Bizible, a start-up that makes local marketing software for SMBs, approached me recently* to preview the results of a Google Places Ranking Factors study they had conducted and I was intrigued enough by their findings to share some of them here.
Bizible’s team is made up of former Bing AdCenter guys and counts a PhD and a stats expert on their staff, so their study is a more scientific attempt to figure out what’s going on with Google Places than your typical “here’s what some SEOs think” kind of thing.
For methodology, they studied 30 potential ranking factors by querying approximately 20 cities across approximately 20 local categories (about 400 search terms), looking 30 results deep in Google Places rankings. They looked at each factor in isolation and then looked at them in combination to see if there were any multiplier effects.
While there are likely some holes in their methodology – for example, changing physical location of the browser might lead to different results (Bizible used a variety of IP addresses to try to mimic this), there’s no accounting for personalization or Google SPyW results and their approach sounds like something a quant geek might approve of. Their site has more detail on their methodology if you’re into that kind of thing. Also note the research was conducted before Google’s Venice Update which changed the way Google ranks URLs for local queries.
So what did them fancy PhD-types discover? Some interesting stuff.
The Bizible data shows a big difference in ranking factors between improving ranking when the local result were integrated in the main SERP page and when it did not make it in the 7 pack/5 pack/universal results.
Top 3 Factors To Improve Ranking For Pages In Integrated Results
- Places page category matches a broader category than that of the search (search for “pizza”, Places category = restaurant). This only applies of course if there is a broader category. This applies for both primary and secondary Places page categories.
- The search category appears in the business name (“Rocky’s Pizza” for a “Seattle pizza” search).
- The search category appears in the “at a glance” section.
Top 5 Factors To Improve Ranking For Pages Not In Integrated Results
- Having 5 or more Google reviews.
- Location term in “at a glance” section. (Seattle in “Seattle pizza”)
- Category term in Google review content. (pizza in “Seattle pizza” is in the contents of the Google reviews)
- Category term in business description.
- Category term in “at a glance.”
Other Interesting Nuggets
- Having a physical address in the city of the search did not turn out to be a strong ranking factor, only distance from centroid seemed to matter. So, if you are just outside the city and your address is not officially in the city, this didn’t seem to hurt any more than a business whose address was in the city, but just as far from the centroid.
- That said, for every mile away from the centroid, ranking dropped by .4 (4/10ths) of a position.
- An average Google Review score of 1 or less significantly hurt ranking (as expected), although the incremental increase in ranking as the review score increased from 2->3->4->5 ranking was negligible (interesting, no?).
- The presence of a business description did not help ranking, although having the search category in the business description did help ranking.
- Getting your 5th Google review significantly helped ranking, although incremental reviews between 1 and 4 and above 5 had a very small impact on ranking (you have to get 100+ of reviews for it to help ranking any more than just 5, so good news for much-loved businesses and review spammers).
According to Aaron Bird, CEO and Night Janitor at Bizible:
“For the integrated results, we found that on average, implementing all of these factors showed an increase in rank by about 2 positions, which is fairly significant for a 3/5/7 pack. For the non-integrated results, we found that on average, implementing all of these factors showed an increase in rank by about 9 positions, which good as well, given that we only went 30 results deep.”
I encourage you to review the initial report, Google Places Optimization – Local Ranking Factors (nice keyword targeting guys) at Bizible’s site. Over the next couple of weeks, they will be adding four more reports on different aspects of the results and Bird told me they may incorporate post-Venice data in a future study.
If you haven’t updated your Google Places Page categorization by now, what are you waiting for?
*Note: the author is not affiliated professionally with Bizible.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.