From year to year, the only thing you can count on in local search results is change.
Last year’s survey corresponded almost simultaneously with the Pigeon algorithm update. We’re now one year in, and although no significant algorithmic changes have been reported since Pigeon, the Local Stack / Snack Pack results were fully rolled-out worldwide just prior to this year’s edition. Given that context, I asked respondents this year not only to rate ranking factors across pack and localized organic results, as in previous years, but also the specfic factors to which they were paying more (and less) attention to since the release of this interface.
As with last year’s survey, the individual factors listed in the results are consolidated to just the top 50 in each category.
As in recent years, the 2015 edition of this survey was divided into four parts.
I. General Ranking Factors
In this section, I asked participants to identify the influence of eight thematic clusters of ranking factors across the two primary types of Local results (localized organic, pack). In each case, they assigned a percentage of influence to all eight thematic clusters, totaling 100%. Businesses consistently ranked behind their competition in each of these types of results can use this section to prioritize their marketing efforts by theme.
II. Specific Ranking Factors
In part A of this section, I asked the experts to rank the top 20 individual ranking factors (out of a total list of 114) that have the biggest impact on pack/carousel rankings.
In part B of this section, I asked them to rank the top 20 factors from the same list, only this time to rank them based on impact on localized organic rankings.
In part C of this section, I asked them to rank the top 20 factors from the same list based on biggest impact in a competitive market, across both result types (pack and localized organic).
Results were then tabulated via inverse scoring, where the #1 ranked factor received the most “points” for that question, and the lowest-ranked factor received the fewest points. (The factors ranking outside the top 20 for all respondents ended up with zero points.)
III. Relative Change in Importance since Snack Pack / Local Stack
Here, I asked the experts to rank the five factors they were paying more attention to since the introduction of the Local Stack, and the five factors they were paying less attention to since that introduction.
Results were then tabulated via inverse scoring, where the #1 ranked factor received the most “points” for that question, and the lowest-ranked factor received the fewest points. (The factors ranking outside the top 5 for all respondents ended up with zero points.)
IV. Negative Ranking Factors
In this section, I asked the experts to rank 27 negative factors in order of most damaging to most benign.
My initial reaction to the results of this survey can be found here on the Moz blog. If you would like to comment on this project, please join the discussion here.
September 24, 2015
Overall Ranking Factors
(Categories, Keyword in Business Title, Proximity, etc.)
(IYP/aggregator NAP consistency, Citation Volume, etc.)
(Presence of NAP, Keywords in Titles, Domain authority, etc.)
(Inbound anchor text, Linking domain authority, Linking domain quantity, etc.)
(Review quantity, Review velocity, Review diversity, etc.)
(Google+ authority, Facebook likes, Twitter followers, etc.)
(Clickthrough rate, Mobile clicks to call, Check-ins, Offers, etc.)
Top 50 Localized Organic Factors
|1||Domain Authority of Website|
|2||Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain|
|3||City,State in GMB Landing Page Title|
|4||Click-Through Rate from Search Results|
|5||Topical (Product/Service) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content|
|6||Diversity of Inbound Links to Domain|
|7||Geographic (City/Neighborhood) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content|
|8||Physical Address in City of Search|
|9||Quality/Authority of Structured Citations|
|10||City, State in Most/All Website Title Tags|
|11||Consistency of Structured Citations|
|12||Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL|
|13||Product/Service Keyword in GMB Landing Page Title|
|14||Product/Service Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain|
|15||Proximity of Address to the Point of Search (Searcher-Business Distance)|
|16||Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain|
|17||Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Locally-Relevant Domains|
|18||Geographic Keyword in Domain|
|19||Location Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain|
|20||Page Authority of GMB Landing Page URL|
|21||City, State in GMB Landing Page H1/H2 Tags|
|22||HTML NAP Matching GMB Location NAP|
|23||Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Industry-Relevant Domains|
|24||Product / Service Keyword in Domain|
|25||NAP in hCard / Schema.org on GMB Landing Page URL|
|26||Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts)|
|27||Quantity of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL from Locally-Relevant Domains|
|28||Quantity of Citations from Locally-Relevant Domains|
|29||Business Title in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain|
|30||Volume of Searches for Business Name|
|31||Quantity of Citations from Industry-Relevant Domains|
|32||Loadtime of GMB Landing Page URL|
|33||Location Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL|
|34||Proper GMB Category Associations|
|35||Product/Service Keyword in GMB Landing Page H1/H2 Tags|
|36||Proximity of Address to Centroid|
|37||Diversity of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL|
|38||Velocity of New Inbound Links to Domain|
|39||Product/Service Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL|
