More Helpful than Last Year*

  1. Velocity of Native Google Places Reviews (+31.6)
  2. Quantity of Third-Party Traditional Reviews (+23.7)
  3. NAP in hCard / Schema.org (+22.82)
  4. Age of Place Page (+20.18)
  5. Product/Service Keywords in Reviews (+17.55)
* in comparison to Blended answers from last year; degree of change normalized for increased number of factors in 2012

Less Helpful than Last Year*

  1. Product/Service Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain (-22.82)
  2. Location Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain (-21.06)
  3. Diversity of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (-19.31)
  4. Location Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (-16.67)
  5. Location Keywords in Place Page Custom Attributes (15.8)
* in comparison to Blended answers from last year; degree of change normalized for increased number of factors in 2012

The Local Search Ranking Factors

Volume 5 | Published June 11, 2012 SKIP TO RESULTS »

Introduction

Over the course of the past year, we've seen the search engine result pages that Google returns for Local Intent searches get more and more complex. Just over a year-and-a-half ago, Google introduced Blended Place Search, merging its traditional organic algorithm with its index of Local businesses from Google Places. But this was just the beginning.

Google Plus was formally launched in late June of last year, but for most of the year, its release only seemed to affect a few results visually, rather than algorithmically. Much more important were the "Panda," "Venice," and "Penguin" algorithm updates that took down a lot of low quality websites (albeit almost none of them traditional small business sites).

From a Local Search perspective, the former updates seemed to be the more important of the three, as we saw the number of "pure" Local results (those showing traditional "7-pack" formats) go from a consistent majority to a consistent minority. And we also saw Local organic results start to percolate into prominence, as this article from Mike Ramsey details.

Of course, all of this preceded the colossal sea change represented by the release of Google +Local on May 30. This release actually came just as the responses for this year's survey started pouring in. Which means that although this year's version is more likely to be outdated sooner than previous years, it will represent an incredibly valuable historical data point, and I'm already looking forward to looking at the differences in 2013's survey.

For further background on the Local Search Ranking Factors, you may also want to read the introduction to last year's results.

Helpful Background Articles on Local Search:
+ Bill Slawski's Local Search Glossary
+ My own version of a Local Search Glossary
+ Mike Blumenthal's Digital Equity Infographic
+ Matt McGee's 10 Likely Elements of Google's Local Search Algorithm
+ My Own "Local vs. Traditional SEO: Why Citation Is the New Link"
+ Lisa Barone's "How to Launch that Small Business Website"
+ My own "A Brief History of Google Places"
+ Dev Basu's "Local Landing Page Best Practices"
+ The Local Search Ecosystem

The Survey

Participants were asked to rank 90 possible positive factors and 18 possible negative factors that drive Google's Local Search algorithms. Participants were asked to rank the positive factors based on the following question:

“When Google ranks a business in its Local Search results, I believe this is the ____ overall most important factor in those rankings.”

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. Thus, the more factors deemed irrelevant by a particular respondent, the heavier the weight given to the factors that they did rank.

The first number listed to the right of each factor indicates the relative change in importance as compared to last year's position. A positive number means the factor became more important this year; a negative number means it became less important. You'll note that these numbers include fractional values as I tried to normalize the change in ranking based on a substantially-increased number of factors that I asked about this year.

The second number listed is the average position of that factor in respondents' rankings. The higher the number, the more important it was considered.

The third number listed to the right indicates the standard deviation of the responses. The lower that number, the higher the agreement of the panel. The higher the number, the more the experts' responses varied.

Overall results are presented below, as well as results within each grouping of factors (i.e. on-page, website, off-place/off-page, and reviews).

Negative ranking factors are presented in order of most damaging to most benign.

Discussion

My initial reaction to the results of this survey can be found here on my blog. If you would like to comment on this project, please join the discussion here.

