SMX West session: The definitive guide to local search ranking factors
SMX West 2017 kicked off with a bang, front-loading a Local SEO track with a ridiculously data-packed session from Andrew Shotland and Dan Leibson from Local SEO Guide.
Last year, Shotland and Leibson decided to conduct their own study on local ranking factors, since the most-cited study on the subject relied on the opinions of SEOs rather than on any objective data. In this session, they shared the results of their analysis of that study and more.
Shotland and Leibson looked at over 100 factors across 30,000 businesses, resulting in over 1.5 million data points. They partnered with Places Scout, a local SEO tool company, to pull the data, then had “actual Ph.D.s” interpret their data.
More importantly, they had what’s sure to be the most epic “about me” slide in any presentation at this year’s conference:
Proximity matters — but not the way you think
The results of their study backed up the findings of this year’s Local Search Ranking Factor study from Moz, released a few weeks ago. Both indicate that proximity is a huge factor in determining local search results. Leibson suggested it’s more complex than simple proximity, though. They believe that there’s a top tier of local results determined by relevance and prominence, and then proximity is used to determine the order of those results.
Leibson showed several examples of searches for nearby businesses where the three results in the map pack appeared to be ranked in order of closest proximity, but then he showed a wider map view that showed other options that were closer to the point of search. These were presumably not in the top tier of relevance and prominence.
The strongest factors for map pack ranking
According to the presenters’ research, Google My Business “authority” has a strong correlation with pack rankings. Businesses with more reviews, those with photos uploaded to GMB, and those with the searched keyword in the actual business name will rank higher.
The highest on-site factors were the number of words on the GMB landing page (the page that the GMB listing links to) and the number of images on the GMB landing page.
Link metrics were also an important factor correlated with higher rankings. Sites with higher Majestic Citation Flow and Trust Flow tended to rank higher.
Shotland pointed out the interesting fact that sites with a higher Google Toolbar PageRank tended to rank better, even though that’s a deprecated metric. When the city name was included in the anchor text of links, that resulted in better rankings, as did including the searched keyword in the anchor text.
Location pages don’t cannibalize locators
They also answered the age-old location page question: Should businesses with multiple locations use a locator or individual location pages? According to their research, there’s no cannibalization.
Businesses actually ranked better if they included both. In fact, their data showed that businesses with locator pages and locations pages ranked for more terms than businesses with locator pages only.
You can optimize for ‘near me’ searches
The rise of voice search and digital assistants has changed the way that people search, and one of the biggest changes in local search is the increase of “near me” searches. Leibson explained that it’s possible to optimize for those searches with clever internal linking and optimized anchor text. He suggested that locator pages should include text like “Find more nearby stores” or “Find a retirement community near me.”
Their research also showed that there was a strong correlation between high rankings and businesses that had a higher number of native Google reviews and a higher number of links with the city in the anchor text.
Implicit and explicit searches are different animals
Leibson and Shotland presented some interesting data that indicates that Google treats implicit and explicit local searches differently. With implicit searches (without the geo term included), the keyword in the business name was very low in importance, while proximity was a huge factor.
For explicit searches (with the city term included), the keyword in the business name was an incredibly important factor, while proximity became one of the least important factors.
Anatomy of a good location page
After studying so many hundreds of thousands of results, the guys thought it was important to finish up by sharing a few examples of well-done location pages. They shared the following sites as the best examples of location pages (the links go directly to a page for an individual location):