Local Search Ranking Factors 2011 – A Few Notes



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Local Search Ranking Factors 2011 are out! That’s probably one of the biggest The Long Way to the Truthevents of the year in our small “local” world. This year David Mihm invited more than 30 Google Places and local SEO specialists to express their opinion on the major factors that determine the local search rankings. The list of gurus includes Mike Blumenthal, Matt McGee, Linda Buquet, Mary Bowling, Mike Belasco, Dev Basu, Chris Silver Smith, Andrew Shotland, Steve Hatcher, Miriam Ellis, Mike Ramsey and others.

This year, as expected, the ranking factors were divided into two separate lists: 1) Pure Local Factors (when the Place page is not merged with the website on the results page) and 2) Blended local factors (when the website and Place page are merged on the results page). The importance of the particular ranking factors greatly varies for the two different search result types. However, David Mihm summarized the ten most influential ones overall:

1. Physical Address in City of Search
2. Manually Owner-verified Place Page
3. Proper Category Associations
4. Volume of Traditional Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)
5. Crawlable Address Matching Place Page Address
6. PageRank / Authority of Website Homepage / Highest Ranked Page
7. Quality of Inbound Links to Website
8. Crawlable Phone Number Matching Place Page Phone Number
9. Local Area Code on Place Page
10. City, State in Places Landing Page Title

Further down in the article, the whole list of 79 factors was posted:
A. Pure Local Factors
B. Blended Local Factors

Although these were agreed on by a number of specialists in the field of local search, I have a different view on a few of the points. I want to note that I speak solely from my personal experience and observations. For a different perspective on the ranking factors, you might also be interested to see the comments in this discussion - make sure you read the post by Matthew Hunt.

1) Missing factors

There are a few factors that I consider missing. I am not sure if they were all together overlooked or thought of as unimportant. Whatever the case, I’d like to mention them:

- consistency of NAP (name, address, phone) – I’d consider it probably one of the top 5 factors especially in the “pure” results
- diversity of citation domains
- diversity of review domains
- quality of inbound links to citations
- location keyword/address in citation URL
- product/service keyword in citation URL
- business name as appearing on Place page in citation URL
- title tag of landing page specified in Places (check out this research by Mike Ramsey)
- click-through rate
- meta description of landing page specified in Places – minor importance, but probably higher value than most of the factors after position 70

2) Factors that I consider are with minor or no value for the ranking (and therefore I think they should be represented lower in the ranking factors lists or not represented at all). The first number is how they ranked in the Pure Search Factors list and the second – in the Blended Search Factors list.

- Volume of MyMaps / MapMaker References to Your Business (34, 56) – isn’t the main change Google made in October 2010 the removal of MyMaps as a ranking factor?
- Popularity (# of Views) of MyMaps References to Your Business (59, 58)
- Location Keywords in Place Page Custom Fields (37, 46) – I have seen custom fields spammed with hundreds of location/product/service keywords and Google didn’t seem to care
- Matching Google Account Domain to Places Landing Page Domain (39, 49) – I don’t really think this is a factor as far as search rankings are concerned. Probably its highest importance comes in resolving controversies about the ownership of a particular Place page
- High Numerical Ratings of Place by Google Users (e.g. 4-5) (45, 53) – I have encountered many cases in which very low-rated businesses rank higher
- High Numerical Third-Party Ratings (e.g. 4-5) (49, 63) – same as above
- Inclusion of Coupon on Place Page (66, 70) – again, I have seen Place pages spammed with literally hundreds of coupons – Google didn’t seem to care, either
- Number of Likes on Matching Facebook Page (73, 69) – Facebook likes and Twitter followers don’t seem to be a ranking factor just yet; yes, Facebook likes and especially tweets affect the results for social network “acquaintances” but in a general, non-biased search, they are still not factors
- Number of Followers on Matching Twitter Account (75, 78)
- Authority of Followers on Matching Twitter Account (76, 75)
- Velocity of New Facebook Likes (77, 77)
- Velocity of New Followers on Matching Twitter Account (79, 79)
- Participation in Boost or Adwords (78, 76) – Google states it clearly – these are not factors

3) Overestimated factors

- Manually Owner-verified Place Page (3, 5) – I have seen so many unclaimed Place pages ranking very high in the last few months that I consider it a rather mediocre factor. Especially regarding blended search. I think that Matt McGee agrees on this one.
- Product / Service Keyword in Place Page Description (10, 35) – I haven’t seen a real proof that Google has ever penalized a business for keyword stuffed Place Page description. Therefore, I come to the conclusion that Google does not care too much about what is included there and does not consider it a major factor.
- Volume of Native Google Places Reviews (16, 28) – this is definitely a factor, especially in Pure Search, but I think it is less important than third-party reviews, which are ranked 20. Also, this factor is going to be decreasing in importance.