David Mihm
Portland, Oregon
June 11 2012


The Results

MAX POSSIBLE SCORE → MIN POSSIBLE SCORE LOWEST STD DEV → HIGHEST STD DEV +/- CHANGE FROM 2011

GENERAL SIGNALS

5 → 1 0.52 → 1.17
  1. Place Page Criteria
    4.46 0.97 ↑1
  2. Off-Place Page/Off-Site Criteria
    4.03 0.79 ↑1
  3. Website Criteria
    3.72 1.17 ↓2
  4. Review Criteria
    2.33 0.74 NC
  5. Social/Mobile Criteria
    1.18 0.52 ––

Place Page Factors

  1. Physical Address in City of Search (PLACE PAGE)
    82.5117.870
  2. Proper Category Associations (PLACE PAGE)
    77.6119.770.87
  3. Proximity of Address to Centroid (PLACE PAGE)
    68.128.23
    15.8
  4. Local Area Code on Place Page (PLACE PAGE)
    58.9728.76
    14.04
  5. Individually Owner-verified Place Page (PLACE PAGE)
    55.8935.46
    4.38
  6. Product / Service Keyword in Business Title (PLACE PAGE)
    54.3835.03
    4.38
  7. Location Keyword in Business Title (PLACE PAGE)
    43.6637
    14.92
  8. Association of Photos with Place Page (PLACE PAGE)
    36.0530.790.87
  9. Product / Service Keyword in Place Page Description (PLACE PAGE)
    34.134.26
    1.75
  10. Location Keyword in Place Page Description (PLACE PAGE)
    33.8934.240.87
  11. Age of Place Page (PLACE PAGE)
    33.8231.68
    20.18
  12. Product / Service Keywords in Place Page Custom Attributes (PLACE PAGE)
    29.8429.450.87
  13. Number of Actions Taken by Searchers on a Place Page (e.g. Driving Directions, Mobile Phone Calls) (PLACE PAGE)
    26.9426.94
    1.75
  14. Numerical Percentage of Place Page Completeness (PLACE PAGE)
    26.6130.95
    7.9
  15. Marginal Category Associations (PLACE PAGE)
    26.2530.29
    0.87
  16. Bulk Owner-verified Place Page (PLACE PAGE)
    25.1232.82
    6.14
  17. Matching Google Account Domain to Places Landing Page Domain (PLACE PAGE)
    2530.66
    3.51
  18. Association of Videos with Place Page (PLACE PAGE)
    23.0228.53
    3.51
  19. Location Keywords in Place Page Custom Attributes (PLACE PAGE)
    16.7924.06
    15.8
  20. Inclusion of Offer on Place Page (PLACE PAGE)
    6.6914.49
    5.26

Off-Site Factors

  1. Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators) (OFF-SITE)
    65.7129.910.87
  2. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations (OFF-SITE)
    62.233.08n/a
  3. Consistency of Structured Citations (OFF-SITE)
    56.7435.11n/a
  4. Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts) (OFF-SITE)
    55.2831.28n/a
  5. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain (OFF-SITE)
    55.2530.28
    3.51
  6. Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Locally-Relevant Domains (OFF-SITE)
    51.5630.88n/a
  7. Quantity of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts) (OFF-SITE)
    50.8932.26
    1.75
  8. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (OFF-SITE)
    44.4335.28
    3.51
  9. Quantity of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL from Locally-Relevant Domains (OFF-SITE)
    42.333.52n/a
  10. Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain (OFF-SITE)
    40.8732.22
    7.9
  11. Diversity of Inbound Links to Domain (OFF-SITE)
    40.1531.13
    5.26
  12. GeoTagged Media Associated with Business (e.g. Panoramio, Flickr, YouTube) (OFF-SITE)
    39.4328.03
    11.41
  13. Quantity of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (OFF-SITE)
    37.8230.390.87
  14. Product/Service Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (OFF-SITE)
    37.1233.010.87
  15. Business Title in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain (OFF-SITE)
    37.0232.38
    8.77
  16. Location Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain (OFF-SITE)
    35.3829.02
    21.06
  17. Location Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (OFF-SITE)
    35.2830.58
    16.67
  18. Business Title in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (OFF-SITE)
    33.6930.99
    13.16
  19. Product/Service Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain (OFF-SITE)
    33.5631.78
    22.82
  20. Diversity of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (OFF-SITE)
    31.7132.94
    19.31
  21. Velocity of New Inbound Links to Domain (OFF-SITE)
    24.4325.08
    10.53
  22. Velocity of New Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (OFF-SITE)
    22.9225.91
    12.28
  23. Quantity of MyMaps References to Business (OFF-SITE)
    22.1226.13
    2.63
  24. Popularity (# of Views) of MyMaps References to Business (OFF-SITE)
    18.323.34
    3.51
  25. Matching, Public WHOIS Information (OFF-SITE)
    16.123.76
    8.77
  26. Participation in Adwords Express or Google Offers (OFF-SITE)
    4.0714.04
    2.63

