Local Search has evolved quite a bit in just the last year alone. To keep up with the constant and massive shifts that affect your presence in local search rankings, Moz (formerly SEOMoz), surveys experts in the field and condenses all relevant information into a yearly report; they ask experts to rank the most important factors governing local search over the last year. Survey results, and their interpretation may have short shelf-life as Google makes the shift to a universal algorithm, shedding silo’d algorithms dealing with local and mobile search.
Big Changes in Local Search
Leading up to the survey last year, Google announced the addition of Google + Local and its integration with Google Places. Although far from complete, it has changed the game for Local Search within Google.This year Google changed local search by rolling out the Carousel, an image based display that will significantly impact local search, for particular industry verticals. I can’t imagine that this change is fully reflected in the survey results and there have been other big changes to local search, nevertheless, the factors that affect rankings should look familiar to many in the industry.
Local Search Ranking Factors for 2013
According to the experts, there are a number of important factors when attempting to build a quality, highly visible presence in local search.
- Properly categorized business listings – When building profiles in Google+ or any other online directory, it is important to correctly categorize the business and to keep that categorization consistent from directory to directory. Google has prohibited the addition of “new” categories so businesses must use the categories that Google has laid out. Businesses should start with Google, find the categories that match their business, and replicate the specific categorization within all other directories – consistency is key.
- A physical address for the business within the local search target’s geographical area – This is difficult for many industries that utilize service areas in lieu of brick and mortar locations. Google seems to be moving to accept service area pages, but for now a Name Address and Phone number (NAP) is still a large local search ranking factor.
- High quality citations that are consistent with one another, and the NAP of the business – Citations should exist on high quality and industry relevant directories. Local businesses need to validate themselves online, citations provide this validation from external sources.
- Name, Address, and Phone number present and crawlable on the business website or webpage – Most businesses have a web presence of some kind that is self-built or built by a brand; this is their specific website, or a webpage on a larger website that identifies their business. It is important that this particular website or page have NAP, and that search engines can crawl and index that page correctly.
- Content optimization on the business’s website – Now that number four is taken care of, and the business has a crawlable website or page with their NAP, it is time to optimize the rest of the web property. Place the location’s geographical term in the meta-title, description, and include it in the content.
Customers as Allies
- Reviews – This can be a difficult needle to thread for a number of reasons. Reviews from customers are organic and should result from superior service or in some cases from inferior service. It is ok for businesses to suggest to their customers to write a review on Yelp, Google or another directory. Hopefully they will provide reviews that will help, not hurt the business’s reputation.
There are negative factors to avoid as well:
- Call tracking numbers for businesses that are put out for local search attribution usually conflict with previous citations. This ruins consistency among citations, hurting the local search efforts more than helping.
- Avoid keyword stuffing, whether on a business website or directory profile. It isn’t just tacky anymore, the search engines are proactively filtering them out of search results.
- Be very careful not to duplicate content. Create your own unique content for each web property, and ensure that you are the only person on the web using it.
The best method to move forward with local search is to be consistent. Consistency of NAP info and web content should be apparent on your site(s), Google + page, and on any directories that you submit business information. This is a lot to tackle for a small business, but the rewards pay off over time.