With more than 3 billion searches a day, Google needs to regulate them somehow so all those queries would find the right destination. What helps the search engine with a proper organization is Google local business categories.
Yes, this is that tiny yet essential detail business owners and SEO specialists often forget when fighting for high ranks in Google.
Back in 2018, when Moz surveyed on local search ranking factors, business categories appeared a core element to have for ranking well in maps and the local pack. Picking up the right local business categories, you allow Google to categorize your business right for potential customers to find you. More than that, the primary category you choose for your business makes a big difference, influencing your online visibility and reputation.
With that said, you understand that Google sets a high value on local business categories. You know they can help a website rank higher in local search. But what is a local business category, exactly? And how to choose it for your business page?
Keep on reading to find this out.
What are Google local business categories?
“A local business category” is a term describing the type of your business at listing sites like Yelp, Google My Business, social media business pages, etc. It’s a classification used to group local businesses with similar characteristics and help search engines define when to show them based on a user’s search.
You select local business categories when creating your business page in Google My Business. If you already have the page there, you can easily edit those categories from your dashboard.
Each time you create a local business listing, you’ll need to choose how to categorize your business there. Google allows you to choose up to ten categories, but you still have to decide on a primary one. Choosing the wrong local business category can hurt your ranks in Google’s local results pack.
That’s what your business looks like in Google search when you add it to listings and assign its primary category right:
Local business category associations have been among the top ranking factors for a long time already. Google’s guidelines encourage you to choose them carefully, ranking them the #3 factor for local packs. When choosing categories, make sure you avoid repetitions and be as accurate as possible: the wrong categorization leads to irrelevant search results and rankings.
The problem with local business categories in Google
First, they are more than 2,000 to choose from.
Second, Google constantly changes, removes or renames, and adds new categories to the list. So it happens that, despite such diversity, it may not be easy for a business to find a category that would represent them best.
The best decision would be to choose as many closest categories as possible, right? Not quite. While Google guidelines allow you to choose up to 10 local business categories, they indicate that the less but higher specific, the better. That’s what they say:
“To keep your business information accurate and live, make sure that you:
- Use as few categories as possible to describe your overall core business from the provided list.
- Choose categories that are as specific as possible, but representative of your main business.
- Do not use categories solely as keywords or to describe attributes of your business.
- Do not use categories that pertain to other businesses that are nearby or related, such as a business physically contained within your business or an entity that contains your business.”
But here goes a controversion:
Based on those “as specific as possible” and “as few as possible,” you may think that one or two highly specific categories will allow you to rank higher. That’s not so.
Also, it seems that you can’t choose both general and specific local business categories, to avoid redundancy. For example, the first result in rankings below didn’t use any categories with keywords but still was specific enough to appear in search:
It seems complicated, no?
What you need to know about local business categories
When working with local business categories for better SEO content and rankings, remember the following:
- Google changes the names of categories all the time.
- It removes old categories and adds new ones.
- Categories have different names for different countries.
- The primary category gives you more ranking power.
- New categories can improve your ranking.
- It’s not true that having a few categories on your local business listing weakens your ranking.
- With more than 2,000 categories and subcategories available, they may appear differently in Google search results and your Google My Business dashboard.
The image and info are taken from Search Engine Land.
So, how to choose a primary local business category to rank right and high? How many categories to add to your local business listing besides a primary one, and how to decide if they are specific enough for Google to understand? How to know when Google updates its categories list and when you need to update your categories as well? And what other business listings, besides those from Google, to consider for specifying your local business categories?
Stay with us to learn more.
How to pick a primary business category?
A primary category is vitally important: it influences your visibility in search engines for all related terms. For some, it seems obvious how to choose it: just pick what you are, right? But everything is not that simple.
Google recommends you choose a primary category that would describe your business as a whole. While it’s easy to do for businesses with a narrow focus, those with a broad focus or multi-location ones may get misplaced.
- If your business is narrow-focused and single-location, just choose your specific category from the list. (Example: “divorce attorney,” “boat dealer,” “nuclear engineer,” etc.)
- If your business is single-location but broad-focused (water conditioner installing, plumbing, etc.), you need to decide what part of it to prioritize for search engines. Choose a primary category accordingly: think of where you want to grow, but make sure that your marketing content, backlinks, and citations align with that business category as well.
- If you work with a multi-location business, choose primary categories for each so they wouldn’t compete with each other. (For locations that are close to each other, their business listings may compete in Google search if they have the same category.) The more specific category you can get for each location, the better. Also, test different options to find the best category combination that brings both shows in Google and high-quality traffic.
Depending on the business, you may want to edit a primary local business category when seasons change. For example, your coffee shop focuses on hot drinks and bakery in winter but on ice tea and lemonade in summer. Changing a primary category to suit the seasonality will yield some dividends too.
