Local SEO ranking factors
Local search engine optimisation (SEO) is a highly targeted, niche strategy that every business can and should be thinking about. Why? Because it’s becoming more valuable and more popular, something that is driven by the rise of smartphone usage and better connectivity while out and about.
In late 2014, mobile traffic surpassed desktop traffic for the first time. Also, research from Google shows 94% of smartphone users look for local information on their phone and 84% take an action, such as making a purchase or contacting the business, as a result of this.
Moz has recently released a study on the most important ranking factors for Local Search in 2015. These ranking factors are based on a survey that is filled out every year by experts in the industry and include specific factors that help brands rank higher in local search results.
But before we jump into the findings from this year’s survey, let’s briefly recap how local search has evolved over the past couple of years:
- Google converted all 7-pack listings to 3-packs for local search queries. This means that instead of showing seven businesses in the pack and in the map, it’s now showing only three businesses.
- The importance of local SEO grew after Google’s Pigeon update in 2014, leading many businesses to refocus or increase their local optimisation efforts in order to get a slice of that first search engine results page (SERP). This update tied local results more closely to traditional ranking factors.
- in 2016 Google shook up local SEO again with its Possum update. Experts believe this update focused on making it harder for spam listing to rank well, and on diversifying the range of businesses that rank in results.
- According to two studies conducted by Google, 50% of mobile users that searched for a local business visited a store within 24 hours and 34% of desktop/tablet users did the same.
- According to a comScore study 78% of local mobile searches result in offline purchases.
Now let’s take a closer look at the top ranking factors so you know what you should be focusing on.
Overall Ranking Factors
1. On-page signals
On-page signals remain the most important local search ranking factor. This refers to the presence of NAP (name, address and phone number), keywords in titles, domain authority and more.
Your pages need to match up to search locations and be optimised as effectively as possible in order to help boost local relevancy. In other words, in local SEO location is a powerful keyword.
So try to add your location in the following areas to show local relevancy:
- Page URL. If you can edit your URL structure, make sure to include your city or location in your URLS as it provides a stronger local signal to both users and Google.
- Page Title. This is a very important element on a page and adding your city can help make your page more relevant in local searches.
- Heading 1 tag. This is another important element where you should include your location or further show local relevancy.
- Heading 2 tag. You can also add your location in your h2’s, just make sure it’s relevant to the content on that page.
- Image URL.
- Image title. Give your images a descriptive title and try to include your location if it’s relevant to the image.
- Image Alt Text. Don’t overlook the alt text on images. Since Google can’t see what’s in your images, adding the alt text can help provide a better understanding of the content that can be found on that specific. Add information about your location if it makes sense.
- Keyword density. Don’t stuff your content with location-based keywords. Instead populate your site with informative content and only add location only where it’s relevant.
- Inbound Links & Anchor Text. Mention your location in the anchor of the URL.
- Schema Markup. SEO experts believe that adding schema markup can help boost your local rankings. So use schema to markup your NAP (name, address and phone number) as well as testimonials and reviews from customers. This will help Google understand the elements on your page, which can improve the visibility of your business in local search results. Learn more about using Scheme Markup for local SEO.
- Google Webmaster submission. Make sure you mention the location you’re targeting as well as to see if Google can correctly index all of your pages.
- Bing Webmaster submission. This search engine has a few elements that are different from Google Webmaster Tools so we recommend using both.
2. Link signals
The quality of links to your domain measures how much authority links from external websites have that are linking to your website. The more links coming from domains that are relevant to your website and have authority , the greater the chance for higher rankings in local search and traffic coming into your website.
But it’s not only about the quality and authority of links pointing to your site. What’s also important is the anchor text used when linking to your site. Avoid anchor texts like “click here” and instead include the location to boost local relevancy. Think about it: if authority sites point to a page on your site using the right keywords, that page has a very good probability of ranking well for the targeted phrase in that anchor text.
Don’t use the same anchor text as this can get your site penalised by Google. Find out more about the types of links that Google considers to be “bad backlinks” so you can avoid getting penalised.
3. My Business signals
Having a complete Google My Business (GMB) profile page is an important ranking factor in local search, and it’s something you need to work on if you want your business to appear in this section:
Google looks at the relevancy of your location listed in your GMB landing page title. So make sure to claim your listing and fill out your business page with all the important information about your business including NAP, website URL and opening hours.
