It can be challenging to determine where to focus your efforts because Google’s algorithm for ranking local search results depends on so many distinct signals. It’s crucial to pay attention to a variety of distinct local SEO ranking variables in order to make sure a local business appears highly for pertinent search queries.
Update: In December 2021, Google made changes to its local search algorithm that gave proximity a greater emphasis than ever before as a ranking element. This algorithm adjustment, aptly dubbed the Vicinity Update, also reduced the significance of including keywords in the business name on Google Business Profile.
Ranking well in the SERPs will inevitably grow more difficult as local businesses increasingly recognize the value of SEO. Understanding how to dominate the SERPs becomes even more important as the competition for search success increases.
Using data from Whitespark’s study on local search ranking criteria for 2021, we’ll examine the most crucial elements for ranking in both the Local Pack and the localized organic results in this blog. We’ll also point out how these outcomes have evolved over time and talk about the projects you should prioritize in the upcoming year.
Where does this information originate? Since David Mihm started it in 2008, the Local Search Ranking Factors survey has been conducted almost annually; Whitespark took it in 2017. Around 50 local SEO specialists were questioned for their thoughts on the most crucial steps and elements affecting local business rankings.
The Best Local SEO Ranking Elements for 2022
This table lists the top local search engine ranking variables for 2021 according to the expert poll respondents. As you can see, they are divided into localized organic and Local Pack.
What differentiates the Local Pack from locally relevant organic results?
Because of the differences between the underlying techniques Google utilizes to surface these two groups of results, they are addressed differently in this study. While the usual “blue links” that point to websites make up the localized organic results, the Local Pack is built up of Google Business Profiles.
Localized Organic Results and Localized Pack
Let’s take a look at how the Local Ranking Factors survey has tracked ranking trends over time before delving into each element in greater detail. This should help to give you a general idea of what local search rankings were affected by in 2021 and where things are probably going to be in the following year.
It can be useful to know the average significance of the local SEO ranking criteria when combined if you’re striving to improve Local Pack and localized organic rankings at the same time:
- On-page optimization (25%)
- Links (22%)
- GBP (21%)
- Reviews (12%)
- Behavioral (9%)
- Citations (7%)
- Personalization (5%)
It’s crucial to keep in mind that each of these aspects will demand a different amount of time; the percentage does not correspond to the time that should be dedicated to each.
For instance, Google Business Profile (GBP) setup and management shouldn’t take up too much of your time compared to link building, which is a continuous job that requires a lot of time.
Factors for Local SEO Ranking 2013–2022
The local search algorithm is routinely modified by Google, just as the main search algorithm. Because of this continual change, it will be necessary for you to keep an eye on the SERPs in order to provide the best service possible for your clients. Utilizing Local RankFlux, the exclusive tool for local search ranking fluctuation tracking, you can keep on top of this work.
Being aware of the shifting local environment can be essential to success if your agency works especially with local firms. Changes in importance should be regularly observed since the elements that have the strongest effects on local search engine results can significantly alter customer conversion rates.
Similar to the Local Search Ranking Factors study conducted in 2020, the 2021 results do not take into account social signals. It seems logical to completely omit social signals from the survey as their relevance to local search rankings has been declining for some time.
It is important to keep in mind that the absence of social signals has transferred the voting power to other elements, which may be the cause of the recent modest inflations.
Ranking Factors for Local Pack / Local Finder Over Time
From 15% in 2015 to 36% in 2021, the significance of the Google Business Profile for Local Pack/Finder ranking has been steadily rising since 2015. During this time, the importance of links, citations, behavioral signals, and personalization have all decreased.
Local Organic Ranking Factors Over Time
According to the Local Search Ranking Factors survey, links and on-page SEO together account for 65% of the ranking value for localized organic ranks.
Even though the other variables are said to be less significant, you should still pay attention to them because doing so can be the difference between you and your rivals.
Interestingly, citation importance has started to rise once more after declining since 2018.
The Top 15 Personal Local Search Ranking Factors
When optimizing for local search, focusing your efforts on the various elements from the table above is a wonderful approach to advance. Don’t forget that there are numerous additional contributing aspects besides those mentioned here, so pay close attention to various optimization jobs.