Some other points to consider:
What to do if your business is co-located with another (unrelated) business? Create a unique Google My Business page for each, and categorize them accordingly.
What to do if there’s no category for my business in Google’s category list? Choose a broader one that describes your business best. With more than 3,000 categories available, finding the right one for your business shouldn’t be that difficult.
How many categories a business should have?
First things first:
Google allows you to add up to 10 categories to a local business listing, but it doesn’t mean you need to use them all in the first flush of enthusiasm to cover as more related terms as possible.
Actually, some experts say that “adding a bunch of unrelated categories to your GMB listing will definitely have a negative impact on your local rankings.”
Founder of Whitespark, Darren Shaw specializes in SEO and local search ranking factors. This year, he shared the results of the experiment with local business categories in Google listings, proving you shouldn’t add too many (unrelated!) categories to GMB:
So, as you probably understand, a primary business category matters but secondary ones are still necessary and important to your business relevance and rankings in search engines. That is why, don’t limit yourself with a primary category: be as specific as possible, and add 3-4 secondary categories to your local business listing card.
For example, your primary business category is “Divorce Attorney.” Then, your secondary ones may be as follows: “Lawyer,” “Law Office,” and “Family Law Attorney.”
- The #1 rules here: the more specific you are, the fewer businesses you’ll compete for customers.
- The #2 rule here: add the least number of secondary categories possible. The more you have, the weaker each of them gets in a search for businesses.
- The #3 rule here: describe a business, not its services. Example: if you have a restaurant with a bar, don’t choose “Bar” as your secondary category.
How to choose the right secondary categories
If in doubt what local business categories to choose, try Mike Blumenthal’s Google Places Category Tool. Type your niche in the search box, choose location, see the list of relevant categories, and pick up to four most specific to your business.
This tool provides you with the local business categories of Google and Yelp, so you can use it when planning to add your business to both listings.
Another option to try for choosing the most appropriate secondary categories is the Google Keyword Planner. Add all the potential business categories into the tool and check those with the most local searches. If they are relevant to what you want to focus on for business promotion, use them.
Local business listings to try besides Google
Google My Business is not the only option to consider when working on business optimization for better SEO and visibility. With free business listings available, you may want to create a business profile there too.
Online communities, free business listing websites, and directories are many; and the more you choose, the greater your online footprint will be for customers to find you. But keep calm and resist the temptation of listing your business everywhere you can. Choose the most relevant platforms where your target audience “lives,” and add as much information about your business as possible to profiles there.
Here’s the short list of the most popular listings websites for your local business:
- Yelp. This is the third most popular review website on the web, so you might want to consider it for placing your business; especially if you work in the niche of restaurants.
- Facebook. With more than 65 million local business pages on Facebook, this social media network is still very popular among entrepreneurs and marketers. So why not consider creating a Facebook business page for better visibility and conversion?
- Instagram. Studies have it, 82% of customers search for a brand on social media before they buy. A visual representation of your business on Instagram will help you market to younger demographics too.
- Yahoo. With Google as a king of search, Yahoo still can bring you around 9 billion potential customers every month. As well as Google, Yahoo displays local business listings in the search results, so you may want to get there as well.
- BBB. The Better Business Bureau is your choice to add a business if you work with local law firms or nonprofit organizations. So, create an account, search for your business and (1) claim your listing if your business is already there or (2) submit a request to add your business to BBB if it’s not there.
- Bing. Bing Places for Business is where you can access your local business listings and categories.
- LinkedIn. Use this professional network to present your business as a reputable owner with relevant experience. It works best for finance-related businesses, so create your business profile there if appropriate.
- Whitepages. With over 5 billion records, this directory is a must to consider for listing your business. Their lists show up across all of their API customers websites, which can add tons of visibility to your page.
- Yellow Pages. Believe it or not, but 60 million people still search for businesses at YP.com. So why not create your local business listing there?
Need more? Check the list of 25 free business listings websites from Womply, with short descriptions and guidelines on how to list your local business there, and choose those most relevant for your business category.
Correct categorization of your local business in Google has always been a top factor for high rankings. It impacts search results and your overall online presence for customers to find you and know about you. So, when building your local business listings, double check your primary and secondary business categories there.
Business listings such as Google My Business and others have been designed to send you customers. And local business categories are your instrument to help Google classify your business right.
By choosing an accurate category, you’ll make it easier for robots to find you and show you in search results for people who need your products or services. You’ll show up on Google Maps and in the local pack. People will find you on the top review websites, follow your business page on social media to build community and trust…
…And you’ll definitely see the positive result when checking and analyzing your backlink profile!
About the author:
Lesley Vos is a professional copywriter and guest contributor from Chicago. Specializing in data research, web text writing, and content promotion, she is in love with words, non-fiction literature, and jazz.