What does it take to rank highly in local search results on Google? SEO experts have been struggling with this question since Google first introduced their highly complex search engine back in 1997. Today more than three billion Google searches are conducted daily, and every year CEO Mastermind David Mihm and a crew of some 40 CEO professionals reverse-engineer Google’s local search algorithms to try to figure out what matters and what doesn’t. 2014 is no exception, and the recently released Local Search Ranking Factors Results survey has SEO experts buzzing.
What’s Hot and What’s Not
Dubbed the “Local SEO Bible,” Mihm’s survey breaks out the top 50 variables driving placement in local search results. Among them are the inclusion of the city and state in the title of the landing page, the quality of links and citations, and the page authority of the landing page URL. Increasingly, in both local and regular search results, Google seems to be placing strong focus on the importance of branding.
Reviews and Quality Citations
Google now puts customer reviews front-and-center in the carousel with their new “City Experts” program, and seems to be quite heavily focused on them as a means of weighting search results. Additionally, consistent citations from quality sources continues to be a major factor in local searches as well as national ones.
The User is the New Centroid
While local searches used to focus on proximity to a hub or centroid location, local searches now focus on the user’s exact location. This is one of the biggest changes this year, and is likely to be a major game-changer. Instead of focusing SEO around a larger metropolitan area, local business owners should highlight their actual city, small town, or even neighborhood to fare well in local search results. This is true both for mobile as well as desktop searches.
Social Media Ranking
Facebook likes and other social media factors still have little to no effect on Google ranking factors, since Google has no ability to control those platforms and ensure that users are not manipulating them. What does seem to be controlling page ranking is click-through rates from search results and the availability of driving directions to find your location.
Pogo Sticking More Down than Up
On the adverse side of ratings, the practice of “pogo-sticking” is liable to land your site in a search engine penalty box. Pogo sticking is what happens when searchers consistently land on your page and then leave unsatisfied, either because your search terms are irrelevant, your page is poorly designed, takes too long to load, or is simply too confusing to navigate.
Go Mobile or Go Home
Websites that are not optimized for mobile, or that direct users to the mobile home page instead of the corresponding searched for page, are at a distinct disadvantage. Google is increasingly taking a hard look at mobile site usage metrics and finding ways to reward sites that offer a strong mobile user experience.