|40||City, State in Most/All GMB Landing Page H1/H2 Tags|
|41||Quantity of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL|
|42||Authority of third-party sites on which reviews are present|
|43||Individually Owner-verified GMB Location|
|44||Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)|
|45||Age of GMB Location|
|46||Diversity of third-party sites on which reviews are present|
|47||High Numerical Ratings by Authority Reviewers (e.g.Yelp Elite, Google Local Guides, etc)|
|48||Velocity of Searches for Business Name|
|49||Bulk Owner-verified GMB Location|
|50||High Numerical Ratings of Business by Google Users (e.g. 4-5)|
Top 50 Local Stack / Snack Pack Factors
|1||Physical Address in City of Search|
|2||Consistency of Structured Citations|
|3||Proper GMB Category Associations|
|4||Proximity of Address to the Point of Search|
|5||Quality/Authority of Structured Citations|
|6||Domain Authority of Website|
|7||Product / Service Keyword in GMB Business Title|
|8||City, State in GMB Landing Page Title|
|9||HTML NAP Matching GMB Location NAP|
|10||Click-Through Rate from Search Results|
|11||Quantity of Native Google Reviews (w/text)|
|12||Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain|
|13||Individually Owner-verified GMB Location|
|14||Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)|
|15||Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL|
|16||Proximity of Address to Centroid|
|17||Location Keyword in GMB Business Title or Title Modifier|
|18||Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts)|
|19||Quantity of Citations from Industry-Relevant Domains|
|20||Proximity of Address to Centroid of Other Businesses in Industry|
|21||Quantity of Citations from Locally-Relevant Domains|
|22||GMB Primary category matches a broader category of the search category (e.g. primary category=restaurant & search=pizza)|
|23||Age of GMB Location|
|24||Page Authority of GMB Landing Page URL|
|25||Product/Service Keywords in Reviews|
|26||Product/Service Keyword in GMB Landing Page Title|
|27||Diversity of Inbound Links to Domain|
|28||Authority of third-party sites on which reviews are present|
|29||Driving Directions to Business Clicks|
|30||High Numerical Ratings of Business by Google Users (e.g. 4-5)|
|31||Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Locally-Relevant Domains|
|32||Bulk Owner-verified GMB Location|
|33||Local Area Code on GMB Location|
|34||Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain|
|35||City, State in GMB Landing Page H1/H2 Tags|
|36||Matching Google Account Domain to GMB Landing Page Domain|
|37||Quantity of Third-Party Traditional Reviews|
|38||Clicks to Call Business|
|39||Quantity of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts)|
|40||NAP in hCard / Schema.org on GMB Landing Page URL|
|41||Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Industry-Relevant Domains|
|42||Quantity of Reviews by Authority Reviewers (e.g.Yelp Elite, Google Local Guides, etc)|
|43||Product / Service Keyword in Domain|
|44||Topical (Product/Service) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content|
|45||Location Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain|
|46||Geographic (City/Neighborhood) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content|
|47||Positive Sentiment in Reviews|
|48||Overall Velocity of Reviews (Native + Third-Party)|
|49||High Numerical Ratings by Authority Reviewers (e.g.Yelp Elite, Google Local Guides, etc)|
Negative Ranking Factors
|1||Incorrect business category|
|2||Listing detected at false business address|
|3||Mis-match NAP / Tracking Phone Numbers Across Data Ecosystem|
|4||Presence of malware on site|
|5||Reports of Violations on your GMB location|
|6||Mis-match NAP / Tracking Phone Number on GMB Landing Page|
|7||Mis-match Address on GMB Landing Page|
|8||Presence of Multiple GMB locations with Same Phone Number|
|9||Absence of Crawlable NAP on Website|
|10||Address includes suite number similar to UPS Mail Store or other false addresses|
|11||Association of GMB account with other suppressed listings|
|12||Incorrectly-placed map marker in GMB|
|13||Presence of Multiple GMB locations with Same/Similar Business Title and Address|
|14||Keyword stuffing in business name|
|15||Absence of Crawlable NAP on GMB Landing Page|
|16||Listing 800 Number as Only Phone Number in GMB|
|17||Keyword-Stuffing in Title Tag of GMB Landing Page|
|18||Low Numerical Ratings of GMB location by Google Users (e.g. 1-2)|
|19||Keyword/city stuffed GMB Descriptions|
|20||Choosing to Hide GMB Address|
|21||Presence of Multiple Crawlable NAP on GMB Landing Page|
|22||Low Numerical Ratings of GMB location by Third-Party Users (e.g. 1-2)|
|23||Negative Sentiment in Google Reviews|
|24||Choosing Service Area for Business in GMB (as opposed to in-location visits)|
|25||Negative Sentiment in Third-Party Reviews|
|26||Multi-lingual GMB listings for the same place|
|27||Mis-Matched or Private WHOIS Information|
Top 30 Difference-Making Factors in Competitive Markets
|1||Consistency of Structured Citations|
|2||Domain Authority of Website|
|3||Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain|
|4||Quality/Authority of Structured Citations|
|5||Proper GMB Category Associations|
|6||Physical Address in City of Search|
|7||Quantity of Native Google Reviews (w/text)|
|8||Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL|
|9||Click-Through Rate from Search Results|
|10||Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts)|
|11||City, State in GMB Landing Page Title|
|12||HTML NAP Matching GMB Location NAP|
|13||Quantity of Citations from Industry-Relevant Domains|
|14||Diversity of Inbound Links to Domain|
|15||Quantity of Citations from Locally-Relevant Domains|
