Darren Shaw, founder and president of Whitespark, shared new insights in his recent presentation at the Whitespark Local Search Summit. In his 2020 Local Search Ranking Factors deck, Darren shared the results of his organization’s most recent local search ranking factors survey.
Developed by David Mihm in 2008, this survey is unusual in that it polls recognized experts in the field (as opposed to soliciting a larger volume of responses from a broad field of those in the industry). As Shaw put it, this is more an opportunity to “download their collective local search knowledge to your brains.”
Ready to see their insights? Let’s dive into what local search experts like Mike Blumenthal, Joy Hawkins, Carrie Hill, and Ben Fisher had to share with the industry this year. Here are just a few of the key highlights from Darren’s presentation.
Top Local Search/Map Pack Ranking Factors in 2020
The expert contributors were asked, “For Local/Pack rankings, to what extent do each of the following thematic areas of local search contribute to rankings at Google?”
The seven thematic areas in question are Google My Business, Citations, On-Page, Links, Reviews, Behavioral Signals, Personalization. This is similar to the Local Pack/Finder Ranking Factors weighting conducted by Moz back in 2018, with one notable exclusion—Moz included Social Signals as a theme and Whitespark does not.
In Whitespark’s illustration of Local Pack ranking factors above, you can see that the experts polled believe Google My Business is by far the most influential factor with 33% of the weighting. This has dramatically increased in recent years, so much that Slide 15 in Darren’s presentation is dedicated to the rise of GMB. In 2015, GMB signals accounted for just 15% of experts’ perceived local rankings weighting.
GMB optimization includes proximity, business category, the keywords in your title, and more. See our Anatomy of a GMB Listing Infographic to make sure you’re tapping into all of the opportunities you have to make your location listings stand out in the Local Pack.
Local reviews and on-page optimization are close contenders as far as Local Pack ranking factors go, with 16% and 15% of the weighting, respectively. Your local reviews strategy is also a critically important extension of your customer service and loyalty programs and should be an area of focus for all enterprise brands competing at the local level.
Learn how to use organic SEO to improve your Map Pack rankings here. We’ve also put together a set of best practices for on-page SEO in the age of social distancing that you won’t want to miss.
When It Comes to Local Organic Ranking, On-Page SEO & Links Are Still King
Local organic results appear in the “regular” search engine results listings on the left, as opposed to in the Map Pack or Local Pack. These are still results that Google deems as locally relevant when the query has displayed some kind of local intent.
Whitespark’s local search experts panel pegged on-page optimization at 32% of the total local organic weighting, with links close behind at 31%. After that, it’s a fairly tight race with behavioral signals accounting for 10% and citations, personalization, GMB, and reviews all coming in at 6% or 7%.
Leveraging local pages at scale is an important opportunity for brands to shine locally. Local pages are a great vessel for the kinds of engaging, hyperlocal content consumers crave.
In addition to standard features such as proper schema optimization, embedded Google Maps, and accurate location data, you can improve both your search optimization and the experience for customers by including local reviews, high-quality images and video, and more. Learn more in this summary of highlights from our expert panel webinar, Leveraging Local Pages at Scale.
More Key Local Ranking Insights to Drive Your SEO Strategy
In their research, Darren and his team also determined that:
- Primary GMB Category, Keywords in GMB Business Title, and Proximity of Address to Point of Search are the three factors that experts believe have the greatest impact on Local Pack/Finder rankings.
- For local organic search, experts believe the top individual ranking factors are the Quality and Authority of Inbound Links, the Volume of Quality Content on the Entire Website, and the Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links.
- Removing Spam Listings has been the top priority for local search experts this year, followed by generating quality/authority links and ensuring the completeness of GMB listings.
- When it comes to myth-busting ranking factors that the experts agreed absolutely DO NOT matter, “Keywords in GMB Business Description” was #1.
- High numerical Google rankings (placing 1 to 5), positive sentiment in review text, and the quantity of Google reviews were the top 3 GMB conversion factors identified by the expert respondents.
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