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Many different types of businesses benefit from local SEO. For example, if you own a home service business (flooring, hvac, plumbing, remodeling, etc.), there’s a good chance that you get quite a few leads from local organic searches on Google (and if you don’t, you should talk to an expert SEO consultant). What many business owners don’t realize is just how frequently Google and the other search engines change and update their local search results and ranking algorithms. And if you don’t keep up with the changes, you might find that one day the phone just doesn’t ring as frequently as it did before (and the time required to ‘get back in the game’ could be painfully long).
Over the past two months, there have been over 30 (known) algorithm updates at Google. In a quest to improve the quality of their listings, the search engines are constantly adjusting and fine-tuning the way they display local results as well as the way they determine which businesses rank where organically. For example, Google has implemented “blended place searches” (see Fig. 1) where they show a list of local businesses mixed in with their more traditional organic results. They’ve also migrated Google Places pages to Google+ Local – likely an attempt to boost the popularity of Google+, their social network. But it’s not just Google shaking things up – Bing has launched a series of updates from social search to their recent content deal wth Yelp (more on this later).
If you’re like most business owners, you wear many hats. Between running the company, dealing with day-to-day issues, and still trying to make time for your family, there’s just not much free time left at the end of the day. However, as search engines like Google update their local search ranking factors, it’s important that you educate yourself so that you don’t fall behind the competition. We can help!
Read on to learn more about the local ranking signals that matter and what you should do to stay on top!
Local Ranking Signals
This year, local SEO guru David Mihm, did a survey of 41 SEO professionals in an attempt to determine what the most important local search ranking factors are, compared to last year (2011). Each SEO expert was asked to rank 90 possible positive factors and 18 possible negative factors that drive Google’s Local Search algorithms.
They were asked to evaluate this based on the following question: When Google ranks a business in its Local Search results, I believe this is the ____ overall most important factor in those rankings.
SEO Survey Says
David’s survey broke things out into a couple different categories such as Overall Specific Ranking Factors, General Signals, Place Page Factors, On-Site Factors, Off-Site Factors, Review Factors, Social/Mobile Factors, and Additional Factors / Suggestions.
Top ten overall specific ranking factors (top factors taken from each individual category listed above – Place Page Factors, On-Site Factors, etc.):
- 1. Physical Address in City of Search – on the company’s Place page
- Proper Category Associations – on the company’s Place page
- Proximity of Address to Centroid – on the company’s Place page, up 15.8 since last year
- Domain Authority of Website – on the company’s website, down 1.75 since last year
- 5. Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators) – off-site specific
- City, State in Places Landing Page Title – on the company’s website, down 1.75 since last year
- 7. Quantity of Native Google Places Reviews (with text) – in company’s Google Reviews, up 16.67 since last year
- Quality/Authority of Structured Citations – off-site specific
- Local Area Code on Place Page – on the company’s Places page, up 14.04 since last year
- 10. HTML NAP Matching Place Page NAP – on the company’s website, up 11.41 since last year
Thoughts & Analysis
As our local SEO experts review the survey results, a few things stand out. It’s amazing how many local businesses neglect to put their address and contact information prominently on their website(s) – yet several of the factors above specifically mention physical address (including number one!). Our SEO specialists were quick to point out that, as they review the list above, business owners should consider whether the ranking factor is easy/non-technical vs. difficult, long-term, and/or technically complex. For example, it would be relatively easy for almost any business owner to change their business category on Google+ Local. Improving a website’s domain authority is a far more technical, long-term task.
Another thing worth considering is what’s important today vs. what is likely to be important tomorrow. SEO is a zero sum game. In order to leap frog your competitors, you need to stay one step ahead of them. To do that, you must constantly be asking the question, “what factors will the search engines use to rank sites in the future?” Business reviews and social media shares may not rank near the top of the list today, but their importance will almost certainly increase. Getting reviews and building a socially connected community for your business are not the type of things that can be accomplished overnight, so you’ve got to start working on them now (even though, arguably, the work you do won’t produce an immediate ROI).
Additional Takeaways for Local Businesses
What do these findings mean for your local business? No SEO company knows exactly how the search engines’ algorithms work (that’s right – don’t believe the spam emails you receive!). However, top SEO companies like Blue Corona, study hundreds of ranking signals across thousands of companies. We review data from surveys like David Mihm’s and watch for patterns and trends. Each of the 10 ranking factors represent an opportunity to improve your company’s visibility in the local organic search results.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re running a $50MM local plumbing company or a mom and pop contracting business. Every local business can take the results of the survey and improve their website and/or Google+ Local page. Of the factors above, some are easier to adjust than others. For example, the domain authority of your website isn’t something you can change overnight – nor is it something most business owners understand. However, there are other high level local search ranking factors that are easily actionable.
Take Action Now
Here’s a short list of things you should do NOW to improve your local search visibility:
- Ensure that your Name Address and Phone Number (NAP) is correct and consistent. When it comes to local SEO, keeping your name, address, and phone (NAP) is one of the most important things you can do to get and maintain a high organic rank. In addition to having this information correctly displayed on your website, you must also ensure that it is listed correctly across the web. We refer to additional NAP listings as “citations.” For more information on NAP and it’s importance for ranking well organically, read this SEO FAQ.
- Ensure that your physical address and phone number, including the area code, are listed on your website. If possible, list other service areas in order to increase the likelihood that your company will appear in the Google Local Search listings. The closer your physical address is to the city of search, the better.
- Having proper category associations came in second for the overall specific ranking factors for a reason. Google+ gives your company the ability to categorize your industry with specific labels such as “HVAC Contractor” or “Home Builders.” You can select more than one category, but they will determine how your company will appear in search results in your area.
There are other ways that the Local Search Ranking Factors survey can benefit small businesses, too. In addition to listing the entire top 90 ranking factors, the results are also broken down by general signals, place page factors, off-site factors, on-site factors, review factors, and social/mobile factors. This segmented data can help your company optimize every avenue of your online presence to make it more effective.
If you’re interested in learning more about this data and how your company can use it to its advantage, contact Blue Corona today!
Read the entire survey here.
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
View more blogs by Ben Landers