A study of 3000 common search terms for small and multi-location businesses has revealed some 282 unique factors that likely determine how Google ranks Local websites. The exact same factors will continue to be valid through 2017 and beyond.

The 2016 Local Search Factors Study

The study by PlacesScout (in collaboration with the University of California) takes into account two kinds of variables Ordinal and Categorical.

The Ordinals are the numerically based factors with higher values resulting in higher rankings, whereas the Categorical Factors are either present or absent, but their presence makes it more likely for your site to rank higher during local searches.

The Ordinal Ranking Factors

Google My Business Reviews and Views: A look at the Ordinal Factors reveals that customer reviews have in fact become the new back-links, with the Google My Business Reviews topping the list of ranking factors. Your GMB reviews and Profile Views are the two most significant local search signals. A higher value for these variables is likely to get you’re a better Local SEO Ranking.

Back-Links and other Off-Page Signals: However, back-links are still crucial. Websites that have more incoming links from high-authority domains rank higher than others. The number of Google ‘plus ones’ and the Google Rating on your GMB page also play a role in your local SEO, though not as significant as the reviews and back-links. Interestingly, having more photos on your GMB page figures as another major factor in determining where Google will rank your site.

On-Page Local Ranking Signals: Content continues to be the most important on-page factor, with pages having more words ranking higher. Domain age, keyword occurrence and density, title tag length, number of images on your website, and page load times are the on-page signals that still influence rankings, though not as much as the reviews and the back-links. Nonetheless, you should not underrate the importance of the on-page classical SEO factors.

The Categorical Ranking Factors

If you currently rank for your main keyword and have the main keyword in your business name (as stated on your Google My Business Page), you are more likely to rank higher than the websites that don’t. Mobile adaptability and presence of Google Reviews and Google Rating on your GMB Page positively impact your local ranking.

The websites that have high authority back-links, Google My Business Pages, HTTPS domains, and consistent NAP info rank higher than those that don’t have these elements. The study shows that the websites that have at least one back-link containing the main keyword rank higher in local searches. However, many SEOs now believe an overuse of the keyword in anchor text can result in SEO penalties.

Negative Local Ranking Factors

Incidentally, there are some negative factors as well, which can pull down your local rankings. From the Ordinal Variables, having a large value for the number of days since you posted your last GMB update, received your last review, and your distance from the center of a local area can result in lower rankings. Having your geo-location, city or state in your Page Title or URL also negatively impacts your ranking, the study claims.

The Overall Picture

The snapshot that emerges when you aggregate all the Ordinal and Categorical Variables looks like this:

It seems your back-links, reviews and on-site factors in most part determine your ranking for Local Searches. The study reaffirms the Local SEO Methodology that we follow at eMarket Experts. We help our clients get ranked on the front page, among the 3-Pack results, by concentrating on most of the Ranking Factors that the study emphasizes. So, if you’re looking to outrank your competitors in the coming year, now would be the right time to get in touch with us.