Local Search Ranking Factors, Vol. 2

MIHMORANDUM NO. 326 | May 26th, 2009Reader Comments (46)

Earlier today, I published the results of the 2009 Local Search Ranking Factors survey.  Some of you may recognize last year’s edition, but particularly with all of the changes at Google Maps in the last 12 months, I felt it was time to re-assess what the world’s top experts in Local SEO felt was most important for ranking well.

This year, we had 27 experts take part, including a handful of gurus from Canada and Europe.  The questions remained more-or-less the same as a year ago, as a means of gauging how the algorithm(s) might have changed over the course of the past year.  I did include a couple of new ones aimed at trying to tease out a little of what we think we learned from Mike Blumenthal’s study last summer.

Of course, some of the “changes” may just reflect a different (better?) understanding of the Local Search algorithms–which would be a great discussion topic, in my opinion.

I was particularly struck by the following responses this year:

  • The power of Distance from Centroid as a ranking factor has diminshed, but many folks are still seeing clear evidence of its importance, despite Carter Maslan’s claims to the contrary last summer.  It’s becoming even more important, though, to have a physical location for your business within the city which is being searched.
  • The importance of links in the Local search algorithm(s) seems to be on its way down, while the importance of citations, particularly those from major data providers and industry/location-specific directories, was deemed to be increasing in importance.  HyperLocal citations (from blogs or other businesses in your area) are becoming more important, too, but not at the same rate.  The quality of links seems much more important than quantity, which speaks to the idea of Location Prominence as a central algorithmic factor.
  • When it comes to reviews, though, it’s the exact opposite–at least in terms of rankings.  Nearly every expert felt that positive customer experiences dramatically increased clickthrough and conversion, but that volume of reviews is what makes the difference in ranking. Ian Lurie’s concept of review “velocity” is an interesting one to consider.

Thanks again to all the experts for participating & I look forward to the upcoming discussion.

46 Responses to “Local Search Ranking Factors, Vol. 2”

  1. Dev Basu | Toronto SEO says at

    As 1 of 2 participants from Canada, I really enjoyed reading through the compiled stats on the different factors. Thanks again for your tireless work on putting this together in such a professional format.

  2. Andrew Shotland says at

    I’ll have to echo Dev here, except for the part about being from Canada. You have really done a great service to the local search community. It might be a bit overwhelming but I think it would be cool to have a comment section for each factor.

  3. Ed Reese says at

    No news here, but the search community owes a huge debt of gratitude to you for putting this together. I don’t even want to guess how long it took you to compile everything. Very nice work! Thank again for taking the time to put this togeter.

  4. Ed Reese says at

    And when I say no news here it does NOT mean that there is now news in the new report :) I mean it’s no news that the search community owes a debt of gratitude for your efforts. Just want to make sure there is no confusion in my comments. Again, great work, David.

  5. MiriamEllis says at

    Congratulations, David!

    I just love the commenting portion of LSRF. It’s like getting to sit at a table with all the folks who are most interested in Local, and getting to hear what they think about each of the factors. For me, that’s the most rewarding part of this survey. So enjoyed participating again this year and I really thank you for all of the excellent hard work, David!

  6. Stever says at

    What a great piece of work David, and excellent presentation of the info. @Miriam, you’re right, all the comments are the best part of it. I too, as Canadian #2, am happy to have taken part in it. The coming discussions will be interesting.

  7. Jason says at

    David, great work in providing a valuable resource. I enjoyed it last year, and I enjoy it even more this year seeing that there was a lot of changes. It is obvious that a lot of the community’s feedback is getting to the search engines, and they seem to be listening (to some of it at least). Great stuff!

  8. Don Campbell says at

    What a great resource for the small business owner. I agree with @MiriamEllis and @Stever -the comments are my favorite part. They are both fun and interesting to read. Getting the perspectives of people who are deep into local search all in one place is super valuable.

    I enjoyed participating in the survey, and appreciate the way you pulled all of this together David!

  9. Jacqui Jones | KeywordIntent.com says at

    What an excellent local search resource! Thanks to all the contributors’ comments and debate. It is interesting to hear other SEO professionals theories and facts of local search best practice.

