My full article is posted on SearchEngineGuide. Here are the cliff notes:
Google's local search algorithm, in Layman's terms, looks something like this:
Ranking = Location + Information + Corroboration + Input + X
Understanding the variables in this equation are a critical part of getting found online. Businesses have just two meaningful representations in the local search space: a website and a business listing. The latter of the two is worth discussing in detail.
Let's take a look at the anatomy of a local search results page and see where local business listings fit in. For this example I did a Google search for "cleaners boston ma"...
With this kind of first-page exposure for local listings, there is a reason they call it the Lucky 7. For any local search, the major search engines (e.g., Google Maps, Yahoo! Local, Bing Local) all use their own "black box" algorithms to deliver what they determine are most-to-least relevant results.
Ranking Factors: What Determines the Ranking Results in Local Search?
Back to my equation: Ranking = Location + Information + Corroboration + Input + X; X being defined as the consistent unknown and ever-evolving factor contributing to the unpredictability we see in results. The other criteria of the local search equation are better understood.
1. Location: Distance from "Centroid" (the geographic center of the area searched) - the closer your business is, the higher you rank -- well kind of. This factor has been reduced in weight recently as in many cases relevancy has been proven arbitrary to fixed geographic center points. At a minimum, claim your basic listing and make sure business name, address and telephone numbers are accurate and complete to take advantage of this location factor.
2. Information: Listings containing more robust information and links rank higher in results (e.g., a website link, keyword-rich content, media, etc). Enhance your listing with keyword-rich content targeting the top keyword phrases prospective consumers may use to find you. Consider using variations of the most popular terms like "painters" and "painting". Listing "brands carried" is a good way to target popular keywords. Run some tests using Google Analytics available in the GLBC (Google Local Business Center) to narrow down your keyword focus. Be sure to add media to your listing: a company logo and multiple store/product photos go a long way - video is a bonus.
3. Corroboration: How many other local search engines or directories have your same listing published? Each time the information contained in your listing can be tied to a matching NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) on other "relevant" sites, your listing is awarded a "citation" -- the more citations you have, the higher you rank. This corroboration between relevant sites builds trust, and the trust factor is critical. Corroboration and link building is perhaps the best thing you can do to rank. With Google Caffeine rolling out, there's been some big changes in SEO practices - even more emphasis on building unique and quality rich-content as well as creating corroborating links from as many trusted sites to your page(s) as possible. Start by building out your LBL (Local Business Listing) with enhanced content, and use this as a template to "manually" distribute your information to as many relevant sites as possible (see my list of notable sites below).
4. "Objective" Consumer Input: How many consumer reviews/ratings or other sources of user input does your business have on "relevant" sites? To maximize citations and achieve the highest possible ranking you need to get as much positive feedback as possible. Encourage your happy customers to go online and give you a positive review on multiple sites. Here are four easy tips on how to get more reviews. Google favors citations differently across various industries so it is important to solicit reviews on sites specific to your vertical.
Negative ranking factors: Avoid using an 800# or multiple phone numbers across listings for tracking purposes (consistency in NAP is key); non-local area code; use of a P.O. Box; multiple LBLs with same phone number and/or DBA and/or address; stuffing geo-targeted keywords into non-related categories or fields; high percentage of bad reviews.
You can start with your Google Maps listing and in a similar fashion work your way through the roughly 100 other search engines, IYP directories, maps, mobile sites and niche local/social sites. This is a laborious process which requires ample time and web expertise to get it right and establish lasting results. It typically takes our team of EZlocal gurus almost four to six weeks to complete our initial manual distribution for each business we optimize. If you are looking to rank in the top seven of the Google Maps section, we highly recommend utilizing our seo services as part of premium membership.
Below is a list of the more notable submission sites.
Google Maps, Yahoo Local, Bing Local, AOL Local, Ask Local, Platial
Local Listings Sites:
Citysearch, InsiderPages, MerchantCircle, Yelp, Cityvoter, EZlocal*, Yellowpages, YellowBot, Yellowbook, Manta, Best of the Web, Superpages, Hotfrog, DexKnows, CitySquares, Kudzu, Brownbook, OpenList, GetFave, Judy's Book, Angieslist, Switchboard, AnyWho, InfoSpace, ServiceMagic, TripAdvisor, UrbanSpoon, Zagat, VirtualTourist, Praized, Local, DiscoverOurTown, Tyloon, Mojopages, Genieknows, Wcities, Metrobot, Magic Yellow, Whitepages , 411, AssistGuide, Topix, Menu Network, Decidio, Go2
Entrepreneur Connect, Intuit Business, PartnerUp, LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, BizJournals
Passive Submission Sites:
Localeze, InfoUSA, Axciom, iBegin, EZlocal*, GetListed
*EZlocal operates as both a manual and passive content distributor as well as an IYP directory.
Factors like regency, accuracy, "certificate of trust" and depth of content are the critical elements to supporting a business' image, increasing "findability" and generating qualified, ready-to-buy local customers.
Here are a few great sources related to local search:
David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors
Andrew Shotland's Local SEO QA
Chris Silversmith's Anatomy & Optimization of a Local Business Profile
Matt McGee's 10 Likely Elements of Google's Local Search Algorithm
EZlocal has created an easy, affordable single source for businesses to realize the benefits of online local search engine distribution, optimization and content management. Sign up for EZlocal Premium today and let our search experts do the work for you.