Google Business Profile Signals
Within Google Business Profile, the major category, the usage of keywords in the business name, and the inclusion of extra pertinent categories are all significant individual ranking factors.
Since 2018, the significance and worth of GBP for Local Pack/Finder rankings have been increasing. However, its weight in the localized organic results has changed a little bit.
This overall rise in the importance of GBP for local rankings is related to how Google keeps developing and enhancing this tool. The addition of new features frequently improves the user experience, thus it makes sense that GBP is becoming even more useful to small-town entrepreneurs.
We can see that many of the top 15 local search ranking variables are closely connected to Google Business Profile if we go back and review the two lists for those factors. Setting the major GBP category, finishing and confirming the GBP, utilizing keywords on the GBP landing page, and other similar procedures are included.
It is obvious that some of the things on these lists are excellent for rankings but that you have little influence over or room to improve.
For the Local Pack/Finder, the major GBP category, for instance, is the most crucial ranking factor, but after you’ve picked the appropriate category, there’s nothing else to do.
Similar to how having keywords in the business name can improve rankings, it isn’t much you can do (without breaking Google’s rules) if the company in question doesn’t have keywords in its name. This task won’t need to be kept up after you’ve submitted the name into the listing.
You may, however, make sure that your Google Business Profile is “complete.” This entails making sure you’ve completed all of the necessary fields, as well as continuing to upload fresh photographs and Posts.
Customers are 70% more likely to visit and 50% more likely to consider buying from businesses with a comprehensive Business Profile, according to data from Google, underscoring how crucial this is.
Factors in the Google Business Profile that have no bearing on rankings
It’s important to remember that if your main goal is to raise your ranks, you don’t have to utilize every feature of GBP.
The experts who participated in the 2021 Local Search Ranking Factors study concur that a number of GBP-related factors have little bearing on rankings.
- Geo-tagged photos uploaded to GBP
- Keywords in GBP description
- Keywords in GBP products
- Keywords in Google Posts
- Keywords in GBP services
- GBP messaging feature enabled
- Frequency of Google Posts
- Setting service areas
Keep in mind that Google Business Profile is about more than just rankings. It’s a good idea to consider the wider picture because even measures that have no bearing on rankings may nonetheless increase conversions.
A Note on Google Business Profile Name Spam
GBP spam fighting was first mentioned as a rating element in the Whitespark survey in 2020, and it was still an important task in 2021.
Even though this doesn’t help your own listing, it can still help you if higher-ranking competitor listings suffer from spam penalties.
The third most important activity that experts have focused on more in the previous year while attempting to improve Local Pack/Finder ranks is combating spam. This task trails profile completion in second place and keywords in business titles in first, respectively. Possibly, some listing administrators will keep trying to break the rules by improperly incorporating keywords as long as keywords in the business title remain a major ranking element.
Only 23% of neighborhood businesses were actively battling GBP spam in 2020, which suggests that a sizable number of spammy Google Business Profiles may still be in operation.
Spam can be greatly reduced using tools that display Google Business Profiles and company names on a map as part of a grid tracker. This is so that all necessary information may be viewed clearly on a map display.
First- and third-party reviews, review number, review velocity, and review diversity are all individual review signal factors.
Over the past three years, reviews’ weight in Local Pack/Finder ranks has increased gradually, rising from 12% in 2018 to 17% in 2021. Even though it’s a slight gain, it illustrates how people continue to appreciate reviews. Since links were displaced from their previous position as the second-most significant Local Pack/Finder ranking criterion in 2018, reviews have consistently held that position.
High numerical Google ratings, keywords in native Google reviews, and the volume of native Google reviews are all clearly among the top 15 Local Pack/Finder ranking factors.
The experts also disclosed that the main element influencing conversions in GBP is a strong Google ranking derived from reviews. Reviews therefore not only aid local businesses in ranking but also boost sales.
Do you want your consumers to leave you more reviews? It might surprise you to hear that most of the time, all you need to do is ask. According to statistics, 67% of customers who are prompted to submit reviews do so.
