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 Which means that although this year's version is more likely to be outdated sooner than previous years, it will represent an incredibly valuable historical data point, and I'm already looking forward to looking at the differences in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)
  • Quantity of Citations from Locally-Relevant Domains (OFF-SITE)
  • Quantity of Citations from Industry-Relevant Domains (OFF-SITE)
  • Product / Service Keyword in Landing Page URL (PLACE PAGE)
  • Geographic Keyword in Landing Page URL (PLACE PAGE)

COMMENTS FROM THE EXPERTS

Comments about Specific Factors

City/State in Places Landing Page Title
This is similar to "product/service" in landing page title. However, as I mentioned previously location keywords are not as important as the general intent keywords even in local search. One might get relevant local results even without inputting location in the query. However, this is a very important both ranking (relevance) factor and attractiveness (prominence) factor.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Quantity of Inbound Links
If citations were new the new link, then links were the new citation in 2012.
—Mike Ramsey

It's the quality that counts, not the quantity. Still, the more quality you links you have, the better.
—Darren Shaw

Quantity of Structured Citations
Overemphasized as a ranking factor, in my experience. Even if you have a ton of citations – and even if they're accurate – your rankings will suffer if your citations on the major sites aren't in order, or if your listings on the main data-aggregators aren't accurate. All other things being equal, sure, quantity helps. But if you tally up and then look at the total # of citations that each business in a given top-7 has, you'll find just as often as not that business with more citations outrank businesses with fewer. For citations, I say quality over quantity. If and when you get the quality, then the quantity may help.
—Phil Rozek

While quantity (absolute number) of unstructured citations is not that important (compared to authority), it is not so when we talk structured citations. Google seems to not make that much difference between the values of different citation sources if they provide structured business data. This is one of the rare cases in SEO when quantity is an important variable.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Consistency of Structured Citations
Citations will always be a major factor and can help or seriously hurt a listing if the data is incorrect across the ecosystem. If your citations have bad information, you have set yourself up for duplicate listings and will ultimately divide your ranking power substantially.
—Mike Ramsey

Your Places page may be naked. Your website may beg for a mercy killing. You may not have a single customer review. But you still may rank OK…if your NAP is accurate and consistent everywhere it appears on the web.
This is do-or-die. In my experience, having consistent business info in your citations is the trickiest part of a good local ranking: you've got to monitor your listings on a ton of directory sites, often jump through annoying hoops just to make simple fixes to those listings, and keep duplicate/incorrect listings at a minimum. But it can also be very simple to ensure consistency: use your real address, don't flip-flop over what to call your business or which phone number to use, and realize that it might take a little while to get your info consistent (and that that's OK!).
—Phil Rozek

Product/Service Keywords in Inbound Anchor Text
Anchor text will always matter. I'm not saying exact match every link, but links with location information will do better than one saying "click here".
—Mike Ramsey

Used to be a huge factor, but since the Penguin update, this can be a negative ranking factor if overdone from untrustworthy sites. Still, from quality sources, I believe moderate anchor text optimization is still valuable.
—Darren Shaw

Quality of Inbound Links to Website
Quality matters, but through the year Quantity ranked. Now that the penguin update has been unleashed I do think that qualtity is going to slip in coming updates more and more.
—Mike Ramsey

Product/Service Keywords in Places Landing Page Title Tag
Title tag of your landing page has instantly moved listings up that have no other varying factor.
—Mike Ramsey

Due to my experience this is the most important website ranking factor in local search. While Google is trying to shift away from "exact match" types of things, the power of the title tag is still tremendous. Always, no matter what type of local search is being performed, the query consists of a keyword that describes what the user is essentially searching for – plumber, pizza, payday loan, etc. If the product/service keyword is not in the title tag of the landing page, Google seems to consider it less relevant even if all the other factors are there. That is why there are cases such as the one with "Los Angeles Plumber" where practically all results on first page have the exact phrase in their title tags.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Page Authority of Places Landing Page
I place this factor lower than the overall domain authority factor, because I have seen many times pages with zero, or close to zero authority, but part of a very strong domain, pull the rankings very high. Examples would be Google Places pages that use listings on third-party websites as "websites", most often these are Yahoo, Superpages, Citysearch. According to Google this is against the rules, but I am still to see a listing banned for doing this.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Product/Service Keyword in Website URL
This factor seems to be getting lesser importance compared to a few years ago. However, Google still has to go a long way before the keywords in website URL get very minimized as a ranking factor. Until then, we will still see sometimes sites such as personalinjuryattorneyhoustontx.net (just an example, I don't even know if it exists) ranking high.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

I've seen keyword rich subdomains used for landing page URLs, and it *seems* to help, but of course, correlation isn't causation. Could simply be that the people that put in the effort to do this are also optimizing in all other areas.
—Darren Shaw

City/State in Most/All Website Title Tags
This is an indirect ranking factor. And it will be important only if these pages, which have title tags (and of course content) that include and are relevant to the city (+state) of search, are linking directly to the Places landing page. If they are not, or if they are linking through other pages, their importance would be greatly decreased.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

City & state are valuable to include in the title on services pages, especially when the service matches a Place Page category, but it can be unnatural and spammy to include on ALL pages.
—Darren Shaw

High Numerical Rating of hReview/Schema.org Testimonials
I add this as a ranking factor just because it might indirectly help increase the click-through rate. By itself, I don't believe it helps in any way the rankings (of course it serves as "content" as well, but normally the testimonials are not "keyword-optimized").
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

