Study: Do Additional GBP Categories Boost Local Rankings?

Key Findings
  • Businesses using four additional categories within their GBPs have the highest average map ranking of 5.9.
  • Out of the primary categories studied, businesses categorized as ‘Department Store’ use the most additional categories, with an average of 4.7 additional categories.
  • HVAC Contractors using four additional categories hold an average map ranking of 5.2.
  • Electricians use the fewest additional categories, with an average of one additional category per GBP.

It’s a question we see time and time again: “How many categories do I need on my Google Business Profile?”.

Business owners or listing managers have been able to add up to nine additional categories to support a Google Business Profile for some time now.

We know that Google Business Profile (GBP) signals are imperative to your local rankings, including choosing the most accurate and relevant primary business category. In fact, local search experts also cite additional categories within the top 15 individual ranking factors within the Local Pack and Local Finder.

But, so far, there has been little in the way of hard evidence to show whether using more categories directly impacts your local rankings.

Using our very own Local Search Grid (LSG), we studied the local rankings of 1,050 business locations. The aim was to identify any possible relationships between additional business categories and local ranking performance.

Wait… what are Google Business Profile categories?

Google Business Profile business categories tell Google—and prospective customers—what type of business you are.

When setting up your GBP, you must choose a primary category. But, of course, not every type of business will fit into just one! Which is why you can add up to nine additional categories.

And what is Local Search Grid?

Local Search Grid is BrightLocal’s visual rank-tracking tool. Using a color-coded grid format, it provides business owners with a birds-eye view of local ranking performance within a customized vicinity, so you can track against local competitors.

In this study, we will be discussing average map rankings as the measure of local rankings. LSG pinpoints the specific areas where you have high, medium or low-ranking points, and details your map rank for each grid point. Therefore, the average map ranking is the average of all grid points and will often contain decimal places.

How many additional categories are businesses using?

To start off, we wanted to find out how many additional categories different business types were using on average. Then, we took the 15 top-ranking locations from each primary category set and compared the averages.

Final Average Number Of Additional Gbp Categories Used

  • Department stores use the most additional categories, with 4.7 on average.
  • Electricians use the fewest additional categories, with an average of 1.

You can see that there is a broadly positive correlation between top-ranking business locations using more GBP categories. For five of the seven primary category sets analyzed, the top-ranking business locations are using a higher number of categories on average.

The two areas where we can see the opposite, however, are with the primary categories, Electrician and HVAC Contractor. Interestingly, both of these categories sit within the Service Area Business (SABs) and Trades industry. 

One way of looking at these results is that, hypothetically, if you were looking for an electrician or HVAC contractor, that’s kind of the main criteria of your search. For a day spa, however, you might be more interested in other specifics, such as having a beauty salon or massage parlor on site. The same goes for a department store, where you may be interested in anything from home goods and furniture to women’s clothing and brand outlets.

Another possibility for SABs is that, as contractors tend to work as sole traders, they might be the only ones responsible for managing and updating their Google Business Profile information. Taking the time to optimize listings may not always be top of the priority list, which could explain why it’s so common to see just a primary category set.

So, how many categories should they be using?

SEO Analyst, Elizabeth Rule, recently discussed the topic with Claire Carlile during one of our Local Search Clinics. 

Elizabeth Rule on number of GBP categories

Elizabeth Rule on number of GBP categories

SEO Analyst
at Sterling Sky

 

“Your primary category is going to hold the most weight by far; you want that to be the most important service category for you. The other nine all hold the same weight, but they are going to directly impact your ability to rank for queries related to that category.

“Say you’re a dentist, you’re probably going to want your main category to be Dentist. But, if you specialize in children’s dentistry, you’re going to want to add that as a secondary category as that is going to directly impact your ability to rank for children’s/pediatric keywords.

“If you have nine categories that are relevant, add them all. It will help your rankings for each one. But if you don’t have them all, don’t add them. You want to rank for the categories that matter to you.”

via the Local Search Clinic webinar, March 2023

What are the average map rankings per number of additional categories?

Onto the burning question: just how do businesses rank locally when making use—or not!—of additional categories?

You’ll note that, while you can add up to nine additional categories, we have grouped 5+ categories together within our data. This is because the number of business locations using five or more business categories was too low to provide wholly representative data points. There just aren’t a lot of businesses out there using more than five additional categories!

All Avg. Map Rankings

  • The lowest average map ranking of 7.6 comes from businesses that aren’t using any additional categories.
  • Businesses using four additional categories rank better, with an average of 5.9.

Essentially, the chart above shows that businesses have a better chance of improving their local rankings simply by using additional categories in the first instance. Business GBPs not using additional categories have the lowest average map rankings.

Meanwhile, we can see that the average map ranking improves when using one or more additional categories. Most notably, the sweet spot for GBPs seems to be having four business categories, where local rankings averaged 5.9.