4) Underestimated factors

- Proximity of Address to Centroid (8, 23) – I’d say that this is in the top 3 most important factors. And not only regarding the city centroid, but the overall proximity of the address to the spot that the search query has been sent from (especially valid in mobile search). Check out this recent post by Andrew Shotland, regarding the “tightening of the Google Maps radii”
- Product / Service Keyword in Business Title (9, 19) – I have seen with my own eyes, tens of times, low-ranking listings that do not have keywords in their business titles rocket right to page 1 in less than 24 hours when you add these. It is spammy and it gets the business suspended pretty soon, but it DOES work perfectly well. For both types of search results.
- Location Keyword in Business Title (12, 37) – same as above.

I’ve started researching these controversial points and I will be publishing more detailed opinions on the OptiLocal website in the upcoming months.



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12 Responses to Local Search Ranking Factors 2011 – A Few Notes

  1. Great post… I think a lot of people will agree with many of these.

    Your last couple points about the importance of keywords in the business title is something I really agree with and find pretty irritating. I think it ranks lower on the survey than expected because some contributors take into account that businesses using these terms can get penalized for it – despite it having a great positive benefit for those that don’t get caught. Why Google would effectively penalize businesses who didn’t happen to use something generic and boring (like MYCITY MYINDUSTRY) for their name is totally beyond me.

    Keywords in the title are important enough that I think there’s a real case for either renaming a company or using a DBA. Not something that I like to recommend, because it’s probably short term and not great for branding. I wrote a post about the pros and cons a few days ago.

  2. Hey Chris,

    I think it is true that the keywords in business name were ranked not that high probably because of the danger of being penalized. A good post you have there too. I don’t think a business has to change their name or even DBA, just to get an edge in the local rankings. Building a stable brand name in the area is much much more important. However, I’ve noticed that most businesses trying to game the system are usually lower quality ones, so for someone who is experienced with Google Places I think it’s very easy to pick the best business (funny thing they usually rank about position 3-5). I hope this will be dropped as a ranking factor very soon.

    What I believe is very important also, is the title tag of the landing page, especially in “blended search”. And it is not mentioned in the factors too (or at least I couldn’t find it).

  3. I think you’re right about the landing page title tags – and it’s nice that businesses can use keywords here, without changing their name, and yet not be penalized for it. Hopefully things keep moving that way…

  4. Nice write up. The problem with the local ranking factors article is that there is just too much to take in at once and these kinds of summaries are gold.

  5. - High Numerical Ratings of Place by Google Users (e.g. 4-5) (45, 53) – I have encountered many cases in which very low-rated businesses rank higher

    I think that the mantra “Google can’t read, Google counts” still applies to the local search. But the low ranking can still indirectly affect the ranking because they can lower the CTR – something that you consider as a ranking factor (I’m not sure about that).

  6. Hi Nyagoslav,

    Thank for this critical reaction to the really important document “Local Search Ranking Factors”. There are quite some aspects you mentioned referring the common ranking factors, which i evaluate the same way you did.

    Especially “consistency of NAP” seems to me a very high ranking factor! If I see unclaimed place pages ranking very well, than it’s most often because of “consistency of NAP” and “high volume of external citations”.

    Regards,
    Sebastian

  7. @Mike: Thanks for the kind words. I tried to take the article to a higher level than just being a summary of the LSRF 2011. There are some own ideas, that differ from the results of the survey, and as it seems some of the contributors themselves do agree with me to some extent (Mike Ramsey, Linda Buquet, Matt McGee).

    @Plamen: the lower ratings can definitely affect the overall performance of an otherwise well-optimized Place page/website in many ways, one of which is the decrease in CTR, and another could be the overall conversion rate drop. It is my own theory that the CTR is being taken into account when determining the rankings, probably using some similar system as with the pricing of the pay-per-clicks. As I state in the article – all are just personal thoughts.

    @Sebastian: Yes, consistency is extremely important and even David Mihm himself acknowledged that and claimed he would definitely add this as a ranking factor in the next year’s survey. However, I think it’s a big miss it hasn’t been included this year, as I consider it one of the top 3.

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  9. matthew hunt

    Nyagoslav,

    been seeing your comments around, great insights on local and places optimization.

    here’s my 2 cents on your missing factors: (I PUT MY OPINIONS IN CAPS, HOPEFULLY NOT TOO ANNOYING).
    http://www.whitespark.ca/local-citation-finder/#

    1) Missing factors

    There are a few factors that I consider missing. I am not sure if they were all together overlooked or thought of as unimportant. Whatever the case, I’d like to mention them: NO I THINK THEY WERE MISSED. A GOOD PLACE TO PULL YOUR OWN DATA ON SOME OF THIS IS BY USING DARREN’S CITATION FINDER TOOL AT WHITESPARK.

