Massive Analysis of Local SERPs: It’s Mostly about GMB and Yelp

Social-local directory site FreshChalk just published an analysis of 150,000 local business websites and SERPs (with more installments to come). It maps multiple variables to ranking (caveat: correlation doesn’t equal causation). Many insights aren’t a surprise but a number of them are.

I won’t restate all the findings; you can read them directly. Some are more technical (meta descriptions, shema, H1 tags, etc.), others are more general, market landscape insights. That’s what I’ll focus on here.

FreshChalk concludes, uncontroversially, that Google My Business has become the most important “local directory” for ranking in Google search results. However, outside of Google itself Yelp dominates organic results in most local business in the US.

The chart above reflects directories appearing in the top five organic search results on Google across multiple geographies and business categories. Yelp appears in the top five results 92% of the time. It’s a surprise to see Facebook doing so poorly and represents a missed opportunity for the company.

A minor surprise, Yelp isn’t equally well represented on local SERPs across the US. There’s a 25 point gap, for example, between Seattle and Indianapolis. FreshChalk, which would like to be on this list, says that these gaps represent opportunities for others.

The post devotes a fair amount of time and several slides to reviews. Reviews are a ranking signal; Google said this explicitly. And most local SEOs now focus on review volume and quality — with 3.5 stars a floor and 4 and above the real target.

The slide below reflects that better GMB reviews are correlated with better rankings on Google. However it doesn’t find that better Yelp reviews were correlated with higher ranking. FreshChalk did find that Yelp review volume was correlated with better ranking on Google. But there may be other explanations:

Darren [Shaw] of Whitespark suggested a different reason – increasing number of reviews probably correlates with increased prominence in Yelp search results, which in turn leads to Yelp domain authority passing to your site/business.

I’ve selectively reported on the findings of the study, which have only been partly released. But the clear conclusions, which will come as no surprise to anyone, are:

  • Pay attention to Yelp, verify listings, add photos, respond to reviews, do whatever soft review solicitation you can that doesn’t run afoul of Yelp’s guidelines. More than any other directory, Yelp is still powerfully delivering what Will Scott originally dubbed “barnacle SEO.”
  • However, GMB is now most important variable (or collection of them) for local ranking

As the author himself cautions, don’t take all of this as gospel. This is just one local SEO ranking study, albeit a large one. There are also well designed studies from Moz and LocalSEOGuide. BrightLocal also has considerable data on local search variables that impact SEO.

Take a look at the FreshChalk post. Did anything in particular strike you about its observations or conclusions?

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