If you think about it from the perspective of a would-be customer with specific requirements, adding categories that match as closely as possible to these provides more relevant, helpful results. Taking the generic primary category of ‘Lawyer’ for example. It’s quite likely that a user would have a particular area of law in mind for their requirements, such as personal injury or family law.

A note on Products, Services, and Categories in Google Business Profile

While many GBP category names match closely with those of particular services, it’s important to note that Products, Services, and Categories are separate entities that can be added to your profile.

Does the relationship between local rankings and GBP categories vary by industry?

Next, we took each set of primary categories and calculated the average map rankings per number of additional business categories.

Beauty and Wellbeing: Day Spa

Day Spa Map Rankings Final

  • Day Spa GBPs using four additional categories have an average map ranking of 5.4.
  • The lowest-ranking Day Spa GBPs use between 0-1 additional category.

We’ve already highlighted why it makes sense for Day Spa GBPs to make use of several additional categories, as it’s likely that there are many that relate to the available products and services on site.

Our findings also show that using additional categories appear to have a positive effect on local rankings, as Day Spa GBPs using four additional categories held an average map ranking of 5.4.

If you conduct a local search for ‘day spa near me’ or similar, the results shown in the Local Pack or within Google Maps don’t necessarily place businesses with that primary category at the top. Google recognizes, for instance, where similar categories (like massage spa, sauna, beauty salon) might also show relevant results. So, it’s a good idea to keep how your audience might be searching in mind.

Additional Categories to Consider for Day Spa

There are a whole host of health and beauty-related categories that may apply to a Day Spa business. Here are just a few examples:

Healthcare: Dentist

Dentist Map Rankings Final (1)

  • The best-performing Dentist GBP uses 1 additional category on average, with an average map rank of 7.3.

For this primary category, there doesn’t seem to be a ‘smoking gun’ or a clear pattern to determine whether there is a relationship between the number of additional categories and dentists’ local rankings. 

Our data suggests that using more than one additional category is better for local ranking performance than none at all, but there is an anomaly in the data for three additional categories.

Of course, it’s important to always reflect the most accurate information possible—especially within regulated health industries. Additionally, many additional categories related to the field of dentistry require demonstrated certification and available services, such as cosmetic dentists or dental implant providers.

Additional Categories to Consider for Dentist

There are some more generic additional categories available that might help more clients find you, such as:

 

 

Legal Services: Lawyer

Lawyer Map Rankings Final!

  • Using one or more additional categories appears to have a positive effect on Lawyer local rankings.
  • Lawyer GBPs with one additional category have an average map ranking of 5.9.

For GBPs using Lawyer as their primary category, our findings show the highest average map ranking (5.9) comes from those using one additional category in place. This is closely followed by those using four additional categories, with an average map ranking of 6.0.

While the results for GBPs using two and three additional categories show lower average map rankings than these, it still follows that using any amount of additional categories yields better results in rankings than none at all.

Additional Categories to Consider for Lawyer

There are a variety of law-specific categories available, so it’s a good idea to consider areas of specialism. Here are some examples:

Real Estate: Real Estate Agent

Real Estate Agent Map Rankings

  • For GBP profiles using Real Estate Agent as the primary category, our findings show that using three or more additional categories achieve the best average map ranking.

This data set didn’t contain enough data to represent three or four additional categories, so we’ve combined the average map ranking for 3+ additional categories. However, the results show a clear relationship between using more additional categories and better local rankings.

Of all the industries we studied, this pattern appears to be the most consistent in terms of showing incremental gains.

Additional Categories to Consider for Real Estate Agent

If you’re a realtor with a GBP primary category set to Real Estate Agent, consider choosing some additional categories that are relevant to your field and will help prospective clients find you. Here are just a few examples that could work for you:

  • Real estate rental agency
  • Commercial real estate agency
  • Property management company

Retail: Department Store

Department Store Map Rankings

  • Of 150 Department Store GBPs, we found not a single business location using two additional categories.
  • Department Store GBPs with four additional categories have an average map ranking of 5.3.

The Department Store set was interesting to analyze as, although we didn’t have representative enough data to reflect five, six, eight, or nine additional categories, we noted that 33% of the GBPs studied here used seven additional categories, while none of them used two additional categories! But for the purpose of consistency, we have continued to show ‘5+’ additional categories.

As noted previously, for the type of retailer that generally offers a multitude of products to its customers, it makes a lot of sense that many Department Store GBPs would utilize the ability to add more relevant categories. Moreover, our findings show that the Department Store GBPs with four additional categories have the best average map ranking of 5.3.

Additional Categories to Consider for Department Store

If you manage the GBPs for Department Store retailers, consider if there are additional categories that relate to your business’s products or services. Examples include:

Service-area Businesses: Electrician and HVAC Contractor

Electrician Map Rankings Final

Electrician seems to be the primary category that goes against the curve the most. Our data found that the GBPs with five or more additional categories had the lowest average map ranking, at 7.9. Meanwhile, the top two average map rankings can be attributed to three and zero additional categories.

