When it comes to local search, consumers tend to be highly motivated – and they prefer to take their search needs to Google. In fact, 83% of local consumers use Google to find information about nearby businesses, and 90% of those make a purchase within one week of their initial search.
Being present and appearing prominently in those Local Pack and Local Organic is essential for driving foot traffic, online orders, and other conversion actions.
Whitespark’s most recent 2021 Local Search Ranking Factors report shares important insights about what it takes to drive local rankings and conversions in the current environment. In this article, you’ll learn which local search ranking factors are most important for your local Search Engine Optimization(SEO) strategy in 2022 and find expert tips to make the most of these opportunities.
About the 2021 Local Search Ranking Factors Report
The Local Search Ranking Factors survey and report began in 2008 with David Mihm, and Darren Shaw took the helm in 2017. Each year, organizers survey local marketing experts about the potential factors they believe Google may factor into its Local Pack and Local Organic search results.
For this latest update released November 29, 2021, over 132 potential local ranking factors were evaluated. Whitespark organizes these into 7 broad categories of local search ranking factors:
What Are The Local Ranking Factors Being Considered?
Within each of these broad categories are several signals and elements that experts believe factor into Google’s local and organic local search ranking algorithms. Some of these are confirmed ranking factors, such as Google Business Profile (GBP) optimizations, links, and local reviews. Others are widely believed to have some weight in local rankings.
Here are the local ranking factors Whitespark looks at in each category:
Google Business Profile (formerly GMB)
This includes the proximity of the business location to the searcher, its primary and secondary categories, any keywords in the listing title, the physical address, etc.
When it comes to reviews, Whitespark notes that this includes both first- and third-party reviews, and that survey respondents are considering review quantity, velocity, diversity, and more.
On-page signals include the presence and accuracy of the business name, address, and phone number (NAP), keywords, and domain authority, among other considerations.
Citation accuracy, volume, and consistency come into play, and citations span Internet Yellow Pages, aggregators, etc.
Personalization takes into account the searcher’s location, device, search history, and more.
Click-through-rate, clicks to call or get driving directions, dwell time and other behavioral signals can all impact local search rankings.
Links are still one of Google’s most-used trust signals and are seen as an endorsement of one page by another. Factors that may come into play here include anchor text, the linking domain’s authority, the quantity of links, and more.
Which Factors Matter Most for 2022?
According to The Local Search Ranking Factors survey, the heaviest weighted ranking factors are:
- GBP signals for ranking in the Local Pack,
- And on-page signals for ranking in local organic results.
Optimizing Your Google Business Profile for Local Pack Rankings
“There has been a significant increase in the perceived importance of GMB signals,” Shaw notes in his analysis. GBP signals were considered the top local ranking factor by just 15% of local search experts in 2015.
Their perceived importance has steadily grown and today, 36% of local search experts cite GBP signals as the heaviest weighted ranking factor.
When it comes to specific optimizations and how impactful they are, here is how the experts ranked them in order of importance:
- Primary GBP Category
- Keywords in GBP business title
- Proximity of business address to the searcher
- Physical address in the city in which the search originated
- Additional GBPcategories
- Star ratings on Google (1-5)
- Completeness of the listing
- Quality and authority of inbound links
- Keywords in Google reviews
- Removal of spam listings
Whitespark notes that “keywords in the anchor text of inbound links” has dropped in importance by 44% since 2020. The age of the GBP listing grew in perceived importance by 136%.
Optimizing Your Local Pages for Organic Local Search Rankings
Local organic results are the more traditional blue links that appear below the Local Pack. Having an optimized Local Page for each location is your best shot at appearing prominently in this valuable SERPs real estate.
(Note: When you see experts and the report referring to the GBP landing page, they are not referring to the profile itself but to the destination page where searchers end up after clicking through from the GBP to the website.)
David DiGregorio of Sterling Sky recommends that enterprise marketers “focus on making sure GMB landing pages (and linked pages) are extremely thought out in terms of content, UX, conversion, etc.” From there, he says, it’s important to earn links, which is hard work but worth the effort.
Here are the local organic ranking factors experts deemed most important, ranked in order of importance:
- The quality and authority of inbound links
- The volume of quality content on the entire website
- Internal linking across the entire website
- Topical keyword relevance across the entire website
- Geographic keyword relevance of the domain content
- Keywords in the GBP landing page title
- The degree to which the website focuses on a relevant niche
- The keywords used in inbound link anchor text
- Quality of inbound links from locally-relevant domains
- Domain authority of the website
Local Pages aid enterprise brands in local discovery and conversion in several ways.
They’re a logical next step from GBP.
Sending local searchers from a relevant GBP to the corporate homepage just isn’t a good user experience. When used as the website URL on business listings, Local Pages are an extension of the search experience that deepens the local relevance and personalization of the experience.
It’s essential that these pages are updated regularly, as 84% of local consumers expect both a brand’s website and listing on Google to have accurate business information.
They’re optimized for ranking in organic search.
Local Pages should contain rich, locally relevant content and be marked up with the appropriate schema to make their local relevance clear to both Google and page visitors. In this way, they serve as an entry point for those who either didn’t find what they needed in the Local Pack or simply prefer to browse organic results first.
They’re an important conversion tool.
Where Google Business Profiles offer a great deal of surface-level information and are limited by the fields available, brands have more control over their Local Pages and can offer a richer experience. Customers or fans of the brand can use a dynamic Finder on the company website to find the location nearest them.
And, regardless of how the visitor ends up on the Local Page, they can find more detailed information about products and services, recent reviews, photos and videos, hyperlocal content, booking forms, relevant offers and promotions, and more to help them take the next most logical step in their conversion journey.
More Key Local Search Ranking Factors Insights to Take With You Into 2022
In their 2021 Local Search Ranking Factors report, Whitespark also explored GBP conversion factors, what experts believe is working – or not – in local SEO, where local search experts are focusing their efforts and budget, and a lot more. Here are a few more key insights to consider as you plan your next year’s local strategy:
- Local experts plan to focus more on ensuring there are relevant keywords in GBP listing titles, that each listing is as complete as possible, and that spam listings are removed through spam fighting tactics in the year ahead.
- SEO myths that local experts wish would just go away include the importance of geo-tagging the photos uploaded to GBP, keywords used in the profile description, and whether or not GBP Messaging is enabled. None of these are factored into your search rankings, they say. (As far as Messaging is concerned, what matters most is that if you have activated it and you’re using it properly.
- The most harmful factors that will do the greatest damage to your listings include incorrect business categorization, hacking or the presence of malware on the brand’s website, and being reported for violations of Google’s terms of service.
There’s a lot more to discover and learn in The 2021 Local Search Ranking Factors, including expert advice and commentary throughout. You can access the full report here, no download is required.