As Google, the biggest search engine in the World Wide Web, is allocating much of its efforts in targeting local businesses (through its business service to be launched this July), the SEO world is also busy deciphering how its local search algorithm ranks local pages and listings on its search engine results pages (SERPs). A recent survey conducted by David Mihm, reveals some interesting facts and theories on the important factors that affect local search rankings.
As Mihm’s post is quite too long and would take you around three to four hours to read, we picked the only important ones which have the greatest impact in local organic search listings and rankings. These factors are also ranked based on our opinions and actual experiences when it comes to local search engine optimization . Factual data from Google are also cited to back-up some claims.
Important Factors that Affect Local Search Ranking
There are two most important pages to be optimized if you want to rank in Local Search: (a) your business place page, and, of course, (b) your website. There are also two major search optimization strategies you need to focus onto: (a) on-page, and (b) off-page.
In Mihm’s survey results, Review and Social are also mentioned as important factors that affect local search and he separates them from Off-page optimization, but in this list, we will include them as part of the off-page optimization factor. This is to simplify things as they are always part of the off-page component in every Local SEO campaign.
Top 3 Off-Page Factors
Out of Mihm’s long list of off-page factors, we picked up 5 areas that have great impact in Local search and applied a bit or our own version. They are the following.
1. Quality structured citations (listing of business name, address, and phone number) in IYPs (Internet Yellow Pages) or local web directories, and more varied website commendations. Originally, Mihm’s survey results listed Quantity of Structured Citations as the one of the major off-page factors that affects local search rankings. Our version emphasizes that quality listing is more important. With Google’s over-optimization update (Penguin), you can’t just list your business in any web directories.
Web directories with good reputation and high authority should be prioritized. One way to determine if you are listing your business in the right directory is when the directory site will ask you to verify your business location or address before it can be published. This is done to ensure that you are submitting a correct business name with its corresponding correct contact details.
Website commendations (back-links), on the other hand, should also come from trusted pages wherein target keywords are not solely used as anchor texts.
2. Quantity of positive reviews from various reliable sources. Product and service reviews somehow affect local search rankings as they are considered as the way customers rate products and services online. Also, positive reviews from highly trusted review sites don’t only improve your rankings in local search but also help your brand earn more trust and authority.
3. Quantity of positive feedback and reactions from social sites. This is more on social and mobile factors. High number of +1s, and reshares in Google+ can also affect local search ranking especially now that Google had already converted all its Places pages to Google+ Local pages. Signals from large social networks like Facebook and Twitter are still part of this equation.
Top On-Page Factors
These on-page factors refer to the optimization that needs to be done on the website itself and the business place page.
1. Domain Authority – The higher the domain authority of your website, the more chances it will appear on top of Google’s local SERPs. The domain authority can be directly affected by its page rank, its age, external back-links, and the like. Here’s what Nyagoslav Zhekov (one of the featured experts who shared their opinions on Mihm’s survey results) said about the importance of domain authority.
“This is a major ranking factor in any kind of search. I’d like to parenthesize though that authority is nothing without relevance. They always walk hand in hand. Even the most authoritative site would not have even one page ranking on first page if it has no page relevant to the particular query. Note that by “domain authority” I do not really understand and mean “PageRank” – the two are not interchangeable!”
2. City, State in Places Landing Page Title – This has to do with relevance as most search engines still look at landing page titles to determine which pages will be put on top of the search query result list. Placing your target City or State name on your page title still plays a significant role to rank in local search. Of course, search engines nowadays have already the capacity to determine if the page is crappy or not. City, State in Landing Page Title plus quality and consistent on-page information is the sure formula.
3. HTML NAP Matching Place Page NAP – Consistency of information must be observed both on your business website and business place page. Inconsistencies of your business NAP (Name, Address, and Phone Number) on your website or any other pages where your business is listed can result to poor search rankings. Here’s what Lisa Kolb said about the importance of the consistency of NAP information.
“Matching NAP+W still has to be considered a high ranking factor. None of the updates have diminished the importance of good, solid, respectable physical and internet presence.”
PLACE PAGE (Your Business Page in Google)
1. Proper Category Associations – This is surely one of the basic and most important factors that can help search engines and people to find your business page. Here’s what Nyagoslav Zhekov said about its importance.
“There is nothing that could tell Google more directly that particular page (no matter of a webpage, or a Place page) is relevant to particular keyword(s). If the proximity between searcher and business is the top factor in terms of local relevance, category on Place page is the top factor in terms of intent relevance. Some very notable examples could be cases in which a category is incorrectly associated with a Place page – only this factor could get the Place page ranking high even if the category is completely irrelevant (many examples in the big cities, where a listing for a business building outranks businesses that have offices inside it for searches relevant to the businesses).”
2. Age of Place Page – If you are focusing your optimization efforts on Google, then this is surely an important factor to consider. Here’s what Nyagoslav Zhekov had said.
“Age of the Place page is an indirect ranking factor. It is very important because of the way Google streamlines business data, which is everything but perfect and fast. It might take months, even years for Google to associate particular business information with the corresponding Place page. While they are trying to make the process faster, it currently takes at least a few weeks for any data to be associated with the Place page. Thus a brand new Place page has no chance to rank any close to the first few pages in the beginning of its life (exclusion for very low competitive local searches).”
Other important place page factors that affect local search rankings according to Mihm’s survey include Physical Address in City of Search, Proximity of Address to Centroid, and Local Area Code on Place Page.
Reference: Local Search Ranking Factors, http://www.davidmihm.com/local-search-ranking-factors.shtml#pure
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