  10. paul jahn says at

    Definitely a great resource, David. Big kudos to you for putting this together. It will deservedly be recommended to many.

  11. Jim says at

    Thanks for putting this all together! In regards to the “review velocity” notion, I completely agree that getting a large number of reviews plays a huge factor in the local listings. Of course, getting my clients to really take action in regards to getting their customers to submit reviews is easier said than done.

  12. Kala says at

    Hi David,

    This was my first time on your blog and like every part of it. Your blog is full of useful information for online marketer who are seriously looking to rank in local search. I liked the way you have compiled the survey and given them number to state their importance that way we can easily remember the factor with high importance. Its great getting to know about you and learn about things you have been doing. Wish you all the best. And keep sharing your experiences with your fans. Thanks a lot!

  13. carlos says at

    Great work in providing a valuable resource. What a great resource for small business owners.

    I enjoyed participating in the survey, and appreciate the way you pulled all of this together.

  14. David Mihm says at

    Thanks for all the comments guys…

    Carlos, I assume by participating you mean reading? I just don’t want to confuse people.

  15. Dave Oremland says at

    David:

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to contribute. It is very interesting to see the breadth of commentary. I also believe that contingent on the types of local listings one follows one can see some very different results. I suspect algo’s for Google Maps are a moving target, in part due to the relative youth of the process and in part due to existing problems that have cropt up in Google Maps over the last 2 years. I suspect we will continue to need updates.

    Excellent work.

    Dave

  16. Adam Sherk says at

    Nice work, it’s a great resource

  17. Constantin S. Manta says at

    Hi David,
    Excellent post! Your blog is a must read for everyone in the local search and SEO space.

    Thank you for sharing with the community.

  18. Nick Stamoulis | PPC Journal says at

    I think it is always important to focus on having a well diversified group of links pointing to your website. Whether it is a local or national approach having links from various platforms is key.

  19. Ian Lurie says at

    Thanks for inviting me to participate again this year, David. This report is a huge contribution to the community!

  20. Dave Oremland says at

    David:

    I just finished reading the survey results in their entirety. Excellent report. Also you included a wide variety of people, some of whom weren’t included last year, some of whom have gained some “fame” as being consistent or famous/infamous commentators with regard to some of the “craziness” with regard to rankings in Google Maps.

    First congratulations on putting this together, crunching the numbers and providing the report.

    It appears there is a significantly greater level of “agreement” on factors this year as opposed to last year. Is that so in your review? If so, and I sense it, having rereviewed last year’s report….it would seem we have greater levels of experience with regard to Google Maps.

    I still think these algos are going to continue to evolve. That would be consistent with how google’s organic algos evolve over time. Assuming that is the case I look forward to next year’s study. :D.

    In any case, Job well done.

    Dave

  21. Jeff Howard says at

    What makes this such a good resource is that for the 41 questions asked, only 15 or so were in low agreement. This is often an issue with survives of this sort. SEO isn’t absolute, and it involves a ton of gray area because of what will work for one client will not always work for the next.

    But, that high of at least a moderate agreement level is a good thing for all the local SEO and those taking away from this survey

  22. Brendan McNally says at

    To David and the whole team,

    On behalf of small business everywhere you Guys have done a great job in sorting the Wheat from the Chaff in plain english. Small business can compete and get results against the portals and directories, if they utillise the tools and methods simply.

    Cheers, Brendan

  23. Terri Greene, TMP says at

    David, I can truly say that the survey has been very informative, for both years. I hope you continue with this survey for years to come so more insight can be gained on local search ranking factors.

    Keep up the great work.

  24. caroline says at

    thank you so much for this comprehensive, incredibly well-organized assessment. it has been extremely helpful to me in decoding the concept of local search as distinct from “regular” SEO.

  25. John Schwartz says at

    Fascinating stuff, once again. I found the conclusions on the importance of numbers of reviews for a local business very interesting, as well as the data on proximity and quality of links for local search results. Clearly, things are being fine-tuned compared to last year’s results. Good stuff!