On-Site Factors

  1. Domain Authority of Website (WEBSITE)
    66.5626.38
    1.75
  2. City, State in Places Landing Page Title (WEBSITE)
    62.4629.4
    1.75
  3. HTML NAP Matching Place Page NAP (WEBSITE)
    58.3831.78
    11.41
  4. Page Authority of Landing Page Specified in Places (WEBSITE)
    44.8737.01
    4.38
  5. Product / Service Keyword in Website URL (WEBSITE)
    44.2835.53
    7.02
  6. Geographic Keyword in Website URL (WEBSITE)
    40.0734.4
    4.38
  7. NAP in hCard / Schema.org (WEBSITE)
    39.8732.13
    22.82
  8. City, State in Most/All Website Title Tags (WEBSITE)
    38.7435.370
  9. City, State in Places Landing Page H1/H2 Tags (WEBSITE)
    35.231.36
    7.9
  10. City, State in Most/All H1/H2 Tags (WEBSITE)
    31.8232.25
    3.51
  11. KML File on Domain Name (WEBSITE)
    22.3827.03
    14.92
  12. Loadtime of Places Landing Page (WEBSITE)
    19.0724.47
    6.14
  13. High Numerical Rating of hReview/Schema Testimonials (WEBSITE)
    11.5321.98n/a
  14. Volume of Testimonials in hReview / Schema.org (WEBSITE)
    9.8419.39
    2.63
  15. Volume of HTML Testimonials (WEBSITE)
    8.6919.55
    1.75

Review Factors

  1. Quantity of Native Google Places Reviews (w/text) (REVIEWS)
    62.4325.85
    16.67
  2. Product/Service Keywords in Reviews (REVIEWS)
    45.7630.25
    17.55
  3. Quantity of Third-Party Traditional Reviews (REVIEWS)
    41.0233.34
    23.7
  4. Location Keywords in Reviews (REVIEWS)
    40.2331.22
    8.77
  5. Velocity of Native Google Places Reviews (REVIEWS)
    39.1231.81
    31.6
  6. Quantity of Reviews by Authority Reviewers (e.g.Yelp Elite, Multiple Places Reviewers, etc) (REVIEWS)
    37.4131.91n/a
  7. High Numerical Ratings by Authority Reviewers (e.g.Yelp Elite, Multiple Places Reviewers, etc) (REVIEWS)
    33.0531.19n/a
  8. Overall Velocity of Reviews (Native + Third-Party) (REVIEWS)
    31.2530.16
    11.41
  9. Quantity of Third-Party Unstructured Reviews (REVIEWS)
    30.3528.52
    13.16
  10. Quantity of Native Google Places Ratings (no text) (REVIEWS)
    29.8430.16
    2.63
  11. High Numerical Ratings of Place by Google Users (e.g. 4-5) (REVIEWS)
    29.4628.96
    4.38
  12. Velocity of Third-Party Reviews (REVIEWS)
    23.6627.9
    5.26
  13. High Numerical Third-Party Ratings (e.g. 4-5) (REVIEWS)
    21.5125.25
    2.63
  14. Positive Sentiment in Reviews (REVIEWS)
    17.7626.72
    1.75

