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Top Local SEO Ranking Factors

July 13, 2017
Table of Contents

Local SEO is a popular marketing strategy that can help boost your business in online search results. If you have good local SEO, people will be more likely to find your business when they are searching for what you offer while in your area. This brings customers who are specifically searching for your business to you site, and potentially to your door.

But what exactly goes into the SEO rankings? In this post, we’ll discuss SEO ranking factors, but first, we would recommend you check out our previous post for more on what local SEO is [LINK] and how it can help your business. This will give you a better understanding of the concept itself before you dig into the factors that go into the rankings.

Luckily for us, the SEO masterminds at Moz conducts a yearly survey that they compile into a yearly Local SEO Ranking Factors report to help make our jobs easier. Then Search Engine Land did a comprehensive breakdown of Moz’s rankings, which has helped us put together our own summary below. It’s like a Local SEO Ranking Factors inception.

So, off we go!

Moz breaks its ranking factors down into five categories:

  1. General Ranking Factors
  2. Specific Ranking Factors
  3. Foundational vs. Competitive Factors
  4. Impact of the Possum Update
  5. Negative Ranking Factors

General Ranking Factors

The overall ranking factors include those that will positively impact both the local and localized organic search results. These factors represent the main area of a business’ focus. Moz’s survey included eight thematic areas for participants to consider. They included:

  • My Business signals (proximity, categories, keyword in business title, etc.)
  • Citation signals (IYP/aggregator NAP consistency, citation volume, etc.)
  • On-page signals (presence of NAP, keywords in titles, domain authority, etc.)
  • Link signals (inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, linking domain quantity, etc.)
  • Review signals (review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc.)
  • Social signals (Google engagement, Facebook engagement, Twitter engagement, etc.)
  • Behavioral/mobile signals (click-through rate, mobile clicks-to-call, check-ins, etc.)
  • Personalization

Out of these, survey participants found On-page Signals to be the most important, at 20.3 percent. Link signals followed closely with 20 percent even and My Business Signals rounded out the podium with 14.7 percent. The even spread of results shows how good local SEO is all-encompassing and should be well-rounded rather than focusing on a single area.

Related: How to Track and Measure Keyword Rankings for Deep Insights

SEO services

Each category of the Overall Ranking Factors could probably have its own blog dedicated to it. While local SEO is simple on the surface, it gets much more complex as you dig in. For instance, On-page Signals alone includes on-page local SEO elements like:

  • Title tags
  • Meta descriptions
  • Header tags
  • Page content
  • Images
  • Map
  • Name, address and phone (NAP) on every page (with schema markup, ideally)

Search Engine Land goes a step further and includes specific elements to illustrate credibility like testimonials, accreditations and external reviews. However, these are all basic elements you should have on your website, and most online directories for your business will allow you to include these elements as well.

Specific Ranking Factors

Specific Ranking Factors includes the local pack/finder and local organic results. According to Search Engine Land, local pack factors directly influence whether a business appears in the local map pack in Google SERPs. “Given the placement of the local pack directly below the paid search ads, this can be the most valuable non-PPC real estate on the screen. As such, we want to ensure we do all we can to optimize our ranking on these sites.”

The local map pack is the group of businesses that show up as dots on the map when you do a local Google search. While proximity does play a large part in whether or not your business will show up here. Moz’s survey found Proximity of Address to the Point of Search or searcher to business distance, to be the #1 result for local pack finder factors. But other factors include citation consistency, Google categories and several more.

Related: Local SEO Best Practices for Small Businesses

As for localized organic results, Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain was the top ranked local organic factor. Your sites domain authority is determined by external (meaning on other websites) links that lead to your site. Having your site linked on other sites is great for your business, but only if they link it correctly. It also matters where your link is coming from–is it on a credible source or a random webpage?

Other local organic factors include the quality/authority of these inbound links to your domain. Your business’ landing page is also critical. This is old-school SEO that involved optimizing your landing pages through things like page titles and meta descriptions. The list goes on to include the click-through rate from search results, topical (product/service) keyword relevance of domain content, the diversity of inbound links to domain and more.