|16||Proximity of Address to the Point of Search (Searcher-Business Distance)|
|17||Geographic (City/Neighborhood) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content|
|18||Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)|
|19||Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Locally-Relevant Domains|
|20||Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain|
|21||Product/Service Keyword in GMB Landing Page Title|
|22||City, State in Most/All Website Title Tags|
|23||Location Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain|
|24||Topical (Product/Service) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content|
|25||Quantity of Third-Party Traditional Reviews|
|26||Business Title in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain|
|27||NAP in hCard / Schema.org on GMB Landing Page URL|
|28||Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Industry-Relevant Domains|
|29||Diversity of third-party sites on which reviews are present|
|30||Individually Owner-verified GMB Location|
10 Factors Experts Are Focusing on More Since the Snack Pack Rollout
|1||Quality/Authority of Structured Citations|
|2||Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain|
|3||Quantity of Native Google Reviews (w/text)|
|4||Consistency of Structured Citations|
|5||Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain|
|6||Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Locally-Relevant Domains|
|7||Domain Authority of Website|
|8||Proximity of Address to the Point of Search (Searcher-Business Distance)|
|9||Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL|
|10||Topical (Product/Service) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content|
10 Factors Experts Are Focusing on Less Since the Snack Pack Rollout
|1||Proximity of Address to Centroid|
|2||Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)|
|3||Authority of +1’s on Website|
|4||Number of Shares on Google+|
|5||Quantity of Citations from Industry-Relevant Domains|
|6||Quantity of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts)|
|7||Number of circles in which GMB location is contained|
|8||Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain|
|9||Authority of Shares on Google+|
|10||Diversity of third-party sites on which reviews are present|
Local Visibility System
In the past year or so, “local” seems to have come full-circle: it’s mostly organic SEO (read: links), Google local listings are primitive, and Google still won’t do anything about mapspam. What’s really changed in 10 years?
It’s nearly impossible for people to see your Google+ posts unless they search for your business by name. Google doesn’t include a link to your “Plus” page in the local pack. Google doesn’t even call it a “Plus” page anymore. Do you still believe being active on Google+ is a local ranking factor?
Local Search Forum
I don’t think what it takes to rank has really changed much – best practices still apply. The algo did not change IMO, mainly just the display and the fact there are fewer spots. From what I’ve seen, in most cases whoever ranked in the top 3 in the old 7 pack is still in the same order at the top of the new 3 pack. I know SOME consultants that even see this as an opportunity. If you are really good and usually get your clients in the top 3 (which should always be the goal anyway) then this update just knocked out 42% of your competition!
Oh my!!!! WTF!!!!!! The situation in local is changing very fast with massive changes. It’s overwhelming. The pack shrunk from a 7 pack to a 3 pack on August 6 and 7th this summer. As I’ve called it for a while, its a crap pack. No addresses. No links. No phone numbers in the desktop. A click to call in mobile. These results are non-informative. They simply don’t offer what consumers MOST want.
Google knows that. Its what Google wants. Its about Pay to Play.
And then on 8/30 a more explicit Pay to Play move by Google. Home services in San Francisco and other select cities in the Home Services Industry. NOT EVEN A CRAP Pack. Google replaced local results with a paid set of results. Google is killing or stripping, or making LOCAL far far far less important. But more critically from a rankings and visibility factor its about pushing all local businesses to be aware its a pay to play environment.
Google is eliminating all elements of a directory as we humans know it. Its an amazingly different environment. It is tough on small businesses, and I think its a rip off of consumers, who have been trusting in some type of non advertising directory for so many years. Its simply not that. Consumers have to realize that.
Bulwark Pest Control
On page signal is a funny thing when it comes to local search. Domain authority, in the traditional sense of power house top 100 domains, gets trumped by local relevance. Combine that factor with a couple of years of search user behavior and the resulting cocktail is hard to swallow for veteran SEOs. How does this local website with no SEO, no backlinks, crappy title tags beat us? Aggregate user data. Historical citation data. Hyper local signals. Forget being a small fish in the world wide waters, be a big fish in a local search pond.
The one concept which I felt was under represented is the importance of publishing fresh content both on your GMB Landing page and on your GMB page. I think if you look at the re-emergence of the Twitter / Google partnership it’s clear that Google is thirsty for fresh content and trying to find it anyway it can. Making it easy for Google by publishing new content gives Google two vital things. A signal that the page is still representing an “open” location and topical content it can apply in geographically relevant way to meet with it’s increased focus of personalized or context aware results.
