Now that Google has released Pigeon, its latest algorithm update, we are seeing some changes in the relative importance of ranking factors for local search. If you want your business to rank well in local searches, it’s critical that you stay abreast of these changes and learn how to make them work in your favor.
What Are the Main Factors Regarding Local Search?
When local search became a factor several years ago, brick and mortar businesses scrambled to position themselves to benefit from this trend. It became clear that more and more customers were searching for businesses using place names. This is also related to the widespread use of smartphones and tablets, which make it easy for people to search while driving or walking around.
What are the leading factors that Google and other search engines use to rank websites locally?
- Social Signals -This includes Google+, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.
- Reviews -Reviews play a significant role in search engine algorithms. Google looks for not only the number of reviews but also the quality and diversity of reviews. This pertains to review sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List, Google Reviews and others.
- Linking -Linking has always been central to SEO, and this is also true for local search. This includes inbound links, anchor text and internal linking on websites.
- On-Page SEO -There are a few essential factors that local businesses much consider in this area. Chief among these are what’s known as NAP, which stands for name, address and phone number.
- Citations -These are mentions of your business. They don’t have to be links, but any type of mention.
These are some of the main factors that Google uses to rank sites for local search. What’s important, however, is knowing which of these factors carry the most weight.
How Pigeon Will Affect Local Search
If you want to see a good breakdown of which ranking factors are most important for local search, a good reference is the article Local Search Ranking Factors by David Mihm of Moz. If you look at the diagram on that page, you’ll notice that the most significant local search factors are currently links and on-page signals. What’s perhaps most surprising is that social signals only count for a little more than 5% of ranking factors, compared with 21% for on-site signals.
It’s extremely important to note this, as many SEO firms and supposed experts are still emphasizing Google+ and Google Authorship as key ranking factors for local search. You should be aware that Google formally announced in August 2014 that it was ending Google Authorship. While Google+ is still relevant, it is not nearly as central to ranking as factors such as linking and on-site SEO.
How to Dominate Local Search in 2015
Let’s conclude with a summary of some specific steps you need to take to rank well with local search in the coming year.
- Have Lots of Relevant Content -Having more posts and pages full of quality content is one of the best ways to get ranked. This includes detailed descriptions of your business and products. It’s also good, however, to include non-promotional content as well.
- Use Keywords Strategically -Don’t make the mistake of overusing or stuffing keywords. This is a red flag to Google and will only get your site penalized. Use as many diverse keywords you can think of, but use them sparingly and in a natural way. In the same way, anchor text should be diverse and appear natural.
- Include NAP Data -This includes your phone number, including area code. It also includes your city, state and zip. City and state info should be included in your title tag, H1 heading, content and in the alt text of your images. It can also be helpful to have this info in your URL. It’s very important that NAP data be accurate, as incorrect or outdated information is a negative ranking factor.
- Seek Out Citations -Citations remain an important part of local ranking. You can get these by having your business listed with directories such as Citysearch, Yahoo Local, Superpages and others. Review sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List also count in this regard.
- Focus on Generating Quality Links -These are links from relevant or authority sites. If you have engaged in aggressive linking practices in the past, you may have to remove harmful links from your site.