Foundational Vs. Competitive Ranking Factors

This category was new to Moz’s survey this year to help companies figure out what to focus on in their ongoing local SEO optimization. It all starts with a proper foundation. Moz decided that many local SEO ranking factors are “foundational,” meaning they give your site a chance to show up in local search results, but once they are implemented, continuing to give them attention will not move the needle any further. Moz gives GMB categories as an example for a foundational local SEO ranking factor.

Search Engine Land summarized this to mean that when the foundation is solid, it is most likely an overall competition issue that is causing your business to rank outside of the visible pack. These competitive factors include:

  • Consistency of structured citations
  • Domain authority of website.
  • Quality/authority of inbound links to domain.
  • Quality/authority of structured citations.
  • Proper GMB category associations.
  • Physical address in city of search.
  • Quantity of native Google reviews (w/text)
  • Quality/authority of inbound links to GMB landing page URL
  • Click-through rate from search results
  • Quality/authority of unstructured citations (newspaper articles, blog posts)

As mentioned before, paying close attention to links will help to differentiate from your competition.

Impact Of The Possum Update

Your first question here might be “What is the Possum Update?” If so, Search Engine Land once again has a great breakdown on how Google’s so-called Possum Update (released in September 2016) changed the SEO game. Basically, the update seems to have targeted spam and ranking the local finder pack.

Related: The Ultimate Google Analytics IQ Study Guide

Moz’s survey asked participants what they thought were the five most important factors since the update. It found that Proximity of Address to the Point of Search (Searcher-Business Distance) was the most important factor to survey participants. This is because before the update, if your business lies just outside the area of search, Google Maps probably didn’t recognize it as being in the target search area. However, since the update, businesses are seeing a spike in rankings in these situations.

Interestingly, Proximity of Address to Centroid was the factor survey participants said they are focusing on less since the update. So according to survey participants, it is an overall area search that is more important than your business’ specific location. This is why it is important to make sure your search area is set properly when you are searching for a business.

Negative Ranking Factors

Looking at the list of the top negative ranking factors from the survey has some pretty obvious solutions. Here’s a quick breakdown of the top 10:

  1. Listing Detected as False Business Address. SOLUTION: Use your real business address. You don’t want to be caught faking it. It’s also just sketchy.
  2. Incorrect Business Category. SOLUTION: Your business pretty obviously won’t rank correctly if you assign it the wrong category. Get it right!
  3. Reports of Violations on Your Google My Business Location. SOLUTION: Simply comply withthe Google My Business guidelines to make sure you don’t receive any violations.
  4. Site Hacked/Presence of Malware. SOLUTION: You need good security on your website to prevent these issues. Do your homework and find good web security to keep your traffic from being redirected or stolen.
  5. Mismatch NAP/Tracking Phone Numbers Across Data Ecosystem. SOLUTION: Ditch the phone tracking, it can mess with your local SEO.
  6. Address is a PO Box, UPS Mail Store, or Other False Address. SOLUTION: Again, use your legitimate business address. You won’t rank if you have a virtual office, and you can’t fake it. Set up a space that you can legally claim before you list it on your business’ pages.
  7. Presence of Multiple GMB Listings in the Same Category with Same/Similar Business Title and Address. SOLUTION: If you have multiple locations using the same phone number, it could mess up your local SEO at some locations. See Search Englie Land’s Top 5 Issues Wrecking Local SEO For Multi-Location Businesses here.
  8. GMB Listings with Same Address/Phone Marked as “Permanently Closed.” SOLUTION: If you’re still open for business, you don’t want Google to say otherwise. This could point to a hack, so make sure you are secure.
  9. Presence of Businesses in the Same Category at the Same Address. SOLUTION: Just like you want to make sure you aren’t using a fake address, you want to be sure no one else is falsely using yours.
  10. Mismatch NAP/Tracking Phone Number on GMB Landing Page. SOLUTION: Make sure you keep a consistent NAP across your website, landing page and Google My Business.

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