I don't think Google or humans have much trust in testimonials supplied directly by business owners on their own websites.
—Darren Shaw

High Numerical Rating by Third-Party Reviewers
Depends on the source.
—Darren Shaw

Product/Service Keyword in Places Landing Page URL
It seems that this factor plays very important role in the process of "merging" between the website and the Google Places listing. The closer the Places landing page subpage to the main domain, the stronger it seems to be. However, if the keyword is in the domain name itself, it doesn't seem to be that powerful. For example, www.keywordexample.com/keyword-city seems to be more valuable than www.keywordexample.com and much more valuable than www.keywordexample.com/location/keyword-city.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Location in Places Landing Page URL
While URL should have nothing to do with ranking in 2012, it still seems to work to have exact location and keyword information.
—Mike Ramsey

Product / Service Keywords in Business Title
This factor has been much more important previously when Google was displaying often the so-called "pure" local search results. Now that (almost) every time the SERP is "blended" type, the factor is slightly losing its value, as the search engine would more often display the title tag of the landing page rather than the business title as seen on the Place page. Of course everything still depends on relevance – if the Place page business title is more relevant to the query (example: brand search), Google would rather display it. Note that this can very easily turn into a negative ranking factor if abused.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

The business title in Places should have no power over ranking. The problem is it does. Which is while people continue to stuff keywords in it like a Thanksgiving turkey.
—Mike Ramsey

Surprisingly, stuffing titles with keywords is still successful, but be very cautious as this can have the adverse impact and might get you black listed.
—Erik Whaley

If your business title reflects your DBA and your DBA actually contains a keyword or two, you've got a ranking advantage – at least probably for search terms that include those keywords. But if your name doesn't have keywords and you try to work some in, chances are Google will slap you hard.

This is one area where you need to play it safe: the inclusion of keywords has mattered less and less over the years, and Google has become less and less tolerant of "clever" attempts to include keywords. Unless you also make sure the main third-party sites also list you with your nifty extra keywords in the business name, your inclusion of them in Google Places probably won't even stick in the first place.
—Phil Rozek

Product/Service Keywords in Custom Attributes
Anything custom is a huge benefit. It not allows you to reinforce keyword themes not confined to standard fields, but also signals a greater engagement with the listing.
—Erik Whaley

Location Keywords in Custom Attributes
I don't believe these factor into rankings anymore. Not convinced they ever did.
—Darren Shaw

Numerical Percentage Completeness of Place Page
The more content and user submitted details always lends to a higher probability to influence rankings.
—Erik Whaley

Bulk Verification of Place Page
Any sort of validation of ownership is going to beneficial. Bulk claiming has become more common as more and more enterprise contacts use this method to claim all corporate locations.
—Erik Whaley

Individual Verification of Place Page
I don't think there is any fundamental difference between the two types of verification, so I have the same comment for both of them. Google has proven with its actions from the past months that the value of this factor is smaller and smaller. Even if one owner-verifies their listing(s), Google might (will most probably) change the business information based on controversial data provided by third-parties. Yes, verifying your listing(s) still gives you the chance to make sure that everything is correct (at some point of time, not forever), but beyond that its ranking value is rather low.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

This still seems to reign supreme as it shows a real engagement from the business owner to supply specific details related to their location.
—Erik Whaley

I don't think this is a ranking factor on its own, but I typically see a correlation with rankings and claimed listings because people that will claim often tend to optimize. I see plenty of unclaimed listings ranking well.
—Darren Shaw

Product/Service in Places Landing Page Title Tag
A very badly-kept secret. Ever since Google introduced the blended local results in late 2010, the title tag seems to have become more and more important. If there are 1-2 "money" phrases you include in your title tag, you'll probably rank well those phrases. But I've also noticed a dilution effect: if you get greedy and try to stuff in too many keywords, you're unlikely to get far. Scope matters.
—Phil Rozek

Quantity of Third-Party Reviews
It's valuable to diversify your review sources, but carefully select the sites you encourage reviews on. Focus on trustworthy sites with strict review policies, filters, and moderation. Avoid sites that are full of review spam.
—Darren Shaw

In terms of reviews, I've found that the two most important factors are (1) quantity and (2) diversity of sites (i.e. reviews on the Places page and on third-party sites).
—Phil Rozek

I believe these reviews play the role of additional citations, although coming from same domains with some of the structured citations, as all the websites that provide the reviews service also provide the opportunity for the business to add their information. Other than that, they might play significant role in boosting the relevance of a citation source and therefore its value – especially if some of the reviews contain location data. Location data could be in any form – from direct mention of a neighborhood/city/state to usage of slang and local-specific words in the review itself.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Inbound Links from Locally-Relevant Sites
Here is one of my biggest link building secrets. Created microsites that are locally and topically relevant that can link back to your money site. Local links are extremely powerful.
—Mike Ramsey

Getting links from locally-relevant pages and websites seems to be crucial in local search rankings. It is even more valuable when these links go to the assigned Places landing page.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

We've seen significant ranking improvements through acquiring citations and links from locally relevant and industry relevant sites.
—Darren Shaw

Inbound Links with Business Title in Anchor Text
Post-penguin, we're focusing on building branded links. Natural, trustworthy, link profiles have mostly branded anchor text.
—Darren Shaw

