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How Does Population Density Affect Local Rankings?

How Does Population Density Affect Local Rankings?

The number of similar local businesses in one area can have a huge impact on ranking. Even if you have your GMB listing and traditional SEO nailed, some factors will be out of your control. Here, Amanda Peterson explains how Google search results can change by the minute.

A search conducted in Google can bring up different results based on numerous factors. A search done one day can bring up businesses that will contrast with results from the next day. That’s how quickly ranking can change in Google.

Various elements affect how well a business ranks in Google. In this article, we’ll look specifically at how population density, and where a business’s location will play into the ranking. We’ll also discuss how to update your client’s information to rank for local searches.

How Google looks at population density

In the beginning, Google’s algorithm favored businesses close to the center of a city. These areas, referred to as “centroids” were not always accurate. However, Google at the time had no great way of determining an exact location.

Searchers during that time would be shown results for businesses in the most populated area. However, in today’s world of mobile search, Google has an exact location of where a search occurs.

With the increase of mobile searching, Google began to determine search results from other factors. But where a search starts continues to influence how a business may rank.

How density plays into ranking

Google is currently using many factors for local ranking, including:


Refers to how well a local listing matches what someone is searching for. It cannot be stressed enough that if your client’s website does not contain keywords matching potential searches, they are unlikely to rank in local search.

Complete and detailed information helps Google determine if a business is the right fit for a search result. A search for cardiologists in Miami may bring up dozens of results, but your client can stand out by including additional details of what services they offer or referrals from previous patients.


How far each potential search result is from the location term used in the search. Even if a search does not include a location in it, Google will automatically calculate the distance to the searched business based on what it knows about the user’s location.

If your client’s business is Seattle-based, and a person enters a search in Los Angeles, they are not going to show up. But if a person searches for eye doctors near your client’s practice in Dallas, they will show up.

Monitoring your results from the perspective of a searcher within close proximity to your business is a great way to see how effective your local SEO efforts really are.


This is how well a business is known, both online and offline. If someone searches for a well-known location like the Empire State Building in New York City, it will rank well in a local NYC search as well as out of it, because lots of people are searching for it.

However, your client’s business can rank higher in local searches based on information already online. As Google’s Help Page states,

Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories). Google review count and score are factored into local search rankings: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization.

If your client’s business has multiple links on various web pages and positive reviews and rankings, this can influence where they appear on search results. For example, a trendy restaurant with website links in local newspapers and business blogs, along with five-star reviews on Yelp and Facebook may rank higher than a competitor who does not have good reviews or links on other sites.

Where a person searches for your business can influence the results as well. For example, someone searching for lawyers standing outside of a courthouse will pull up different results than a search conducted in the city center.

Proximity and Population Density in Practice

Martindale-Avvo did a test for the search mentioned above and found that the results varied based on where they conducted a search in Morristown, NJ. They performed a search for lawyers in the city standing in the north, south, east, and west of the city. Their results showed the effect of not only standing somewhere else but how the population density of each area played into it.

“Why does Laufer, Dalena, Cadicina, Jensen and Boyd, LLC show up in local results in north Morristown? The reason is there are no divorce lawyers in that area, and the firm happens to be located at the northern end of the central part of Morristown. They are benefiting from a less dense population of lawyers in the area.

The firm also appears in central Morristown searches because that’s where their office is actually located. But when you get to southern Morristown, they are nowhere to be found. That’s because there is such a high concentration of lawyers and law firms located in that part of town, they don’t stand a chance, regardless how strong their ‘local presence’ is.”

The bottom line is that Google looks at multiple factors when people perform a search. Besides the exact location, and the three ranking factor groups mentioned earlier, how a business appears in a search can also be influenced by:

The use of “near me”

If you start to type in a generic term such as ‘dentist’, one of the autofill options will be “near me.” This plays into Google’s knowledge of a person’s exact location when they search. Why would people bother typing in the name of the city they are in when this option appears?

This term can also be affected by the population density of where the search takes place. If a conducted search is in an area with a higher population density, the use of “near me” becomes more relevant as Google tries to pinpoint businesses near the person’s exact location.

Where a device is connected

Sitting in Starbucks with a cell phone not connected to wifi and conducting a local search will bring up different results than if the performed search is on a laptop connected to wifi. The difference is a cell phone with location setting on will give Google the individual’s exact location. Meanwhile, the laptop connected to wifi will have results based on the Stabrucks router’s location, which will bring up a broader range of places.

How many similar businesses are near you

As the lawyer example above shows, similar businesses nearby will affect your client’s appearance in a search. It’s easy to see what the competitive landscape near you looks like on a map by using a geolocation rank tracker that spreads local search rankings over an area.

Despite all of these factors that affect how your client’s business will rank, there are a few tricks to get them higher in search results.

Tools to improve ranking

The first place to start is your client’s website. Does it feature all the keywords they want to rank for? Does it include terms that people would use to find that business? Are they being linked to from other sites? Is the site optimized for mobile?

The next step is taking control of your client’s Google My Business profile. Claiming your client’s GMB profile is the first step in this process. Then ensure that the address, featured map, and phone number are correct. Do not try stuffing keywords into your client’s business name.

The category section is a great place to include multiple variations for what your client has to offer. For example, the primary category is an advertising agency, but under additional categories, terms like marketing agency, website development, and public relations would be included.

Other places of improvement on GMB include managing reviews, hours, and photos. Staying on top of reviews is vital in today’s viral world, as a slew of bad reviews can cause months of damage.

Hours let customers know when they can visit your client’s business. Google has recently updated GMB to include an option for adding special hours for holidays or events.

Photos are another way to hook potential customers in. Showcase your client’s best dish or most comfortable seating area. Post various rooms available or happy customers.

Closing Remarks

In the end, there are factors that are out of your client’s control for ranking well in a local Google search. Not only does how well your client’s business ranks change with every Google update, but if more competitor businesses move near them, it will have an effect as well.

Remember to keep up with Google’s updates, and to tweak your client’s GMB to reflect not only those changes but changes within your market area.

Amanda Peterson
About the author
Amanda Peterson is a contributor to Enlightened Digital and software engineer from the one, the only New York City. When she’s not trying to find the best record store in the city, you can find her curling up to watch some Netflix with her Puggle, Hendrix.

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