As discussed within the first section looking at how many categories businesses were using on average, we noted that electricians were generally using the least—in fact, mostly zero. The top-performing GBPs using Electrician as a primary category used an average of 0.5 additional categories. So, in this case, it does not appear that there is a relationship between the use of additional categories and local rankings within this business type.

Hvac Map Rankings Final

For HVAC Contractor, the results are more evenly spread. However, unlike the Electrician category, we found that zero additional categories led to the lowest average map ranking, at 8.0.

The top two numbers of additional categories are four and two, although it’s worth noting the drop in average map ranking in the middle with three additional categories.

Either way, the data here suggests that using at least one additional category for your HVAC Google Business Profile will be more advantageous in local rankings. 

Additional Categories to Consider for HVAC Contractor

A HVAC Contractor may naturally work across a multitude of trades and services, so consider additional categories that may align with these—as well as how customers might be searching. Examples:

  • Air conditioning repair service

What can we learn from this data?

The key takeaway from these findings is that, when it comes to GBP categories, more is generally more… helpful.

Google doesn’t provide a complete list of the business categories available, but there are around 4,000 in total! So, when setting up or optimizing your Google Business Profile, don’t look at selecting the categories as a quick or menial task. 

If you’re not sure how to choose the categories that best fit your business, there are several things you can do:

  • Review your competitors’ GBPs. One of the easiest and most powerful (and not to mention, free) methods of optimizing your GBP is simply by monitoring your key competitors and how they’ve set theirs up. You can also use tools like Local Search Grid to display your top competitors’ additional categories, as well as factors including review numbers and ratings.
  • Conduct keyword research. Researching similar terms and topics to your business type or niche can be really useful for broadening your knowledge of terminology other people might use to talk about things your business does.
  • Search like a local. Just because a user might be searching for ‘lawyers near me’ in the first instance, it doesn’t mean that Google won’t show map pack results for personal injury attorneys or criminal defense lawyers. Carry out Google and Google Maps searches for different business types and you’ll get an idea
  • It’s okay to change them! Don’t forget, you can add or change your GBP categories as you need to. You might manage a business with seasonal products or services, or your business offering might just naturally evolve over time. Your categories don’t have to be set in stone.

Summary

Let’s face it, the Golden Rule of optimizing for search will always be to have your audience in mind (E-E-A-T, people!), so don’t try to game the system by adding irrelevant categories and services.

And remember, while we know that categories are key GBP signals that can influence your local rankings, there will always be other factors at play, such as:

  • Number of Google reviews
  • Avg. Google review rating
  • Inbound links
  • Domain authority
  • Spam score

Did you find this study useful? Do you have any hot takes on the topic? Let us know your thoughts in our Facebook community, The Local Pack, or tweet us at @BrightLocal.

Methodology

To carry out this study, we selected seven primary categories to focus on:

  • Day Spa
  • Dentist
  • Department store
  • Electrician
  • HVAC Contractor
  • Lawyer
  • Real Estate Agent

For each category, 15 business locations were chosen from a random location in the US, for a total of 105 locations.

We then set up a report for each location in LSG, using the following criteria:

  • Grid size: 7 x 7
  • Spacing: 500m
  • Keywords: 10

Grids were only adjusted if automatically placed over large bodies of water, national parks, etc. 

From each report, we took the average map ranking and the number of additional GBP categories used for each location, plus the first nine top competitors listed. This created an overall sample of 150 locations per primary category, for a total of 1050 locations within the study.

A Note on Keywords Used in LSG Reports

We chose the above primary categories as some of the most ‘generic’ within their respective industries so that we could conduct keyword research and apply the same list of 10 keywords for each location’s report.

Primary Category Keyword 1 Keyword 2 Keyword 3 Keyword 4 Keyword 5 Keyword 6 Keyword 7 Keyword 8 Keyword 9 Keyword 10
Day Spa spa spas massage spa day spa swim spa spa massage spa day spa day packages couples spa day spa services
Dentist dentist dental clinic dental practice emergency dentist family dentist dental implants teeth whitening cosmetic dentist pediatric dentist invisalign
Department Store department store clothing store retail park shopping mall outlet mall shopping center home goods store superstore outlet store brand store
Electrician electrician residential electrician commercial electrician local electrician emergency electrician licensed electrician electricians appliance repair auto electrician electrician supply store
HVAC Contractor hvac contractors hvac repair hvac system hvac technician hvac installation air conditioning repair air conditioning unit hvac supply hvac company hvac mechanical contractor
Lawyer personal injury attorney personal injury lawyer injury attorney injury lawyer car accident attorney family law attorney real estate attorney divorce attorney divorce lawyer family lawyer
Real Estate Agent real estate agent realtor real estate broker realtor agent real estate realtor homes for sale real estate valuation commercial real estate agent property for sale houses for sale
Sammy Paget

Sammy is BrightLocal’s Content Marketing Manager, focusing on developing marketing-leading insights into what drives visibility, rankings and search success for local businesses.

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