Moz began its Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, led by David Mihm, back in 2008. The data they gathered and distributed freely helped pioneer the study and evaluation of local search and SEO knowledge. Moz’s results have annually provided marketers and SEO enthusiasts with extremely useful information, informing them what has changed over the past year in local, organic and local pack search rankings and how to optimize their content better. Because of its incredible usefulness, Moz’s local SEO ranking survey has become an annual go-to resource for businesses. 180fusion uses this as our fulfillment model to ensure that our local SEO clients are getting the most competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Last year a significant change was made when the webmaster passed the study along to Darren Shaw, during which the study had been on hiatus for nearly a year. Finally, since the last report in September of 2015, we’ve got the next batch of official results to look at, and of course, some significant changes in local search to mention. Without further adieu, here is what they look like (Drumroll please…):
Links, Reviews & Citations
To oversimplify and understate some of the key changes in the 2017 results, links and reviews are even more crucial to local search ranking while citations have slightly dropped in overall importance.
Google’s local search continues to put a significant amount of emphasis on links, using them as their primary method of measuring your website’s authority, trustworthiness, and your overall influence. According to the study, local search saw major increases for “link-related factors” all across the board. Likewise, reviews have held a similar overwhelming growth and influence to search which was also represented by a similar, although not quite as dramatic, growth. This is generally one of the most underlooked aspect of a local SEO campaign. While citations and on-page work is important, backlinks are definitely the key competitive differentiator even when it comes to looking at your Google Local Business Page. So many multi-location sites lack links to internal pages and this is really where they can move the needle. A big piece of this is having the anchor text relevant to the city and state as you can see below:
While both links and reviews have grown even more important to search, citations appear to be on a decline. As many SEO analysts confirmed, after some fundamental changes to local search and especially local pack listings, it looks like Google’s making a shifting priority from citations to links when it comes to importance. This is not to say businesses should stop caring about citations, which would hurt rankings much further, but as Shaw explains in his detailed post, “the emphasis on citations has seen some decline (certainly in favor of links), and rightly so. In particular, there is an increasing focus on quality over quantity.”
Impact from Google Possum on Local SEO Ranking Factors
When Google snuck out their Possum update last year, many businesses dreaded and worried how the update would affect their local search. The update changed how local search algorithms depended on physical address and location, with many people claiming Possum would be the largest change to search since 2014’s Pigeon update.
Well, those businesses should stop worrying. According to Moz’s survey data, the impact of Google Possum on local search has been “negligible” according to Shaw. “Possum hasn’t made much of an impact on what we do to rank businesses in local. It has simply added another point of failure in cases where a business gets filtered.”
This may be good news for many companies, but the changes to search regarding location have continued to affect the rest of local search, as we’ll look at next.
Proximity of Search
There have been some major changes to proximity as well, changing the #1 ranking factor for local packs. For the past two years, your business’s physical address in the city of search was its top local pack/ranking factor. This metric worked fairly well in many cases and made it difficult for businesses to rank in local packs outside of their city, but with our improvements to technology, local search is quickly advancing alongside it.
According to 2017’s survey data, the new #1 factor is now Proximity of Address to the Point of Search. Many analysts have seen this coming, watching this factor climb steadily in ranking from #8 back in 2014 now to #1. As location data and technology have improved, search engine’s have worked to make local search more accurate, relative, and useful to us. While this change aims to do this, it has also brought with it a new set of obstacles for marketers to overcome in the meantime. For example, local searches are more likely to display results in the local pack with the greatest proximity, rather than a better result that is located nearby but further away.
Here is a snapshot of what the changes look like from 2015 to 2017 for the local rankings study:
While this study does an amazing job in assessing how Google looks at a website to determine placement, some of the other big factors to always consider, we also see big movement in the behavioral category particularly click-through-rate. If you have a higher click-through-rate at a lower placement, that is one of the easiest ways to get movement from local SEO to E-Commerce SEO. Definitely smart to be paying attention to the evolution of UX factors like click-through-rate, bounce rate, etc as well as what you are seeing above.
Some of the biggest movers and shakers from the 2017 moz local ranking factors survey include Proximity, Reviews and inbound links with geo-specific anchors. Feel free to continue using our Local SEO Checklist as we will continue to modify this and it can serve as an initial model to get the 101 pieces in place.
At 180fusion our local seo strategists will continue to leverage the data to continue to drive our clients rankings up the charts. Whether you are looking to rank in Los Angeles, CA or Chicago, IL we can assist in driving the most qualified traffic in the most profitable way according to both webmaster guidelines from Google as well as the best interest of our clients to command more visibility and growth in 2017 and beyond.
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