Brand links are Google's desire for a happy brand driven world.
—Mike Ramsey

For some time now Google is putting much more stress on branding and is assigning brands higher trust and authority than sites of other, less known businesses. One signal for the strength of a brand might be the anchor text used when linking to brand's website. This is even more valuable from Google Places optimization point of view when the "branded links" go to the landing page.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Association of Geotagged Media with Your Business
These are great rich content citations. Hold a "Cell Phone Photo Contest" ask customers to take a photo of the business on their phone (so they're geo-tagged) and upload with a description to your Google+ Local page or Flickr. Best photo wins something.
&mdash:Darren Shaw

Getting images/videos tagged and linked to the places pages works much like a citation.
—Mike Ramsey

These might also be considered as some kind of "citations", although their value is different from what "text" citations provide. However, any data, media, files, associated with particular business and its location serves as a signal that this business is "prominent" at and around its area of service.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Product/Service Keywords in Reviews
I have seen this have a very positive impact on rankings. Encourage reviewers to mention the service they had completed.
—Darren Shaw

Keywords in reviews seem to have effect. But that has also made way for complete spam reviews. I don't see this lasting as much as review sentiment information being used to determine quality.
—Mike Ramsey

Having service- or product –specific keywords in your reviews seems to help the range of search terms you rank for – particularly if they're terms that don't fall cleanly into any of the categories you've specified.
—Phil Rozek

Google is using sentiment in reviews to generate snippet words, called "descriptive terms". Google currently displays only 5 of these, but it seems it generates much more. If a descriptive term is assigned to particular Google Places listing, the listing automatically increases its rankings for this, and relevant terms, tremendously.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Quantity of MyMaps References to Your Business
Do MyMaps still work? My lips are sealed. But my head is nodding up and down.
—Mike Ramsey

Over 50 can hurt your listing. Spammers are using services like Fiverr to create over 50 maps referring to their competitors Places page in order to over optimize 'em. You can expect a slight decrease in rankings if someone did it on you.
—Yam Regev

NAP Information in hCard / Schema.org
Coding in hcard/schema can help to get +box and also created a structured citation.
—Mike Ramsey

This definitely can't hurt. If all else is equal, than this becomes a major differentiator in ranking when quality citations don't exist.
—Erik Whaley

This is no doubt a very important factor. However, I believe Google has more sophisticated mechanisms than simply relying on microformats or schemas on the Places landing page to discover the local business information there.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Positive Sentiment in Reviews
Positive Sentiment in reviews should continue to become more important year after year. —Mike Ramsey

Association of Photos with Your Place Page
Photos are more important to help convert searchers to customers. Its your one chance to let them know what to expect upon arrival. —Mike Ramsey

Matching Google Account Domain to Places Landing Page Domain
Google recommends using an email address from your domain to claim listings. When the recommend something openly like that, there is always value. —Mike Ramsey

City/State in H1/H2 Tags
Having local info in header tags is good for search, but also keeps users on a page due to relevancy. —Mike Ramsey

Quantity of Unstructured Citations
Authority of the source of the unstructured citations is much more important than the quantity of these citations. It might even be more important than the quality (relevance) of the websites. That is so, because it is significantly more difficult for Google to discover citations on websites which normally do not provide structured business information. The higher the authority of the website, though, the higher the chance Google would pick citations out of it.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

There are only so many structured citations, in competitive markets getting unstructured mentions puts you above the pack. —Mike Ramsey

They may be tough to finagle, but citations in the form of local press coverage can be a huge advantage. Also a great way to get local / hyperlocal links. If I were you, I'd send your local newspaper editor a box of donuts and start pitching story angles.
—Phil Rozek

Volume of Check-Ins
I would love to test this one day.
—Darren Shaw

Check-ins haven't played a huge factor in rankings. With Google+ local I can see that changing.
—Mike Ramsey

It is questionable if Google uses check-in data from these websites. It has its own LatLong service, which doesn't seem to be even nearly as popular as Google would like it to be. However, it is possible that Google might look into check-ins sometime in the future.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Quantity of Third-Party Unstructured Reviews
This factor is similar to the "quantity of third-party structured reviews" one. However, as it is much more difficult for Google to discover these, its value is lower.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

High Numerical Ratings by Google Places Users
This is an indirect ranking factor. If a business gets higher ratings the click-through rate will supposedly increase.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

This year we absolutely observed an overweight factor with ratings in reviews. First directly on Google, trailing to citations on other sites. Google appears to be better sorting out hCard reviews for authenticity, as many of the self serving and self appropriated reviews "onsite" we're de-emphasized in April.

With Google's moment from Place Pages to +Pages, we only see more acceleration in the importance of community derived ratings and reviews.
—Gregg Stewart

Clickthrough Rate from Search Results
I would love to mTurk this one day to test. Hmm, someone must have done this test for organic... I'll dig around later. —Darren Shaw

Consistency of NAP Information
Matching NAP+W still has to be considered a high ranking factor. None of the updates have diminished the importance of good, solid, respectable physical and internet presence.
—Lisa Kolb

There are very few things that could be considered more important in local SEO than consistency of structured citations. The first and most important thing that every business should do is get their "N.A.P." consistent across the web. This is a much easier task than creating and optimizing a website, or creating and publicizing content, being active on social media, etc. There are also many tools that could help with this task. If your business information is not consistent online, it is very possible that your whole local SEO campaign might get ruined at some point. It only takes a duplicate listing for this to happen.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

I've seen many cases where the client is strong in all other factors, but not ranking locally because of NAP consistency problems. Inconsistent data leads to less trust in the data. It's important to spend the time to find and fix inconsistent citations.
—Darren Shaw