Social/Mobile Factors

  1. Number of +1's on Website (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    25.5825.74n/a
  2. Number of Adds/Shares on Google+ (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    23.8923.69n/a
  3. Click-Through Rate from Search Results (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    23.3527.44n/a
  4. Authority of +1's on Website (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    23.2324.57n/a
  5. Velocity of Adds/Shares on Google+ (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    19.125.32n/a
  6. Authority of Adds/Shares on Google+ (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    17.8723.77n/a
  7. Velocity of +1's on Website (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    15.1723.01n/a
  8. Volume of Check-Ins on Popular Services (e.g. Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter) (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    14.4120.560
  9. Number of Shares/Likes on Facebook (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    14.1522.160.87
  10. Number of Followers/Mentions on Twitter (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    12.6920.47
    6.14
  11. Authority of Followers/Mentions on Twitter (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    11.5619.43
    2.63
  12. Velocity of Check-Ins on Popular Services (e.g. Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter) (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    8.9415.810
  13. Velocity of Followers/Mentions on Twitter (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    8.6417.1
    2.63
  14. Velocity of Shares/Likes on Facebook (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    8.3519.420
  15. Authority of Shares/Likes on Facebook (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    6.1213.08n/a

OVERALL RANKINGS:
SPECIFIC FACTORS

79 → 1 3.11 → 32.34
  1. Physical Address in City of Search (PLACE PAGE)
    82.5117.87
  2. Proper Category Associations (PLACE PAGE)
    77.6119.77
  3. Proximity of Address to Centroid (PLACE PAGE)
    68.128.23
    15.8
  4. Domain Authority of Website (WEBSITE)
    66.5626.38
    1.75
  5. Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators) (OFF-SITE)
    65.7129.91
  6. City, State in Places Landing Page Title (WEBSITE)
    62.4629.4
    1.75
  7. Quantity of Native Google Places Reviews (w/text) (REVIEWS)
    62.4325.85
    16.67
  8. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations (OFF-SITE)
    62.233.08
  9. Local Area Code on Place Page (PLACE PAGE)
    58.9728.76
    14.04
  10. HTML NAP Matching Place Page NAP (WEBSITE)
    58.3831.78
    11.41
  11. Consistency of Structured Citations (OFF-SITE)
    56.7435.11
  12. Individually Owner-verified Place Page (PLACE PAGE)
    55.8935.46
    4.38
  13. Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts) (OFF-SITE)
    55.2831.28
  14. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain (OFF-SITE)
    55.2530.28
    3.51
  15. Product / Service Keyword in Business Title (PLACE PAGE)
    54.3835.03
    4.38
  16. Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Locally-Relevant Domains (OFF-SITE)
    51.5630.88
  17. Quantity of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts) (OFF-SITE)
    50.8932.26
    1.75
  18. Product/Service Keywords in Reviews (REVIEWS)
    45.7630.25
    17.55
  19. Page Authority of Landing Page Specified in Places (WEBSITE)
    44.8737.01
    4.38
  20. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (OFF-SITE)
    44.4335.28
    3.51
  21. Product / Service Keyword in Website URL (WEBSITE)
    44.2835.53
    7.02
  22. Location Keyword in Business Title (PLACE PAGE)
    43.6637
    14.92
  23. Quantity of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL from Locally-Relevant Domains (OFF-SITE)
    42.333.52
  24. Quantity of Third-Party Traditional Reviews (REVIEWS)
    41.0233.34
    23.7
  25. Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain (OFF-SITE)
    40.8732.22
    7.9
  26. Location Keywords in Reviews (REVIEWS)
    40.2331.22
    8.77
  27. Diversity of Inbound Links to Domain (OFF-SITE)
    40.1531.13
    5.26
  28. Geographic Keyword in Website URL (WEBSITE)
    40.0734.4
    4.38
  29. NAP in hCard / Schema.org (WEBSITE)
    39.8732.13
    22.82
  30. GeoTagged Media Associated with Business (e.g. Panoramio, Flickr, YouTube) (OFF-SITE)
    39.4328.03
    11.41
  31. Velocity of Native Google Places Reviews (REVIEWS)
    39.1231.81
    31.6
  32. City, State in Most/All Website Title Tags (WEBSITE)
    38.7435.37
  33. Quantity of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (OFF-SITE)
    37.8230.39
  34. Quantity of Reviews by Authority Reviewers (e.g.Yelp Elite, Multiple Places Reviewers, etc) (REVIEWS)
    37.4131.91
  35. Product/Service Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (OFF-SITE)
    37.1233.01
  36. Business Title in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain (OFF-SITE)
    37.0232.38
    8.77
  37. Association of Photos with Place Page (PLACE PAGE)
    36.0530.79
