The big picture guide to local SEO: ranking in 2016 & beyond
Columnist Marcus Miller provides a comprehensive look into ranking factors for local search, including negative ranking factors and ways to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Local SEO is getting more difficult for many businesses. Google’s move from seven to three listings in the local pack, and the threat of various ads in the local space, has created a fiercely competitive environment for local businesses. Suffice it to say, if you wish to rank in that three pack in 2016 and beyond, your local SEO has to be 100 percent on point.
In this article, I want to take a look at the primary local SEO ranking factors, along with the major competitive difference-makers and negative ranking factors. I will break down each of these to ensure that you have a solid, strategic local SEO game plan.
Local SEO: the state of play
In a hotbed of organic search competition, the local results have been a source of salvation for many local businesses. They give users looking for local businesses an easy way to distinguish local from organic, and rankings are relatively straightforward. Having a physical address and proximity to the searcher as ranking factors gave every local business a potential shot at attracting customers from search engines.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Google has recently reduced the size of the local pack, so now only three businesses are shown in the SERPs (unless users click through to see expanded results).
And the bad news does not stop there. Ads are starting to creep into the local results, and we have the ever-looming threat of home service ads eating up standard AdWords text ads and local listings.
In 2016, local results are as fierce a battleground as the organic and paid listings. Results can change on what seems to be a daily basis — and to be in the running, you have to be paying close attention to the fine details.
Local SEO: ranking factors
Every year, Moz surveys the big names in the local SEO space and compiles the results into a comprehensive Local SEO Ranking Factors report. I am proud to say I contribute to this report, along with many others, and the results provide the best overview of exactly what you can do to improve your local visibility.
While this report is an asset to Local SEOs and small businesses, it is not terribly actionable on its own. My intention here is to clearly explain what each of these factors means and how you can use this information to rank your business in the local results (localized organic and the local pack).
And sure, we all know that Google My Business, citations and local specific optimization of your site are big, important factors here. But search engines use a multitude of signals to determine final positioning. So although these big signals are important, we want to delve deeper. We want to do the jobs our competitors won’t. We want to perfect the big, obvious factors but also really nail that last 10 percent.
The rest of this post will look at the ranking factors and detail what you need to do to optimize for a given factor. This draws on our experience with hundreds of local SEO clients at Bowler Hat. This should help you form a battle plan to identify your opportunities and weak spots in your current approach.
Ranking factors are categorized as follows:
- Overall ranking factors
- Local pack ranking factors
- Localized organic ranking factors
- Negative ranking factors
- Competitive ranking factors
We will look at the top 10 factors in each category so that you can improve your visibility and positioning, not only in the local pack, but also the localized organic. We will also cover the negative ranking factors so you can understand anything that is working against you.