For personal injury lawyers, a prominent Google My Business (GMB) profile is vital to gaining visibility with local clients. This is because the top-ranked GMB listings (those in “the local pack”) receive the majority of clicks (42%).
To rank in the local pack, you must optimize your GMB profile for a combination of individual local ranking factors. Knowing which factors to optimize for is therefore critical to increasing your position and securing the accompanying revenues.
Google published in the Local Search Ranking Guide that Google My Business signals fall into three buckets:
These signposts are only helpful to a point. Each of these local ranking signals is informed by hundreds, if not thousands, of algorithmic variables.
Previously, Google My Business studies and opinion surveys from localseoguide.com, moz.com, and brightlocal.com have sought to reveal and rank the most important local ranking factors. The goal of our research was to confirm these findings using state-of-the-art machine learning and call attention to any key differences.
Our Google My Business study identifies the key local ranking pack factors that are most relevant to the niche of personal injury law. The most impactful ranking factors are presented first, with less impactful factors following.
Personal injury attorneys can use this study to learn how to optimize their Google My Business profile for local search, elevate their GMB position, and gain new clients.
- The city listed in the GMB profile had the greatest impact on rank in the local pack.
- Choosing the business category of “personal injury lawyer” had the second-greatest impact on the GMB position.
- Adding the string “lawyer” or “attorney” to the GMB title and/or description had a positive impact on GMB position.
- Higher number of reviews correlated with higher positions in the local pack.
- Surprisingly, higher review ratings had no impact on position; this is likely because personal injury attorneys showed similar ratings.
- Greater numbers of photos in a GMB profile was strongly correlated with higher GMB position.
- Regular updates to a GMB profile correlated with higher rankings.
- GMB listings with robust organic SEO tended to rank higher in the local pack.
- Basic information in the GMB profile showed no impact on position.
Disclaimer: this is our interpretation of the data we analyzed. Everyone outside of Google is operating (at least partially) in the dark about SEO ranking factors. This is our attempt to shed some light on what appears to be most impactful.
City Listed in GMB Profile Has Greatest Impact on Position
The function of GMB is to help people discover local businesses.
Unsurprisingly, our analysis found that when the search query includes a city, the city listed in the GMB profile is the dominant ranking factor.
Similarly, search queries that included a city name alongside “car accident” or “personal injury” tended to get higher results than “lawyer” or “attorney” alone.
These findings were expected, because GMB results are only relevant if they’re in the vicinity of the searcher. This means that if a search query replaces the city name with a neighborhood or surrounding municipality, the local pack changes.
Shown below, are the local pack results for “personal injury attorney” searched from Downtown Denver.
When the search query instead originates from Cherry Creek, a neighborhood in Denver, the results change. As seen below:
As would be expected, the law office nearest at the time of search appeared in both the generic and more localized search. This is because distance is the leading factor in local pack search results.
Complicating this, 90% of surveyed marketers agree that Google’s focus on proximity frequently or sometimes harms results quality.
In other words, lower-quality businesses are outranking better ones simply because of their proximity to searchers. This means that attorneys with offices in central areas, or along busy throughways, have an advantage in local search compared to those on the outskirts.
When optimizing your GMB profile, make sure that the city listed in your GMB matches the city used in the typical search query of your ideal client. You may be able to rank higher in local pack results by listing in a less competitive municipality. Tinkering with your city may help you increase your rank depending on your location and the location of your prospects.
When a city is used in a search query, the city in a GMB profile is the dominant ranking factor. Hence, you want the city listed in your GMB profile to match the city used in the typical search query of your target audience.
Highest Ranking Business Category is “Personal Injury Attorney”
The primary business category, or type, appears to be the second-weightiest Google My Business ranking factor.
Our study found that “personal injury attorney” was the highest-ranking business type in the personal injury niche, as seen below.
Most (81%) of the personal injury firms in our analysis used the category “personal injury attorney,” with few exceptions.
Other specific legal categories like “Criminal justice attorney” and “Family law attorney” also featured prominently in the local pack. By contrast, general business categories such as “Lawyer” and “Legal firm” tended toward the bottom in the rankings.
This correlation suggests that Google upranks profiles with categories that more closely match the search query. With relevance being a signpost of local search, a specific category is more helpful than a general category when trying to deliver actionable results.
Consider that a search for “lawyer denver” returns a local pack with four different categories of law offices, as seen below.
If you Google search for “lawyer denver,” you’ll notice that only a firm labelled “personal injury attorney” would be chosen to represent their category in the local pack of a general search.
