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Local Search Ranking Factors Then and Now (2008 vs. 2018)

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The latest edition of the Local Search Ranking Factors is out. This is the 10-year anniversary of the study with the first edition of the Local Search Ranking Factors released by David Mihm back in 2008. After 10 years, it’s interesting to see how the results have changed and how they haven’t.

Over the years the survey has expanded to match the expanding knowledge and understanding of local search, particularly as it relates to Google’s algorithm. In 2008 only 20 SEO experts were surveyed versus the 34 that were surveyed this year. Additionally, the first edition looked at 47 potential ranking factors, while the 2018 version looked at 137 factors.

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While the generic “local business listing information” was a critical factor 10 years ago, there’s been a clear shift that now prioritizes Google’s owned data via Google My Business. When it comes to listings, this isn’t to say consistent and accurate business data isn’t important. In fact, many experts feel listing management (citations) is table-stakes for any business.

However, citations have steadily decreased in importance since 2015 and Darren Shaw of Whitespark attributes this to two things:

  1. Additional ranking signals are diluting the value of citations.
  2. Citations are becoming less of a competitive differentiator.

It’s interesting to see customer reviews staying relevant as a ranking factor for 10 years. In 2008, one SEO expert said that “the stars matter, but the reviews don’t.” Today, “keywords in reviews” was the #14 ranking factor for the local pack/finder. In this way, the content of the reviews, their quality and authenticity are far more valuable than the stars.

In 2008 traditional SEO (on-page) tactics were the second biggest positive ranking factor. On-page remains in the top 5 for both the local pack and organic results, but link signals have moved ahead in importance for the local pack and organic factors. Still, on-page remains the only ranking factor business have complete control over and it is the #2 organic factor and #4 local pack factor.

Inbound links have also remained an important factor for the last 10 years as well, and they remain a key competitive SEO differentiator. This is because earning links on reputable sites is challenging. As businesses and the marketers that serve them get the fundamentals down, links will help those that earn them stand out from the rest.

For 2019, experts predict that Google will continue to emphasize Google My Business, making it so searchers don’t need to leave the search result in order to find what they are looking for. Additionally, behavioral signals are expected to increase in importance as real-world signals help Google assess real-world popularity.

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