Deciphering Local Search with the Pro’s

There are several websites across the internet that discuss Google’s Local Search Ranking Factors. Some websites are dedicated completely to local SEO. It’s a big topic in the SEO world and it’s something that you should get to know if you’re an online marketer or if you’re a business with a location.

In this article I intend to show you what the top industry professionals are saying about the Local Search Ranking Factors, and then adding a few comments of my own. Hopefully by the end of the article you get a decent idea of what matters in Local SEO and where you can find more information that you can trust.

Local Search Ranking Factors

What does Google say about Local Search Ranking Factors?

Let’s start here because no matter what anyone says, it’s Google that decides what the ranking factors are and who is at the top of Google.

According to Google Support, rankings are based mainly on things like relevance, distance and prominence. The article goes on to clarify each.

Local Ranking Factors

  • Relevance has to do with how closely related the search query is to a local listing.

Some of the things that might fall under this category could be: Your business category in Google My Business page matches the searcher’s query, keywords in website match searcher’s query, business name matches searcher’s query (just to name a few).

  • Distance has to do with how far away the business is from the location being searched (an example search query could be “Nashville Dentist). However, if you continue reading it also says that if you don’t specify a location in your search, Google will calculate the distance based on what they know about your location. So the location of the search query can also sometimes play a factor in the search results.

Distance seems pretty self-explanatory, however there is a lot that can be said about distance. You may find at times that you rank better for being near the center of a city, but perhaps you may find that you rank better for having a location near others in the same industry.  You may find that you’re getting more business than your competitors because you happen to be right around the corner from everybody who is looking for your services (such as if you were a tailor working near several suit shops).

  • Prominence is the last thing listed here. This is how well-known or prominent a business can be. The factors determining this include things like links, articles and directories.

Here’s a fun one. Here we see who is “popular”. You want to get listed on all the important directories, you want your favorite customers to write reviews for you, you want to encourage new customers to write reviews, you want your content to be engaging, unique and worth linking to etc. Consider for a moment that you’re an accountant. What makes your website any better than the next accountant? Do you blog? Do you promote your content through social media?

Knowing and understanding these basic concepts can help us get some insight into what will get us to the top of Google for local search queries. It can also help us judge which information across the internet may be accurate and which may be false.

What does Moz say about Local Search Ranking Factors?

When it comes to SEO, Moz is one of the top resources available for strategies and SEO research. This of course applies to local SEO as well.

One of the resources at Moz is the Local Search Ranking Factors for 2014. A survey was given to several SEO experts who answered what they believed to be the top factors to influence the Local Search Results. Take a look at the screenshot below to see what the overall top factors were:

Overall Local Ranking Factors

Let’s take a look at these overall factors in order from most influential to least:

  1. On-page signals
  2. Link signals
  3. External location signals
  4. My Business signals
  5. Review signals
  6. Personalization
  7. Behavioral/mobile signals
  8. Social signals

When we look at the top 4 factors, (which make up  69.5% of these influential factors) you can see that they align with what Google says is important.

On-page signals includes being relevant. Having keywords and the location in the title of a page help get you ranked. Link signals has a lot to do with prominence. External location signals also has a lot to do with prominence. My Business signals has to do with relevance. You can see that this resource from Moz will likely benefit you in your journey to finding out the local search ranking factors.

The bottom 4 factors which make up the last 30.5% of the ranking influence include review signals (prominence), personalization (relevance), behavioral/mobile signals (prominence) and social signals (prominence).

The article at Moz also gives a lot more information about how to rank in Local SEO based on survey answers. It’s a valuable resource that we use at The Bird Marketing when we rank our clients in local SEO.

What are top SEO experts saying about Local Search Ranking Factors?

I decided to ask some of the top SEO experts and marketers what they feel are the most important local search ranking factors. The answers I got were all very helpful, and their help is very much appreciated!

Phil Rozek – Local Visibility Systems

Local SEO Expert Phil Rozek is the founder of localvisibilitysystem.com and is known as one of the top experts with  regard to local SEO. He got going in local search around 2008 and has built quite a reputation since.  Some know him through his blogs, others may know him through whitespark.ca and you may have  even seen him on Moz or mentioned at Search Engine Land. At The Bird Marketing we follow what  Phil has to say because we know that his advice  carries a lot of weight. We recommend taking a look at his local seo strategies on his blog. On top of that he’s also been recognized as one of the Yelp Elite! (check out Yelp to find out more about what that is).

So I asked Phil a few survey questions and his answers were great! Here it is:

QUESTION 1: What would you say are the top 5 most important ranking factors in Local SEO today?

