Announcing the 2013 Local Search Ranking Factors Results

Posted by David Mihm

I’m pleased to announce the full results of this year’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey were published earlier this morning. (The pie chart below is just a teaser.)

Those of you who attended MozCon a couple weeks ago got a sneak preview of these results, but I’m guessing that few of you had a chance to fully digest them in the 14.2 seconds I spent on the slides in which I presented them. Let’s dive in!

If this is the first time you’ve heard of the Local Search Ranking Factors, most of the background can be found on the results page itself. I’ll highlight a couple of changes for this year:

  • As I was putting the survey together this year, I thought to myself, “You know, there’s really no single ‘local algorithm’ at Google anymore” — if, indeed, there ever was one. This year is our group’s first effort to help readers distinguish between the thematic signals that have more or less prevalence depending on the result type Google is showing (localized organic, pack/carousel, or maps).
  • Given that a large chunk of the audience for this survey over the years has been agency owners and agency representatives — at least judging by the emails I’ve received — I decided to try to cater to this audience a bit more this year. Guessing that most of you have already read previous surveys and understand the basics, I also asked the 35 experts to score the same factors according to what they felt made the most difference in competitive markets. So for those of you who already have the basics covered, pay attention to that second column of results.
  • I added personalization as a thematic signal to ask about this year. Frankly, I was surprised it wasn’t considered a larger factor on mobile results. Of all the factors on the list, I think this one will be the most interesting to revisit in 2014, as searchers and experts alike become more and more familiar with the new Google Maps.

By and large, the primary factors seem to have stayed largely the same for the past couple of years:

  • Proper category associations
  • A physical address in the city being searched
  • Consistent, high-quality citations from sources that are:
    • Authoritative
    • Trustworthy
    • Industry-relevant
  • Your NAP information featured clearly on your website
  • Your location as a keyword in title tags and headlines
  • A smattering of reviews on both Google and third-party sites
  • A handful of high-quality inbound links

Though I wanted to give the other 34 experts “the floor” on the survey page itself, I do want to comment about a couple of responses I found particularly interesting:

  • Despite Google’s massively-hyped integration of its Google Plus and Google Places platforms just over a year ago (a process that is far from complete, by the way), social signals still seem to play a relatively small role in rankings — just 6.3% overall. But the consensus seems to be that the place to begin would be rel=author tag implementation. This was suggested as the #22 priority in competitive markets, versus #34 as a foundational priority, and several experts mentioned it in their comments.
  • Perhaps the most surprising factor was that reviews from authority reviewers were rated the #3 competitive difference-maker. If you’re in a competitive market, I’d encourage you to pay special attention to Google’s City Experts program, and think about checking out this Twitter/Followerwonk strategy I detailed in January.
  • As we move into a world where maps are becoming the local search paradigm, it’s remarkable to me just how little effect (less than 25%) the primary factors in traditional SEO — on-page optimization and inbound links — are judged to have on rankings.
  • Meanwhile, Google continues to emphasize these factors in its localized organic results (judged by the experts to be right around 50%), which should give businesses without a physical location some measure of consolation.
  • As far as negative factors go, call-tracking numbers and business name keyword-stuffing continue to be some of the most egregious offenses you can make in local search.

A couple of quick closing remarks:

Huge thanks to Derric Wise from UX/Design and Devin Ellis on our Inbound Engineering team for putting this beautiful-looking page together.

And, if you want to know more about this year’s survey, I would encourage you to sign up for Local University Advanced at SMX East coming up in just a few weeks. I’ll be speaking much more about tactics you can use to win on these factors in New York!

OK, that’s enough out of me for this year’s survey, anyway. As I do every year, I’m eagerly anticipating the discussion of the results in the comments!

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August 7, 2013  Tags: , , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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