In this post, I’m going to cover the 10 most important local SEO ranking factors so you can improve your local search rankings.
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We are focusing on localized organic ranking factors because for small businesses the benefits of local SEO can be huge. Local business SEO can make the difference when it comes to driving local traffic to your website. This simple local SEO Guide will help you structure your own local SEO strategy.
For me the four most important local SEO ranking factors for 2019:
3. Mobile-First user experience
4. Google My Business Signals
15 of the most important local SEO ranking factors
- Content (pages, posts, Infographics, White Papers, video, images, PDFs and more)
Content is one of the most important Google ranking factors, according to Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google.
- Link Signals (Inbound anchor text, backlinks, linking domain authority, linking domain quantity, etc.)
This has now been acknowledged by many industry experts to be the number one influencing factor on high organic rankings.
- Mobile-First (Page speed, responsive, AMP)
Mobile-first indexing came into effect in 2016, meaning Google’s index now primarily crawls the mobile version of websites as opposed to the desktop version.
- On-Page Signals (Presence of NAP, keywords in titles, domain authority, etc.)
This one is obvious but the closer your location is to the search proximity the more likely you are to rank for it.
- Behavioural Signals (Click-through rate, mobile clicks to call, check-ins, etc.)
Not so obvious is the amount of love your website gets compared to others when presented to users in the SERPs.
- Google My Business Signals (Proximity, categories, keyword in business title, etc.)
A must for any local business is a FREE Google My Business listing, make sure to optimise this fully.
- Citation Signals (IYP/aggregator NAP consistency, citation volume, etc.)
A lot of SEOs disregard the practice of completing local business citations as worthless but I believe (and so does Moz.com) that it is important.
Personalisation is the x-factor in local SEO and as search engines evolve, businesses must keep pace.
- Review Signals (Review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc.)
This is surprisingly low down the list on a lot of industry expert run downs of top local ranking factors but it really does make all the difference when it comes to securing customers.
- Social Signals (Google engagement, Facebook engagement, Twitter engagement, etc.)
Social media activity is definitely an influential factor for local rankings. It’s not enough to just have a presence, you need to be regularly engaging with your audiences.
- Site Structure (Content hierarchy, internal linking, Anchor text, etc.)
Search engines need to be able to understand your website so a clear site structure is crucial for good rankings.
- Time on site (Bounce rate)
The longer someone spends on your website, the more interested they are by what you have to say or offer.
- Pages per session
If a user spends a lot of time on your website then it’s likely they will visit multiple pages. This indicates that they are interested in your content.
- Encryption (studies confirm that 45% of the top websites all use HTTPS encryption)
A secure connection via HTTPS is now considered an important ranking factor.
- Interstitials (In keeping with Google’s focus on UX, they’re cracking down on intrusive interstitial pop-ups)
Content has been king for a long time and whilst its continued importance shouldn’t be news, there has been a shift away from keyword-focused content towards more relevant content written in natural language.
Industry studies indicate that Google is moving more towards evaluating content according to its relevance and not by the inclusion of individual keywords.
How does Google determine how “relevant” a piece of content is? The short answer is it has to be very comprehensive.
Longer content pieces rank better, particularly when they contain an in-depth examination of one topic in easy-to-understand language. This is now favoured over keyword-dense waffle.
Whilst content is most definitely still king, backlinks remain an important Google ranking factor, but over the years, Google has learned to weed out the bad links from the good.
More links will still result in a higher score, but only if they’re from a number of diverse and authoritative domains.
SEO guru Brain Dean talks a lot about ‘Link Creators’ these are other industry authorities that will want to link to your content. In order to attract these creators first, you need to be producing content people crave and then broadcast that content everywhere. If you achieve this you can construct a strong link building campaign which will move you up the rankings at an accelerated rate.
Just like content creation, external and internal linking needs to be carefully planned and executed. Google will read your link’s, their matching anchor text and consider the relevance of your content to search terms. The closer all those things match the search term, the higher Google will rank your page or post.
When your content earns a lot of these high-quality backlinks, you hit three important ranking signals (aka The Jackpot): number of backlinks, link authority, and link diversity.
