It’s a big year for local search.

The 2015 Local Search Ranking Factors report, which surveyed about 40 local SEO practitioners on what they think is the most important variables for local rankings, is finally out. It appears that on-page signals are still at the top spot, along with other very interesting factors.

But before we jump into the findings from the survey, let’s briefly run through what local search looks like in the last few years to see how it has evolved.

Yesterday: The Evolution of Local Search

Local search has come a long way since the 2000s, and it has evolved significantly since the birth of online search. Before, doing SEO for a local business was no different to doing SEO for any other business. Today, local search is a completely different discipline, and with frequent changes to algorithms and results displays, staying on top of local search is now a full-time task.

primary source of local business information
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local search consumer act
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Google Pigeon is one of the biggest shakeups in the world of local search, revolutionizing the way listings are displayed in search results. It also tied local results more closely to traditional factors, and aimed at improving location and distance parameters.

But perhaps the biggest change in local search since Google Pigeon is the “Snack Pack.” Before, Google returned a “7-pack” for local search queries, which included seven business listings. The search engine giant converted it a month later to three packs, which later became known as the “Snack Pack.”

Today: 2015 Local Search Ranking Factors

For this year’s Local Search Ranking Factors Survey conducted by Moz, the answers seem to echo much of what is covered above.

This year, respondents were asked to rate not only ranking factors across local search results, but also the specific factors they pay attention to since the release of the Local Stack/Snack Pack results.

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On-Page Signals remain on top, followed by Link, My Business, External Location, Behavioral/Mob, Personalization, Review, and Social Signals. In the results, there seems to be an emphasis on quality, as well as the utilization of an expanding range of signals.

Moz’s David Mihm grouped the responses into several categories as well, and each of the factors are cut to just the top 50 in each category. For simplicity’s sake, here is a summary of the top five for each:

Localized Organic Ranking Factors:

  1. Domain Authority of Website
  2. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
  3. City, State in GMB Landing Page Title
  4. Click-Through Rate from Search Results
  5. Topical (Product/Service) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content

Pack/Carousel Results:

  1. Physical Address in City of Search
  2. Consistency of Structured Citations
  3. Proper GMB Category Associations
  4. Proximity of Address to the Point of Search
  5. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations

Negative Ranking Factors:

  1. Incorrect business category
  2. Listing detected at false business address
  3. Mismatch NAP / Tracking Phone Numbers Across Data Ecosystem
  4. Presence of malware on site
  5. Reports of Violations on your GMB location

Difference-Making Factors in Competitive Markets:

  1. Consistency of Structured Citations
  2. Domain Authority of Website
  3. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
  4. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
  5. Proper GMB Category Associations

Factors Experts Are Focusing on More Since the Snack Pack Rollout:

  1. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
  2. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
  3. Quantity of Native Google Reviews (with text)
  4. Consistency of Structured Citations
  5. Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain

Factors Experts Are Focusing on Less Since the Snack Pack Rollout:

  1. Proximity of Address to Centroid
  2. Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)
  3. Authority of +1s on Website
  4. Number of Shares on Google+
  5. Quantity of Citations from Industry-Relevant Domains

On a qualitative, non-numerical standpoint, the comments section of the results posted at Moz’s site provide so many nuggets of wisdom as well.

“I don’t think what it takes to rank has really changed much – best practices still apply. The algo did not change IMO, mainly just the display and the fact there are fewer spots. From what I’ve seen, in most cases whoever ranked in the top 3 in the old 7 pack is still in the same order at the top of the new 3 pack.” –Linda Buquet, Local Search Forum

”On page signal is a funny thing when it comes to local search. Domain authority, in the traditional sense of power house top 100 domains, gets trumped by local relevance. Combine that factor with a couple of years of search user behavior and the resulting cocktail is hard to swallow for veteran SEOs. How does this local website with no SEO, no backlinks, crappy title tags beat us? Aggregate user data. Historical citation data. Hyper local signals. Forget being a small fish in the world wide waters, be a big fish in a local search pond.” – Thomas Ballantyne, Bulwark Pest Control

“The ‘snack pack’ move by G has really had a serious negative impact on traffic to many local florists and it’s clear (at least to me) that better and diverse reputation signals have helped those who remain at the top. Yet, with the continual changes and weighting of signals, who knows what results will look like tomorrow, next week, next month or next year.” – Cathy Rulloda, Avante Gardens Florist

Reading Between the Lines

With that, it seems behavioral signals are increasing in importance. The results also clearly show that the location of a business is important, but it depends on where people are doing the search.

The results show that citations still matter as well. When read between the lines, the focus of businesses, however, should be on quality.

Tomorrow: Local Search is Maturing

Even more than in the ”national” search results, the local results factors seem to experience an ongoing change. Some of that is driven by mobile. Some of it is driven by quality considerations, as Google rewards quality on all sides—from citations to links and reviews. And as more businesses implement the table stakes of location-relevant title tags, keyword-relevant title tags, and site architecture, quality and authority become the differentiators in competitive markets.

Search engine optimization is a particularly complicated endeavor, and all these factors matter. You can’t just do small changes and expect big results—but you can’t simply stay far away in a corner and just pray for the best, either.

What you need is an expert in local search. RefractROI, one of the leading Denver SEO companies, is the sought-after name in the world of local search. When we work on your business, we’ll take each ranking factor into mind to make sure you’ll get an excellent spot in the local search results.

Call us today for a consultation.

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