1. Location. Your business had better be in the city where searchers are looking.
2. Popularity with searchers. Is your business the obvious choice to click on? Do you give people both searchers and customers) opportunities and reason to search for your by name (your “brand”)? Google generally knows which results searchers like, and it takes that into account. (See this presentation from my buddy Darren Shaw.)
3. A few good links.
4. Basic on-page optimization.
5. Reviews – ideally on a variety of sites.

Question 2: What changes do you think may occur in 2015 with regard to Local SEO?

We’ll soon find out :)

Question 3: What would you say are common mistakes made in Local SEO?

Too many business owners and local SEOs don’t get where citations fit into the big picture. Citations in large numbers are useless. You don’t need 200 of them. You should get your info as consistent as possible on maybe the top 50, then get listed on a few (maybe 5-10) sites that are specific to your industry, then move on.

People also don’t focus on what happens *after* searchers see the business in the search results initially. As part of their due diligence, many people will search for the business by name. Will they see lots of reviews from various sources, or nothing special? And what happens if / when they click through to your site? Can visitors find a ton of helpful information about your services right away, or do they have to figure out your “elegant” navigation first and listen to your charming autoplay video? The “back” button is the biggest enemy to your local SEO.

Question 4: Have you noticed any false information with regards to do Local SEO? (If so, what?)

I and others attacked some common myths here:
http://www.localvisibilitysystem.com/2013/09/17/top-local-seo-myths/

David Mihm – Moz Local

Local SEO Expert David Mihm

 David Mihm has been working in Local SEO since the early 2000’s and is very highly regarded  as one of the top practitioners of Local SEO. If you thought Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors  of 2014 was cool, you should be giving David some credit… A lot of credit… It’s his project! If  you’re new to Local SEO, he’s one of the people you want to follow. In fact, Phil Rozek and Andrew Shotland highly recommends him. Check out Moz when you have a chance, and Moz Local (extremely awesome for anybody, new or old, doing Local SEO). I consider myself very fortunate to have gotten in touch with David, and I was very pleasantly surprised that he was kind enough to help out and answer my survey questions.
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Here are David’s answers:
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QUESTION 1: What would you say are the top 5 most important ranking factors in Local SEO today?
Here were my own answers to ‘difference makers in competitive markets’ from this year’s local search ranking factors survey:
Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
Quantity of Native Google Maps Reviews
Quantity of Third-Party Traditional Reviews
Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts)
 QUESTION 2: What changes do you think may occur in 2015 with regards to Local SEO?
Behavioral signals, brand authority, and proximity to searcher I think are all going to continue to increase.
QUESTION 4: What would you say are common mistakes made in Local SEO?
These aren’t necessarily mistakes, but common misconceptions. Still the definitive piece on this subject, IMO: http://www.localvisibilitysystem.com/2013/09/17/top-local-seo-myths/
QUESTION 5: Have you noticed any false information with regards to do Local SEO? (If so, what?)
See above.

Andrew Shotland – Local SEO Guide

Andrew Shotland Local SEO Expert
 Yet another one of the greats, Andrew Shotland of Local SEO Guide. Andrew is a genius when it  comes to Local SEO, and you can refer to his blog as proof. He had also contributed to Moz’s Local  Search Ranking Factors, and Phil Rozek spoke very highly of him as a reference for how to do Local  SEO. If you haven’t checked him out, I suggest you go to localseoguide.com and get started.
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Andrew also answered my survey questions, and here are his answers:
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QUESTION 1: What would you say are the top 5 most important ranking factors in Local SEO today?
1. Links
2. NAP consistency
3. Location
4. Content
5. Flexibility (Google is always throwing curve-balls after all)
QUESTION 2: What changes do you think may occur in 2015 with regards to Local SEO?
My big prediction this year is that Google is going to lose market share in Local. See http://www.localseoguide.com/15-local-seo-predictions-for-2015/ for more detail.
QUESTION 3: What would you say are common mistakes made in Local SEO?
Thinking you know how to do it.
 QUESTION 4: Have you noticed any false information with regards to do Local SEO? (If so, what?)
Pretty much 90% of everything published on Local SEO is either false or misleading in that it’s portrayed as “do these five things and it works”. You can do those five things til you’re blue in the face and it may work 50% of the time but the other 50% is typically what makes the difference. The problem is that the other 50% can be different for every business.

