Keeping your web presence up-to-date with the latest local search ranking factors can be exhausting effort. The algorithm behind Google local search is continuously changing, and the weight places on certain ranking factors can change in just months.
With most of 2016’s search engine data now available, the SEO community is finally starting to solidify the local search ranking factors that are deemed most important. So to help sift through data and make sense of the research, I’ve consolidated intelligence from leading sources in the search industry, namely Local SEO Guide, Moz, and Search Engine Land.
While there are a many different factors that may influence a business’s ranking in Google local search, below I’ve outlined (in no particular order) some of the most influential variables. Further, I offer a few tips to help you optimize your local web presence for each factor, enabling you to boost the potential behind your SEO efforts.
1. Google My Business
Claiming your Google My Business (GMB) page is one thing. But taking the time to fully populate and optimize your company’s GMB page is another. As such, one of the most important components to your SEO strategy is establishing and verifying a GMB page.
The process is pretty easy. First, fill in all details possible, including a good tagline, business description, and several high quality images. Be sure to select a primary category that’s most relevant to the services and/or products your business offers. I also suggest selecting up to 4 additional subcategories (if applicable,) as this will help increase your local search exposure for keywords related to these secondary categories.
Once you’ve populated your business’s GMB page to 100% completion, make sure to go through the owner verification process. This can be done via phone call verification or a postcard submission. The latter option can take a couple weeks, so phone verification is often preferred.
In essence, the GMB page behind your business is the most important SEO asset aside from your website. For this reason, make an effort to create a GMB page that’s informative, accurate, and branded to your business.
While GMB pages are the web properties that rank in the Google local search results, your company’s website also factors into these rankings. Domain authority is perhaps the most influential metric to your site’s SEO potential. However, domain authority stems from inbound links coming to your site (an “off-site” ranking factor.)
There are still many things you need to do on-site in order to actualize a successful SEO strategy. To jump right in, here are several on-site SEO trust signals that need to be addressed.
- Mention the name, address, and phone number (or “citation”) of your business as it’s mentioned on your GMB page and other directory listings. Try to include this information in the header, footer, or other site-wide placement.
- Markup the citation data with Local Business Schema or structured data markup.
- Populate your site with unique, quality content (mindfully using keywords and phrase where it makes sense, especially in the Page Title and Meta Description of the homepage.)
- Embed the Google Maps snippet of your business’s location on your contact page. You can also embed this on your homepage or other site-wide placement.
- Include a link to your company’s GMB page and other social profiles.
- Build a HTML sitemap and generate/upload a XML sitemap to your website
- Create and upload a KML file to the website.
- Include a “Reviews” page on the site. You can encourage happy customers to visit this page and leave reviews on your GMB page, Yelp page, and other major listings.
Again, there are numerous on-site local search ranking factors that can influence rankings. But if you address these local SEO practices, you can gain a massive edge on your competitors.
Links (also known as “inbound links” or “backlinks”) are paramount for both local search and organic search rankings. According to the 2016 Local SEO Ranking Factors Study conducted by Andrew Shotland and his team at Local SEO Guide, a majority of your time should be invested in acquiring links to your site. This can be done through traditional methods like guest blogging, creating directory listings, and establishing link exchanges with other sites. There are also ways to earn links naturally by producing brilliant content, having a strong social influence, and earning recognition through news, publicity, and events.
The fact of the matter is, the domain authority of your site is directly correlated to inbound links. And while this metric is associated with your website, it also impacts your business’s local search rankings.
A good way to think about links is to look at them like votes. The more votes your site has, the greater credibility, trust, and authority it earns. But instead of trying to get the most votes, focus on getting higher quality votes from reliable sources.
For instance, if you were doing local SEO for a chiropractor, acquiring a link from Spine-Health.com (an authority on the web for chiropractic) would have significant value. In fact, just one link from that site would probably have greater value than five links from various blogs or press releases. This is because the domain authority of Spine-Health.com is extremely high, and earning a link from that site helps pass some of that authority to chiropractor’s site.
In short, links must not be overlooked. Take the time to pinpoint link opportunities, whether by direct outreach, networking, or connecting with colleagues and other local business that might complement what you do. The value in earning quality links to your site will substantially increase your business’ ranking potential, both locally and organically.
4. Off-Site Local Signals
The last critical factor impacting local search rankings is off-site signals known as citations. As referenced above, citations are simply mentions of your business’ name, address, and phone number, most commonly found on directory listings and social media profiles.
Citations are similar to links in that they are an important off-site ranking signal, however, they only impact local search. You see, Google meticulously crawls and compares the citation data on your website, GMB page, and other listings throughout the web. Any discrepancies in citation data can diminish trust, and thus hinder SEO.
For this reason, a major process behind local SEO is going out and building citations, as well as fixing any of citations with inaccurate information. This also includes pinpointing duplicate listings on the same website (i.e. having two Yelp listings with conflicting business information.) This is particularly important when doing franchise SEO for multiple locations, as citation discrepancies can cripple performance.
A great resources to quickly evaluate your site’s citations is Yext.com’s Powerlistings Scan. This free tool will show you how your business’s citations appear throughout a number of major listings, such as Google, Yelp, Yahoo! Local, YellowPages, Manta, and about 50 other directories. The main idea is to polish-up the complete citation profile representing your business and ensure that it is 100% accurate and consistent across each listing.
There are several other local search ranking factors involved in the grand scheme of things; however, most local SEO’s and search marketers will agree that these are most impactful for SEO. If you stay focused on the latter ranking factors, you’ll be way ahead of most of your competitors.