September 25, 2015

Are You Reaching Your Local Audience in Google Search?

A Google Map snapshot with the text "Local SEO 2015."
Original image from P1 Studios.

By Megan G.
Moz released their 2015 Local Search Ranking Factors report yesterday, and it is quite an in-depth study into the SEO aspects of local business rankings.  The report is managed primarily by David Mihm, an accomplished local search optimizer and the Director of Local Search Strategy at Moz. 

The main focus and concern of this year’s Ranking report was the Google Search local pack, or “snack pack.”  This comes as no surprise, since Google caused a stir with local SEOs and business owners when the local pack went from featuring 7 local businesses down to a mere 3.  That means 4 businesses will no longer have immediate visibility in near me and other local searches. 

With such a smaller window for local visibility, what can businesses do to stay on top? 

A Snippet of Google SERPs, featuring the local pack.
An example of the local 3-pack.  Snippet from Google.

Local search can be a frustrating concept for many small business owners to grasp.  It requires some understanding of location data, the algorithms and functions of Google Search, and the constantly shifting state of both marketing and search technologies.  

As Moz says in the Intro to their report,

A cartoon of the Moz mascot over the MOZ logo.
The Moz mascot.  
Image from Splash.

“From year to year, the only thing you can count on in local search results is change.”  

Luckily, the Local Ranking Factors report is comprehensive and helpful in identifying which aspects of local businesses’ online presence affect their ranking in Google Search.  If you want to see the full report, click here

While the insight to be gathered from the study is staggering, tackling such an extensive SEO report sounds a little grating for non-experts.  Have no fear, for I have compiled a condensed version of their findings below, along with simplified explanations of their more technical terms.  If that sounds peachier than the entire SEO study, please read on!  

The Most Important Ranking Factors

Overall, what’s affecting your local search ranking and what can get you to the top of the local 3-pack?  Let’s look at the pie graph provided by the team at Moz.  

Moz Pie Graph of Local Search Ranking Factors
Snippet from Moz

According to the graph, the top 3 ranking signals for local businesses are:  on-page signals, link signals, and My Business signals.  Let’s explore these terms in more detail.

1) On-page signals.

This refers to the content literally on your website pages, such as your NAP, keywords, and domain authority. 

A business’ NAP (name, address, phone number) is a crucial identifier to both Google search algorithms and web users, alike.

The keyword in your business title could be a location like your city or county name, or an indication of your company’s services like “plumber” or “coffee.”

Domain authority is a measurement of the age, popularity, and size of your website’s domain name.  DA can be measured by the amount of backlinks to your site and various trust scores.  

Is your website full of valuable, trustworthy content with the intention of making your clients’ lives more convenient?  Your site probably has a strong domain authority, or will gain one as you stay active online and frequently update your web content.  

2) Link signals 

These signals are determined by your hyperlinks, backlinks to your domain, and good ol’ domain authority, again (for details on DA, refer back to the last paragraph).

Hyperlinks are those phrases or words highlighted by blue text and an underscore, like so.  The highlighted text is called anchor text and can be very helpful in your SEO strategy if you make a point to hyperlink strong keywords and sources.  

For example, in this blog post I have hyperlinked Moz and David Mihm because they are my sources.  I have also hyperlinked local pack, domain authority, and the title of Moz’s study to try and rank for those keywords in Search. 

3) My Business signals 

For this section, we’re talking about Google My Business, which is the most important platform for businesses to utilize in terms of local, organic search.  Its signals include categories, keywords in business titles (again), and proximity.  

A snippet of the Google My Business website's Benefits page.
The Google My Business “Benefits” page.  Snippet from Google.  

An incorrect business category is the number one negative ranking factor, according to the Moz report.  Some businesses make the mistake of saying their primary category is “pizza,” because that is the main reason people visit their place of business.  However, that particular term should be classified as a service.  

Your Google My Business category should say what your business is, not what it provides.  The correct choice would be “Italian restaurant” or “pizza restaurant.”  Something so simple has a huge impact on your local search rankings, so don’t screw it up!

We’ve already covered keywords in business titles, so let’s move onto proximity.  Local search proximity refers to “proximity of address to the point of search” or, in more digestible terms, the distance between searchers and the businesses around them.  Unfortunately, one of the most important organic ranking factors on local is something SMB owners can’t control! 

You can’t get up and move your business whenever you want (well, unless you’re a food truck), so it is crucial for website managers and business owners to ensure that their web content is optimized in every other area we’ve touched on. 

For more information on local search rankings in 2015, take a gander at the entire 2015 Local Search Ranking Factors report.

Did this help you understand local ranking signals?  What else do you want to know about this particular topic?  Let the Tek Team know in the comment section! 

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