The “Other 20%” Of Local SEO: Advanced Ranking Factors
Last month, I highlighted 10 fundamentals of Local SEO, most of them involving techniques to ensure consistent, accurate business data at the major search engines, and some simple on-site recommendations. I compared those strategies with the football analogy of “blocking and tackling” — basic no-brainers that will lay the foundation for success in local search.
In fact, like so many other business phenomena, local SEO seems to follow the Pareto Principle: 20% of your optimization efforts (taking care of last month’s basics) will get you about 80% of your results, especially when it comes to ranking.
This concept was born out in Mike Blumenthal’s excellent “Cracking the Code” study last year, the most comprehensive quantitative study of ranking in Google Maps to date. We found that “simple” factors like business name and business category predicted ranking for less-competitive verticals (plumbing) but also that in competitive verticals with more signals around the web (restaurants and hotels), additional factors played a significant role.
While Mike’s study wasn’t conclusive as to exactly what those factors were, back to the Pareto Principle, I think it’s safe to call these factors the amorphous “other 20%.” Here are my speculations as to what they might include:
Most local search observers are no doubt familiar with the concept of citations by now — they are mentions of your business name, address, and phone number in proximity to each other. But just like links in organic SEO, it’s unlikely that a citation is a citation is a citation.
Google’s location prominence patent specifically lists “the highest score of documents referring to the business” as a ranking factor in its local algorithm. While the language is typically vague, I’d argue that “the highest score” refers to something akin to Trust Rank, or at the very least Page Rank.
In local search, a citation from a trusted website like a city or state government or even a commercial site like a Chamber of Commerce or city newspaper can often be the difference between #1 and not appearing in the seven-pack.
Inbound anchor text
The experts in this year’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey put “location keywords in anchor text” and “product/service keywords in anchor text” at #15 and #18, respectively, out of 41 positive factors. While I don’t disagree, this kind of specific keyword context can lead to some very powerful results.
However, its effectiveness may have been diminished by the recent Place Page update; certain searches I track that used to display authoritative OneBoxes now display three- and seven-packs.
MyMaps or other UGC
Chris Silver Smith wrote an excellent piece on MyMaps as a “longer-tail” optimization strategy back in October. His tips were spot-on, especially “use the same name for your placemarks as the business name to facilitate the My Map links to appear in the business’s Place page.”
Like Chris, ever since Place Pages came out, I’ve noticed more and more MyMaps appearing in the sidebar of a local business profile. They’re almost an extension of the idea of citations–more and more people mentioning a business’s information across the web provides Google with a stronger relevancy signal for that business.
Reviews on industry-relevant portals
As with MyMaps, this certainly seems to be a factor that’s dramatically on the rise. I noticed last month that Google started to increase the prominence and frequency of consumer sentiment displayed at the top of Place Pages. Almost every Place Page I see for businesses here in Portland returns some form of prominent sentiment–from restaurants to insurance agencies to hair salons to plumbers.
These sentiments typically come from reviews on well-known portals that are specific to a particular category, such as gayot.com and zagat.com for restaurants, healthgrades.com for dentists, and servicemagic.com for electricians. Broader portals like CitySearch, AngiesList, DexKnows, and SuperPages also appear regularly. Twitter may not be far behind as we enter the era of “Local-Social” search.
Reviews from power reviewers
Tip of the hat to Tim Coleman of Convert Offline, who posted this concept almost two years ago! While Tim may have been inspired by a temporary glitch at Google, I’m seeing more and more evidence that Google (and other portals like Yahoo and Yelp) may be giving more weight to reviews left by users with multiple reviews across multiple industries. It certainly makes sense as a spam-fighting technique and rewards users for giving Google (or the corresponding portal) direct content.
Time to roll up your sleeves!
Google’s Local algorithm seems to be getting more sophisticated across a number of categories, particularly since the Place Pages rollout. Whether this reflects a vertical-specific intelligence, or just an overall upgrade, what it means is that local SEO’s and small business owners are going to have to work harder than ever, earning that “extra 20%” via 80% of their efforts.
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