How to find the best categories for Google My Business
What are Google My Business Categories?
In a nutshell, Google uses categories to organize businesses. You’re allowed one primary category and nine secondary categories. This will determine how users find your business when they use specific keywords, so it’s essential to choose wisely. Categories are a massive part of your local SEO strategy because they determine what terms you’ll come up for during a user’s search.
In order for your business to complete your GMB checklist and rank in Google Maps and local search, you’ll need to add categories to your business. This is found in your Google My Business account, and you can add:
It’s crucial to pick wisely because the categories you choose are among the most significant factors in ranking. Choosing the right ones that apply to your business will help improve your overall ranking on Google My Business and local searches. It will determine whether users can find your business for specific terms.
Why do GMB categories matter?
In Whitespark’s Local Search Ranking Factor Survey 2020, the primary category was rated the highest, followed by keywords in the GMB title.
Keywords are assigned to specific categories
The more relevant categories you choose, the easier you make it for someone searching. For example, when people search for specific services on Google Maps, the keywords are assigned to a specific category, which determines the results someone sees. Think of it like a filing system, where relevancy is the primary way to organize.
More than 4000 categories available
Google expands their category list almost daily, and there are currently over 4,000 categories available, so finding the right one for your service or business should not be too difficult. When you type one in, Google will suggest additional categories, making it a bit easier to pick the right ones.
Different categories, different features
Categories determine which features are available for your business on the GMB dashboard. These are crucial for user conversion and improving your ranking, so you want to have the right ones available for your business. Each category has a different set of tools, so take some time to be strategic with your choices.
Products, for example, aren’t available to every business type/category and some business types are able to publicly display their amenities and/or add additional URL’s for online orders or reservations. A booking button is available to businesses in the health and beauty industry. Learn more about Google My Business Guidelines.
Primary vs Additional Google My Business Categories
The other reason why categories are so vital is that Google will prioritize your business for your primary category, but you will have to compete with other businesses within the secondary categories. Therefore, your secondary categories have way less power or reach than your competitor’s primary category.
For example, let’s take a transmission shop. Suppose you’ve chosen the keyword ‘transmission shop’ as your secondary category, and there is another business close by that has selected that keyword for their primary category. In that case, they will get priority in ranking. It’ll be more challenging to compete, especially for businesses in close proximity, because the local area determines a business and its relevancy in the rankings.
The primary category - your major niche
The further away you are from the searcher, the less relevant your listing on Google Maps gets.
Google wants to give every business one niche so that everyone gets its fair share. This can be frustrating for businesses that have more than one primary services like HVAC companies that specialize in both heater repair and AC repair. Since Google wants to answer the search query as precise as possible, a company that specializes only in AC Repair will get priority. At least when it comes to categories.
The following image shows three Google My Business listings with three different categories. That mostly happens when other ranking factors have a bigger impact on the result than categories. If categories would be an isolated determining factor then all businesses in the 3-pack would most likely be listed under the same category.
Choose the best categories
So how do you choose between primary and secondary categories? You need a strategic approach and a deep understanding of what searches would lead users to your business. What is the main reason customers come to you, and how does that fit in a category? That’s the starting point you need to consider for local SEO, and then you build from there with keyword research.
How to Find the most important GMB categories
Once you identify general keywords for your Google My Business categories, it’s time to look at the details. What are the specific services or products your business offers? What keywords bring the highest search volume to your page, and what are the most relevant ones? That will help narrow it down further.
To research relevant and particularly local keywords I recommend using a tool like KWFinder*. It’s a great way to figure out how many people in your local area are searching for your services.
Remember: It’s not beneficial to only rank for generic keywords with high volumes, as that won’t drive sales. Words with less search volume doesn’t necessarily mean worse; it’s often the opposite. If the keyword has a lower search volume but is an accurate description of what the business is and offers, choose that one.
The next step is to search for those keywords you’ve identified using a local grid search tool*. You can run location-based searches to see local rankings in areas, giving you an unbiased look at competitors.
Bear in mind that Google isn’t just using keywords to base rankings on. A lot more goes into it, such as Google click history, browser history, user location, the local IP address, etc. It’s using a mixture of these elements to show results, which can skew your results versus what someone else’s. An unbiased search checker* resets all the data so that results are as accurate as possible. You can run searches across different areas to understand the local market and who you’ll be competing with.
Use Keywords to find categories
After you’ve done some research you can use the information to find your best categories. A tool like Pleper Category Helper can help you find the most relevant categories for your business. Just add relevant keywords and Pleper will find your most relevant categories.
Once you’ve identified and searched for your specific keywords, it’s time to take a closer look at the competition. What categories are great competitors using?
Great, in this context, are those competitors whose first and results when searched from a variety of areas from different areas on maps depending on user location. You can always see the individual category they are ranking for inside the listing.
Tip: Don’t spend too much time looking manually. You can download Chrome extensions such as GMBspy. It’s a really awesome tool that saves you a lot of time. You can select listings, and the Chrome extension will show you what categories are being used. It’s a really nice way to get a quick look at your competitors’ GMB categories.
How to Choose Secondary Categories
Once you’ve identified your primary category, you’ll need to choose some secondary keywords that aren’t in tough competition as another businesses’ primary keywords.
So, for example, if your primary category is ‘auto repair’ and you plan to use the term ‘car repair and maintenance’ as your secondary category. However, while researching, you notice that most of your competitors actually use ‘car repair and maintenance’ as their primary category.
This means that they will outrank you because Google sees ‘car repair and maintenance’ as less relevant to your business but more relevant to others and prioritize them.
The business in the following image has most likely chosen “Oil change service” as their additional category since oil change service is probably part of their general auto services as their name indicates.
Ideally, your secondary categories shouldn’t be terms that many of your competitors use as their primary category.
The same goes with competitors that are very close to your location. The primary category will always outrank secondaries. When this occurs, it’s better to opt for categories that don’t promise the highest visibility in terms of high search volume. So it might not be a term searched often, but it increases your chances of ranking for it when it is.
How many Google My Business categories do I need to have?
Logically, we’d assume that the more categories you choose, the better – as long as they are relevant to your business.
Google, however, says otherwise, stating that you only need Google My Business categories related to the core of your business. However, you’ll often find that what Google recommends and what works are two separate things.
Tip: You should be picking highly-relevant secondary categories that are not in close competition with your competitor’s primary categories. It’s essentially a balancing act between the two.
Once you’ve completed your keyword research, you can narrow down what categories would work best for you and compare them against others.
If the category you have in mind is not available, choose a more general category that still describes your business. There is no way to create your own category.
how Google (most likely) decides to rank your Local business based on categories
Tip: Your homepage, location pages and/or service/product pages, and reviews should include relevant keywords – relevant to a specific category. This helps when Google crawls websites to search for information around those specific categories. It can then conclude with confidence that your business offers the service/product, rather than adding irrelevant categories, improving your rankings.
Check out my Quora profile to find relevant citations for your local business. I’ve created 5 lists for local businesses in US, UK, AU, CA, NZ .
Google My Business categories can be a lot to take in initially, especially if you’re new to the world of local SEO. Remember that improving your rankings is a long-term effort that will require a significant amount of upkeep initially, but if it’s maintained, you’ll see serious growth. By choosing the proper categories from the beginning, you’ll ensure that your business is easy to find every time users search for the services that you offer.
Once you attract and convert more users, your rankings will steadily improve as Google’s algorithm begins to see that you are a trusted source for the categories you have chosen.
Still mystified by the world of local SEO and categories? Check out my free playbook on local SEO, where I break down expert tips and tricks to get your business ranked to where it should be.