Erick Racedo – Zing Marketing & Plumbers SEO

Erick Racedo

Erick Racedo (that’s me). I’m not about to toot my own horn, but I will say that I’m very passionate about what I do with SEO and Local SEO, which is why I do them.
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I didn’t fill out my own survey, but instead I decided I’d add some comments to the survey results that I had received.
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Here’s my commentary to the above surveys:
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All three agree that links is an important factor, and I also have to agree (it seems links have always been a big part of SEO). If you have a large quantity of quality links from relevant sites across the web it won’t be hard to get to the top of the SERPs. That doesn’t mean that links are all you need. In fact I highly recommend that you try not to focus only on a single ranking factor, but a little bit of all of them.
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Phil made a great point about popularity with searchers. For Google, this would fall under the category of Prominence. David also mentions behavior signals being an influential factor for 2015 (Phil’s concept of popularity with searchers and David’s behavior signals go hand-in-hand). Andrew mentions in his article (his predictions for 2015) the influence of mobile search. This again goes with behavior signals. If users have a terrible experience on your website, you’ll wind up with a high bounce rate and probably also a lower position in the SERPs. They’re not going to be searching your brand, you’ll be unpopular, and it will show.
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All three of the experts that were surveyed brought up points that align with what Google says will get you ranked. The three of them are top resources for anybody who wants to learn Local SEO. In addition to the above information, I asked each of our experts to reference some other top resources for anybody who wants to learn Local SEO. Here were their answers:
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David Mihm
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Andrew Shotland
Follow Mike Blumenthal, Linda Buquet, Mike Ramsey, David Mihm, Joy Hawkins and the people they follow on
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Phil Rozek
Early on, I learned a ton from Andrew Shotland’s blog and Mike Blumenthal’s blog – and I still do. Matt
McGee and David Mihm also wrote great stuff (pick it back up, guys!).
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I suggest joining Linda Buquet’s Local Search Forum, the big Google+ community that Max Minzer and I
built, and the LocalU Forum. Keep your eye on the Whitespark blog, too.
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Of course, I hope you’re also one of my die-hard readers.
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BONUS SURVEY

SEO Expert neil patel

Many of you have heard the name Neil Patel before. He’s been recognized by Forbes as one of the top 10 marketers and you may have heard of him through the Wall Street  Journal, or even Entrepreneur magazine. One of his websites is neilpatel.com which is where you can learn strategies of all kinds to build your brand, your audience, your marketing campaigns etc. If you haven’t been there, make sure to check it out.

So I asked Neil a few questions that I thought might be helpful to anybody who needs help with the two main topics that I had mentioned in my response (backlinking and behavior signals). Here’s what he had to say:

QUESTION 1:     What resources do you recommend for learning how to backlink?

There are two resources worth checking out. The first is the Advanced Guide to Link Building, http://www.quicksprout.com/the-advanced-guide-to-link-building/ and the second is Backlinko. Both of them are great resources for newbies and advanced SEOs.

QUESTION 2: In your opinion, what are the best ways to get engagement to a website? (Entertaining blogs? Social Media presence? Offering games/prizes? etc. etc.)

The best way is by creating a great product or service. Sure you can also use creative content pieces like quizzes, but nothing beats having a great product or service that is unqiue.

QUESTION 3: Can you make a recommendation for someone new to SEO?

Don’t try to do it all. It can be overwhelming and time consuming. Focus on a few SEO elements first, and once you nail them then focus on expanding.

I, (we’re talking about me, Erick again) think this is some great advice. I took Brian Dean’s course, SEO That Works, and it took my SEO to a new level. I also subscribe to Neil’s blogs because I’ve been able to use what he has to say and it’s worked for me.
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With regard to engagement, he makes a very good point. A great product/service will sell itself. Have you ever referred another person on the basis that what they had to offer was good? (such as I did with Phil Rozek, David Mihm and Andrew Shotland, and as they did too). They offer something that works!
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With Neil’s last response, I can see where he’s coming from. If you try to do everything in SEO all at once, you might have a rough time. There’s A LOT to learn. I got my start in SEO with on-page ranking factors. I learned about page titles, keyword density and headers. I was able to build my knowledge from there with internal linking, backlinking, page speed etc. My knowledge of SEO became more and more advanced.
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What do you think are the most important local search ranking factors?
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What are your resources for Local SEO?

1 Comment

Local Search Forum

January 15, 2015 at 5:00 pm

Deciphering Local Search with the Pros – Phil, David & Andrew (By Bird Marketing)

Erick Racedo over at The Bird Marketing did a great overview of the Local Search Ranking Factors and interviewed top local search experts with a series of pertinent questions. He interviewed: Phil…

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