Conversely, every position in the local pack for the query “personal injury attorney denver” exhibits the same specific business category, shown below.
Using a specific business category allows Google to produce your profile for both generic and specific searches. This, in turn, increases your visibility.
A specific business category may also help Google to better answer search intent. Search intent is Google’s way of classifying what the searcher wants to do with their search results.
When the category of “personal injury attorney” is used in a search query, the search intent is often transactional. In other words, the searcher is preparing to patronize a personal injury firm and wants the best option. It falls to Google then to produce the most relevant options, and in this case too, a specific category is most helpful.
To attain the highest rank for personal injury queries in GMB, set your business category to “personal injury attorney.”
Use of Relevant Keywords in GMB Title; Description Impacts Ranking
Unlike previous studies, our study showed a correlation between high-ranking profiles and the use of relevant keywords and phrases in the GMB title and description, including:
- City name
- “Car accident”/”personal injury”
The word cloud below shows the words most commonly used keywords and phrases in GMB titles.
Keywords in GMB titles and descriptions seem to be a ranking factor, though less weighty than the business category. Confirming this, attorneys that exhibited a combination of keywords and phrases in their GMB also tended toward higher positions than those without them.
Seen below, GMB profiles that used a combination of keywords in the title and/or description saw a bump in position.
This effect was more pronounced for titles than descriptions. The more prominent the text section, the more keyword use appears to impact rank.
Despite this, fewer than a quarter (22.7%) of attorneys surveyed included the keywords “lawyer” or “attorney” in their GMB title. Only 5.3% of titles used the keywords “car accident” and “personal injury” and just 5% of profiles included the local city in the title.
Descriptions tended to receive more attention. Almost half (43.6%) of attorneys used the keywords “lawyer,” “attorney,” “car accident,” or “personal injury” in their description.
The length of the titles and description didn’t correlate with elevated position in search rankings. A full 41% of personal injury attorneys were missing descriptions, however, and tended to have lower positions in the search results.
Adding relevant keywords to the GMB title and description had a positive impact on GMB position, which goes against previous findings.
Review Volume Appears More Important Than Review Quality for GMB Rank*
Google looks to reviews to determine the trustworthiness of a business.
Not surprisingly, our research found that GMB listings with higher numbers of reviews tended to have higher positions in the local pack. As expected, a low number of reviews correlated with a lower position.
Total number of reviews appears to be an important local ranking factor. A high review count likely indicates to Google that a firm is popular, reliable, and deserves top billing.
The median number of reviews was 14 and 17% of listings had no reviews.
Our analysis suggests that review activity alone matters. Specifically, only the quantity and the recency of reviews seemed to impact GMB position. Less time between reviews would seem to suggest a greater volume of clients, which is itself an endorsement of prominence.
Surprisingly, review ratings didn’t seem to have an impact on the position of GMB listings.
*This is likely due to the fact that almost 90% of the ratings analyzed were five stars. In fact, the average review rating for personal injury attorneys was over 4.6. If review ratings in the personal injury niche were more varied, it is reasonable to expect review ratings would have impacted GMB position.
Reviews encompass a variety of nuanced signals that can help with local search, including:
- Positive/negative sentiment
- Presence of keywords in review text
Local searching marketing efforts must consider each of these aspects in their campaigns for best results.
For example, encourage clients to leave a detailed review instead of just five stars. This helps to generate keywords in review text and boost GMB position. You can also automate the review request process in order to reliably generate more reviews to help increase your GMB position.
Personal injury lawyers with more reviews tend to rank higher in GMB than those with fewer.
It is difficult to analyze the impact of review scores, since the average review ratings of personal injury lawyers in GMB is over 4.6.
More Photos and Updates to GMB Correlates with Higher Position
Our study found that GMB listings that posted more Google updates and photos tended toward higher positions.
Just over half of attorneys (55%) in our study had posted one or more updates to GMB. The graph below shows the positive correlation between photos and rank increase.
Surprisingly, a large number of photos seems to have a greater impact on position than other ranking factors like reviews and keyword usage.
Posting photos likely signals to Google that a firm is both active and engaged. Meanwhile, photo content is valuable to searchers because it helps them make an informed decision. Our analysis showed that the median number of photos per profile was six, while 5.8% of listings had no photos.
Similarly, posting GMB updates was positively correlated with higher positions. Photos aside, though, it’s unclear whether other types of GMB updates (such as announcements or blog posts) have an impact on ranking positions.
