Since 2008 David Mihm has been polling some of the industry’s top local search experts to understand and identify the top ranking factors specific to local search. The 2010 results are in! Looking back at the previous reports for 2008 and 2009, I’m noticing some shifts in what the experts are deeming the most important factors.
I’ve taken all of the top ranking factors for 2010, and included the 2009 ranking for the same factor to the right. This makes it much easier to identify what’s moved up in importance, and what’s moved down. This should hopefully help you determine where you should extend the most effort when trying to obtain increased local search rankings. If a factor has “New” in the 2009 column, that just means that it’s a new ranking factor in 2010 and wasn’t mentioned in 2009. Simple enough, right? Let’s dive in. Cannonball coming…
The very first thing I noticed after comparing 2010 to 2009 data is the importance of actually claiming your listing. This, in my opinion, is a no-brainer, but there are still millions of Place pages that still have not been claimed. By doing this one task, you may find yourself suddenly ranking in the 7 pack (depending on how competitive your geography and industry are).
The biggest shift that I’m seeing is on-page factors, such as having location-specific optimized title tags, Meta tags, anchor text, etc. These elements aren’t being given the high marks like I’ve seen in years past. The experts ranked “General importance of On-Page Criteria” at #15 in 2010, whereas it was 9th in 2009. On-Page factors still do play a role, but just not to the extent they have in years past. I think this makes sense as you don’t need a website to have a Place page, and if Google was placing heavier weight on this factor, it would significantly hurt those small business owners without a website. Placing less weight on these factors helps level the playing field, which I completely agree with.
In 2010, it appears factors relating to increased citations, customer reviews and user-generated content are increasing in importance. With the rise of social media and its usage across all demographics, it only makes sense that user-generated content be more important. This content is non-biased and provides the most holistic view of a business. “Customer Reviews Left on Third-Party Websites” ranks 13th, up from 20th in 2009. “Volume of MyMaps on which Your Business is Included” ranks 18th, compared to 31st in 2009. Sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Citysearch and any other social review site related to your industry appears to play a big role in how your business ranks. UGC, like MyMaps, now appears to be playing a much bigger role in local rankings as well. I can easily see MyMaps get spammed, so who knows how much weight this will carry in the future (though Google is able to see who is creating MyMaps and may begin to use user activity just as they are doing when users update Place page info. The spamming issue may be less of a concern if this is the case).
hCards, hReviews & KML files also don’t appear to play a huge role in the ranking factors. With location optimization on-site, my belief is Google is relying more on business listing information from data providers/directories and even hyperlocal blogs to get business location information. Google is looking for consistency in your NAP (Name, Address & Phone) data across the web, so placing less weight on your website would make sense to me. You can use services like Universal Business Listings or Localeze to help ensure your business data is consistent across a large number of directories.
Well, there you have my initial thoughts after combing through the 2010 ranking factor report. I’d love to hear any comments you all have about the factors. What do you think the future holds in terms of weighting some of these factors. One that I’m interested in is the quantity of check-ins. These factors were new to the report this year (#54 & #55) as FourSquare, Gowalla and other services have gained in popularity. Check-ins give the engines excellent data that a business is still alive and located where they say they are, so I’m thinking in the 2011 report, this will move up significantly. FourSquare is already being indexed as a citation, and I expect the others will be soon too. What are your thoughts?