Authority of +1's on Website
A very major factor in a "Search Plus Your World" web. To "authority" I'd also add "relevance", although I think it currently play not that important role as it is Google's goal. I suppose when Google gains enough data for enough number of users, they will put a lot of value into the relevance of the +1'ing user, too.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Authority of Adds/Shares on Google+
I believe this is similar to the +1's factor, but the difference is that it affects the rankings a little more indirectly. There hasn't been done much tests on the influence of shares in comparison to +1's, but it seems similar to me.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Valuable in the new Google+ Local world.
—Darren Shaw

Number of +1's on Website
Numbers and quantity have never been that important in search. However, higher number of +1's might mean that more people would see the website/content and therefore it will get more traffic and exposure. Purely organically though, this is not of primary importance.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Will likely have more impact in the new Google+ Local.
—Darren Shaw

Authority of Followers/Mentions on Twitter
It is questionable if Google currently uses Twitter data for rankings. There was a controversy between the two companies and Google stopped providing the latest search results option that was primarily triggering Twitter results. Yes, Google still indexes and displays content shared on Twitter, but so does it with Facebook.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Number of Adds/Shares on Google+
A future factor that will yet to be determined is the effects of whether a business is maintaining a G+ Page. We expect this to become more important as Google continues to roll out Local +.
—Lisa Kolb

Matching, Public WHOIS Information
It seems to me to be more of a myth, rather than a conclusive fact. One reason is that it would be strange if Google would expect local businesses to also get local hosting for their websites. If there is a better provider elsewhere, why would they do that? However, I think hosting in the same country might be a factor, although the country targeting can easily be controlled via Webmaster Tools.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Number of Actions Taken on Place Page
Google knows how many people click where. Google can tell whether more people click on your Places page or site than on your competitors'. Google has the facts. Why would Google not take those facts into consideration?
—Phil Rozek

A few months ago Google officially presented the idea of using driving directions as a ranking factor in local search. While it is very difficult to test this, it is sure that Google is either testing, or already implementing this algorithmic variable.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Marginal Category Associations
IF they're highly relevant, secondary category associations can really extend the range of search terms you're visible for.
—Phil Rozek

I think it is enough to mention "semantic relevance" and the general importance of the categories, and it becomes clear why this factor is of high importance.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Proximity of Address to Centroid
This has previously been a very important ranking factor, for completely unknown reasons. Google changed that a few months ago, and now its significance is majorly decreased. It is, however, still a relevant ranking factor in the cases when the city name is specifically quoted in the search query.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Proximity seems to be different based on industry, but in general the closer you are, the better you rank.
—Mike Ramsey

This very much matters on a relative scale. If you are in a major metropolitan area being within 0-1 miles of a business centroid can have a major impact on where you rank. If you are in a suburb that number might be 0-10 miles or more.
—Adam Dorfman

Used to be extremely important, but Google recently dialed this factor down. Now, it's just important.
—Darren Shaw

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

This is still all about user experience for Google. Displaying the most relevant local results to the searchers proximity is their model. However, this can be overcome with a few strategic optimizations, but within a geographical reason.
—Erik Whaley

The importance of the centroid depends largely on your industry and how many local competitors you have. Are you a taxi service or a taxidermy service? The greater the density of local businesses that offer what you offer, the more geography seems to matter. It also depends on searcher location and whether the searcher types in the keyword + city name or just the keyword. Proximity to the centroid is always a factor; how much of a factor is what varies all over the places.

In the most general terms, though, I've found that you'd better be located within about 5 miles of the centroid of the city you're trying to rank in.
—Phil Rozek

Velocity of Inbound Links to Domain
Possibly a negative ranking factor if a spike of new links do the domain appears out of nowhere.
—Darren Shaw

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

It's easy to artificially inflate the quantity of inbound links (Eg: buy 100,000 comment links), so when considered on its own without also looking at quality, I don't believe that quantity of links is an overly important factor.
—Darren Shaw

Product / Service Keywords in Inbound Anchor Text
We have noticed that with the release of Panda and now Penguin, an over abundance of duplicate inbound anchor text appears to have some influence on placement.
—Lisa Kolb

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

By "quality" I mean relevance. The best citation would be such from a very relevant and very authoritative website. A perfect situation if you have a flower shop in Tampa would be to get a structured citation on the homepage of (just an example site) tampaflowershops.com, especially if the website is very authoritative.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Of course there is an overall decrease in this factor's importance, however, having citations from .gov, .edu, Chamber of Commerce, etc. Sites can have a huge impact on your listing's rankings. I didn't belive it till I saw it myself!
—Yam Regev

I've found the "80/20 rule" applies here: if you're listed correctly on the most trusted third-party sites and the main data-aggregators, you'll likely rank very well. Getting a bunch of citations on little sites becomes less important. If you get the big ones right, you can relax a little. The flipside of this is you can't relax at all when it comes to making sure your citations are accurate on the InfoGroups, LocalEzes, Yelps, and CitySearches of the world.
—Phil Rozek

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

At GetListed Local U Edmonton Joel Headley said that the description field isn't indexed. I took that to mean that it doesn't factor into rankings.
—Darren Shaw

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

With the merging of Google Places and Google +, we expect to see the relevance of native Google reviews becoming even more important than previously high ranking factors.
—Lisa Kolb

The new review system has yet to fully reveal how it will work in the SERPs. Having 5 reviews used to trigger rich-snippets and give a little ranking boost. Time will tell if that will still work.
—Mike Ramsey

This is an important ranking factor only when comparing more than 5 vs. less than 5 reviews. Five reviews is the threshold above which Google starts displaying the rating snippet in the organic search results, and this increases tremendously the click-through rates. Additionally, the CTR would probably increase only if the overall rating is predominantly positive.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