Mobile-First User Experience
Google’s index now primarily crawl the mobile version of websites as opposed to the desktop version. As there is now a strong focus on mobile optimisation, it’s really important that your domain has a mobile-friendly solution.
Having a fully responsive website that presents your content on all mobile platforms, identical to the content on your desktop site has been a big trend in the web industry for quite some time. In the past, being mobile responsive might have been considered a desirable luxury, now it’s absolutely essential!
Site speed is another important part of the mobile-first ranking factor. It is all part of providing a good user experience.
Desktop websites should load in three seconds or less, while mobile websites should load in two seconds or less (according to SearchMetrics, the top-ranked mobile websites are approximately one second quicker than their desktop equivalents).
You should now be thinking less in terms of your website being mobile-friendly and instead, your focus should be on making sure it is mobile-first whilst meeting Google’s criteria for being mobile-friendly.
On-page SEO is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot!
It’s an important contributing factor to good all-around rankings. WordPress has some great plugins to help you manage your on-page SEO and the most well-known is Yoast SEO. Yoast offers a premium local SEO Yoast plugin which can help you really target local search.
On-page signals cover a wide range of SEO attributes such as NAP which stands for Name, Address, Phone Number. NAP is critical for businesses wishing to rank well in the local organic search results.
Search engines like Google take NAP data into account when determining which companies to show for geo-targeted searches. If you want your website to show in what’s called the ‘local pack’, you best make sure you’ve used your NAP consistently across your website, social channels and directories.
The HTML mark up is also an important on-page signal. Robots (like search engines) use the code your website is created with to identify things like; Page title, subtitle, images etc. It’s really important to ensure your page is structured correctly and you include the target keyword for the page in the title, subtitle, first paragraph of the content etc.
Finally, there is your domain authority. This quantitative measure was developed by SEO superstars Moz.com.
The calculation is scored on a 100-point logarithmic scale and takes into account over 40 different signals including link data, age, popularity and size as well as spam and trust scores.
We do know that things like…
- Optimise on-page SEO including your title tags, image alt tags, and the content.
- Produce high-quality content that people will link to.
- Include internal links to improve the user experience.
- Remove bad and broken links for a healthy website.
- Being mobile-friendly.
- Become the expert within your niche.
- Make sure your website loads fast to reduce bounce rate.
- Doing content promotion via social media – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn etc
…all contribute to increasing DA.
Domain authority uses a logarithmic scale. This means that it’s much easier to improve your score if your domain authority is lower at a 20 or a 30 than if it would be if it was at 70. The higher you go the harder it gets to improve.
Domain authority is massively influenced by gaining backlinks from your industry authorities as mentioned earlier in this post.
Once you gain traction in the local rankings, click-throughs become very important. Google needs to know it’s made the right decision to put your website 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. A high click-through rate combined with a low bounce rate reassures Google you deserve to be on top.
We’ve already covered the importance of mobile but this now has a wider influence such as mobile ‘clicks-to-call’. These user actions tell Google that people are liking what they see when presented with your website.
This also links back to my previous point on making sure you have correctly marked up your content so your telephone number can be clicked to call rather than just static text. You can get a WordPress developer like me to check over your website templates and make sure simple but essential things like that are set up.
Google My Business Signals
I’m always surprised just how many local businesses don’t have a Google My Business listing. It’s completely FREE to set up and it’s a massive influential factor for local SEO results.
Having a listing will allow your site to feature more prominently in the local pack results and it provides the added benefit of Google Reviews. Within the SEO industry, Google review scores are an important signal for rankings. Moz.com attributes review signals as 8.4% of its ranking factor pie.
You can actually optimise your Google My Business page by adding content such as images, categories and featured posts, videos etc.
I’m a big advocate of local business citations, especially for new sites that are looking to establish some initial backlinks from reputable websites. There are loads of opportunities for IYP (Internet Yellow Pages) but I’d recommend completing citations on these as an absolute minimum:
The more high-quality citations you can secure the better. There are three main categories you can target for these which are:
- Major Local Business Data Platforms – Like those already listed above.
- Geo/Industry-Specific Platforms – Local directories, Chamber of Commerce websites, websites of professional associations and guilds.
- The Wider Web – Supplementary citations like blogs, news sites, apps, maps, government databases etc.
