Local Search Ranking Factors to Boost Your Business

by | Aug 21, 2018

Every year, Moz Analytics conducts an extensive survey to determine local search ranking factors applied by Google. Since Google keeps a tight lid on the specifics of their ranking algorithm, SEO experts have to rely on large data samplings to extrapolate the insights necessary to give their business listings a competitive advantage. So resources like this one are very useful to any business owners who are looking to boost their Google ranking.

What are Local Search Ranking Factors?

In order to deliver the most useful information for any given search, Google uses advanced linguistic rules to predict a user’s intent.

How Organic Rankings Work

For example, searching for “how to fix a leaky faucet” tells Google that you are looking for content that solves a particular knowledge problem. That may yield a slew of appropriate DIY articles from big name websites – all ranked according to a multitude of factors.

These regular organic search results can come from anywhere in the world and are often dominated by large companies with massive budgets allocated to developing keyword-optimized website content, including thousands of blog articles and videos.

Landing one of these top spots can prove to be very difficult, regardless of the keyword you are targeting.

How Local Organic Rankings Work

However, searching for “best plumber” tells Google that you are most likely looking for a service provider – something which, by its very nature, is geographically limited. After all, if you’re located in Bella Vista, Arkansas, you don’t care about finding the best plumber in Dallas, Texas or even Fayetteville, Arkansas. You want someone right in your area who can come over and fix your leaky faucet!

Because of this difference in intent, Google adjusts the weight of multiple ranking factors in order to organize and present local search results differently than regular organic search results – limiting results primarily to those within the user’s geographic proximity.

The Coveted Local Pack

The top three local search results are what is known as the “Local Pack”, and they are presented at the top of page one, with a “More Places” link beneath to a complete list of local results. The complete list of local results is known as the “Local Finder”.

Beneath the Local Pack, Google then presents localized organic results. These are local organic search results that have been more heavily weighted based on geographic proximity. Sometimes local business websites will appear here, but in the absence of quality local results, users tend to see broader results from large company websites.

For local service providers and small business owners, all of this is great news – especially if you’re located in a small to mid-size market.

Since you’re only competing against other businesses that are in your geographic area, it’s much easier to become the “big fish in a small pond” and snag one of the top spots in the local pack, localized organic results, or both. Nabbing one of these top three spots can prove to be a goldmine of free business!

But… What exactly is Google looking for?

This following charts break down the raw results of the local search ranking survey so that you can see which factors are affecting your own ranking. Shoring up the areas where your web presence is weak is the fastest way to climb up the local ranks for a coveted top spot!

Local Search Ranking Factors by Category

Local Pack / Finder Ranking Factors

  1. Google My Business Signals (Proximity, categories, keyword in business title, etc.) 19%
  2. Link Signals (Inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, linking domain quantity, etc.) 17%
  3. On-Page Signals (Presence of NAP, keywords in titles, domain authority, etc.) 14%
  4. Citation Signals (IYP/aggregator NAPWE consistency, citation volume, etc.) 13%
  5. Review Signals (Review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc.) 13%
  6. Behavioral Signals (Click-through rate, mobile clicks to call, check-ins, etc.) 10%
  7. Personalization (user search history, current browser cookies, etc.) 10%
  8. Social Signals (Google engagement, Facebook engagement, Twitter engagement, etc.) 4%

Localized Organic Ranking Factors

  1. Link Signals (Inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, linking domain quantity, etc.) 29%
  2. On-Page Signals (Presence of NAP, keywords in titles, domain authority, etc.) 24%
  3. Behavioral Signals (Click-through rate, mobile clicks to call, check-ins, etc.) 11%
  4. Personalization (user search history, current browser cookies, etc.) 9%
  5. Citation Signals (IYP/aggregator NAPWE consistency, citation volume, etc.) 8%
  6. Google My Business Signals (Proximity, categories, keyword in business title, etc.) 7%
  7. Review Signals (Review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc.) 7%
  8. Social Signals (Google engagement, Facebook engagement, Twitter engagement, etc.) 4%

Best Steps to Boost Your Business

Looking at this information, you may be thinking, “Great! Now… where do I begin?”