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

Location Keyword in Business Title
Having a business that already has the location in the business title can be a very positive thing when it comes to rankings but without citations, links and a website that also includes a matching business title, this can have a very negative impact. In short, be careful when choosing to add a location to your Place Page business name.
—Adam Dorfman

Same as with "product/service" keyword in business title on Place page, this factor is slightly losing its value ever since Venice update from end of January/beginning of February this year. I rank it behind the above mentioned factor because I consider location keywords to not be as important as product/service keywords in general. This is caused by the fact that while the former are important only in some types of local searches (most specifically in the [keyword + "non-local" location] type), the latter is always significant.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Page Authority of Landing Page Specified in Places
In the past year we have noticed that businesses linking to their website's homepage instead of location page can improve rankings which suggests that page authority trumps location relevancy.
—Adam Dorfman

Proper Category Associations
There is nothing that could tell Google more directly that particular page (no matter of a webpage, or a Place page) is relevant to particular keyword(s). If the proximity between searcher and business is the top factor in terms of local relevance, category on Place page is the top factor in terms of intent relevance. Some very notable examples could be cases in which a category is incorrectly associated with a Place page – only this factor could get the Place page ranking high even if the category is completely irrelevant (many examples in the big cities, where a listing for a business building outranks businesses that have offices inside it for searches relevant to the businesses).
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Being in at least 1 correct Category is the most important factor in my mind. If you aren't listed right, no amount of citations, or links are going to turn a plumber into a lawyer.
—Mike Ramsey

This factor sure is crucial. Thing is that lately, more & more times, even if you are not spesifying your category properly Google does it for you. Hence I decided to decrease the importance of this factor a bit.
—Yam Regev

Huge. Perhaps the juiciest but lowest-hanging fruit in the Garden of Local Search. Your #1 job is to pick only as many categories as truly describe your business. Your #2 job is to resist the temptation to "optimize" any custom categories in a way that doesn't jibe with Google's Quality Guidelines. Restraint is key.
—Phil Rozek

We feel this should be in the negative category (Improper Category Associations). Having a category right has very minimal influence on rankings. Getting a category completely wrong or trying to stuff it with keywords will cause you to disappear from Google's search results.
—Adam Dorfman

Loadtime of Places Landing Page
We feel this should be in the negative category (Slow Loadtime of Places Landing Page). Having a blazingly fast landing page has a marginal positive influence in rankings but a very slow loadtime can cause your business to disappear from Google's search results.
—Adam Dorfman

I don't believe that loadtime is a positive ranking factor, but it can be a negative ranking factor if the page loads slow.
—Darren Shaw

Age of Place Page
Age of the Place page is an indirect ranking factor. It is very important because of the way Google streamlines business data, which is everything but perfect and fast. It might take months, even years for Google to associate particular business information with the corresponding Place page. While they are trying to make the process faster, it currently takes at least a few weeks for any data to be associated with the Place page. Thus a brand new Place page has no chance to rank any close to the first few pages in the beginning of its life (exclusion for very low competitive local searches).
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

There is definitely a sandbox type of fliter in place with Google when it comes to listing new businesses. If you have a new business it can take six months to a year to get past this and start ranking well for competitive terms in blended or Places results. After a year the age matters little and everybody is on the same playing field.
—Adam Dorfman

I've found older Places pages to be far less accident-prone (kind of like us humans). Maybe it's because their data across the local system has had more of a chance to "settle down." Maybe it's because their owners are less likely to take chances and do stupid things with them in the name of "optimization." Maybe Google actually weighs age as a separate factor. Whatever the case, I've found that I can make more progress more quickly if my client has had a Places page for a year or two – even if it hasn't been particularly visible or well-run. If you have several Places pages floating around and aren't sure which one to keep and work on, go with the oldest one.
—Phil Rozek

Proximity of Physical Location to the Point of Search (Searcher-Business Distance)
This is my top-of-the-top local search ranking factor. Neither "address in city of search", nor "proximity of address to centroid" matters more. What really matters, is where the searcher is physically located and how close the potentially relevant search results are. This ranking factor is getting further boost by the importance of local-mobile search, where it is undoubtedly #1. For desktop search the factor might not be as important (or not have any significance) if searcher's location and the location for which the search is intended differ. This happens in rare cases, such as when someone searches for accommodation, car rental, and other travel-related queries. However, these cases are very specific and do not decrease the overall importance of the factor.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Local Area Code on Place Page
While it is a rather minor ranking factor, it can significantly affect your click-to-call rate, and general conversion, as when people search for local businesses, they'd prefer to find exactly this. They'd rarely call a toll-free number in such cases (of course there might be differences depending on the type of business).
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Domain Authority of Website
This is a major ranking factor in any kind of search. I'd like to parenthesize though that authority is nothing without relevance. They always walk hand in hand. Even the most authoritative site would not have even one page ranking on first page if it has no page relevant to the particular query. Note that by "domain authority" I do not really understand and mean "PageRank" – the two are not interchangeable!
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Physical Address in City of Search
This is a very minor factor, and I personally feel Google is much smarter than putting much, if any, value into this factor. It is about distance, not about "political boundaries". This factor might have some value only in city-level local searches, when the city name is specified in the query itself.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

While there are exceptions, you need to have an address in the city used in search query for the opportunity to rank.
—Mike Ramsey