    John

  26. Joe @ Seen Solutions says at

    Great Work on this David! This will truly be set in stone as a guideline for anyone looking to increase their local search rankings. Also we should thank the experts who were involved for their priceless contributions to making this come together will valuable data. I am curious David…do you have any projections on the future of LBLs and where they are heading. Could this be the nail in the coffin of IYP and to a smaller degree…strongly SEO’d sites? I am liking the new dashboard put into place since the release of this data (though I do not see any relevancy to this article) but I am curious….why is it that sooooo many people are “requesting directions to your business” on listings for plumbers, roofers and what not? I cannot see the reasoning behind that therefore I must deduce that Google has categorized anyone who looks at the map and expands it within the listing…has therefore asked for “directions”. Thoughts?

  27. David Mihm says at

    Joe,

    I do not necessarily see LBLs as a nail in the coffin for smart IYPs — see my advice to them at the end of my most recent SEL column. IYPs still provide tremendous value within Google rankings, and if they transition to a service model where they’re helping SMBs figure out the online world, rather than just selling their own products, I think they can be successful.

    Agreed that driving directions seems like a useless stat for some companies. From my experience with service-based clients, EVERYONE calls or emails first to set up an appointment…it’s much more prevalent (and useful) in retail- or hospitality-oriented industries.

  28. Jim Stiner says at

    Thank you so much for compiling this great info for us.

    I learned quite a few things.

    I visited the restauant site mentioned and they have 4 pages of reviews, the most I have ever seen, plus 4 videos.

    Spazio Restaurant was listed A with 34 reviews, but Mel’s Drive-In was listed J with 47 reviews so the amount of reviews does not account for where they are ranked.

    Jim Stiner

  29. Mike Ramsey says at

    David,

    I have read the rankings report a few times now and really think it was a fantastic idea and am amazed that so many people who have labored to figure out a lot of the ranking factors would be willing to share it so openly. I would have gladly spend a small fortune to get this document.

    When I have learned things in search (and in life) I have always been a bit more of a “trade secret” type guy. Protecting my knowledge like a little pot of golf. But, through the work that this team has brought together, I really see how it benefits a community, and industry, as a whole… it shows me that a group of people have actually became more successful and well known by giving freely. I think that i am going to have to get rid of my whole “trade secret” mentality and try to do some good.

    Thanks again for yours and everyone else’s work. It definitely doesn’t go un-noticed

  30. Andy Maclean says at

    I really see certain directories (esp ones using Google Maps) impacting stringly e.g. freeindex. For hotels TripAdvisor is brilliant and Google actually populates the local business reviews from there!

  31. John says at

    How come sometimes there is not 10 results shown but there are more then 10 results if you click maps?

  32. Andrew says at

    I have been trying to get a better grasp of local SEO for a few months. I have used the advise from your article and have just got my first stand alon No 1 Ranking.

    Thanks for all your hard work

  33. David Straight says at

    Great resource – just found it and wished I had this resource before. Thank you to you and the team that put it together. Proof that psychological income from contributing to the knowledge of other SEOs can be of greater value than selling a silly ebook.

    Thanks again,

    DS

  34. Mark Abrams says at

    Confounded by G-local. 1st thanks for Local Search Ranking Factors (LSRF) Vol 1 & 2, and SMX-East.

    I have some experiences with G-local ranking to share that don’t conform to LSRF. While the LSRF are very interesting and logical, my actual experience conflicts greatly.

    I just Googled “Manhattan dentist” the #1 G-local listing is unclaimed, incomplete, out of the centroid, … My client is #2 in organic and has a near complete G-local profile (full profile, near centroid, address on every page, maps to directories, … ), and back-links from many of your “Most Important Review Engines”, DMOZ, Yahoo, …. Yet, its way down the G-local list on page 10 of G-Local.

    Another client, ranking #1organically under “Chandler dentist” is also next to last in G-local. Same situation. The number #1 G-local listing, while claimed ,is very incomplete and the #2 is unclaimed and incomplete.

    I have other LBC clients with erroneous G-local listings resulting from 3rd party entries from IYP , “Most Important Review Engines”, or who knows. Claiming these listings to delete them has resulted in: LBC mergers with my valid G-local listings (they share the same statistics and coupons, even though the coupons were not linked to the offending G-Local entry); trying to delete the offender has also resulted in suspending the valid listing. One has been flagged for review for weeks and is frozen, another LBC account was de-listed after deleting the secondary offender G-local entry, even though it looks OK in my LBC listing page.