I’m continuing my 5 year incorrect streak of where local search is headed… with the evolution of SERPS increasingly dominated by the large directories like Yelp and now Thumbtack. Snack Pack is another step away from the small businesses – concentrating even more SERP results on the middle man directories which frequently add little more than a slew of dubiously authentic reviews. In a hyper competitive market like legal, claiming the few remaining spots relegated to the actual businesses requires exorbitant retainers with sophisticated agencies Good for me, but bad for the industry as a whole – especially the smaller firms who can’t possibly afford to keep up.
In general, businesses that have been optimizing only for Maps results have been losing traction for quite a while, now. Recent changes in the Google algorithms may put the final nail in that coffin, especially if 3 packs do become sponsored ad positions. It’s ironic that links have become increasingly important for local business websites over the past couple of years just when so many marketers have become afraid to build links. Those who gain meaningful local links and couple it with strong on-page optimization, good site structure and useful content will thrive. I believe that some behavioral signals are effecting rankings – click-thorough rates from the SERPs, in particular, and probably bounce rates and time on page, too. There are some signals that can help in local rankings, but only if they are not overdone – things like location and product terms in anchor text and review text, for example. The challenge for many is having the restraint to not overdo something that works.
I believe that the future for local marketing is about SEP (search engine positioning) not simply SEO. No longer is it sufficient to be #1 on organic, in reality that’s the 7th result on the page (3 ad spots, 3 local spots). Instead, it is essential to think of all your SERP marketing positions. There are only so many searches for a service a month, the surest way to increase lead volume is to have as many spots in the SERP landscape as possible. So that means that to drastically change lead volume it is essential to be positioned on sites like Yelp, which rank very well organically, so that when someone clicks through to a “Best plumber in Irvine, CA – Yelp” link in the SERPs you’re positioned in the top 3 and maybe even a Yelp ad spot (if Yelp referral traffic converts well).
The key for local search in 2015 is a full understanding of the SERP for your industry and positioning yourself amongst every possible position. So if you were a high end restaurant that means you need to be testing a marketing mix where you allocate an ad buy across: Adwords, Yelp, and Trip Advisor (maybe even FB local awareness ads, running different offers for lunch, happy hour, and dinner). On the SEO side it crucial to focus your local search efforts on consistent top 3 position within the local pack and ranking well organically as well. If done correctly, you can move away from reporting on keyword rankings and move towards reporting on Search Engine Positions (SEPs), cost per acquisition, and ROI.
Solas Web Design
With only 3 results in in the local stack, Google is making even the largest metropolis look like a one horse town. This steady move toward ever-fewer local results doesn’t properly represent the diversity of businesses in most cities. We’ve gone from 10, to 7, to 3 businesses in the past few years. With the rollout of paid iHome Service Ad inclusion Google just debuted, I think the writing is now on the wall.
Local business owners will need to prepare to pay to play, while at the same time, diversifying their marketing outreach to be less Google-dependent. Reviews have become a major competitive difference maker, so you’ll want to be earning as many good ones as possible, particularly on prominent platforms like Yelp, and the basis of these reviews is right in your own store, in your interactions with customers. I would not be surprised to see digital-happy marketers taking a second look at more traditional marketing techniques to try to regain relationships that have just vanished with the universal introduction of the highly limited Local Stack. Diversify, diversify, diversify!
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Google understands intent very well and only cares about two things. What users want and ad revenue. We need to learn to read in between the lines. Notice on the desktop search results they provide two CTA options. Directions and website. Then on mobile search results they provide a CTA of ‘Call’. This tells you that location matters most to users. Users only care about location and phone numbers when location is a factor. What else is common in both mobile and desktop…? Reviews! Reviews matter to users when trying to make a snap decision on what local business they will call or visit.
Don’t only count on Google and Local SEO for your traffic. I learned a couple years ago how important diversification is. We had some clients who got hit badly by penguin penalties and we had to learn how to find alternative traffic sources that produced quality leads fast. Paid traffic is an excellent way to develop a predictable lead generation system and don’t just think PPC because paid traffic sources like Facebook is killing for many of our local clients now.
Google’s upgrade to Google My Business, was simultaneously the best and worst thing to ever happen for bulk-managed local listings.
It is wonderful to now have a more central data source for Google’s local listings, but with the new product has come a growing list of bugs. Google My Business is still a very new product, and while overall it is much better than its predecessors, Google Places and Google+ Local, its bulk features need to be improved, so the data can be managed at scale more effectively.
The new Google My Business product is moving in the right direction, but still needs a considerable amount of work when it comes to bulk management for multi-unit and franchise systems.
For instance, the centralization and merging of databases were foundational improvements, but it also revealed thousands of data and ownership conflicts, each needing its own resolution. Updates to listings are now publishing much faster, but at the same time, Google has limited the number of fields a manager is able to update in bulk, most notably the profile and cover photos. Google Insights reporting has improved aesthetically, but the data continues to be unstable.
