LocalSEO Guide has released its 2017 Local Ranking Factors study results. The methodology is quite different from the Moz Local Ranking Factors survey. Both are worth detailed examination.
LocalSEO Guide, together with the University of California, Irvine, and PlacesScout, looked at “200+ factors over 100,000 local businesses” in 150 cities to determine variables correlated with ranking in Google’s local results.
The basic conclusions of the study are that: (1) organic ranking factors (e.g., links, keywords, anchor text, etc.) boost local visibility; and (2) reviews are critical. The study argues that “local and organic search algorithms are still highly interconnected.” It adds that while Google is trying to include unique variables in the local algorithm, “traditional organic SEO tactics” are effective to rank locally.
Google My Business
Reviews are an explicit ranking factor; Google has said this. But according to the LocalSEOGuide report, “At a high level, having a keyword you are trying to rank for, and a mention of a city you are working to rank in, in reviews has a high correlation with high ranking Google My Business results.”
Engagement also emerges as a positive ranking factor. This includes adding photos and hours. In addition, “[R]esponding to reviews and claiming your profiles are ways to engage with your potential customers and Google’s platform and show them you have invested.”
Those who have done their traditional SEO work are being rewarded, says the study. “Google still seems to be rewarding some level of optimized anchor text, around both keyword and city.”
Off-site signals are declining in importance and have “even less correlation . . . than last year.” However, citations and reviews on third-party sites have value, the study finds.
“If you want to be in local packs, the best thing you can do is crush it in organic search . . . If you want to rank for a term, make sure it’s on the page you want to rank.”
Categorical ranking factors
“[B]asic SEO ‘blocking and tackling’ was something that most businesses who performed well in packs had done. Things like optimizing their meta tags, making sure their website is mobile friendly etc. ”
There’s more nuance, detail and discussion available from the full study.