As a small business owner looking to boost your local search placement, you will achieve the biggest gains by focusing your efforts on 3 main things first:

Google My Business

Google My Business, or GMB, is the business directory listing service provided by Google. The first thing to do is claim your listing and fill out 100% of the fields as completely as possible, including photos and videos of your location, your products or services, you and your employees, etc. Be sure to select the appropriate business category and incorporate your primary target keywords throughout the listing description.

Additionally, you should use the Google Post and Google Q&A features to provide valuable, keyword-rich content to direct people to your GMB listing or website.

Citations

Citations, or listings in online business directories and data aggregators, are crucial signals to Google that your business is legitimate and established. You can visit most major directories and find links to submit new citations or claim existing citations.

The information in your citations must be consistent across every directory, including your business name, address, phone number, website, and email (NAPWE). Citations with missing information, citations with inaccurate information, and duplicate citations in a single directory all hurt the strength of your overall citation signal quality.

Customer Reviews

Online customer reviews are essential for reasons beyond improving your search engine placement. Potential customers who are looking for your product or service often decide who to contact based entirely on other people’s reviews. The total number of reviews you have, the rate at which you receive reviews over time, and the quality of reviews you receive all play a significant role in your placement in the local pack or local finder.

If you don’t have many (or any) online reviews yet, don’t worry! Start by reaching out to your best customers and asking them to help you by leaving a review for your business.

Other Efforts to Boost Your Ranking

If you’re comparing the three things above with the graph of the local pack ranking factors, you’ve probably noticed that we skipped over Link Signals and On-Page Signals. That’s because these two measures require a website, and many local businesses still don’t have one. The former requires significant work and persistence (and a bit of luck), while the latter requires significant technical ability. However, I would like to touch on them:

Inbound Links

Getting inbound “do follow” links from websites with high Domain Authority (DA) is the holy grail of SEO (think top-ranked mainstream sites like CNN and Wall Street Journal and niche industry sites like Law.com or Inman). The way to achieve this is by publishing quality content that people will read and looking for moderate to high DA sites that will allow you to be a guest author and include a link back to your site’s other content (usually in the authorship box at the bottom of your article).

Getting published on other sites increases traffic to your own site, sometimes dramatically so, which often leads more people to link to your content. These inbound links tell Google that your site is valuable, so they increase its placement accordingly.

On-Page Optimization

There are a number of technical measures you will need to employ in order to make your site “friendly” to search engines. These include an XML sitemap, schema-enabled NAP on your footers, and a structured keyword strategy with target keywords in your page titles (H1 tags, H2 tags, H3 tags, etc.), hierarchal links to and between pages and subpages, and a good mix of interlinks, cross links, and outbound links.

On-page optimization measures also include things like making sure your website loads quickly and is responsive/optimized for viewing on mobile devices.

Predictions About Local Search Ranking Factors

You may have noticed that we didn’t talk about Personalization, Behavioral Signals, or Social Signals. That’s because these are either of minimal significance, beyond your control, and/or a result of doing the other 5 things above very well.

Google’s personalization initiative, first introduced in 2004, has shown decreasing influence on search rankings with each year. Furthermore, with the recent bad publicity around internet privacy issues, the company has indicated that they may abolish it all together sometime in 2019.

Social engagement on platforms like Facebook and Twitter show signs of becoming more important in the years to come, with some experts predicting that its weight will increase from 4% to as much as 10% by 2020. While it currently plays a only minor role within the context of a good local SEO strategy, there is significant value in having an active social media presence.

Conclusions

If all of this sounds a bit confusing, don’t feel bad! You’re not alone. Search engine optimization is about building your online presence through the smartest ways possible. It is a complex game of capitalizing on competitive advantages, and shortcuts that worked 5 or 10 years ago don’t work today.

Unfortunately, there are many people holding themselves out as experts who still advocate outdated tactics like “keyword stuffing” that will hurt your visitor’s on-page user experience, or building hundreds of low quality backlinks through spammy blog comments that will tank your domain reputation and hurt your ranking.

There really is no substitute for just doing the hard work.

Not what you wanted to hear? If you’re pressed for time already and would rather just focus on your business – without spending hours creating citations, gathering customer reviews, and becoming a web designer, author, search engine expert, and more – give us a call. We’re here to help!