And the list goes on, leaving SEOs thanking Google for the updates while questioning functional aspects that seem missing.
Localized Organic Commentary
Local SEO Guide
Localized organic rankings have almost nothing to do with GMB pages or GMB landing pages except in cases where the organic results get merged with pack listings which is not particularly common. I included items with “in GMB Landing Page…” because there were no options that were just “in URL”. You don’t need a GMB page or GMB landing page to rank in localized organic results.
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Google is ‘all cards in’ on mobile, so make sure your website is mobile-friendly (ideally responsive).
Always invest in your own website. Organic listings and rankings are still alive and well. This is your number one asset. Remember Google ranks and indexes webpages and not websites. There are lots of great long tail keywords a local business can rank for with minimal on-page SEO. Build more pages of great local content and get more traffic. Bigger websites almost always bring in more traffic.
Local Search Forum
If I could offer one piece of advice, it would be focus even more on good solid organic SEO. (Both onsite and offsite.) That will help boost your local ranking in the pack and/or Local Finder. PLUS even if you can’t make the 3 pack, it will help your organic ranking. Many consultants I work with say and some click tracking studies confirm, top organic beats top local ranking in some cases anyway.
One of the biggest things I see impacting organic ranking these days is the presence of content on your site that is semantically relevant to your industry. For example, I worked on a pediatric dentist who had no mention of things like “crowns” or “nitrous” or “invisalign” on their site even though they offer services relating to all those things. Adding more content related to the services a business provides has shown to have a positive impact their ranking and the amount of organic traffic they receive as a result.
When I get a business that is in a competitive market I almost always start by looking at what their competition has that they are missing. I specifically look at the content they have on their website and how Google might be using semantic keyword grouping.
I gave social signals 1% for organic impact because I do think it’s possible that they could impact ranking – I have just never seen a single case where they did. I always quote Matt Cutts where he indicated that when it comes to social signals it’s a correlation and not causation. Businesses that are active on Facebook also usually care about their ranking on Google and are actively trying to improve it. One doesn’t cause the other.
Bulwark Pest Control
Historical citation data did not appear in the list of multiple choice factors provided. I wish it would. I’d easily rate the historical citation data as one of the top ranking factors today. In turn, I used the the Age of GMB Location. Although the age of the actual google listing is only part of historical citation data.
for the top 20 snack pack rankings I added Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL as a primary factor. After the Pigeon update last year Google started to take more organic signals into consideration. Domain authority is important but it appears the link authority is gained from the page that is linking to the Google My Business page. So when trying to build links you need to consider the website URL you have connected to your Google My Business Page.
Regarding Category Assignment:
Categories are always mentioned as important but not talked about too much. Make sure you’re using proper categories if you want a chance to rank for your industry. For the most part I find that being specific is best. It’s pretty basic but since it’s not talked about too much I wanted to mention it.
Regarding Quantity of Citations from Industry-Relevant Domains:
One trick is to always do a search for your industry and see what websites Google is rewarding for your industry. If I’m looking for a personal injury lawyer and I see sites like Avvo.com, Lawyers.com, etc., rank in addition to other law firm websites, I will know that Google is putting a lot of authority in these sites. I want to get citations from them and they can vary depending on your geographic location or industry.
Regarding Physical Address in City of Search:
Like [David has] said about the user being the new centroid, you need to be located where the searchers are looking.
Based on some initial click test studies I did I found that users are very inclined to click on the results that have star ratings. More reviews seemed to correlate with more clicks. Now that there are only 3 listings displayed it makes sense to put an added focus on reviews. Even if you’re not ranking in the top 3, if the user selects the business title they’re taken to the map like listing page where more businesses are displayed. This gives you a chance to “steal” a click. So work on your reputation and you’ll likely see more click throughs.
Local Visibility System
For better or for worse, what’s in the “business name” field still matters to an absurd degree.
Google hasn’t even enforced its rule from last December about how you can’t add a “descriptor” to your business name (which was a reversal of its 2014 policy, which itself was a reversal of a years-long policy).
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If you want to save time and only focus on the citations that matter most, then on section that under the snack pack that says “more ____” with the hamburger menu. Then you’ll see 20 of the top listings. Click on each and then scroll down their listing until you see their “Web results”, those are the citations you want to acquire. Get those top ones first because Google is already sorting the best citations based on their algo of relevance.
Now that there [are] ONLY 3 spots, you need to make sure your citation info is clean and that you get more quality citations than your competitors. This has become more important than ever before.
I think it is really important that people know that the landing page URL they use on GMB is really crucial. Linking to an inner page or the home page is a decision you should make by checking to see which one ranks higher organically. Also for businesses that have multiple websites or domains, picking the right one can make a big difference in ranking. Provided it doesn’t break the guidelines in any way, I would say always go with the page that is ranking highest organically for the main term you are trying to rank for.