    - consistency of NAP (name, address, phone) – I’d consider it probably one of the top 5 factors especially in the “pure” results SUPER IMPORTANT FOR BOTH, BUT IT DOESN’T RANK YOU IN “BLENDED SEARCH” – STILL IMPORTANT FOR PLACES OPTIMIZATION AND JUST GOOD PRACTICE TO KEEP ALL YOUR NAP INFO SQUEAKY CLEAN.
    - diversity of citation domains – IMPORTANT, JUST MAKES SENSE TO ME. JUST LIKE GETTING LINKS FROM A DIVERSIFIED CLASS IP’S IS IMPORTANT, IT IS NOW TRUE WITH CITATIONS TOO. GONE ARE THE DAYS YOU CAN GET 50, 75, 100 CITATIONS FROM ONE OR TWO AUTHORITY DIRECTORIES
    - diversity of review domains – AGAIN SUPER IMPORTANT, ESPECIALLY WITH GOOGLE’S NEW DESCRIPTIVE TERMS: http://places.blogspot.com/2011/06/introducing-descriptive-terms-in-local.html DON’T FORGET TO GET THOSE REVIEWS OPTIMIZED WITH THE RIGHT KEYWORDS TOO :) OR YOU COULD END UP WITH DT’S THAT DON’T HELP YOUR BUSINESS http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/google-maps-launching-folksonomy-descriptive-terms/
    - quality of inbound links to citations – YES IMPORTANT… FROM MY TESTING IT HELPS. IF YOU FIND YOU HAVE A BUNCH OF CITATIONS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN INDEXED IN THE SERP’S THEN BUILD SOME LINKS TO THEM SO YOU CAN GET THE CITATION(S) AND LINK(S)
    - location keyword/address in citation URL – I’VE NEVER REALLY LOOKED AT THIS… ADDRESS IN URL, EH…? HMMM. MIGHT HAVE TO TEST THIS OUT A LITTLE.
    - product/service keyword in citation URL – DITTO AS ABOVE, PROBABLY A GOOD THING THING FROM USER STAND-POINT
    - business name as appearing on Place page in citation URL – AGAIN HAVEN’T TESTED THIS MUCH, ON THE PAGE, YES IN THE URL NO.
    - title tag of landing page specified in Places (check out this research by Mike Ramsey) – YEAH SUPER IMPORTANT, SOME INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT: “KEYWORD + LOCAL KEYWORD + PHONE NUMBER” BEING IN TITLE TAGS CAN HELP… I HAVE HAD SUCCESS WITH AND WITHOUT PHONE NUMBER. ALLOW I USUALLY ALWAYS HAVE IT THERE MORE FOR A USEABILITY FEATURE THEN AN OPTIMIZATION STRATEGY.
    - click-through rate – I THINK THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT THEN PEOPLE THINK
    - meta description of landing page specified in Places – minor importance, but probably higher value than most of the factors after position 70 – META DESCRIPTION IS SUPER IMPORTANT B/C IT SELLS THE CLICK AND CAN AFFECT CTR’S, CTR’S AFFECT RANKINGS.

  10. Hello Matthew,

    Thank you for the great analysis and comparison of my thoughts with yours. I wanted to make a note here, which I was thinking to do in the article itself. The first half of the factors I consider missing I relate as important mostly to the “pure search”. The second half of the factors are important for the “blended search” ranking. Furthermore, some of these factors are directly and others indirectly affecting the rankings. An example of an indirect effect would be the meta description, as it would have great impact on the CTR, which I consider a direct ranking factor. I believe that in the last few months (especially after the few pandas that rolled around the algo) the CTR is one of the most important ranking factors in both organic and local blended search.

    And here comes another thing which your words reminded me of, and I forgot to mention in the article – different STRUCTURED citations have different value. In the LSRF they are not divided. I think generic directories have much lower value generally than local/vertical directories. Same as with the links – the more relevant the source site of the link, the more valuable it itself would be. I have been doing observations and researches on this exact problem and I could definitely say that.

    Another thing which your thoughts triggered me to mention is the value of hCard formatted reviews/testimonials on the website. It is too early to speak about its overall value, but I think as Schema was announced, it means Google/Bing are putting a great deal of importance on that matter. And mentioning Bing, I really think the factors are not matching its algo, so I really hope the next year’s edition would feature both Google and Bing ranking factors.

    Thanks once again!

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  12. Imprezzio Marketing

    “diversity of review domains” = I totally agree with this. I think it makes a HUGE difference if the listing has reviews pulling from directories. Thanks for pointing out that article on the maps radii. I’ve seen that happen recently too and it’s nice to know I’m not the only one!

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