  38. Location Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain (OFF-SITE)
    35.3829.02
    21.06
  39. Location Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (OFF-SITE)
    35.2830.58
    16.67
  40. City, State in Places Landing Page H1/H2 Tags (WEBSITE)
    35.231.36
    7.9
  41. Product / Service Keyword in Place Page Description (PLACE PAGE)
    34.134.26
    1.75
  42. Location Keyword in Place Page Description (PLACE PAGE)
    33.8934.24
  43. Age of Place Page (PLACE PAGE)
    33.8231.68
    20.18
  44. Business Title in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (OFF-SITE)
    33.6930.99
    13.16
  45. Product/Service Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain (OFF-SITE)
    33.5631.78
    22.82
  46. High Numerical Ratings by Authority Reviewers (e.g.Yelp Elite, Multiple Places Reviewers, etc) (REVIEWS)
    33.0531.19
  47. City, State in Most/All H1/H2 Tags (WEBSITE)
    31.8232.25
    3.51
  48. Diversity of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (OFF-SITE)
    31.7132.94
    19.31
  49. Overall Velocity of Reviews (Native + Third-Party) (REVIEWS)
    31.2530.16
    11.41
  50. Quantity of Third-Party Unstructured Reviews (REVIEWS)
    30.3528.52
    13.16
  51. Product / Service Keywords in Place Page Custom Attributes (PLACE PAGE)
    29.8429.45
  52. Quantity of Native Google Places Ratings (no text) (REVIEWS)
    29.8430.16
    2.63
  53. High Numerical Ratings of Place by Google Users (e.g. 4-5) (REVIEWS)
    29.4628.96
    4.38
  54. Number of Actions Taken by Searchers on a Place Page (e.g. Driving Directions, Mobile Phone Calls) (PLACE PAGE)
    26.9426.94
    1.75
  55. Numerical Percentage of Place Page Completeness (PLACE PAGE)
    26.6130.95
    7.9
  56. Marginal Category Associations (PLACE PAGE)
    26.2530.29
    0.87
  57. Number of +1's on Website (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    25.5825.74
  58. Bulk Owner-verified Place Page (PLACE PAGE)
    25.1232.82
    6.14
  59. Matching Google Account Domain to Places Landing Page Domain (PLACE PAGE)
    2530.66
    3.51
  60. Velocity of New Inbound Links to Domain (OFF-SITE)
    24.4325.08
    10.53
  61. Number of Adds/Shares on Google+ (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    23.8923.69
  62. Velocity of Third-Party Reviews (REVIEWS)
    23.6627.9
    5.26
  63. Click-Through Rate from Search Results (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    23.3527.44
  64. Authority of +1's on Website (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    23.2324.57
  65. Association of Videos with Place Page (PLACE PAGE)
    23.0228.53
    3.51
  66. Velocity of New Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL (OFF-SITE)
    22.9225.91
    12.28
  67. KML File on Domain Name (WEBSITE)
    22.3827.03
    14.92
  68. Quantity of MyMaps References to Business (OFF-SITE)
    22.1226.13
    2.63
  69. High Numerical Third-Party Ratings (e.g. 4-5) (REVIEWS)
    21.5125.25
    2.63
  70. Velocity of Adds/Shares on Google+ (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    19.125.32
  71. Loadtime of Places Landing Page (WEBSITE)
    19.0724.47
    6.14
  72. Popularity (# of Views) of MyMaps References to Business (OFF-SITE)
    18.323.34
    3.51
  73. Authority of Adds/Shares on Google+ (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    17.8723.77
  74. Positive Sentiment in Reviews (REVIEWS)
    17.7626.72
    1.75
  75. Location Keywords in Place Page Custom Attributes (PLACE PAGE)
    16.7924.06
    15.8
  76. Matching, Public WHOIS Information (OFF-SITE)
    16.123.76
    8.77
  77. Velocity of +1's on Website (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    15.1723.01
  78. Volume of Check-Ins on Popular Services (e.g. Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter) (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    14.4120.56
  79. Number of Shares/Likes on Facebook (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    14.1522.16
  80. Number of Followers/Mentions on Twitter (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    12.6920.47
    6.14
  81. Authority of Followers/Mentions on Twitter (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    11.5619.43
    2.63
  82. High Numerical Rating of hReview/Schema Testimonials (WEBSITE)
    11.5321.98
  83. Volume of Testimonials in hReview / Schema.org (WEBSITE)
    9.8419.39
    2.63
  84. Velocity of Check-Ins on Popular Services (e.g. Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter) (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    8.9415.81
  85. Volume of HTML Testimonials (WEBSITE)
    8.6919.55
    1.75
  86. Velocity of Followers/Mentions on Twitter (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    8.6417.1
    2.63
  87. Velocity of Shares/Likes on Facebook (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    8.3519.42
  88. Inclusion of Offer on Place Page (PLACE PAGE)
    6.6914.49
    5.26
  89. Authority of Shares/Likes on Facebook (SOCIAL/MOBILE)
    6.1213.08
  90. Participation in Adwords Express or Google Offers (OFF-SITE)
    4.0714.04
    2.63

