Local Search Ranking Factors 2011 are out! That’s probably one of the biggest events of the year in our small “local” world. This year David Mihm invited more than 30 Google Places and local SEO specialists to express their opinion on the major factors that determine the local search rankings. The list of gurus includes Mike Blumenthal, Matt McGee, Linda Buquet, Mary Bowling, Mike Belasco, Dev Basu, Chris Silver Smith, Andrew Shotland, Steve Hatcher, Miriam Ellis, Mike Ramsey and others.
This year, as expected, the ranking factors were divided into two separate lists: 1) Pure Local Factors (when the Place page is not merged with the website on the results page) and 2) Blended local factors (when the website and Place page are merged on the results page). The importance of the particular ranking factors greatly varies for the two different search result types. However, David Mihm summarized the ten most influential ones overall:
1. Physical Address in City of Search
2. Manually Owner-verified Place Page
3. Proper Category Associations
4. Volume of Traditional Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)
5. Crawlable Address Matching Place Page Address
6. PageRank / Authority of Website Homepage / Highest Ranked Page
7. Quality of Inbound Links to Website
8. Crawlable Phone Number Matching Place Page Phone Number
9. Local Area Code on Place Page
10. City, State in Places Landing Page Title
Although these were agreed on by a number of specialists in the field of local search, I have a different view on a few of the points. I want to note that I speak solely from my personal experience and observations. For a different perspective on the ranking factors, you might also be interested to see the comments in this discussion - make sure you read the post by Matthew Hunt.
1) Missing factors
There are a few factors that I consider missing. I am not sure if they were all together overlooked or thought of as unimportant. Whatever the case, I’d like to mention them:
- consistency of NAP (name, address, phone) – I’d consider it probably one of the top 5 factors especially in the “pure” results
- diversity of citation domains
- diversity of review domains
- quality of inbound links to citations
- location keyword/address in citation URL
- product/service keyword in citation URL
- business name as appearing on Place page in citation URL
- title tag of landing page specified in Places (check out this research by Mike Ramsey)
- click-through rate
- meta description of landing page specified in Places – minor importance, but probably higher value than most of the factors after position 70
2) Factors that I consider are with minor or no value for the ranking (and therefore I think they should be represented lower in the ranking factors lists or not represented at all). The first number is how they ranked in the Pure Search Factors list and the second – in the Blended Search Factors list.
- Volume of MyMaps / MapMaker References to Your Business (34, 56) – isn’t the main change Google made in October 2010 the removal of MyMaps as a ranking factor?
- Popularity (# of Views) of MyMaps References to Your Business (59, 58)
- Location Keywords in Place Page Custom Fields (37, 46) – I have seen custom fields spammed with hundreds of location/product/service keywords and Google didn’t seem to care
- Matching Google Account Domain to Places Landing Page Domain (39, 49) – I don’t really think this is a factor as far as search rankings are concerned. Probably its highest importance comes in resolving controversies about the ownership of a particular Place page
- High Numerical Ratings of Place by Google Users (e.g. 4-5) (45, 53) – I have encountered many cases in which very low-rated businesses rank higher
- High Numerical Third-Party Ratings (e.g. 4-5) (49, 63) – same as above
- Inclusion of Coupon on Place Page (66, 70) – again, I have seen Place pages spammed with literally hundreds of coupons – Google didn’t seem to care, either
- Number of Likes on Matching Facebook Page (73, 69) – Facebook likes and Twitter followers don’t seem to be a ranking factor just yet; yes, Facebook likes and especially tweets affect the results for social network “acquaintances” but in a general, non-biased search, they are still not factors
- Number of Followers on Matching Twitter Account (75, 78)
- Authority of Followers on Matching Twitter Account (76, 75)
- Velocity of New Facebook Likes (77, 77)
- Velocity of New Followers on Matching Twitter Account (79, 79)
- Participation in Boost or Adwords (78, 76) – Google states it clearly – these are not factors
3) Overestimated factors
- Manually Owner-verified Place Page (3, 5) – I have seen so many unclaimed Place pages ranking very high in the last few months that I consider it a rather mediocre factor. Especially regarding blended search. I think that Matt McGee agrees on this one.
- Product / Service Keyword in Place Page Description (10, 35) – I haven’t seen a real proof that Google has ever penalized a business for keyword stuffed Place Page description. Therefore, I come to the conclusion that Google does not care too much about what is included there and does not consider it a major factor.
- Volume of Native Google Places Reviews (16, 28) – this is definitely a factor, especially in Pure Search, but I think it is less important than third-party reviews, which are ranked 20. Also, this factor is going to be decreasing in importance.
4) Underestimated factors
- Proximity of Address to Centroid (8, 23) – I’d say that this is in the top 3 most important factors. And not only regarding the city centroid, but the overall proximity of the address to the spot that the search query has been sent from (especially valid in mobile search). Check out this recent post by Andrew Shotland, regarding the “tightening of the Google Maps radii”
- Product / Service Keyword in Business Title (9, 19) – I have seen with my own eyes, tens of times, low-ranking listings that do not have keywords in their business titles rocket right to page 1 in less than 24 hours when you add these. It is spammy and it gets the business suspended pretty soon, but it DOES work perfectly well. For both types of search results.
- Location Keyword in Business Title (12, 37) – same as above.
I’ve started researching these controversial points and I will be publishing more detailed opinions on the NGS Marketing website in the upcoming months.