In 2016 there were many Google Algorithm updates that reconfigured local search results. The most significant update that affected local SEO was Possum, occurring in September. This update altered local rankings to accommodate the 2016 change in local packs, going from 7 listings to 3, and local organic rankings overall using: local citations, Google My Business (GMB), proximity, and many other organic ranking fundamentals including, links. Some businesses saw a ranking boost while others had no visible change in ranking factor.
Local SEO listings are continuing to grow and be the test subject for Google’s upcoming algorithm updates.
In general, citations are declining as a ranking factor. Comparing Moz’s 2017 local search ranking factors study to previous years studies shows a progressive decline in the importance of citations for local search. The goal for local SEO citations is not to have as many citations as possible in as many IYP (Internet Yellow Pages) or aggregated Local citations, but to ensure NAP (Name, Address, and Phone) consistency on key listings. On a competitive level, citations are losing their edge, giving link profiles and on-page ranking factors the competitive advantage.
One of the largest ranking changes we see in local pack search results is the physical address in the city of search. The further away a business is from the point of search is a determined ranking factor for local businesses.
What to focus on for local listings:
For overall local SEO organic rankings, the same ranking fundamentals are the way to go.
Linking has always been one of, if not the biggest ranking factor when it comes to organic search results. Having authoritative and high domain authority links increase a sites backlink profile/authority and provide huge ranking benefit, especially if the referring domains are directly relevant to the product or service. It’s not about the number of links pointing to the site, but the quality and authority of the links. Having a great backlink profile can be the determining factor of competitive organic ranking, for overall and local results.
- On-Page Factors (Titles, H1’s, Content, etc.)
On-page ranking factors such as meta titles, heading tags, and relevant content with carefully placed LSI keywords are an important part of organic ranking that transfer to local results with relevant city and service keywords. Having a city name and (depending on the city) state within either a page title or page content can provide rank benefit.
- Citations (Quality and Consistency, not quantity)
NAP citations, whether they be in organization schema markup or in the on-page content, provides Google with the information needed to base a local listing, and if these are inconsistent or poorly done (not complete) they can become a negative ranking factor.
- GMB – Filled to completion with verification
Google My Business has many advantages that not only benefit local rankings but also prove quite useful when trying to appear in the local packs. Google My Business is one of the main sources (other than Wikipedia, and schema markup) that Google will pull from to fill Knowledge Graph information. Keeping the Google My Business information consistent with the NAP information elsewhere is essential, as well as making sure the category the business is defined under is the correct category. If the category is incorrect or doesn’t coincide with similar businesses that are ranking for the same keywords, Google will see this as a negative ranking factor.
- Geographic Relevance
There’s no way of getting around it. If you are local and they are searching in your area, you will receive a ranking bump.
For SEO local pack rankings:
- Proximity (in relation to point of search)
Proximity takes the mileage the business is away from the search location to organize the pack rankings from closest to furthest. Proximity is something we’ve noticed is becoming a bigger local pack ranking factor. Ranking locally is one thing, but being in the actual area from the point of search is becoming a larger ranking factor for a pack position.
- Quality and Consistency of Citations
Just as stated above in the Citations and GMB sections.
- The address is in the city of search
Similar to proximity without the mileage. If the physical address is part of the city in which the search is being done, ranking benefit will be received.
- Relevant Keywords per Product or Service
Both of these are very important to organic rankings overall, but having the city or state in the behavioral factors will provide higher possibility of reaching a local pack position.
What are the local pack/local finder ranking changes and predictions for 2017?
For 2017, the intrusion/expansion of Ads will have a major impact on the local pack/finder and organic search results.
Google’s Local pack/local finder is the place to be for a local business. Since the downsize from 7 to 3 listings the competitive landscape for the local pack positions has immensely increased, and paid search has made its way into local pack results when expanded. Not only has paid search worked its way into the organic local packs but there are now sponsored packs featuring Google’s new “Google Guaranteed” listings for plumbers and locksmiths. “Google Guaranteed” is a sponsored ad pack for home services (specifically plumbers and locksmiths right now) that guarantees these listings will get the job done correctly and efficiently.
(Google Guaranteed Sponsored Listings)
There is no doubt that Google will expand the list of the ability to rank above organic local packs.
Eventually, paid search will work its way into local packs and there are two ways that PPC could possibly enter the local pack scene. One of which was presented at the SMX conference last year, where ads will begin to show up in various local packs and shift the 3 organic listings to a mere 2 listings. The other possibility, going to an extreme, would be creating a paid search local pack entirely and having two localized snack-packs, one for organic and one for paid search (maybe even expanding to 6 and having 3 of each) OR having a paid local pack and the first page is entirely made of paid ads.
This is a mockup of what was proposed at the SMX meeting last year. The image displayed at the conference was in mobile form, so there is a possibility that Google adds Ad’s to mobile and not desktop.
(Local Pack Ads)
In conclusion, the value of citations are dwindling in local search, but are still important and beneficial when used and maintained correctly. Although Google does update its algorithms regularly, many of the fundamentals will remain best practices for SEO for quite some time. Local pack listings will continue to change and, in my opinion we shouldn’t be surprised to see 2/3 of the first page become paid search in the near future.