Additional Factors Suggested

  • Diversity of sites on which third-party reviews are present(REVIEWS)
  • Primary category matches a broader category of the search category (e.g. primary category=restaurant & search=pizza)(PLACE PAGE)
  • Proximity of Physical Location to the Point of Search (Searcher-Business Distance) (PLACE PAGE)
  • Product/Service in Places Landing Page URL (WEBSITE)
  • Product/Service Keyword(s) in Places Landing Page Title(WEBSITE)
  • Driving Directions to Physical Address(PLACE PAGE)

COMMENTS FROM THE EXPERTS

Proximity of Address to Centroid (Place Page)
This year, it's been marginally easier for businesses outside the the centroid of a given of city or town to rank IF they have strong off-page organic SEO. Businesses who have addresses in close proximity to the centroid still get a bit of an unfair advantage in ranking as they can get 1st page placement in the SERP's without the need for a strong organic search engine optimization program.
—Dev Basu

Location Keywords in Reviews
Location keywords in reviews are used in part to create 'at a glance' keywords associated with a place page and help it rank for primary and secondary keywords. With Google+ Local pages I believe Google will further review shared content comments and work that into a business' ranking.
—Dev Basu

Quantity of Inbound Links Pointed to Place Page URL
While in the past Place Pages were not indexed by Google, it may be a worthwhile exercise to build links to Google+ Local Pages since they are indexed. One of the easiest ways of doing this may be to link to your Google+ Local page, site-wide from a business' own company website. One could also add links to the Google+ Local page in other structured and unstructured citation sources that support fields for multiple websites or links to social media channels.
—Dev Basu

Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
Because blended results tend to rely more heavily on a website's organic SEO strength, it's more important to build links for authority than for volume. Understanding the local data eco-system can help a business identify the top structured citations to pursue first, followed by one's that have lower overall organic SEO strength. In combination with tools such as Open Site Explorer, or White Spark's AC Rank, a business can kill two birds with one stone...effectively building great quality organic links and great citations at the same time.
—Dev Basu

Velocity of New Inbound Links to Places URL
Much like in organic SEO, the pace at which you build links to Google+ Local pages should technically matter, whether those links are generated by other 3rd party sites such as the business' own website, or via Google+ shares and +1's from other Google+ user profiles.
—Dev Basu

