Posted by David-Mihm
As we head into the thick of fall conference season, I’m happy to announce that the results of the 2015 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey are in.
At the very least, I hope they help kickstart your Birds of a Feather roundtable conversations. (Or if you have a local search addiction as debilitating as mine, perhaps even an after-party conversation over over a pint!)
My high-level takeaways
Google’s local search algorithm seems to be maturing
Overall, we’ve seen a continuation of the gradual trend towards Google rewarding quality on all fronts—from citations to links to reviews. And 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.
The influence of Google+ on local results is on its way out (if it even existed in the first place)
With the removal of links to Google+ pages from Maps and even from the primary SERP, the always-awkward integration between Plus and Local has now been completely severed.
At this point, I view Google My Business essentially as a UI for structured data* and a conduit to AdWords. While Google’s original “business builder” vision may still come to fruition, it clearly won’t be under the social umbrella of Google+.
*as well as photos–increasingly important for conversion in a Knowledge Card-heavy future.
Behavioral signals are increasing in importance
Experts judged behavioral and/or mobile signals to make up 9.5% of the algorithm across pack and localized organic results. Granted, that number is not strikingly high, but it’s up 38% compared with last year’s 6.9%. Research from Darren Shaw and others in the past year has borne out this factor empirically at least in certain markets.
In localized organic results, clickthrough rate was judged the #4 overall factor, and in competitive markets, it moved up 8 spots from 2014, cracking the top ten factors for the first time. A number of experts noted additional behavioral factors beyond clickthrough rate may be playing a role, including post-click time spent on-site or pogosticking.
Citations are still crucial—but your focus should be on quality and consistency
Oddly, citations went from 15.5% to 13.6% as a general ranking factor, but specifically, citation quality and consistency remain top-five factors for both pack results and in competitive markets.
Reading between the lines, it’s the quantity of horizontal citations on traditional directories that is becoming less important. Algorithmically, this makes sense, as many of these sites have been hit by successive Panda releases for thin content. The authority passed by mentions on these sites has clearly declined.
Are links the new links?
Overall, links were up 9% as a general factor compared to last year, and a number of experts noted an increased focus on quality links since the rollout of the Local Stack / Snack Pack. Diversity of inbound links as a ranking factor in pack results moved up 22 spots from last year, and even in competitive markets, it rose 10 spots to #14. And in localized organic results, locally-relevant links, location keywords in anchor text, and product/service keywords in anchor text all moved up at least 10 spots in 2015.
Pigeon’s shift to the user as centroid has “stuck”
The decline of proximity to centroid as a ranking factor, particularly in competitive markets, now seems just about complete. As Google has gotten better at location detection–on both desktop and mobile results–this rather arbitrary factor has been almost completely discarded. We saw this trend start in earnest with the release of Pigeon last summer, and since the snack pack / local stack rollout, proximity to centroid is the factor that experts think took the biggest hit.
On the other hand, proximity to searcher moved up four spots in the pack-specific rankings, and 10 spots in competitive markets. Clearly, the location of a business matters immensely, but only relative to where people are physically conducting their searches.
This is always the case, but this year in particular there are so many pearls of wisdom from the survey’s participants that I hope you spend some serious time diving into the comments section of the results. These little nuggets are every bit as interesting as the numbers, if not more so. I truly appreciate the contributions from all participants this year, and look forward to reading comments from our great community members below!
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