By Sherry Bonelli | Guest Column 

The goal for any business with a website is for it to rank high on Google and get seen by potential customers. But how do you get to that coveted No. 1 spot in search results?

When it comes to Google’s search rankings, no one really knows what it takes for a web page to rank high. In fact, Google doesn’t want us to know the secret formula it uses to rank websites. The company uses literally hundreds of factors when it decides which webpages get high positions in search results. Search engine optimization (SEO) experts spend their time testing strategies to see what impact those tactics have on a page’s ranking. From those experiments, we can determine to some degree which strategies work best.

If you’re a local business, here are three of the top local ranking factors:

Google My Business

Claiming and optimizing your Google My Business profile is a must if you have a qualifying local business. This is one of the fastest ways to increase your online presence and improve your rankings on Google.

When you have a Google My Business profile, you might appear in the “Local 3-Pack,” which are the three listings that appear under a map when you search for a local keyword phrase like “Chinese restaurants Cedar Rapids.” More than 70 percent of searchers now make their transactions or purchasing decisions on a Google search result page versus visiting a website, so it’s vitally important that your business has a Google My Business profile if you qualify for one.

Once you claim your Google My Business profile (a topic I covered in a past CBJ column at bit.ly/biznotice), be sure to optimize it regularly by adding photos, videos and posts, answering customer questions, getting 5-star reviews, keeping your hours current and using the other great features the platform has to offer.

Link signals

Links have always been important to SEO — after all, the internet is all about connecting one page to another and connecting one website to the next.

Inbound anchor text is important to Google’s rankings. Anchor text refers to the text/words that appear highlighted in a hyperlink that links back to your site from another website. When you are trying to get backlinks from other sites, make sure they are high-quality sites that have some authority, like your local chamber of commerce, the Better Business Bureau, other online directories, industry associations, local charities, etc. When you do get those backlinks, if possible, ask them to use keywords or your business name in the anchor text link back to your website. For instance: “Rainbow Carpet Cleaning in Cedar Rapids, IA” or “Trust Sally Smith Realty to Sell Your Home.”

Note: Never buy links on other sites. Google knows about these “link farms” and it will get you in trouble.

Review signals

People trust reviews. In fact, according to a BrightLocal study, 57 percent of consumers will only use a business if it has reviews with four or more stars, 86 percent of consumers read reviews for local businesses, and 91 percent of consumers aged 18-34 trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Google trusts businesses and websites that have great reviews, too. Ask your happy customers to leave reviews on your Google My Business profile and on other review sites (except Yelp —that violates Yelp’s terms of service).

If you want to learn more about the signals that Google uses to rank local business websites, check out Moz’s research on Local Ranking Factors at moz.com/local-search-ranking-factors. •

Sherry Bonelli, digital markerter and presenter/speaker, is the owner of early bird digital marketing, a full-service digital marketing agency in Cedar Rapids. Reach her at http://earlybirddigitalmarketing.com.