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The 4 Most Important Local Ranking Factors in 2017

Proximity to a searcher is important, but it’s not a ranking factor. Find out why winning in local organic search means winning in the local map pack, too.

Search for pizza delivery, car repair, or even furniture in Google and your results will begin with a few ads, a map of your geographic area, and then three businesses that match your search. In the wide and wild local search ecosphere, why are these three businesses are at the top?

In early 2017, Darren Shaw claimed he’d found the answer. After analyzing dozens of queries he boldly proclaimed, “Proximity to the searcher is the new #1 ranking factor in local search results today.”

While he’s correct that proximity plays an integral role in the business listings a searcher is presented with, proximity is not a ranking factor. It’s more like a filter, or a gate a business listing must pass through in order to be considered. Once the business is in this consideration pool, its ranking depends on a solid foundation of SEO.

The crew at Local SEO Guide recently teamed up with Moz, the University of California at Irvine, and other partners to examine 200+ factors and over 100,000 local businesses. Their aim? To answer this question:

What do all of the businesses ranking in Google’s local map pack have in common?

In doing so, they show that succeeding in the local map pack means first succeeding in local organic search.

“The immaturity of the Local algorithm combined with the power of a focused SEO effort can yield outsized benefits for smart location-marketers. This study illustrates the foundational building blocks of a Local SEO campaign with the goal of helping marketers prioritize their investments in tactics that will move the needle,” says Local SEO Guide’s Andrew Shotland.

Follow along as we touch on the ordinal and categorical ranking factors confirmed in the study, including reviews, links, off-site local signals, main website optimization, and engagement.

#4: Off-Site Local

Off-site local signals like citation rating, citation domain authority, and citation page authority appear to be playing less of a role than last year. While still important, these signals are “table stakes.” They aren’t going to differentiate a business among the top 10 local search results, however, there are two exceptions where they could provide competitive value: through reviews and links on citation sites.

“Pay attention to the places that you drive leads, fix your local data if it’s a train wreck, and if you are a multi-location brand make sure you capitalize on the potential for local citation links. Other than that, yawn.”

#3: Links

A look at the top ranking map pack results shows that Google still seems to be rewarding some level of optimized anchor text around both city and keyword, evidence that Google’s organic algorithm has substantial involvement in ordering local map packs.

SEO best practice is to write anchor link text that’s descriptive and relevant to the page you’re linking to, and this goes for links to local businesses too. (Remember, anchor text is the clickable text in a hyperlink.)

“It looks like winners in local packs have likely invested in SEO services at some point. Otherwise, they would probably have fewer keywords in their anchor text.” 🙂

#2: Reviews

Reviews are a key factor in map pack results. This makes sense, as reviews are tough to fake and they let Google crowdsource ranking factors. Reviews are also one of the only ways Google can generally translate online to offline ranking factors. Trendy businesses will see a flood of great reviews before they’re likely to gain ground via traditional ranking factors (like CTR, domain authority, etc.). Reviews from real people in real time are easy for Google to trust.

“At a high level, having a keyword you are trying to rank for, and a mention of a city you are working to rank in, in reviews has a high correlation with high ranking Google My Business results.”

Reviews are also a good way to indicate engagement with a business, a factor Google uses to order both search results and local packs. Responding to reviews, posting photos, and answering Q&A are everyday ways you can give users content to engage with and Google a sign that your GMB listing is the best of the best. Engagement signals show both your customer and Google that you’re invested.

#1: Primary Website

It is still extremely difficult to be successful in local SEO without a holistic SEO strategy that leverages your main website. While it’s possible for a business to rank in the local map pack without a website, having a site, strengthening its organic rank, and building the right links all heavily correlate with positive local map pack performance. If you want to beat your competitors out of the local pack, you’ve got to start by beating them in organic search.

“If you are winning in local organic search, you are most likely winning in local pack searches also. In fact, ranking in local organic searches was the #1 high correlating factor with ranking in packs.”

What Now?

You don’t have to understand Google’s algorithms to chart a course towards higher map pack placement. Boost performance by first strengthening any owned assets, like your website. Businesses who perform well in local map packs take care of basic SEO on their main site first (think optimized meta tags, page speed, mobile friendliness, etc).

“Strong SEO” isn’t as nebulous of a destination as you may think. Yes, your website is a massive beast made up of a million different parts, all of which matter for SEO and in turn, your local organic search ranking and local map pack placement. But GPO can help you identify, plan, and monitor the work with hands-on support and actionable insights. Give us a call or send us an email. Whether you need help cleaning your location data or speeding up your site, we can help you get started today!

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