Thoughts On Local Search Ranking Factors

by Chris Silver Smith

David Mihm’s once again posted his fantastic yearly survey of local search ranking factors for 2010, scored by surveying a lot of us who do online local marketing professionally. What’s particularly cool about the survey is that he also posts a calculation indicating how much we’re in agreement along with how positive/negative we consider any given factor.

The Local Search Ranking Factors

It may be mildly confusing for newbies who want to know what they should do in order to improve local business listing rankings within Google, and I’d say that small differences the weighting of the various scores are nearly immaterial.  Rarely does a marketer do only one thing when optimizing a business listing/profile/website — we usually find it advisable to do a handful of beneficial things as soon as possible in order to derive maximum benefit quickest.

I say that the relative weighting we give local ranking factors is nearly immaterial, in part because Google and the other search engines are frequently making small adjustments to the 200+ ranking factors that they use. Some of the main elements of Google Maps ranking signals are not going to change all that dramatically, however — they may change the influence of particular ones incrementally or slightly, and in most cases very few individuals will actually notice that one signal has become slightly stronger/weaker than another.

If you are a newbie at local marketing, or a busy small business owner, the portions of the study which you ought to pay closest attention to include: factors which we deemed the “most positive” or “most important”; and the factors which we considered “most harmful”.

If you have limited time and resources to do everything that’s potentially beneficial for your Google Places (and Yahoo! and Bing) listing and website, then just start out with the stuff we considered the most-positive while avoiding doing things we agreed were most-harmful. For Google Places listings, you should definitely read Google’s quality guidelines carefully and perhaps look over Mike Blumenthal’s chart of Google Places guidelines which were updated near the end of 2009. Drifting over into breaking one of Google’s rules can definitely impair your ranking ability!

Here’s a list of the top five most-important factors which we generally agreed upon in the survey:

  1. General Importance of Claiming Place Page / Local Listing.
  2. Business Address in City of Search.
  3. Associating Place Page with Proper Categories.
  4. Volume of Citations from Major Data Providers + IYP Portals.
  5. General Importance of Off-Page / Off-Listing Criteria.

I heartily endorse this list — if you’re looking to do a few things to beef up your potential for ranking properly, these items could get you above the pack of people who have done nothing at all.

Factor #5 in the list is probably the vaguest, since there are a lot of off-page or off-listing things which could be counted as parts of it. This includes links on other, 3rd-party sites, reviews, as well as other types of citations like the factor mentioned in #4, such as mentioning a business name and phone number or address. (For instance, a citation could be an article appearing in a local online newspaper site which mentiones the business name, address and phone number, yet does not link to the business’s website.) And, there are many other off-page factors as well.

As you accomplish the top factors, you may then proceed on to doing more of the other factors over time. Don’t become frustrated and think that you must do everything at once — iterative optimizations to your business listings/profiles will provide good value for you, without exhausting you.

When you’ve done the more straightforward stuff, seriously consider hiring a professional to assist you with further, subtler tactics. 🙂 While much of local SEO is not rocket science, there are a lot of variables involved, and having an expert help you exploit further advantages can help your ranking, particularly in highly-competitive categories/markets.

I think the survey is really great, and valuable to all within the online marketing community — a big thank-you to David for all the work put into assembling the information!


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