The Top 4 Local Ranking Factors for 2016 Explained
February 19, 2016 | Contributed by: Bernadette Coleman
Six months in, is Google’s “Snack Pack” still taking a bite out of your clients’ local search ranking? The rollout of this major update saw the previous seven-pack local listing reduced to a three-pack of local businesses listed with their contact data and an integrated Google map.
This change exemplifies the constantly-evolving and growing nature of local search, as well as Google’s continuing shift toward a mobile-centric local ranking system. The importance of ensuring a client’s data is optimized for these and other changes cannot be overstated. The following are local ranking factors that experts have been focusing on since the update:
Citations: The Identity Ranking Factor
Citations are the references to a business online, their identity. A citation typically includes the business name, address and phone number (NAP) and business hours. Citations are a major ranking factor in local SEO, and more so now with the emphasis placed on a citation’s quality and authority. Consistency and clear naming conventions are crucial factors in making sure Google displays the correct information to searchers.
With quality paramount, where you choose to place directory listings continues to have more value than the quantity of listings you have. Google considers relevance, domain authority, the number of competitors listed on the same site and site traffic, among other factors, when determining the citation’s worth.
Ratings: The “It” Ranking Factor
Ratings and reviews remain among the most important ranking factors when it comes to local search. Unless a business is located in a small town, with little or no local competition, it will take a minimum three-and-a-half to four-star rating to be noticed. Start working on building up ratings and reviews, if you’re not already. Engaging audiences via websites, social media and memorable in-person experiences will drive ratings.
Don’t be shy; ask your consumers, patrons and social followers to share their experiences in the digital space. Monitor ratings and reviews as diligently as citations, especially Google+ reviews, as these are the only ones included in the three-pack results. Be sure to engage with both positive and negative reviews. Address the negatives and learn from them, this transparency is just as important as interacting with positive remarks.
Social Media: The Connection Ranking Factor
Social media signals, such as Facebook likes and Twitter followers, continue to play a role, although minor, in Google’s local ranking process. While social media is an important tool for engagement, it presents varying levels of opportunity, depending upon business size and industry. Social networks provide a vehicle for listening to target audiences, testing new initiatives and driving traffic back to websites.
Even though exact ROI may be difficult to pinpoint, it’s worth investing at least some time into building a social community. As with any other place a citation is listed, be sure to keep your NAP data consistent across these sites. This is especially true for, Google+, even in its diminished state. Businesses need to claim and verify their listings as these are key to local search.
Links: The Interconnection Ranking Factor
A website’s link profile remains an important ranking factor no matter the size of the business. According to a 2015 Moz study, link signals accounted for one-fifth of all ranking factors in local search results. Even with citations as the primary focus of local SEO, this shows that quality backlinks still must be considered as well.
With link building being one of the most frequently abused areas of SEO, the most suitable and reputable resources for building links tend to be local bloggers, news websites, directories and chambers of commerce.
Getting the Local Ranking that Businesses Need
Google’s updates will continue to shake things up, so brands, agencies, digital marketers and SMBs should continually be evaluating and re-evaluating their local search strategy. Focus on:
- Auditing citations to keep them up-to-date and consistent
- Building a local content strategy
- Incorporating the use of social media and review sites
- Creating and implementing a plan for expanding the inbound link profile
How have “Snack Pack” and Google’s other recent updates affected the local search strategy you implement for your clients? Let’s discuss in the comments.