Location Keyword in Place Page Description
With geo-location keyword inclusion in Places Page categories, custom attributes, and in the business title largely being seen as a negative ranking factor, or one that could get the place page suspended, the description field is one of the last fields in which a business can truly insert location keywords.
—Dev Basu

Quantity of Native Google Places Reviews
This is true up to a point. Once you got to 6 under the old system and probably 10 under the new zagat system the value of increased quanties of reviews dramatically diminishes.
—Mike Blumenthal

Quantity of Reviews by Authority Reviewers (e.g.Yelp Elite, Multiple Places Reviewers, etc)
I do not think that this has occurred yet but with the Place-Plus integration and the rollout of Top Reviewers at G+ this is likely in the cards in the very near future.
—Mike Blumenthal

A significant note. Just because a factor is not a ranking factor it may be a best practice for trust or issues of clarity (ie Google fully understanding something about your business). For example Schema.org NAP falls into that category. It is critical, particularly if you have multiple locations identified on a single page that Google be given very clear signals about their distinctiveness. This has little bearing rank but prevents Google from confusing two locations.
—Mike Blumenthal

Like everything else in SEO, the right answer is often "It depends..." because so many factors hinge on other factors, the most important of which is the level of competition for any given search query and location.

The domain authority of the business's website has become THE most powerful factor in ranking highly in the Local pack of results displayed in the organic SERPs.

Picking the right categories on your Place Page is critical to ranking success. Google knows which search terms are relevant to each of the categories from which you can choose. If you don't include your business in the most relevant categories for what you do and sell, you can miss out on a great deal of targeted search traffic.

It's quite easy to rank for a search query that's an exact match to a custom category you create. To make a custom category worthwhile, be certain there is sufficient search volume for that term and that Google usually displays local results for it.

There are many factors in the survey which I think may have a small influence on rankings. However, taken alone, their effect is minimal. It is only when many of them are used together that these minor location signals can have a positive effect on rankings.

—Mary Bowling

Google-approved technologies -- including Google Plus, Schema.org, participation in Google Offers, etc. -- may not be having huge impacts at the present time, but they will in the future. The near future, very likely. Google's shown tremendous capacity to leverage its own systems, repositories, and other properties in organic search rankings, and I see no reason why Places/local search will be any different.

If you're not yet on Google Plus and optimizing your presence and building authority there, start today; or better yet, start last year. Don't forget to link to your Plus presence from your web site(s) and use the Google Plus button on your location page(s).

The forthcoming Google Plus Places/Pages crossover will almost certainly re-write a lot of the rules for local search. Even so, the basics of consistency, authority, crawlability, citations, and social signals will likely remain constant - don't wait for the Google Plus wave (pun intended) to begin optimizing your listing. Get started now!
—Jon Colman

Google threw a bit of a curve ball at this survey with their massive changes just as we're filling them out. I wonder if it might be worth doing this again in six months once many of us look like idiots in retrospect.

I left Keyword or Location in Business Title out of the positive factors. The reality is that they can help you in the short run, but they really hold you back on citations. So, they hurt you in the long run.

The benefit of social I've seen with local so far is very similar to that you see in traditional SEO. It can support other efforts (such as link building), but doesn't have huge impact directly. If that fact was ever going to change, however, now would be the time.
—Brian Combs


