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Local SEO: Trends from 2018 for Local Google Search Rankings

At any given moment, there can be thousands of people in close proximity to your business performing searches in Google in the hopes of finding a service or product like yours that is close to their location. Those are potential clients that are extremely valuable to any business, which means that it is imperative for your business to be seen in local search rankings.

As we start to encounter more and more paid ads in Google searches and on social media, we tend to forget about the importance of organic ranking. It may seem like ads are taking over the online world, but SEO is as relevant today as it was 5 years ago. In a survey from HubSpot that was shared on Zest, SEO presence is still a top priority for businesses in 2018:

It is something that we have talked about before on our blog, and it is something we will continue to talk about because SEO is still a major factor in online marketing.

This means that local SEO, a subset of regular SEO, is important to a business’ success as well; and like regular SEO, there are a lot of factors that go into determining local SEO rankings. Local rankings usually appear in a search result in the form of local pack/finder results and local organic results. You’ve seen each of these in the online wilderness before, but for your reference, here are examples of each:

This is where every business leader is trying to rank on Google searches containing all relevant keywords to their company. There are many tools available to SEO experts that they can use to help push their company up in the rankings, but with Google constantly updating their algorithms and various properties, the hierarchy of factors that determine where you rank is in a perpetual state of flux.

SEO experts need to stay on top of updates to Google search in order to see where it is trending and to adapt to this ever-changing environment.

The State of Local SEO from the Experts

In order to help get a sense of what goes into determining where a business ranks in a local pack/finder or local organic results, Moz conducts a yearly survey (though they skipped 2016 for some reason) with SEO experts asking them what factors played the biggest role in their rank results.

This survey is very valuable because it shows us what factors have the most influence in local pack/finder and local organic results. With this information in hand, we can be strategic about where we focus our efforts when trying to improve local search rankings.

Here are the factors that are measured in the survey:

  • Google My Business Signals
  • Link Signals
  • Review Signals
  • On-Page Signals
  • Citation Signals
  • Behavioral Signs
  • Personalization
  • Social Signals

I’ll get into the signals that fall under each of these factors later in this article when we look at the results for each. It is also important to note that the surveyed SEO experts noticed that the influence of each factor changes between local pack/finder results and local organic results.

Survey Results

The report from Moz is incredibly dense, as it has a lot of information. In the sections to follow, I will be focusing on a few aspects of the report in order to paint a pretty clear picture of the current state of local search ranking trends. If at the end of this article you want to take a deep dive into the results of the survey, then I suggest checking out the Moz survey yourself. But be warned, getting through the survey will be an exhaustive process, and it is not for the faint of heart.

The Moz survey collects responses from 40 SEO experts and shares them every year. This Moz survey is a great resource for SEO experts that want to be on the forefront of emerging SEO trends. It gives us the opportunity to see how the factors that lead to a ranking change year over year and see how the local SEO landscape has altered.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the results from the Moz survey, starting with local pack/finder ranking factors:

As you can see, Google My Business signals rank number one for SEO experts, which seems like a no-brainer, but this isn’t always the case. Link signals and review signals also play an important role in local pack/finder results. Here is the complete breakdown of this survey:

  • Google My Business Signals – 25.12%
  • Link Signals – 16.53%
  • Review Signals – 15.44%
  • On-Page Signals – 13.82%
  • Citation Signals – 10.82%
  • Behavioral Signals – 9.56%
  • Personalization – 5.88%
  • Social Signals – 2.82%

Some might expect the results for local organic results to be similar to the local pack/finder results, but intriguingly, they are quite different:

  • Link Signals – 27.94%
  • On-Page Signals – 26.03%
  • Behavioral Signals- 11.5%
  • Google My Business Signals – 8.85%
  • Citation Signals – 8.41%
  • Personalization – 7.32%
  • Review Signals – 6.47%
  • Social Signals – 3.47%

Similar to local pack/finder results, link signals are an important factor in local organic results, taking the top position in this survey. Google My Business signals drop to position 4, and behavioral signals jump up to position 3.

Now that we have the results for 2018, let’s take a look at what makes up each of the factors in the survey and compare how the influence of each of these factors has changed in the past few years.

Google My Business Signals

Google My Business signals are influenced by things like the proximity of your business to the person performing a Google search, the category of your Google My Business listing, keywords in the title of your business, the questions and answers section, Google posts, attributes, the quality of the Google My Business landing page, and image and video updates.

As you can see in the table above, Google My Business has been pretty influential in search rankings year over year with local pack/finder search results. However, in 2018, Google My Business signals were more influential than ever, jumping from 19% in 2017 to 25% in 2018.

It makes sense that Google My Business signals would be so influential with local pack/finder results because these search results are always made up of condensed/micro Google My Business listings.

This shows the importance of keeping your Google My Business listing updated with new images and videos, posts, and by answering any questions that people submit to your Google My Business.

On the other hand, when we look at organic search results, Google My Business has mostly been stagnant over the years, hovering between 8 and 10%. The key takeaway here is that businesses need to create a solid Google My Business listing in order to entice internet users doing a ‘near me’ search to visit a brick and mortar store.

