Local Search Ranking Factors 2011

June 3rd, 2011 by Will Scott

It’s always interesting to see the outcome of the annual “Local Search Ranking Factors” study. As contributors we have strong opinions about many elements, and like you, we’re always learning as well.

Now that we’ve had a chance to review, we’ve identified:

  • Places where we agree
  • Criteria where, for us, the jury is out
  • Things we question

The Top Ten from This Year’s Local Search Ranking Factors Study:

  • Physical Address in City of Search
  • Manually Owner-verified Place Page
  • Proper Category Associations
  • Volume of Traditional Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)
  • Crawlable Address Matching Place Page Address
  • PageRank / Authority of Website Homepage / Highest Ranked Page
  • Quality of Inbound Links to Website
  • Crawlable Phone Number Matching Place Page Phone Number
  • Local Area Code on Place Page
  • City, State in Places Landing Page Title

Identified Factors We Are Totally Behind

Pure Local – This is defined as results in maps.google.com and on Google.com when a 2, 3 or 7 pack exist

Place Pages criteria – those changes you can make to your Place Page

Sara Tweedy: ”A business’s Place Page is the foundation of a business’ online local presence. {don’t love this image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/matsuyuki/198736304/} The targeted, specific criteria on the Place Page is essential to Google understanding what your business does”. These criteria include:

  • proper categorization of services/products your business provides
  • explicit, developed usage of the details section
  • basic optimization including pictures and video.

A complete Place Page sets the groundwork for a stellar local presence, which will then allow for higher rankings.

Off Site / Off Place Page

Sara Tweedy: Volume of citations is an integral component of any local presence. Citations reinforce a business’s name, address and phone number to Google. It is a necessity to obtain many authoritative citations to back up a Place Page. Without these citations, Google won’t give the deserved credibility to your business. Tweedy says, “When discussing the most recommended factors in the results of the survey, I was a little concerned that NAP consistency did not make the list. Ask anyone that works here, I am a consistency pusher. It is imperative that a business’ NAP is consistent EVERYWHERE it is seen online, and it should all feed back to the Place Page. When this does not happen, it could lead to a convoluted local presence, and will ultimately wreak havoc on rankings. “


Amy Arnold comments, “We found that velocity, in other words, a consistent review pattern over time, is much more important than sheer volume, i.e. loading in a whole bunch at the beginning and never having reviews after that.”

Reviews are an important Local Search Ranking Factor, but in our experience website criteria may play a stronger role than volume of reviews. By no means do we suggest Reviews are unimportant. But perhaps not as strong a factor in our collective minds as website criteria. Paula Keller states, “With the new integrated or “blended” results Google rolled out in October 2010, the organic strength of your website and the correlation between the information it displays and your Place page is more important than ever in local.”

Website Criteria

In going through the Local Search Ranking Factors 2011 from David, we discussed website factors passionately! One opinion put forth was that if your phone number on site is crawlable, it best match the Place Page. I think we can all agree on this. The preference is to have the phone number crawlable on-site and accurate match.

To have the City, State in the landing page appears to be a strong factor. We have done some testing on this; it’s not 100% conclusive, but it seems to be a positive move with some qualifications.

Clearly, there are dependencies on the client’s industry and market.

For example, besides the Pizza Hut, pizza places are not super competitive in a city of <100,000 population, so we have had some obvious success with this technique with a locally-owned-pizza-franchise client in moderate sized market. As soon as the City-State landing page rolled live, the client experienced a nice bump in rankings within 1 week:

  • keyword 1 jumped 4 positions in ranking from position 8 to 4
  • keyword 2 jumped 6 positions in ranking from position 12 to 6
  • keyword 3 was just added to the site and already stands at position 7

Fast and effective – we like.

However, a personal injury attorney (read: highly competitive) in one of the top 30 metro areas in the country (read: more highly competitive), didn’t see as much obvious success. It strengthened the attorney’s site and Place Page, but didn’t have as immediate and noticeable impact as the pizza place.

  • keyword 1 — 6th, was 7th
  • keyword 2 — 9th, was 10th
  • keyword 3 — 13th, was 16th
  • keyword 4 — 15th was nowhere

We do have some pretty strong feelings about the strength of the website and it’s influence on the total local-online package. Website strength has so many factors:

  • domain age (always good)
  • internal links
  • on-site optimization
  • external linking
  • diverse and unique content on-site, etc.

All of these factors have to be built over time, and a young business with a young domain may not have all of these elements created yet. Domain age is not directly the sole effect on site authority; it’s all of the online authority that is built over time. With age comes wisdom, or … with age comes authority.


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