NEGATIVE RANKING FACTORS

DON'T PUT THESE INTO PRACTICE

18 → 1 3.16 → 6.90
  1. Mis-match / Tracking Phone Numbers Across Data Ecosystem
    17.24.06
  2. Presence of Multiple Place Pages with Same Phone Number
    16.663.84
  3. Presence of Multiple Place Pages with Same/Similar Business Title and Address
    15.764.78
    4
  4. Mis-match Address on Places Landing Page
    15.173.16
    1
  5. Mis-match / Tracking Phone Number on Places Landing Page
    13.874.76
    1
  6. Including Location Keyword in Categories
    12.466.9
    5
  7. Absence of Crawlable NAP on Website
    12.236.46
    2
  8. Absence of Crawlable NAP on Places Landing Page
    11.516.18
  9. Presence of Multiple Categories in Same Input Field
    11.153.92
  10. Non-Compliant Categories (those that do not fit "My Business Is a _____")
    10.565.01
  11. Listing 800 Number as Only Phone Number on Place Page
    10.26.38
    1
  12. Choosing to Hide Place Page Address
    7.646.73
    6
  13. Low Numerical Ratings of Place by Google Users (e.g. 1-2)
    6.894.79
    2
  14. Presence of Multiple Crawlable NAP on Places Landing Page
    6.33.33
  15. Negative Sentiment in Place Reviews
    5.334.41
    4
  16. Choosing Service Area for Business on Place Page (as opposed to in-location visits)
    4.385.47
    3
  17. Mis-Matched or Private WHOIS Information
    3.823.82
  18. Low Numerical Ratings of Place by Third-Party Users (e.g. 1-2)
    3.744.39

Other Negative Factors Suggested

  • Incorrectly placing your map marker

EXPERT COMMENTS

There are a lot of factors that may make all the difference or no difference depending on the combination of how they are used. As a national company having a City across most/all pages could be a negative factor. I took a lot of time going over this, and tried to give you my best input, but so many factors are dependent on other factors.

Further, on the negative factors, violations or perceived violations will get you kicked out of the maps. Or get an address kicked out permanently. I added one "other", and started to add some more but refrained. I decided that violations should be separate from negative factors. But sometimes perceived violations count as negatives.
—Thomas Ballantyne

Choosing to Hide Place Page Address
This varies by country. In Canada it has absolutely no effect. It has no effect on Blended results. If your result happens to be a traditional pack result in the US you might see some negative impact but much less than previously.
—Mike Blumenthal

Inconsistent NAP
Consistent (or missing) information across the data ecosystem, on your web site, in public records is still the killer gotcha. Even a well-optimized local search presence can falter from inaccurate information creeping in from an errant data transfer, a web editor's mistake, or even another business opening that has the same name. In short, optimization is an on-going effort requiring much care and feeding, not a one-and-done, set-it-and-forget-it operation.
—Jon Colman

I think NAP inconsistency is the most overlooked negative factor in ranking well, especially among small business owners. Inconsistent NAP data, especially on trusted sites, can seriously suppress any high rankings you might otherwise have earned. Clearing up these inconsistencies can result in a big jump in your Google Places rankings.

Publishing call tracking numbers is the kiss of death in Local Search. However, some providers insist on doing so and many SMB's aren't savvy enough to say "no."
—Mary Bowling

It still remains to be seen if "Negative SEO" by competitors will play a widespread impact in Local Search, but business owners should be aware that penalization from Google in broad organic search definitely also impacts local search. So if you're caught buying links, say goodbye to your local listings.

Any negative factors in broad organic search will affect you in local: slow web performance, for example; lack of freshness; lack of velocity and recency in inbound links and citations; too much/many ads that impact the user experience; high bounce rate from SERPs; and so on. Don't focus on organic without considering local - factor local optimization outcomes into your overall organic business plans.
—Jon Colman

Service Area / Hiding Place Page Address
Is choosing a service area or hiding Place Page address the negative it used to be? Probably not like it used to be. But, if you couple that with trying to hide your address entirely, it can make Citations a real problem.
—Brian Combs

Including Location Keyword in Categories
If you use the same city in your address this is a highly negative factor. Using neighborhoods or other geographic terms in categories can be a great strategy for additional listings. For instance "Chelsea boutique hotel" is ok but "New York boutique hotel" is not.
—Adam Dorfman

Negative Sentiment in Place Reviews
This depends very much on the ratio of bad reviews to good reviews. A couple negative reviews won't cause your business' ranking to drop but if 80% of your reviews are negative that is likely to cause you to drop in the SERPs.
—Adam Dorfman

Choosing to Hide Place Page Address
We suspect in some instances this may actually be a positive factor as Google may choose to place the business in the city center. We regularly come across businesses ranking highly for competitive terms that have chosen to hide their address.
—Adam Dorfman