You should also pay closer attention to the category in which you list your business, as listing it in the wrong category can be detrimental to a business’ online visibility.
While Google is now shying away from Google+, it’s still important to make sure your full Google + page is available and out there on the web. Check out this guide on how to optimise your Google My Business page for success.
4. External location signals
A citation is any mention of your business name, address and phone number (NAP) on other sites. Even if there’s no link pointing to your site, citations are still very valuable as search engines pay attention to mentions of your brand on authority directories like Yelp or Internet Yellow Pages (IYP).
According to Moz Local, “Other factors being equal, businesses with a greater number of citations will probably rank higher than businesses with fewer citations.”
Building citations or mentions of your business is also very important for local visibility. When it comes to your business, Google focuses on three components:
- Your geographical location.
- Customer reviews and citations. The more mentions you have, the higher your site’s authority.
- NAP consistency. Pay closer attention to your NAP as this needs to be consistent in all the places where your business is mentioned. This includes your website, social platforms like Facebook and YouTube, industry directories and local directories, and especially GMB.
5. Behavioural/ Mobile signals
A study from Marchex, a mobile advertising analytics company, revealed that business generated when consumers tap on a click-to-call ad or search result on a mobile device totals in excess of $1 trillion. Also, click-to-calls from mobile produce conversions, such as sales, appointments, or reservations four times more often than desktop ads. This shows that click-to-calls hold an amazing amount of potential as even though an ad might receive a smaller click-through rate, it can actually result in many calls for the business.
Marchex also explains that 60% of ad-driven calls are generated from call extensions in the ad. The remaining 40% come after a click-through to a landing page. Learn more about clicks to call and check out this guide to learn how to track phone numbers and clicks using Google Analytics.
When a user runs a search on Google, the search engine “personalises” the search results based on their location and identity. It’s no longer about “blind” results that match everyone’s needs.
To increase your visibility in personalised search results, you need to focus on three elements:
- Locality. If you want people to find your business in local search results when they run a local query, you need your name, address and phone number (NAP) to be present on every page of your site.
- Social visibility. Google is starting to look at social interactions, shares and likes as word-of-mouth recommendations. If a customer follows and/or reviews your business, your business may rank higher when friends of your customers are searching for your products or services.
- Mobile. Now, more than ever, you need to do your best to provide your visitors with the best mobile experience. If you don’t, not only will visitors leave but your rankings can drop as well, which will make it more difficult for users to find you online. So make sure your site is mobile-friendly and encourages interaction through clicks-to-call, check-ins and directions.
7. Review signals
Reviews are becoming more important as more users rely on them when deciding to make a purchase. That’s why Google is also factoring them into its algorithms. The attributes assessed are:
- Quantity. SEO experts believe that review written by customers on a business’s Google+ Local page has a bigger impact on rankings than those on other review sites. Also, there seems to be a correlation between the number of reviews and how well a site ranks. That means that in order to rank higher, you should focus on encouraging former and current customers to write a review about their experience with you.
- Velocity. This refers to how fast you get these reviews. If you get too many reviews in a very short period of time, Google will question their legitimacy. Genuine reviews are acquired slowly over time.
- Diversity. If all your reviews sound similar in tone and content, and if they’re all positive, Google will again question their legitimacy. If your reviews come from real customers, they should be diverse in both content and ratings.
Read these two posts to learn more about the importance of reviews, ways to get more reviews for your business and how to use them to build trust and boost sales:
8. Social signals
You’re probably aware by now of the impact of your social media efforts on your site’s rankings. Google takes into accounts social signals such as:
- Number of Facebook fans.
- Number of Facebook likes, shares and comments.
- Number of Twitter followers.
- Number of tweets that mention your brand name or include a link to your website.
- Number of people that “have you in their circles” (Google+).
- While social signals aren’t the biggest ranking factor, they’re still very important. The more your content is shared, liked, retweeted and recommended, the more valuable it becomes.
Check our complete Social Media Guide to find out how to use and make the most of the top social media platforms on the web.
If you want your business to rank well in local search results, take these factors into consideration and change your local SEO strategy so you don’t get left behind.
What else are you doing to boost the local visibility of your business?