Google Local Search Ranking Factors – Why Targetting ‘Short Head’ Is Back

Google Local Search Ranking Factors – Why Targetting ‘Short Head’ Is Back

Traditionally, optimisation of retail (eCommerce) websites has been all about so called ‘long tail’ keyphrases. These keyphrases are the ones which usually refer to the product level or ‘brand+product name+product type’ kind of searches.

The reason for this is quite logical and is based on user behaviour, in that people generally shop online in a certain way for products, with a funnel being followed from more generalised keyphrases to more focussed ones.

Normally, when someone shops online for a product that they haven’t bought before, it’s natural to first search for the general product area, followed by refinements for brand and product name as more knowledge is gained on the search area.

If a search engine user is familiar with a product, then of course that user will naturally type ‘brand+product name+product type’ or similar as that user already knows what they want.

Optimising for ‘brand+product name+product type’ keyphrases therefore gives us the best chance of converting a click from Google into an actual sale, as these types of keyphrases are the closest to the purchase intent of a customer.

Add in the fact that product level listings in Google and other search engines give the shortest route to the shopping basket, optimising for long tail keyphrases gives a retail website the very best chance to gain a sale.

So, a well optimised set of product level keyphrases is an absolute must for a retail website and is why we spend so much time persuading our clients to properly optimise product titles and descriptions, to not only get great search engine results but also to aid conversions at the product level. But is this the whole story?

Normally, the shorter a keyphrase is, the more difficult it is to rank for that keyphrase, especially in Google.  Add to this the fact that very short ‘trophy’ keyphrases (such as, for example “jeans”) traditionally have brought lots of traffic but very few direct conversions and can in fact increase bounce rates (which negatively affect search engine rankings), you can see that spending lots of time optimising for very short keyphrases has traditionally been a waste of time and effort.

With the rise of Google Local Search ranking factors and the massive increase in mobile phone usage, do we need to re-evaluate strategies for capturing ‘shorter’ keyphrases? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.

Google Local Search and The Rise of Mobile

‘Google Local Search’ describes the results served up by Google search engine when location data is available, this giving Google the chance to modify search results to suit a user’s location.

Google is able to find location data in many ways, from IP address of the physical machine being used to search, cell location data and GPS data, so even if a user is not signed into a Google account personalised search results are given back relating to the user’s location.

If a user is signed into a Google account then search history is also used, this can give totally personalised search results to the user based on location, device used and search history.

Mobile website exceeded desktop website traffic way back in 2015 , coupled with the ‘mobile first’ approach taken by Google nowadays means it’s more important than ever to rank on mobile devices for competitive search keyphrases. Add to this the effect of using location data for personalised searches, ranking for ‘short head’ and even very short ‘trophy’ keyphrases is very much back on the agenda. Retailers no longer must worry about ranking Worldwide or UK wide for short tail keyphrases – it’s good enough to rank for these shorter keyphrases in a small geographical area around that retailers’ physical location and personalised search results help this to happen. There are things that a retailer can do with their website to help things along.

Google Local Ranking Factors

To rank successfully for ‘short head’ keyphrases in Google Local searches, retail websites need to be optimised, plus other factors considered to give the maximum chance to gain that coveted ‘top of page 1’ result.

Here’s what you need to do in order to gain the best chance of ranking. This isn’t an exhaustive list (you can find a good one here and this doesn’t override normal good practise of website optimisation but these are easy things you can do immediately to give your website a better chance:

Add City/County into All Page Titles – this immediately tells Google where your physical shop is and gives your page a better chance of ranking for local search terms across the website.

Focus All Website Content to Geographical Area – Google is going to favour a website for local searches if that website displays locally focussed content. A website which is dedicated to selling ‘pet products’ in a small village location (let’s say Chipping Norton) is therefore going to be more focussed than a National retailer, so should theoretically have a chance of ranking on first page for phrases like ‘pet products chipping norton’, even though the National retailer has substantially larger trust, external linking and website content.

Use Either On-Page or Independent Review Systems – Reviews are a strong signal for Google Local search results. The more positive reviews your products get the better. Reviews which you can control are better, at least pick a review system which you can respond to negative reviews, however even better if you can stop these from appearing in search results.

Add Full Address and Contact Details on Every Page – This should be done anyway as a matter of course. This adds trust for your website. Remember, there are a lot of fake eCommerce websites out there, adding contact details means website users know yours isn’t one of them!

Gain Links/Citations from Local Businesses Listings- Incoming links from geographically close web pages and social media profiles will help to show Google that your website is relevant for local searches. The more links you have, the better, with the very strong caveat that quality matters above all else.

All the above will give your pages a better chance to rank in Google Local searches. A well designed, content rich, fully responsive website will also help, but that’s a story for another day!


David Fairhurst

Head of eCommerce

Intelligent Retail

David has been involved with Search Engine Optimisation and web development since 1999 and has spoken at many different retail and SEO conferences including Spring Fair and SES London