On-Page Signals and Link Signals

On-page signals and link signals are definitely familiar to people that have been working on SEO for years. These are two things that people have been trying to get right with their websites for a long time now – before they had to plan for local search.

As you can see from the above table, On-page signals and link signals are the most influential factor with local organic search rankings, and they play a huge role with local pack/finder results as well.

On-page signals refer to the presence of a company’s name, address and phone, keywords in the headings, and the website’s domain authority (a measurement of the general popularity of a website).

Link signals refer to inbound anchor text (text with that hides a link to another page), linking domain authority (when other sites link to a certain site), and linking domain quantity.

The numbers here show us that getting other sites to link to your site is incredibly useful in your efforts to increase your business’ SEO results. Obviously, Google will scan your site for keywords that align with a users search query, but Google also wants to see that other companies/organizations see your company as an authority or thought leader on a certain topic or industry.

The reason Google wants to see that other sites are linking to your website is that the Google algorithm wants to find unbiased opinions of your company. This doesn’t mean that you should scale back your efforts to optimize the content on your website, but you should think about acquiring more links to your website.

These results also show the importance of building a strong website with the help of a good copywriter. Websites need to have proper keywords sprinkled in the important areas of a website, strong meta titles and meta descriptions, and good, relevant content for local searchers.

Review Signals

Google reviews are growing in prominence with each passing year with local pack/finder search results. And why not? Google reviews are basically recommendations (or the opposite of recommendations) from average, everyday people. Google anticipates that companies will always speak glowingly of their own products and services, which is why Google has been putting a higher premium on reviews every year.

You can think about Google reviews like link signals in that both Google reviews and link signals give Google an idea about how other people think and feel about your business. These two factors give Google a word-of-mouth assessment of a business.

The signals for Google reviews include the number of reviews, the average score of all the reviews, and the diversity of the reviews. And as you can see with the yearly trends, Google reviews have become more influential.

It was easy to see this trend coming, as we have learned over the years that internet users value reviews more with each passing year. Furthermore, more and more organizations are anticipating that Google review signals will become even more influential because more people are getting into the habit of leaving a review on Google.

The influence of Google reviews on local pack/finder search rankings shows the need for businesses to gather more reviews from customers. However, it also shows the importance of always delivering good customer experiences, because the last thing any business owner wants is an influx of negative reviews.

Citation Signals

Citations are any online mention of a business’ name, address, phone number, ZIP code, and website address. They are often found on online directories for local businesses (like Yelp or Yellow Pages), on other websites and/or apps, and on social platforms.

For the most part, citations have steadily lost influence with each passing year, particularly with local pack/find results. However, this does not mean that proper citations can’t help with local SEO.

Although the influence of citations has dropped, a business without any citations, poor citations and/or wrong citations can experience an adverse effect on its local SEO efforts. Refer to the image below for the top citation websites in Canada (if you’re interested, you can click on the image to discover the most popular citation sites for the US, the UK, Australia, and beyond):

Image via Whitespark

SEO experts need to take the time to review the citations of their company on various site and ensure that they are accurate. If their company doesn’t have a decent number of citations, then they’ll have to work on getting the basic information about their company listed on directories. This is because Google still looks to citations to determine how prominent a company is. The good news is that citations are pretty simple to acquire as long as you are willing to spend a little money.

Behavioral Signals

Behavioral signals are a measurement of click-through-rate, mobile clicks to call, check-ins, etc. (for the sake of consistency with the survey, I have been going with the American spelling of ‘behavioral’). As you can see, the influence of behavioral signals on local pack/finder results has slowed. Conversely, the influence of behavioral signals on local organic results has steadily increased year over year.

Again, this is another trend that shows how the ways in which the people outside a business interact with that business are hugely influential to Google’s algorithm. Positive behavioral signs indicate to Google that a company is of high quality and is relevant to a large number of users.

Personalization and Social Signals

Personalization is the culmination of all the factors that make an individual’s online experience unique. This includes things like country, city and browsing history. Personalization is Google’s way of tailoring the experience to each user to make the search results more relevant. Though, as Google has mentioned in the past, personalization is hardly factoring into search results.

Social signals refer to the engagement a business gets from its social media channels, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. It may seem puzzling that social signals are becoming less and less influential in local search ranking, but, when you consider how prominent Google My Business has become in this arena, it makes sense.

For obvious reasons, Google has a lot of faith and trust in the engagement that businesses receive on Google through reviews, questions, photo uploads, etc. All of this engagement gives Google a good understanding of how users feel about a business, which means that Google doesn’t need to rely on social media.

The downward trend in social signals has some experts wondering if the influence of social signals will continue to drop until it reaches 0%.

 

And there you have it. We hope this article helps to paint a clear picture of the machinations that go into local pack/finder and local organic search ranking results. The main takeaway from the Moz survey is that businesses need to take Google My Business listings seriously. Listings need to updated with the right information, photos and videos should be posted, questions from users need to be answered, the landing page that is attached to a Google My Business listing needs to be well designed, and so on.

Is your business struggling to rank well in local searches? Then call the web design and SEO experts at Gilmedia at (647) 478-5858 and let’s talk about how we can improve your local search rankings.

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