Every year since 2008, David Mihm has released a comprehensive annual assessment of local search marketing factors: what’s gotten more important, what’s waning, what’s new. He works with major players in the search industry to assess key local search aspects and their importance, then compiles the results together with comments from the report contributors. The 2011 report was just released and contains a lot of data, so much so that I could go on for hours about the findings in a very SEO-geek sort of way. Instead, I’ll refrain and share with you a few of the major takeaways that can help anyone looking to improve their local search rankings. There were a few items that seemed to be common sense to me, but there were also a couple of conclusions that took me by surprise.
*One note: The report this year focuses on Google Places and its ranking factors. All report contributors agreed that Yahoo! Local and Bing Local have nearly identical techniques for ranking, so they are not called out separately here. What’s said here translates to those services as well.
Common sense item #1: Your address in Google Places includes (and matches) the area you’re targeting. Same goes for your phone area code. So if you’re targeting Seattle, an area code from Minneapolis won’t help you. (Am I allowed to say, “Well, YEAH”?!?!?)
Common sense item #2: You need to include your address and phone number on your website and make them crawlable by search engines. Why would you NOT include either of those if you’re trying to drive business to your location?
Common sense item #3: Your name, address and phone number (NAP for short) on Google Places and your website should match. While yes, on one hand it seems like a “no kidding” move, addresses can actually be tricky. For example, the street address for Customer Magnetism is 2697 International Parkway. If it’s listed as International Pkwy, or Int’l Pkwy, those can appear different to a search engine. Check your sites and be consistent in how you present your NAP (which is a good overall branding idea anyway).
Surprise #1: 800 numbers have a negative effect on local search. Something to consider: if you have both an 800 number and a local number for your business, perhaps use the local number in any Places listings. Just make sure the local number is listed on your website as well (see “Common sense item #3” above). Also, as pointed out by the author of the report in his blog, use of call-tracking numbers can have a big negative influence on ranking – again, we’re back to your NAP presenting consistently across crawlable channels. Take some time to consider where you use call tracking or 800 numbers and try to avoid using them in Google Places listings or on your website. Keep in mind this is NOT to say they can’t be used in other places where they are extremely valuable!
Surprise #2: Volume of reviews has a somewhat higher effect than quality of reviews. Say what? Okay, this one requires an explanation. Rob D. Young explains it best as, “A high volume of reviews (and especially reviews native to Google Places) help a lot more than a lower volume of top-notch reviews.” While this sounds like a great way to let someone with numerous bad reviews be well-ranked, there is a counterbalance: as Rob explains further down in his post, “While volume is the key to ranking when it comes to reviews, having a low average rating (especially on native Google Places reviews) or negative statements in the reviews will harm your rank.” So the sanity is not completely lost. What I get from all of this is that positive Google Places reviews have more power than anything else – so monitor any reviews you receive closely. After all, this statement from report contributor Mike Ramsey still holds true: “More reviews = better rankings. Better rating reviews = More customers clicking on your listing.” In other words, it still pays to make your customers happy.