On-Page, Link Signals the Most Important Local Ranking Factors

On-page and link signals – which collectively include keywords in titles, domain authority, inbound anchor text, and linking domain authority – are the most important factors when it comes to ranking in local search, according to new research by Moz.

Moz released the results of its 2015 Local Search Ranking Factors survey yesterday, following its overall ranking of ranking factors from last month. The Seattle SEO company conducted a similar survey last year, which corresponded with the Pigeon algorithm update. No such update happened lately, though Google did recently switch from local seven-packs to local three-packs, which seoClarity found rank first 93 percent of the time.

“Overall, we’ve seen a continuation of the gradual trend toward Google rewarding quality on all fronts, from citations to links to reviews,” says David Mihm, the Moz local search director who conducted the survey. “As more companies have implemented the table stakes of site architecture, keyword and location relevant title tags, and claiming their Google My Business pages, quality and authority become the differentiators in competitive markets.”

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On-page and link signals each garnered 20 percent of the vote, in terms of what’s most important. Nearly 15 percent of search marketers valued business signals such as categories, keywords in business title, and proximity the most. Another 13.6 percent prioritized external location signals, including NAP consistency and citation volume. In last place were social signals, such as Facebook likes and Twitter followers, which only generated 5.5 percent of the vote.

Respondents also ranked factors that could impact pack and carousel ratings, and then ranked them twice more based on their impact on localized organic rankings and the competitive market. In addition, they noted which specific factors they’ve paid more or less attention to since Google’s update and ranked 27 negative ranking factors from most to least damaging.

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The localized organic ranking factor deemed most important was very close. A website’s domain authority received 590 votes, while 566 went to the quality and authority of inbound links. Other highly regarded factors include the city and state in the Google My Business landing page title, the CTR of search results, and the relevance of both topical and geographic keywords.

Within packs and carousels, physical address was the winner – more than 80 votes ahead of the consistency of structured citations. The highest regarded factors were much less technical on the whole. Category associations and the proximity of a business from the point of search were ranked third and fourth-highest.

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Mihm points out the increasing importance of behavioral signals. He notes that across both pack and localized organic results, behavioral and/or mobile signals make up 9.5 percent of the algorithm. Additionally, CTR has moved up eight spots from last year’s ranking of localized organic results factors. As a ranking factor, links were also up 9 percent over last year.

Shortly after Google restructured its local packs in August, BrightLocal conducted a study and found that local search is the most powerful channel for local businesses, generating 23 percent of site traffic. Since then, marketers have been paying a lot more attention to the quality and authority of structured citations and inbound links, while the proximity of a business’ address to the centroid has taken a backseat.

“As Google has gotten better at location detection on both desktop and mobile results, this rather arbitrary factor has been almost completely discarded,” Mihm says, adding that proximity to searcher has moved up from last year’s rankings. “Clearly the location of a business matters immensely, but only relative to where people are physically conducting their searches.”

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