Local search has benefited consumers greatly over the past few years. Consumer local search behaviour has also changed over the recent years to support this, and the increase in users’ adoption rates for “near me” searches confirms this fact. Nobody uses a book anymore to find the phone number of the deli that’s a block away – all they do is Google it. (Behaviour that has prompted the impending death of the original physical YellowPages, come Jan 2019)
Our reasoning is this – since local search results are varied from generic ones, local search ranking factors are also likely to be different from generic search ranking factors. We’ve broken down all the possible factors for local SEO that Google might look at, before it chooses to rank a website/business in a certain spot.
It goes without saying that search ranking factors are hardly specific, and that it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint certain factors as the most important/relevant ones. However, good local SEO involves working on both on-page and off-page factors to get the best results for your/your clients’ website.
Here’s our list of local search ranking factors that Google takes into account while determining local organic search rankings in 2018. We’ve sorted each metric by its type for your ease. First up:
User Engagement and Behaviour
Google seems to focus on a few user engagement metrics to impact its local search rankings, especially in the long run. Let’s break it down further below.
Click Through Rate from SERPs
While it is confirmed that CTR helps improve the Google Ads Quality Score, the CTR being a local organic ranking factor is something that is the cause of much debate. SEO-ers still prefer to increase this by having optimized title and meta descriptions, since it is believed that Google definitely pays attention to the CTR percentage.
Business Name Search Volume
The search volume of your business name might give search engines just enough data about your prominence as an authoritative name in the industry. Since Google is all about being for the user and not the marketer, this might help you rank better, being identified as a reputable source.
Google pays a lot of attention to this metric and gives users data about bounce rate of every single webpage in Google Analytics. A low bounce rate, much like a high CTR, is likely a factor to help Google analyze which webpages users seem to like/read more than others.
Proximity of Address to the Point of Search (Searcher-Business Distance)
The distance between the searcher and the business is an undeniable ranking factor, since “near me” searches makes direct use of the location data of a business, and since the Google Pigeon update directly deals with this. The number of “near me” searches have also exponentially increased over the past few years, so search engines will want to give the users exactly what they want, when they want it.
On-page optimization often occupies the first spot on the to-do list of local SEO-ers. Take a look at the things that you need to focus on a page level below.
City and State in H1/H2 tags
Making sure that your homepage’s h1 and h2 tags contain the city and state where your business is present is key to optimizing your website. Most local SEO-ers start from this, and consider this a top ranking factor as well.
Having optimized content on your webpages that talk about the product/service that you’re selling is a key ranking factor for local search, thanks to Google’s Hummingbird algorithm change, which “looks deeper at content on individual pages”.
Low Quality Content
Google has confirmed that moving low quality content to a different domain and focusing on building high quality content for your website will improve your search engine rankings in the long run.
Geographic Keyword Relevance
With on-page significance being deemed as the second most important thing to focus on (20.3% weightage) by several SEO experts, the addition of geographic keywords to your on-page optimization plays an important role in your local organic ranking.
NAP in Schema
Google’s updates to include local schema as a factor in September 2016 makes the addition of your business’ NAP something you need to pay attention to.
Page Authority (PA) is a score that was introduced by Moz to determine the authority of not just a website, but to judge how well a webpage is likely to rank on a search engine. Paying heed to it and optimizing to get a better PA for webpages that you design can help you increase your chances of ranking higher on SERPs.
Google’s Caffeine update is all about giving users fresh data when they want it. This, in association with the fact that Google takes QDF into consideration, can help fresh content reach users better than old ones. On a local search level, this may come in handy when, say, everybody is searching for HVAC businesses during the beginning of summer and you provide content that helps solve users’ queries during this point in time.
Domain level factors also play a key role in determining your website’s ranking.
While DA (Domain Authority) is not a score that Google looks at to rank businesses – however, it is one of the most straightforward metrics that help you determine how authoritative you’re likely to be seen by search engines. A higher DA is something that you need to try and achieve if you’d like to improve your local organic rankings, much like your Page Authority.
Presence of Keyword
The presence of the keyword/phrase that you want to rank for in your domain URL helps search engines rank you for the right local keywords.
Local Business Schema
Schema is a joint effort from the top search engine makers to improve a user’s experience on search engines. The fact that there is local business markup available for businesses to use on their websites compels us to believe that it is a local ranking factor. This is how an example local business markup looks like.