You can't take the "local" out of "local search." If your business is right near the town line and you want to get visible in the next town over, there's a good chance you'll be able to. However, if you're located in the suburbs but want to rank well in the big city, you have 3 options: open a location in the big city, pay for ads, or just try to improve your ranking in your city.
—Phil Rozek

Social/Mobile (General)
We haven't identified these factors being a major factor in rankings at this point but suspect G+ factors are slowly being incorporated into organic & local ranking metrics. A year from now this should be much more important.
—Adam Dorfman

In the recent past, we would have ranked social interaction on FB, Twitter, etc. as a higher positive factor. At this point we don't feel that it's as important as it may have been, especially after the G+/Places merge.
—Lisa Kolb

While the social ranking aspects of Google Places have pretty much relied on reviews, with the launch of Google+ Local, it seems pretty clear that next year we will be debating which is more important reviews, # of people in a city who have circled a business, # of plus posts by the business with related keywords, sharing volume and velocity of a business' plus posts and maybe even crazy stuff like # of hangouts a business has compared to its competition.
—Andrew Shotland

With the Google + Local release this should be a top factor later this year. Early indications point towards social signals impacting rankings more than ever. For large retail chains, a sound parent child relationship will be needed.
—Erik Whaley

General Comments

Google vs Bing Differences
I have ordered the factors based on my observations and experience with Google's local search. Note that I would order them in very different way if the survey was related to Bing local search. Some fundamental differences between the two search engines' local search results include:

Factor

Difference

Location and/or Product/Service Keywords in Title Tag of Places/Business Portal Landing Page

Bing puts much more value than Google on this factor.

Location and/or Product/Service Keywords in URL of Places/Business Portal Landing Page

Again, Bing puts much more value than Google on this factor.

Social Mentions (authority, numbers, velocity)

Obviously, Google puts much more value on Google+, while Bing relies on Facebook’s social data.

Location and/or Product/Service Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Places/Business Portal Landing Page

Google recently stopped putting high value into this factor, while it is still one of the most important ones for Bing.

Why It Is Difficult to Complete the Survey.
I think it is extremely difficult to order all these factors in a logical manner. Here are some points on why I believe so:
A) Definition and Types of "Local Search"
Local search can very simply be defined as "search with local intent". However, there are many different types of search with local intent:
- [keyword]-only search with local intent – it relies significantly on Google's ability to associate particular content with particular location; it also relies on Google's ability to recognize the local intent of the search, i.e. is this query really "local"; it also relies on Google's ability to recognize the location to which this search is related (example: "towing" – you'd rarely, if ever, need towing service far away from the physical location you are at)
- [keyword + "local" location] search with local intent –
it gives all the information the search engine needs; the search is performed via the physical location it is intended for + the searcher specifically adds the location keyword to the query (example: "car repair NYC" if you are located in the NYC area) - [keyword + "non-local" location] search with local intent
– it gives mixed signals to the search engine;
Google can see that the physical location through which the search is performed does not match the location for which the query is intended (example: search for "car rental Las Vegas" if you are going on a holiday to Las Vegas, but you live in NYC)

Google arguably uses different signals to determine the particular intent for each of these types of local search. It would definitely put much more value on the location keyword specified in the [keyword + "non-local" location] type query, than it would put in any of the other types. At the same time it would put much more value in the searcher's physical location, and the proximity of the potentially relevant results to the searcher's location, in the [keyword]-only query. Therefore, the ranking factors might vary based on the query type and it is difficult to generalize them.

To these could be added the [brand name] local search, which also has very different ranking factors that play significant role.

B) Types of Local Search Ranking Factors: Another difficulty comes from the fact that the ranking factors themselves could be divided into different types:
- Ranking factors related to trustworthiness – these are ranking factors that have most to do with the trustworthiness of the source of information. They are not necessarily directly related to the search intent. Examples: "Consistency of Structured Citations"; "Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Places Landing Page URL"; "Domain Authority of Website"
- Ranking factors related to relevance – these are ranking factors that have all, or almost all to do with relevance and with the search intent of the query. Examples: "Proper Category Associations"; "Product/Service Keyword(s) in Places Landing Page Title"; "City, State in Places Landing Page Title"
- Ranking factors indirectly related to rankings – these are ranking factors that by themselves have lower to no value, but they help boost other ranking factors. Examples: "Age of Place Page"; "Load time of Places Landing Page"; "Click-Through Rate from Search Results" All these factors affect the rankings in fundamentally different ways, so it is difficult to compare them to each other.

Based on these two problems, plus some others, which I will not write about because there is plenty of information about them out there (mainly personalization of search based on search history, social factors, etc), I would advise that my (and if the others would agree with me, theirs too) order of the ranking factors is taken with a grain of salt and not at face value. It is very possible that someone could rank many of the factors in different way, but I would still completely agree with their order. I myself had difficulties ordering them. Probably the best way to analyze them would be in blocks of 10-15. —Nyagoslav Zhekov


In general there is some kind of magic potion that defines the google ranking methodology. We don't know it. It appears to be a mixture of actual location, Places/Maps elements such as citations, and basic seo components such as links. What is the exact mixture that works best? It also depends on the level of competition for certain phrases in certain cities.

What I know for certain is that both significant levels of quality links and quality citations count for a lot. I had a site that was hit by penquin and crushed. Still it had a lot of high merged results. That was all a function of the Citations/maps/places influences. I had a different site that suffered a duplicate record and lost all connection to the google places cluster for a period of time. It also maintained relatively high merged visibility. That had to be a result of the strict seo/links power behind the rankings. Two different types of severe negative impacts yet each smb/business retained relatively strong serps simply because they had combinations of factors that both impacted rankings.