When it comes to reviews, I don’t believe it’s just the quantity of reviews that matters but also the age of them. If Google has 2 businesses that had 20 reviews but one of them had all 20 left in the last 6 months whereas the other had them spread over 4 years, I think the choice of which business to rank higher would be clear. I often see businesses with a few really old reviews ranking high without a ton of other important ranking factors in place. Staying 1 step ahead of your competition might be the best ranking factor you can look out for.
I chose quantity of inbound links to domain from locally & industry relevant domains over citations because a citation without a link is not as valuable. The proximity of address to the point of search matters a lot more on mobile than it does if the person searched from a computer.
The new SnakPak has made the business description in GMB fairly useless. It doesn’t appear anywhere visibly now that it’s almost impossible to get to the G+ page. I’ve seen many businesses + marketing agencies spend considerable time creating a really long description with hyperlinks to social media profiles etc. I would say at this point that is a complete waste of time.
Photos are more prevalent now on the Local Finder. Many businesses have really bad quality photos or stock photos on their listing which doesn’t help their conversion rates at all. The shrinking of the pack has really caused us to put more emphasis on organic SEO ranking factors like backlinks and onsite optimization. Now that there is more organic space above the fold I anticipate that businesses who have a good organic ranking will see a positive spike in traffic.
With Google getting rid of links to the G+ pages for most SERPs, the push for businesses to be more active on G+ has really died down.
Google My Business Location Commentary:
We, like I’m sure many other SEO firms have been testing against the claim by Google that keywords if used in the description field are NOT being considered as a ranking factor – and for us, in 2 out of 6 cases, that was untrue. Using tested and proven keywords for these 2 clients, we were able to gain ranks for those 2 single sites – and yes we used slight variations too! Why that did not work for the other 4 in our tests, at this point I’ve no idea, yet they should have done the same too. Of course this was for google.ca so your mileage may vary if you’re strictly a google.com firm…eh!
Local SEO Guide
Once you have the basics right, it’s all about links and anchor text!
The biggest tip I can give to the Local Search peeps out there is to get local links. After Penguin, pretty much everyone is just elephant hunting with their links – looking for the biggest, baddest DA sites and trying to get links from them. We’ve had crazy success going after what I like to call “the crappy little church websites” – small, hyper-local websites that carry tons of local relevance. Not only do the links carry a ton of local relevance, they’re unique because none of your competitors are going to go after them.
If you’re trying to show up in a nearby city that you’re not located in, start building local silos. Create little mini-silos of information in your site, all based around that city or neighborhood. Optimize the heck out of everything for that city, put blog posts out about that city, and get links from local businesses in that city – and make sure the links point to pages inside the silo. With just a little bit of work, you’ll see those silos start to rank in local searches.
Social Media is called social media – not buy crap from me media. Stop being a jack hole and trying to shove your products down your followers’ throats! Use social media to be social. Who cares if it actually helps your SEO – an active social media account and an engaged audience can do wonders for your bottom line.
Factors that are working well for you right now: With the recent snack pack-ization of local search results, particularly in legal, we have significantly increased our focus on improving our clients’ snack pack visibility. We remain acutely focused on acquiring quality/authoritative hyper-local & industry-specific links, as well as, consistency of both structured and unstructured citations. We’ve also greatly increased our focus on helping our clients earn high numerical ratings of their businesses by Google users. It’s simply not enough to have great visibility in snack pack results. Businesses that want clicks, calls and customers must earn positive reviews. Not only do customers / clients expect them, competitors with lower positions, but better ratings are winning attention over businesses with higher positions that lack positive ratings.
In competitive markets, unstructured citations/links from local newspapers, blogs, and magazines are essential (if you have all your ducks in a row). After doing the essentials (citation clean up, implementing JSON, on page SEO, site behavior), we focus on building local relevance and authority via high quality unstructured citations. Reviews at Scale: We talked about this in a blog post on our site, but for larger local businesses with established traffic a scalable review tactic is to implement a remarketing campaign to help improve review volume. You could even send them to a get five stars page landing page if you wanted to decrease review risk. Behavioral / Mobile Commentary I believe that this is only increasing in importance. It is not totally there yet, but it will be and it’s time to prepare. I think the lowest hanging fruit is to improve site speed. Under 2 seconds is a good goal for your website. If you are not technically savvy, we recommend using codeable.io. Expect a $200ish quote. Huge deal for the opportunity to increase conversion rates exponentially and decrease bounce rate. Lastly, making sure you have a solid customer journey that guides them towards your desired action on both mobile and desktop is crucial. There is no point adding more water to a bucket if there is a hole in the bottom.
Local Visibility SystemIn competitive markets I focus on hard-to-earn links and piling on reviews. That’s the ongoing struggle, and it’s where the most payoff is.