One study found that GMB listings with 100+ photos receive 960% more search views than the average business. As with a plethora of reviews, a library of photos confers a certain credibility on a law office. This means that personal injury attorneys should make a habit of posting photos to their GMB.
Personal injury attorneys who regularly add new photos and post updates tend to rank higher.
SEO Best Practices Tend to Increase GMB Position
Organic SEO impacts GMB rankings, though to a lesser extent than previous individual local pack factors.
Referring domains, for example, are one of the top ranking factors for local search. Our study found that higher GMB positions were positively correlated with higher numbers of referring do-follow domains, as seen below.
The median number of referring do-follow domains in the personal injury niche was 40.
Keeping with this trend, businesses with higher domain ratings tended to have higher GMB positions. Our analysis also showed that the more traffic a site receives, the higher its rank in GMB tends to be.
A business with a robust web presence is typically worth recommending in local search, and our analysis reflects this logic. On the other hand, a website that doesn’t rank in the top 20-30 of organic results will rarely rank in the GMB.
In sum, you can increase your local search position with SEO best practices. Google has stated that the local search is informed by the following SEO signals:
- Position in web results
- Presence in relevant directories
- On-page optimization
- Technical SEO
Confirming this, we saw domains with a top Ahrefs rank tending towards the higher GMB positions. Since Ahrefs rankings account for both organic and local SEO, this external data point is telling the same story.
Organic SEO factors such as links, traffic, and web presence appear to impact GMB position.
GMB Profile Basics Have No Impact on Ranking
Our Google My Business study found that basic profile details have no impact on GMB positions.
This information includes street address, website domain, phone number, etc. GMB positions also appeared unaffected by the addition of social signals like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Youtube.
This is likely because consumers don’t make decisions based on these details, nor does such basic information help Google cater to the searcher’s intent.
Nonetheless, your GMB profile should communicate all key details of your law office, even if including these simply doesn’t appear to influence your ranking one way or the other.
Conclusion: City, Business Category, Number of Photos, and Review Volume Most Important Local Ranking Factors
Our Google My Business study suggests that profile specificity and engagement are the greatest areas of opportunity for increasing rank in the local pack.
The city listed in the GMB profile had the greatest impact on ranking position in the local pack. Following this, the business category of “personal injury attorney” and review volume showed the greatest impact on rank in the local pack.
Notably, the number of photos in a GMB profile also played a significant role in which profiles ranked highest. To a lesser extent, so did the frequency of updates to GMB.
Attorneys that exhibited robust organic SEO tended to rank higher in the local pack. Referring do-follow domains, site traffic, and web presence all appeared to impact GMB position.
Lastly, we were surprised to find no correlation between rating reviews and higher GMB position in the personal injury niche. The cause of this appears to be the lack of differentiation between individual rating scores (the average review rating for personal injury lawyers was over 4.6).
What do you think is the most interesting takeaway from this study? Do you have a question about the study? Our interpretation of the data?
Share your thoughts below in the comments! We’d love to hear what you thought.
Rankings.io applied a state-of-the-art machine learning model to determine the importance of GMB factors on rankings. This process is more advanced than a simple correlation measure like a Spearman correlation.
We looked at four unique keyword combinations in the niche of personal injury law as they compared to 426 major U.S. cities. This study is the deep dive into the individual ranking factors that our analysis showed to be significant.
You can see a full breakdown of our data analysis right here. We also have a GitHub repository of the data that we used.
Below are the technical details of the study in four steps:
Step 1 Keyword Selection
We defined 4 unique keyword combinations in 426 US cities (> 100.000 inhabitants). The format of the search queries was the following:
(city) + “car accident lawyer”
(city) + “personal injury lawyer”
(city) + “car accident attorney”
(city) + “personal injury attorney”
Step 2 Data Mining
To gather the base data for the study, we created a script to collect data points from the Google My Business Maps Listing. The relevant entries were scraped from the Google Search page (https://www.google.com/) by entering the above keyword combinations. A basic data overview can be found below.
It is important to note that we did not collect data on proximity factors, given the inherent and practical difficulties in obtaining such data.
Step 3 Data Enrichment
Next, we enriched the listed website domains with SEO data from the third-party data provider, Ahrefs. To do this, we cut down the URL website domains to their root and uploaded them onto the Ahrefs bulk analysis tool. All data sets were then merged into one.
Step 4 Data Analysis
We applied a machine learning model (first published in 2017) to determine the importance of GMB factors on rankings. More information on the model can be found in the full breakdown. Then, we provided a deep dive into single variables that the model identified as particularly important to impact GMB positions.