    Another client has multiple entries that I desire to delete. One 3rd party G-local entry links the client to a derogatory citation; the relationship is based on the city only (city bolded in search). Sometimes G-local information can be damaging to a business’ reputation and unwarranted. Yet citations as such are not able to be deleted / corrected). Postings in the Google Local forum for business owners have gone unaddressed. There has to be a better way.

    Finding G-local ground zero has been an exercise in frustration.

    If its not difficult enough to rank a local listing, I.E.8 , due to script errors in the browser, only shows a fraction of the business information entered. Missing are the Categories, Summary description, Details, Photos, Coupons, Reviews, and Webpages sections. This same URL in FireFox shows the full profile. Since I.E. accounts for 65% of my browser traffic, the value of G-Local is further nullified by browser incompatibility.

    I’m still looking for the ground rules to play.
    Regards,
    Mark

  35. Dennis says at

    Great resource!

    Read the rankins report twice, and have recommended it to 2 others also, this is quality stuff.

    Thanks to David and all the gang.

    James

  36. Sydney says at

    David,
    have you got any more info on the KML sitemaps? It is not something i am familiar with.

  37. david baer says at

    Small Business owners are largely forgotten. Thats why I only focus on them. I have experience several members of my family file bankruptcy due to small business failures. I also I suffered through 2 destroyed businesses due to failure however, in my failings I have learned some of the secrets to success. (Who can say they know it all?)

    onlineuniversalwork

  38. Scott Woodruff says at

    Dear David,
    About a year ago, I started working on our listings, and felt like I did a good job to get us up in the Organic search ranking. One of the beautiful things about this subject is the layman can do it if they are willing to dedicate the time to it.

    Today I only just stumbled into your post on Local Search Ranking Factors, And I have to tell you, it really helps to validate (and in some cases invalidate) my preceptions of how I am doing. But I can say without hesitation, this post is one of the best reference documents I have seen. I shall be following you more in the future. Scott Woodruff, Business Owner – Event Central Party and Tent Rental

  39. Alex Mungo says at

    I agree with Andy’s comment seeing certain directories (esp ones using Google Maps) impacting strongly e.g. freeindex.

  40. goyal says at

    local search for india does not perform well because indian geographic locations are scattered and data is not authenticated here.

  41. BlueRoo Interactive says at

    Great post.

    I have observed how review volumes compound SEO efforts considerably, once Internet Marketers catch onto this i feel there will be an increase in reviews being outsourced….thoughts?

  42. Neil says at

    I would add that a listing would be improved if it also contained images and relevant videos that highlighted the business service offering or a product feature set being demonstrated.

  43. Steven DeBardelaben says at

    I was certain when I set out to learn local SEO that my path would be blocked at many turns by people who do not want to share their secrets. I have to say that the opposite has been the case, I have found so many people willing to help that I get often confusing and differing information. I know it took a long time to do this piece, and I wanted to tell you that there are those of us who sincerely appreciate having everything laid out in such an organized way. This has actually helped me with two perplexing problems I have been battling with a customer who has two business sites and uses the same contact for each business. A real eye opener for me, and very much appreciated.

  44. Feroze says at

    Outstanding work David, even though there is place for improvement but still you and your team has done an outstanding work. Very helpful and informative articles and just love the reviews . As a small business owner now i have a good feeling that i also exist. Thanks again.

  45. Pali Madra says at

    First of all thank you David for putting this together and not being selfish by sharing it with everyone through the blog. It makes interesting reading and this information would be valuable for the future as well as I think local search is still in its infancy.

    I had a question though. One of the factors you mentioned is “Volume of Customer Reviews” and the other is “General Importance of Customer Reviews”. What is the difference between the two. The way I see it the experts seem to be talking about the volume of customer reviews in the “General Importance of Customer Reviews” section.

    It would be of help if you can help distinguish between the two.

    Thanks in advance.

    Respect,
    Pali Madra

  46. Susan says at

    Thanks for the very in-depth report. I went through it in great detail and I learned a few things I didn’t know as well as seeing things in a bit different light on a few opinions. It was fantastic thanks for the information, and thanks to those who took the time to contribute.

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