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Local Search Ranking Factors

Posted on 1.06.2013

Those responsible for optimizing a local Web property for greater exposure know the myriad factors that influence visibility. The weight of the most important elements are routinely up for debate as algorithms can change with some frequency, but seasoned professionals understand the basics and through routine testing and improvement have taken the necessary steps to influence their future placement and position on the local results pages.

For the most part, Google acts as the conduit for users seeking local Web-enabled businesses — and details are provided herein about optimizing Places pages — but there are numerous onsite factors that must also be considered, addressed and optimized. If you want to accelerate your local Web success, start with the services provided by search engines and then focus attention on website optimization, consumer reviews and social.

Always Start with Places Page
Since Google dominates the majority of local searches (and global searches too), it’s the Places Page of businesses that marketers must first explore if the aim is to positively influence position and rank competitively. If you don’t yet have a Places Page, you might be disheartened to learn that the age of a Places page may carry some weight — so get started as soon as possible claiming that (free) listing.

Places Page Optimization
For many consumers a Places Page may be the only digital exposure they have with your business. Creating and verifying that page therefore is of immense importance. But that’s not all. The next step should be to ensure that a physical address, a local area code and phone number, as well as appropriate category associations are included in your profile. Take it a step further by selecting (and testing) additional categories to see what works as it relates to improving visibility and generating more local traffic.

While the previously addressed factors are arguably the most important there are many others that marketers should consider ‘tweaking’ to determine their role in generating greater awareness for a local business. For example, what role does the presence of a keyword (either the product or service) in the title and description have on ranking (and in what position)? What about the use of a location-specific keyword in the title and description? Regularly testing these variables (and their order placement) will reveal what is most effective in your local area.

Marketers optimizing Place pages would also do well to add some multimedia assets including photos and images. While there is little in the way of evidence to support that these elements actually influence how a Place Page is ranked, the experience provided to users and the perceived trust that results should warrant spending a little extra time.

Factoring in Reviews
Local businesses often have an edge over more national/international companies in that the type and quality of reviews that are available are more authentic and thus valuable.

The quantity of native reviews on Google Places in particular carries the greatest weight, but don’t count out third-party reviews and reviews by authority reviewers from Yelp for example. Keep in mind also that search engines are sophisticated enough to keep track of velocity, meaning that if you receive too many positive reviews in a short period of time, it may raise a red flag. It is better to have a slow increase in reviews over time (e.g. thirty reviews in a thirty day period likely would appear more “natural” than one than receiving thirty reviews in thirty minutes).

Obviously (at least we hope so), the role that relevant keywords and phrases have on reviews is major, so take the time to not only foster a culture where reviews are welcomed and encouraged, but commit to coaching those loyal customers on the process and rewarding them for their involvement.

Intersection of Social & Local
Few industry-wide trends matter more today to local Web marketing than “social.” While only a handful of local enterprises spend a sufficient amount of time developing a social following, the role that Facebook, Google+ and even Twitter play in achieving higher placement is vital. Particularly as it relates to Google, an increase in the number of +1’s a website receives as well as the number of adds/shares of a brand page on Google+ over time can positively influence placement.

Social however is far more complicated – algorithms today must account for qualitative data as ranking based on quantitative data alone is subject to manipulation. For this reason, the authority of individuals providing +1’s (and shares) as well as the speed at which they are added (called velocity) are also important factors in ranking for local searches.

The volume and velocity of “check-ins” too (e.g. Yelp, FourSquare, Facebook and even Twitter) may influence the positioning of a local-focused website. While there is much debate about the degree that this happens, providing users the ability to provide a social citation of this nature could conceivably provide more benefit than causes harm. While “authority” is often cited as another factor which influences check-ins, we’ve seen no clear indication that a check-in from an authoritative social user carries more weight than any other.

The takeaway from the intersection of social and local should be a commitment to continually foster the relationship a business has with its consumers, particularly as personalization reigns supreme among the search engines and their services.

Let’s Get Local
For many businesses the success of local Web marketing efforts are the linchpin upon which business success rests. Focus on providing as much accurate, engaging content in Places Pages, fostering authentic reviews and establishing a strong and engaging social presence will put your enterprise on the path towards greater local visibility on the Web.

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