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Local Search Ranking Factors—Simplified

In February, Darren Shaw of Whitespark presented the much anticipated Local Search Ranking Factors (2017) at a Local U workshop. The full survey results are published over on Moz, and there are some notable updates as well as insightful comments. For instance, a business’s ‘Proximity to the Point of Search’ (think surge in mobile) has seen a significant boost to become the new #1 ranking factor. Reviews and link-related factors also saw increases. For seasoned local SEOs, it’s well worth the read.

The results provide a comprehensive list of factors most likely contributing to local pack/maps rankings on Google, organized into eight thematic areas: 1) Google My Business signals, 2) citation signals, 3) on-page signals, 4) link signals, 5) review signals, 6) social signals, 7) behavioral/mobile signals, and 8) personalization. The breakdown looks something like this:

One might imagine that with this template the triumph is complete. Not so. 

It may come as a surprise to learn that most small business owners do not know what a citation is. On-page Schema markup? Let’s not go there. Yet, invariably, there is a point where a Local SEO-er must explain what needs to be done and why it’s important, not just to sell their services, but to gain the necessary buy-in and cooperation. The problem is particularly acute when a business owner’s understanding of local search ranking factors gauge somewhere between limited and nonexistent. How does a Local SEO-er explain, and explain in under 5 minutes what needs to be done and why? 

An easy way to discuss local ranking factors is to propose three areas of influence:  

  1. Local (pertaining to listings)
  2. Website
  3. Social & Reputation

For simplicity, consider each area as roughly a third of the pie. Social and reputation factors have been lumped together, as both largely focus on customer engagement. Each area can be evaluated based on a few key factors.

  1. Local Listings primary ranking factors:
    • Proximity of location to searcher
    • NAP + website URL consistency
    • Proper business category
    • Quantity & quality of business listings
    • Google listing: owner-verified
    • Google listing: local area code
    • Google listing: personalization (lots of images)
    • Google listing: recency of activity

      NAP = Name, Address, Phone

  2. Website primary ranking factors:
    • Quality of inbound links
    • Quality keyword content
    • Keyword presence in page titles & title tags
    • Mobile-friendly; responsive design
    • Page speed
    • Website NAP same as Google My Business
    • Domain authority
    • Image optimization
  3. Social & Reputation primary ranking factors:
    • Ratings, sentiment & keyword content of reviews
    • Quantity of reviews
    • Number of social shares, likes, followers
    • Customer engagement
    • Overall social media presence & activity

Businesses performing strongly in these three areas (more relevant, more prominent) will rank higher in local searches on Google. It’s important to note that all of these areas are synergistic with one another.

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