For the average local search, there are hundreds or thousands of relevant results that could reasonably appear. Google has to choose from these results a small set of businesses to rank in the top positions, and therefore attract most of the clicks.
To make this determination, Google pulls in data from a huge range of sources, weighs and evaluates hundreds of factors, and makes a judgement about which local businesses are most popular, most trustworthy, and generally most likely to satisfy a searcher.
While the specifics of Google’s algorithmic decision making process are a closely-guarded secret, years of SEO experience have given the digital marketing community a reasonably strong understanding of what really matters to Google.
Every year, local SEO expert David Mihm performs a survey of local search veterans, to compile and compare industry experience about which factors are most important for local rankings. In this post, we’ll be pulling out some of the key findings from this year’s Local Search Ranking Factors report and giving a quick summary of what really matter for optimizing local search rankings.
Top 5 Local Search Ranking Factors
1. Owner Verified Local Profile
This is basically a prerequisite for local SEO. While this may not be the single most important factor on its own, if you don’t claim your listing, you can’t optimize your profile. For multi-location clients, the question of bulk vs. manual claiming can sometimes be confusing, but in our experience, there’s little rankings difference between the two methods, assuming that the data is the same.
2. Optimized Categories
Categories continue to be a crucial local ranking factor. They are the core area where business owners can optimize for keywords relevant to their products and services. Your categories will basically determine which keywords you can rank for outside of your own brand name.
For Google+ Local, businesses can have up to 10 categories. 5 of these must be chosen from Google’s default list of categories, and 5 can be custom categories. Keep in mind – having incorrect or irrelevant categories, or custom categories stuffed with keywords, can definitely damage your local rankings.
3. Business Website Optimization
Many people may not realize that having a well optimized website is critical for local search rankings. Some businesses may assume that optimizing their Google profile is all that’s needed for high local rankings, but ever since the introduction of Blended Local Search, the landing page linked from Places has become very important.
There’s several things that are really crucial for local website optimization -
- Domain Authority – basically, quality and quantity of inbound links
- City and State in Places landing page title
- Business Name, Address, and Phone crawlable on site
4. Volume and Quality of Citations
A citation is basically a mention of your business name, address, and phone that occurs in crawlable format around the web. The more high-quality citations your business has, the higher it will rank. This is because Google looks at citations as validation that your business actually does exist at a certain location, and that your business is popular and well represented on key local destinations.
When it comes to citations, consistency is crucial. Business owners need to ensure that local data is consistent across the web – this means that your name, address, and phone number occur with the same content and formatting whenever a user (or Google) might look.
5. Volume of Reviews
Reviews are one of the most important elements of local search. Once a profile is has complete and accurate local information, reviews become a key factor for determining how useful a local profile will be for a user.
Note that usually volume of reviews is thought of as a more important factor than “quality” or sentiment of reviews. While having nothing but very negative reviews could hurt your rankings, typically just having lots of reviews is more important than having only very positive reviews.
In terms of review sources, both native Google reviews as well as third party reviews are important. However, native Google reviews with actual text review content are usually thought of as most important. (And reviews that include product and service keywords are even better.)