You don’t always need that many good links to rank well, but you do need them. They must be links that most competitors are unwilling to get. That requires buy-in from the business owner. Drive-thru local SEO will continue its decline.
Magic happens when you get a steady little stream of reviews over time on a variety of sites. It’s also perhaps the best way to get customers out of whatever rankings you have. (On the other hand, if you fudge those reviews, it’s a great way to repel customers.)
As I’ve written, Google reviews are huge. When you get in-depth and obviously legitimate reviews from real customers, your rankings seem to benefit indirectly (I would guess as a result of higher click-through). The non-rankings benefits are obvious.
But the future of Google reviews is hazy. They seem to be the last vestige of Google+, at least in “local.” Also, if it’s true that Google will remove the requirement that reviewers have a Plus page – if they go back to only requiring a Gmail account – then the flood of (even more) bogus reviews may be downright Biblical.
Meanwhile, Google seems to be ramping up its “Local Guides” program (which I thought they’d have killed off by now). My guess is they’ll monetize it, as they seem to have started monetizing the local pack: I could see businesses paying Google for promotion and to encourage reviews in email blasts to Local Guides.
A two-tier system of Google reviews seems at least possible: the local results become mostly a cesspool of bogus reviews, but Google skims and vets the “power reviewers” and their reviews for use in the paid 3-pack. I hope I’m wrong.
Powered by Search
Lots of positive reviews matter. Make sure you have a review strategy system in place like using getfivestars.com to help you grow your Google listing reviews above 5, so you can have those golden stars next to your listing. It will make a big difference in your rankings and clicks.
Bulwark Pest Control
With the layers of factors that go into rankings, it is very difficult to rank in order of importance. For example, click-through rates (CTR) could out weigh all other ranking factors if the CTR = 0%. I don’t care how perfect the rest of the factors are, if you are given sufficient time on the first page and you consistantly get ZERO clicks, you are going to lose rankings. Does this mean I place CTRs as the number 1 ranking factor? Not necessarily, because in order to prove CTR you have to be in the running, and the rest of the factors get you into the race. So how do I rank what’s more important when it comes to the chicken and the egg?
Generally speaking, I think we’re likely to see an increase in Google’s use of behavioral factors. And not just the ones that we commonly think of (i.e. organic CTR, pogo-sticking, etc). Google will continue to march toward delivering the results that they think satisfy their users’ intent. It just makes sense that the measurable signals provided by users play a role in that analysis.
Local Visibility System
I’m convinced that Google pays serious attention to what happens after the click. And you can tell John Mueller I said that 🙂
Snack Pack / Local Stack Commentary
Google gave us local packs (2004) in order to reserve a place in the search results for local businesses – most of which had no chance of ranking in the organic results at that time. With Venice, Pigeon and whatever we’re calling the recent snack pack update, I think Google has progressed to the point where it may feel its algorithm is refined enough that it no longer needs to separate the local results from the organic results by placing them together in a “pack”. I expect we’ll see more pinned results appearing among the organic results and I strongly suspect the 3 packs will all become positions where paid ads will appear in the not-too-distant future.
I see actual location as the overriding single most important factor. If you search on a basis wherein you describe a specific location ie city/service you will get one set of pack results with all the smb’s in that city. If you are in that city and search without a geo modifier you will get local smb’s within the city, but possibly a different group of 3. If you are searching from within a city and google has your local location within a section of the city, it will skew results for certain business types closer to where you are located. Search for pizza and you’ll get the pizza places in your section of the city. For other types of services or businesses. for an attorney or doctor Google will use a wider geo area….but it will be heavily weighted to the specific city. I have not seen that pattern broken.
I find consistent NAP as the major determinant. It rears its head most significantly when NAP is inconsistent. In other words, one cannot hope for a strong presence in the PACK vs other competitors without strong and consistent NAP.
To the extent that the top 3 smb’s are competitive and are impacted by both organic and citation type outside influences I still believe that organic rankings get pushed up with overall better links: with quality from other sites, and diversity of urls having great impact. Having said that, local businesses show in organic because of address.
Local Search Forum
I think this is going to eventually (gradually after several other small changes) turn into pay-to-play. Something like the new Home Services ads, which by the way are not in addition to the pack, they have replaced it. But in other industries I don’t think it will be the competitive quote, pre-screened by Pinkerton model. Just pay to be listed or maybe per click and call. I say “gradually after several other small changes” because remember a year ago or so when we started seeing a lot of packs being reduced from 7 to 3? Many freaked then. BUT there was not a display change too. Just one little change, to gradually get us used to reduced packs, in preparation for this! I think this new style 3 pack is a gradual progression toward some new pay-to-play model. (They kinda got us use to it gradually by starting with the food and lodging snack pack and then added hotels and other sponsored listings.) “Only 3 precious spots – pay a premium if you want to be in one of them. If you can’t afford a 3 spot, then there is always Adwords.”