One factor that I seriously degraded from prior surveys was "quantity of links". Assuming penquin was a result of relatively massive amounts of poor quality of links, I'd strongly shy away from that strategy moving forward.

With regard to the negative impacts of the survey, it seems to me that many of those categories, or impacts only become negative when somebody reports the issue or google uncovers them. Until google uncovers the actions that violate their ground rules, using those methods often work to the advantage of an smb.
—Dave Oremland


It all starts with Place Page Factors. Max out content and exhaust all options in the places interface before moving to on page or citation building efforts. This foundation will then benefit from those exterior best practices.

(Reviews) Public opinion and engagement on a listing not only helps with ranking, but lends certain credibility and validation from a consumer behavior perspective. This becomes even more important with the Google + Local release.
—Erik Whaley


The +Places Page is still king. If you don't have the right business title and categories... you won't rank. Period.

Quality Citations and Links are both needed in competitive markets to rank.
—Mike Ramsey


Place page factors of Business Title, Categories, Phone number and Address are of high importance for establishing an accurate and trusted profile that will rank well in your local market for related keywords.

Reviews are still one of the most influential factors in local SERPs with reviews from a variety of sites making a noticeable impact.

Google's search ranking algorithms have historically placed high value on third-party data points, such as citations and links, and these metrics are still important today.

As Place Listings and Organic Listings have become intertwined within specific keyword SERPs, it is important to optimize your main website pages to add relevance and weight to all local searches that your Place Listing would also show.

While not a major factor yet, as search gets more social, Google will get better at understanding how social signals should influence rankings and we will start to see significant trends arise.
—James Svoboda


Focus on the fundamentals. Make sure your business is located in or a stone's throw away from the city you want to rank in. Be relentless about making your NAP consistent across every site you're listed on. Pick all the relevant Places categories you can, but be careful if you specify any custom categories (as in don't try to "optimize" them). Don't over-optimize your site, but do fill it with as much unique, informative, service-relevant content as you possibly can. Get a system for asking EVERY customer for a review – because all the rankings in the world are useless if people hit the "Back" button or don't pick up the phone.

Don't fall prey to the "I want my Places page to bring me business on autopilot" mentality. Unless you're Floyd the Barber and you want to rank #1 for "barbers" in Mayberry, NC, you'll always have competitors to contend with, and you'll have to work for your rankings. With the right approaches the time you invest will pay off, and you will have low- or no –cost visibility, but this won't necessarily happen in the immediate-term. You will have to invest time and effort – both initially and on an ongoing basis. Or you can pay through the nose for pay-per-click ads. Take your pick.

What if tomorrow you ranked #1 for all your desired search terms #1? What if your phone didn't magically start ringing, even then? Would you just sit and wait? Or would you try to see what else you could improve – by building up your Places page, getting a ton of customer reviews, and making your website as informative and relevant as it can possibly be? At first blush it may not seem that these steps are as important as just getting "eyeballs," but actually these steps are what will help you get to the top of the local heap in the first place. You have to work on the big picture while you're trying to get "rankings and traffic," not afterwards. Otherwise you may never get there.

It may be your website, but you can't just do whatever you'd like on it – not if you want to rank well in Google Places. Have your name, address, and phone as crawlable text on every page, even if you find it fugly. Keep the title tags unique from page to page and 70 characters or fewer. Have at least a few good wholesome paragraphs of info about your specific services on your Places landing page. Don't stuff your top keywords in every H1.
—Phil Rozek


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


Before worrying about anything else, it's important that a local business owner get the "three C's" right:
1) Complete - and carefully-selected - Local Google+ Page profile elements,
2) Consistency of NAP across a wide array of citations, and
3) Crawlable NAP on the associated Places landing page and business web site.
From what I've seen, only perhaps 5% of local businesses have executed on these foundational local optimization steps. Starting with a focus on these and then building outward goes a long way.
—Matt Marko


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


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


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


Getting Places optimization right is necessary to be entered into the proverbial search race, but it's never going to be enough to win it. The more competitive the query, the more important offsite, onsite and review optimization matter.
—Adam Dorfman


At this point, the basics of a strong local presence still appear to be a powerful website, violation-free Place Page, citations and reviews. Because I tend to work predominantly with smaller local businesses, my experience has been that basic good practices are capable of achieving dominance in verticals and locales of low-to-moderate competition. The more competitive the industry and location, the more tactics need to be successfully employed for dominance. Branching out into greater use of link building and social media participation may be necessary in such cases, and as use of Local Search continues to grow, may become necessary for nearly all local businesses. Google is clearly moving now at a rapid pace towards greater and greater emphasis on social behavior in Local.
—Miriam Ellis


Tip 1: Local SEO Formula for Google is all about: Claimed Google Places Listing (maybe now + Local), Optimized Webpages + Quality Backlinks + Citations + Reviews = Strong Local Rankings.

Tip 2: Inconsistent NAP information in Google Places is usually the number kiss of death. You must make sure your have a single Google Places listing per location and make sure your NAP information is uniform across the web. Duplicate listings in Goolge Places will split your citation and review power by how many dupes there are. Make sure diligent about keeping your NAP uniform across the web!

Tip 3: Look at getting reviews, adding author mark-up or review mark-up code to your website to increase CTR's in your SERPs. Leverage what the search engines allow to bring additional attention to your website. Invest in getting any schema code that is appropriate on your website(s).

Tip 4: When optimizing your website be sure to have your NAP info on every page (ideally in hcard or schema mark-up). It is just good practice to be obvious to users and search engines you are a local business and by listing your local phone number and address usually accomplishes that.

