No. 984
May 31st, 2011

Local Search Ranking Factors, Vol. 4

Well, it’s hard to believe this is already the fourth time I’ve had the privilege to compile the opinions of the world’s top experts in Local Search Marketing. This year’s survey was a little more difficult both to put together, and for the participants to muddle through, due to a big increase in the number of factors I asked about and the introduction of Google’s Blended Local results last October.  I want to give special thanks (even more so than previous years) to the experts for their time and thoughtfulness in completing the survey. It’s always a huge thrill for me to be the very first one to see the resutls of all of this accumulated knowledge.

And now, on to my initial comments about the results:

Once again, I think the panelists this year pretty much “nailed it,” based on the local search results I’ve personally analyzed in the last year.  Note how much more important the authority of a local business’s website was judged to be this year in comparison to last year–for both Blended Search and in terms of the experts’ overall advice.  Other factors which made a strong jump included a crawlable physical address and local phone number on your website, speaking to the importance of Google being able to “match up” a Place Page with a website in order to return a Blended result.

Some aspects of reviews dropped considerably this year, including the weight Google places on structured reviews for ranking, and especially the idea of a steady velocity contributing to rankings. In the collective opinion of the panel,  the degree to which a review is positive or negative still seems not to matter much for ranking, but continues to be important for clickthrough rate. One review factor that increased this year was volume of unstructured reviews, speaking to the fact that Google seems to be incorporating a wider and wider number of websites into its review corpus and is getting much more sophisticated about pulling review sentiments from regular old webpages.

The importance of MyMaps–both volume and popularity–was judged to take a hit, which correlates with Google’s (in my opinion misguided) decision no longer to allow public searches for user-generated maps in the interface, as well as removing them from the sidebars of Places which are mentioned on these maps.

And finally, despite all of the hype around the influence of both social signals and landing page loadtime in organic search results in the first part of this year, very few panelists think that these factors have been incorporated into Google’s Place Search algorithm yet.

One factor that came up again and again in the comments, which I have somehow neglected to ask about in previous years as well as in 2011, is “consistency of NAP information,” that is, your business name, address, and phone number across the local search ecosystem.  The importance of this concept for ranking in Local Search was also borne out by the #1 NEGATIVE factor, as voted on by the experts: use of mis-matched or call-tracking phone numbers by local businesses.  I’ll surely be asking for respondents to rank the positive impact of this factor explicitly in 2012. Thanks to everyone who suggested it this year.

Once again, thanks to everyone who participated this year & I look forward to getting a conversation going about the results below in the comments.