Domain age has been the source of much debate amongst SEO-ers as a ranking factor, but most people conclude that it doesn’t play a big role. It doesn’t hurt to have an established domain for your website, however.
Google looks at site level signals to determine your rankings as well. Here are some of the factors that you may want to take a look at.
Google is surely all in support of the idea of website owners building mobile responsive webpages to improve user experience. The fact that they have something called a Mobile-Friendly Test and that most local searches are made on mobile devices lead us to believe that this is a local organic ranking factor.
Google has confirmed that the TLDs are not a ranking factor and that new TLDs are not given any particular advantage over older ones. However, it is possible that geo-tags in TLDs like “.us” could help search engines understand that your website has been originally intended to serve US users, thus helping in local search rankings.
Citations and Listings
The presence of a verified GMB listing, reviews, and citations on other websites, are undeniable ranking factors when it comes to local search. We’ll break this down further in the points below.
Verified GMB Listing
There’s no better source for letting Google know what your business does than by linking out to your website from a verified Google My Business listing. Beyond just this, your Google My Business listing plays an important role in helping Google pick up signals about review citations, image data and the accuracy of your location data.
A structured citation is one that is found in directories like Yelp, TripAdvisor, FourSquare, etc. Structured citations from reputed domains are often found in the top results of local searches, making them one of the biggest local SEO organic ranking factors.
Unstructured citations from sources like newspaper websites, blogs, etc. also contribute to local ranking. Unstructured citations with valuable information about the business is likely a positive local search ranking factor. The quality of the unstructured citation’s source could also play a big role in determining the value of the citation, this making a citation from a high DA newspaper blog significantly more valuable than one from a low DA website blog.
Online reviews definitely play a role in improving a business’ local organic rankings.
GMB Landing Page URL
The GMB landing page URL is the webpage that is directly linked out from your website’s GMB listing. While the GMB landing page is your website’s homepage in most cases, it may differ for enterprises who host several branches’ landing pages on one website or a company that has a website with physical stores named differently as well.
SEO-ers believe that the quality of the GMB landing page is a huge local search ranking factor. Some of the aspects of the GMB landing page that website owners are recommended to focus on are:
- Add city/state name in it
- Reduce load time
- Add NAP information to the headers and content
- Build more links for it (to improve prominence)
- Add information product/service that you sell to it
Consistency of NAP on the website and listing
Having consistent NAP on your website and listings helps Google determine that your data is prominently and accurately available to users.
Proper category associations are one of the most prominent local ranking factors, especially since this directly helps Google realize what your company does. Accurate category association followed by sub-category association is considered to be a major ranking signal. The fact that Google is keen on users providing accurate category data helps lend more proof to the theory.
Much like the usual organic search factors, your website’s link profile is a huge local organic search ranking factor. Let’s break it down further.
Quality of Backlinks
Backlinks from high DA websites are still one of the top factors for local SEO. It is an absolutely confirmed fact that Googlebot looks at links to your site, and SEO specialists still work on building backlinks from authoritative domains as a major part of SEO.
Number of Backlinks
While a large number of backlinks from low DA websites definitely does not help a domain as much as backlinks from high DA websites, it still makes a positive impact on your authority. It is imperative, however, that the backlinks you earn are from a non-spammy source. It is to note that Google has confirmed that backlinks from very low DA sites do affect your rankings negatively, however.
Backlink Relevance and Anchor Text
Google pays attention to the anchor text that contains your links, and that’s proof that the relevance of your backlinks is a definite local ranking factor. Ensure that the anchor text that is the source of your backlinks has your product/service mentioned in it (but not necessarily always) to help you rank for that local search term.
Prominence on Relevant Domains
Google local search has now evolved to be all about 3 things – relevance, distance and prominence – and most believe it to be in that very order. We know that Google definitely looks at the volume of content on your website (Google Hummingbird). In addition to this, having a presence on several other domains with inbound links is a great way to show your prominence, even just locally.
Nofollow links neither affect your rankings positively or negatively.
Business Title in Anchor Text of Inbound Links
Branded anchor text is one of the most common anchor texts that you get inbound links from when you earn organic backlinks. Since the business title is mostly likely going to be the branded anchor text that you receive on your backlinks, this might help push the needle when it comes to your business’ local organic search rankings.
That’s our list of local search ranking factors! Feel free to send a mail to email@example.com if you have suggestions for more factors that we can add here.