Search Influence Team
“Focusing on less since snack pack” was the toughest section. We included items that we feel may be potentially less important now, however, we have not taken anything out of our strategy since this release. Most are Google+ related factors because of the deemphasis on Google+ page in the results.
The biggest difference (aside from going from 7 to 3) is that we have seen less cluster-importance in some industries, but there is variance. For dentists, tires, car dealers, we see a business represented from 3 distinct neighborhoods. Restaurants & hotels, however, are still showing a downtown / cluster focus.
Local SEO Guide
I don’t think we are focused on anything more since the snack pack update other than perhaps telling our clients that reviews are more prominently displayed so you’ll want to get more good reviews. We are still focused on doing the basics right and getting links. The only thing we are focused on less is telling clients “hey look how great it is that we got you on page one ranked #4 in the pack!”
With the new local packs having only 3 spots, the local organic results have become much more important. We’re putting more effort into content, links, and unstructured citations for our clients these days. Media mentions appear to be particularly powerful. Even a single mention in a local paper seems to provide a significant boost to both local pack and local organic rankings.
Avante Gardens Florist
The ‘snack pack’ move by G has really had a serious negative impact on traffic to many local florists and it’s clear (at least to me) that better and diverse reputation signals have helped those who remain at the top. Yet, with the continual changes and weighting of signals, who knows what results will look like tomorrow, next week, next month or next year.
My biggest response to the Snack Pack update has really been to just double down on the on-site SEO for the website. You only have 3 spots to fight for in that local pack so even if you are in there, it’s a short fall to the second page. On top of that, if the searcher is on their phone (like most everyone is), if you’re not in the immediate vicinity, there’s often no way for you to get in the pack anyway. At the very least you can do your best to show up for those organic results below.
The snack pack is only in its infancy, and it seems like items are changing daily. There does seem to be a confirmed emphasis on GMB and category associations, proximity of searcher, number of reviews and seeing some correlation with high ratings of reviews and rankings. What is more interesting around reviews is that there are many times where a business ranks high in the pack, with only a few Google reviews, but then we see that the quantity/quality of reviews in 3rd party sites (most notably Yelp) are abundant and positive. The reference to these citations seems to be stronger than in the past, wonder if this will remain the case or even increase.”
The snack pack, as it appears currently, is going to do for local site CTR what the change to Google images (not having to click through to the site) did for alt text. It is clear that Google is seeing more value in keeping searches within the SERP longer, and providing data that is inherent to GMB is what the are seeing as most pertinent. The new UI also pushes organic listings even further down the page, below the fold in most cases on mobile, which will further hurt the CTR. A bi-product of this could be businesses spending less time optimizing their site and more time in paid and GMB optimization.
Last year it was the Carousel SERP update, this year it is the Snack Pack, and next year we will no doubt be discussing the a new SERP layout and its prominent features. What remains the same for SEOs is the need to be flexible and react to these changes, while staying focused on their client’s long-term goals.
Negative Ranking Factor Commentary
Keyword Stuffing in Business Name: Sadly, it seems to help a great deal, and I’m not seeing anyone getting penalized for this.
I wish using a PO Box was a massive negative ranking factor but I still see many businesses showing up who are using fake locations. My hope is that Google or the MapMaker RLs will crack down on this in the near future. I still see keyword stuffing in the business name help more than hurt, unfortunately. I had a client (SMB) over a year ago that had a hidden address and when we opted to show it instead he saw a massive ranking spike. I haven’t been able to replicate it since there aren’t many businesses who hide their address but are eligible to show it according to the guidelines. One of the biggest negative factors I’ve seen recently is the presence of a closed listing that exists for the same business name, address or phone number that you are using on your G+ listing. These often get overlooked because the Google Maps API doesn’t pick them up and you won’t see them as an option to claim/verify in GMB. The only place you can see them is on MapMaker. There are tons of different scenarios I’ve looked at but whenever it’s possible to either delete or merge the closed listing, I’ve seen a positive impact in ranking.
The worst-case scenario for multi-unit and franchise systems and their local listings, is when any of their listings are suddenly missing from Google’s results. Google constantly scrubs its listings, flagging duplicates and ownership conflicts along the way, which is great. Google has also integrated a notification system for these errors into the GMB platform, helping SEOs who manage clients with hundreds or thousands of locations to quickly identify the listings in question; again, this is a good thing.
The worst-case scenario arises when Google automatically suppresses any listings they deem to be “in question,” sometimes flagging them in the GMB account, sometimes not. The time it takes to resolve these Google-defined issues can vary, leading me to move Google Suppressed Listings to the top of my negative ranking factors. Successful brands are constantly monitoring their listing accounts and quickly allocating resources to resolve these conflicts, and that will remain the story until Google improves its data scrubbing and conflict-resolution processes. It will take time, but I am confident they will get to a better place.