It’s common knowledge that search engines present different results based on the country you are located in. Search engines are clever though and they don’t stop personalising content at country level. They’ll tailor results to match the town or county based on the user’s location.
As with country personalisation, if you want to appear when someone gets town/city-specific results, you need to ensure your site is relevant to that town or city.
Another big part of personalisation SEO is a person’s search history. Google knows what you have been searching for and clicking on from their search results. They also know which sites you regularly visit.
This allows search engines to tailor results to match more closely with your personal preferences.
We’ve already touched on this earlier in this post, but just to go into a little more detail about the importance of reviews I’ve separated this out.
We know that reviews (Google reviews in particular) can influence search results. If you are up against websites which also have Google My Business listings with reviews then review quantity, review velocity and review diversity all help you move above your rivals.
Reviews from other influential local SEO ranking factors are also important such as Facebook and Bing!
TOP TIP: Ask all your customers for reviews, add links to your email footer so it’s easy for them to leave you feedback. 5-star reviews are worth their weight in gold when it comes to outdoing the competition.
Social media is now a key factor in local rankings. You need to not only be active across a variety of social channels, but you also need to be regularly engaging with your audiences.
Sharing content, contributing to the Facebook community and engaging in local groups are all great ways to influence your local rankings. Getting your brand and website in front of people is the main aim of the social game.
We spoke about the importance of backlinks at the start of this post but social media is a big part of that because the main role of social signals is to win you more high-quality backlinks. It has been proven that ranking position and social signals strongly correlated across all social media channels — through Facebook is still the platform with the highest concentration of user interactions.
Check-ins via social media are also thought to be an influencing factor on local rankings.
I’ve covered the importance of on-page HTML structure but there are other structural considerations when it comes to influencing local SEO.
Your contents hierarchy is super important. Google’s algorithm is said to be like a nine-year-old child. This basically means things need to be structured in a logical and easily understandable way.
Internal linking and anchor text is also crucial to allowing search robots to understand your website. Your internal linking structure should take an ‘all roads lead to Rome’ approach. This means making sure your landing pages are the focus of the site with related content linking to these using appropriate anchor text.
Time on site
This has already been touched upon earlier in the post but the time someone spends on your site is considered important.
A low bounce rate – the percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page – is a good indicator for search engines that the content they’ve presented to the searcher is relevant, useful and interesting.
There are some great tools you can use to track and monitor user behaviour on your site. The results are sure to surprise you as well! I recommend HotJar, it’s free for a basic account.
Pages per session
Closely related to the previous item, the more a searcher explores a website, the more relevant search engines consider the site to be for the search term presented. This also links back to content, as a website owner it’s your job to ensure your content is as engaging as possible so as to capture visitors and encourage them to convert i.e. fill out a form, pick up the phone, purchase a product etc.
The above software can help you keep track of user behaviour on your website.
Google confirmed back in 2014 that websites with strong HTTPS encryption will rank better than their HTTP counterparts.
Towards the end of last year (2018) with a new Chrome browser release, websites that had not switched to HTTPS were (and still are) marked as unsafe in the Google Chrome browser.
Backlinko still finds a strong correlation between HTTPS websites and first page Google rankings, and SearchMetrics confirms that 45% of the top websites all use HTTPS encryption.
Having your website use a secure connection reassures users and it’s absolutely essential for eCommerce websites.
In 2016 Google’s emphasis on mobile-first optimization intensified and they announced a crackdown on intrusive interstitial pop-ups.
This meant any web page with an advert or Call-to-Action that covers the main content or redirects users to a new page upon clicking might suffer a penalty. Exceptions to this include login dialogues, small banners that are easy to dismiss, and legally-required interstitials (e.g. age verification and cookie notifications).
It’s really important to be on top of your local SEO and you should be investing time in the local search.
A lot of these ranking factors apply to national rankings as well such as content, backlinks and mobile-focused. If you can gain traction in the local rankings, regional and national SERPs are sure to follow with the right content strategy.
Need help with Local SEO?
This post contains some really useful local SEO tips, some of which are really easy for you to implement, others require some technical know-how.
If you are looking for a local SEO expert who can offer a full range of local SEO services contact CEB Creative!