Still crazy (and powerful) after all these years
Since its inception, Local Search Ranking Factors report, created by local SEO services company Whitespark, has been recognized as the authoritative source of tactics that cause local businesses to rank highly in Google local results. Their survey method involved Whitespark assessing local SEO experts to gather feedback about which tactics worked best in the field when providing actual services for clients.
Whitespark released new editions of the survey each year from 2008 to 2015, compiling the results and providing commentary. After a hiatus in 2016, Whitespark brought the survey back this year, comparing results from previous years to highlight changes in local search over the past decade.
The results mostly reinforce fundamental local search techniques, even as we witness constant change in the Google and search industry landscape, but there are also a few notable changes:
New top-ranking factor: Searcher-Business Distance
Proximity of address to the point of search has overtaken Physical Address in City of Search as the top local ranking factor, largely due to the increasing dominance of mobile in search. While this may help in categories like restaurants, this factor is often next to meaningless in other categories. Your customers, for example, are looking for the best furniture store in town, not the closest one. The good news is, it’s not the only factor impacting rankings.
All about the links
This year’s report sees an increase in the importance of link building, the oldest ranking factor in existence. “Google is still leaning heavily on links as a primary measure of a business’ authority and prominence,” writes Darren Shaw, founder and president of Whitespark, “and the local search practitioners that invest time and resources to secure quality links for their clients are reaping the ranking rewards.”
Shifting priorities with citations
Whereas link building is a “competitive” factor in local search ranking, meaning it is important specifically because it can differentiate you from your competition, citation building is a “foundational” factor that is necessary for a listing to rank at all. A citation is an online reference to your business’s name, address and phone number. Like links to your website, Google uses them when evaluating the online authority of your business. Although a foundational factor, citation building has declined in importance as of 2017 and is unlikely to move the needle for most businesses.
Google: front and center?
There is of course no better choice if you have to pick the one web site that matters most for local. A good Google local ranking used to equate to an effective presence on consumer destination sites like Yelp, Citysearch and Superpages. This is no longer the case, however. These sites have been replaced by platforms and apps such as Facebook and Apple Maps that offer their own proprietary local search. At the end of the day, a high Google local ranking is only a proxy for actual store visits and sale. To be truly optimized for local search, businesses need to consider the “non-Google” factors affecting your online presence.