—Matthew Hunt


In considering positive ranking factors, velocity is tricky. We can assume that Google is going to consider a high velocity of review and link gathering suspicious, especially since the "over-optimization penalty" was released. On the other hand, a new business might garner a high number of reviews in a short period of time. Only time will tell if Google is going to consider velocity in determining whether a review has been gained from a reliable source.
—Lisa Kolb



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
  • Reports of Violations on your place page
  • Keyword/city stuffed Place page descriptions
  • Mismatched NAP (note: I considered phone number to invoke this factor D.M.)
  • 50+ MyMaps referring to your location
  • Multi-lingual listing for the same place
  • Keyword-Stuffing in Title Tag of Places Landing Page
  • Keyword stuffing in business name
  • Address includes suite number similar to UPS Mail Store addresses.
  • Association of Google Places account with other suppressed listings.
  • Incorrect business category.
  • Listing detected at false business location.
  • Presence of malware on site.

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

It's all about the physical location. Hiding this creates doubt with google.
—Erik Whaley

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

This is the complete opposite of "Consistency of Structured Citations", which I ranked as #3 most important factor. Inconsistency might be harmful if found in any of the following elements: business name, address, main phone number, and category. If even one of these is inconsistent across the board, that might be devastating for the whole local SEO campaign.
Google seems to be very sensitive towards inconsistencies in the phone number. One of the most often encountered problems related to this inconsistency is the usage of tracking phone number. This practice should be run from whenever possible.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Your phone number is the most important piece of NAP information. If you are inconsistent with it, you can pretty much plan on having duplicate listings.
—Mike Ramsey

Might not have direct impact on ranking, but will cause duplicates and data clusters galore.
—Erik Whaley

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

Here's how to commit local-search seppuku: buy a call-tracking number (because you want to track your Google Places leads), and try for a couple months to optimize your Places page, site, and citations. Then switch back to using your old phone number on your Places page, because you just realized that if you get an office near the centroid – in the center of town – surely you'll rank #1. Wait for a few weeks for your magic solution to take effect. Then ditch your downtown location and go back to using your old location and phone number – because you realize that you ranked better before you messed with your phone number and address.
—Phil Rozek

Presence of Multiple Place Pages with Same Phone Number Again, Google is more sensitive towards phone numbers as a business data element, than towards anything else. If two business listings use same phone numbers, it is very probable that they will merge at some point in the future.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

50+ MyMaps Referring to Your Location
Seems that G can't really distinguish properly between them, hence citations (& other attention factors) are been divided between all of the listings, although each one is in a different language! These are the problematic languages: english-german, english-spanish, english-Slovene.

Actually, couple of guys I helped, told me that 1-3 weeks after deleting their other language listing & left the English one, their English listing jumped into the 7 pack! Using Darren Shaw's tool, I saw that their citations amount (for instance) increased by 100%-400%!
—Yam Regev

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

Presence of Multiple Place Pages with Same/Similar Business Address
Battling duplicates and other unwanted Google Places listings is like a game of Whac-A-Mole. Once you whack down one of the little pests, another one (or two or three) pops up from its hiding place. Think of the data-aggregators and major IYPs as place from which the moles…er, unwanted Google Places emerge when you're not looking.
—Phil Rozek

This is often the case for directly competing businesses, whose physical locations are near to each other. Part of their business data merges at the back end (the so called "cluster" merger) and one of them might "steal" authority in the form of citations from the other.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Absence of Crawlable NAP on Places Landing Page
If this element is missing it seems to be more difficult for Google to "merge" the landing page with the Places listing.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Keyword Stuffing in Places Landing Page Business Title
I'm seeing fewer businesses with keyword-stuffed title tags (usually on the homepage) rank well in Places. Given the growing prevalence of the blended search results, the title tag will work to your advantage if it contains an appropriate 1-3 local search terms. But more keywords won't mean you'll rank for more terms; in fact, it's more likely you'll get slapped with an "over-optimization" penalty by Google.
—Phil Rozek

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

This can have a negative impact, which is unfortunate as several business models operate like this legitimately.
—Erik Whaley

According to Google this is not a negative ranking factor. However, it might have negative implications if you do serve clients at your location and this is essential for your type of business, for instance, if you are a restaurant or if you offer accommodation.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

My guess is that this depends on the category, but maybe I'm giving Google too much credit.
—Darren Shaw

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

Location in categories used to give you a boost. Now it can get your account suspended.
—Mike Ramsey

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

Low Numerical Ratings by Google Users
Google doesn't want to show businesses with low ratings as top choices as its bad for users. Excessive negative reviews could push a listing down. With Google+ Local I think this will come into play even more.
—Mike Ramsey

This is a negative ranking factor as far as it affects negatively the click-through rates. By itself, it does not seem to affect negatively neither the listing's rankings, nor the website's ones.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

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

Presence of Multiple Categories in Same Input Field
It is unclear how Google treats such cases, but it is definitely against the rules. It is very possible that Google might be taking these categories as they are presented and not just parts of them, i.e. if you add a category "plumber plumbing service plumbing company", Google might not be able to directly associated it as relevant to a search for "plumbing company".
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

Mismatched or Private WHOIS Information
There are many rumors about this being a negative ranking factor, but I've never seen anyone being able to prove its influence.
—Nyagoslav Zhekov

I think mis-matched may be a negative ranking factor, but I don't think private would be. Maybe this should be separated into two factors.
—Darren Shaw