my humble opinion.

  • 11 Andrew Shotland

    Agreed that Bill is a great resource on this stuff. Re the “may” patents are generally written as land grabs designed to encompass as many things as they can get away with, even if they don’t intend to use them. It also helps to make the actual implementations of the patent harder to figure out.

    Your Topeka example is definitely possible. My experience has been that competing for a query outside of your physical location means that you have to work much harder than those that are within the location. I imagine in your example, once those in-market businesses hire a SEO your guy is going to have a lot harder time.

  • 12 Dave Oremland

    I agree with you, Andrew, on all those comments. I think you nailed the essence of the clauses in your original interpretations.

    This patent, which adjusts and alters the original one, adds more and different “may” facets. I suppose Google engineers are looking at endless points of data to ascertain how to rank a site highly.

    As to the last paragraph above, I agree again. If one or more of the businesses within the city upgrades its SEO/Local elements it will change the equation for the combination of potential searches with Topeka/rat exterminator. Not only will they have sites that compete on their own merit and essential seo/local strength, they will have the advantage of a location within the city borders.

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