Creating systems to track, grow, and show reviews can be quite advantageous as internet reviews continue to gain importance for local rankings. Time is saved, and a local business’s online reputation and rankings are improved as a result.
Automating review monitoring is possible with review management software, such as BrightLocal’s Reputation Manager. This makes it more likely that you won’t overlook crucial comments. You can increase the number of reviews you write with the aid of this tool.
It’s simple to think that the only way to dominate reviews is to continuously receive five-star ratings, but this isn’t the reality. Google revealed in November 2021 that a balance of favorable and unfavorable reviews actually enhances the credibility of a company.
Always keep in mind that you should be getting ratings elsewhere outside of Google. Sites that accept reviews from other parties may potentially affect rankings and promote conversions.
NAP information, keywords in titles, and domain authority are examples of specific on-page optimization considerations.
Both traditional and local SEO greatly value on-page signals. The table below shows that since 2013, on-page optimization has continually been crucial for rankings, particularly for localized organic results.
Local rankings can be affected by a variety of factors, including the amount of high-quality content a website has, the topical keyword relevancy throughout the entire site, and domain authority.
You shouldn’t undervalue the significance of optimizing your local company website for search engines. By optimizing, you improve your chances of getting found in both global organic searches and local searches. It is wise to become an expert in on-page optimization because it will always be important.
When developing your plan, you should always be meticulous with your keyword research because it plays a significant role in on-page SEO. Get to know your target audience’s attitude and make sure your material is tailored to the terms and expressions they are likely to use. In order to properly engage your audience, you essentially need to think like them.
You must prominently display the name of your location (city, town, state, etc.) throughout your website in order to compete seriously in local search results. Additionally, you should include location-specific keywords in the metadata for your site’s titles and descriptions.
Create specific pages for local information on your website to increase your website’s local authority in Google’s eyes. Additionally, you should frequently mention your location in your blog entries. If you don’t already write blog posts, you should start right now.
What about companies with many locations? In this situation, you’ll need to design unique pages for each location on your website. Make sure you include your opening hours, the pertinent NAP data, and any other pertinent information on each page.
Customers will find this beneficial because they can quickly access the information they need, but it may also affect local rankings for each of the listed locations.
Enrolling in the How to Perform Local SEO Audits for Multi-location Businesses course from BrightLocal Academy is a wonderful place to start if you’re trying to improve the SEO efforts of a company with many locations. You will leave this course with the skills necessary to thoroughly audit a company with two locations or 200!
Inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, and linking domain number are examples of individual link factors.
The same holds true for localized results as it has long been known that link signals are extremely beneficial for improving organic search rankings.
In 2021, links will make up 31% of the localized organic ranking elements, up from 24% in 2013.
According to the Whitespark survey, the ninth most significant element determining Local Pack/Finder results is the authority of inbound connections to a website. Another factor deemed crucial is the authority of the links pointing to the landing page mentioned on the GBP listing.
Earning high-quality backlinks can be a challenging and time-consuming operation, but they significantly increase a site’s authority and are therefore a wise use of your resources.
Caution: Poor backlinks can really hurt your site as a whole, therefore it’s important to evaluate the caliber of the websites you’re obtaining connections from. You may do this easily by installing the MozBar Chrome plugin.
Your current website’s domain authority and the page authority of the specific page you are on will both be displayed by the MozBar tool. The quality of the site improves when both of these figures rise.
This tool can also be used to determine a website’s spam rating. It’s probably recommended to stay away from a website if the spam score is high because a link from it can hurt your SEO efforts.
The quality of incoming links is the most significant aspect when it comes to localized organic ranking criteria, but internal links on the entire site are also quite important.
The eighth-most significant ranking factor for localized organic results is the use of pertinent keywords in the anchor text of inbound links, which is followed by the number of inbound links from locally pertinent domains.
The mobile clicks to call ratio, dwell time, and click-through rate are some of the individual behavioral ranking variables.
Behavioral signals have been steadily losing value as a Local Pack/Finder ranking component over the past three years, going from 10% in 2018 to 7% this year.
The weight given to behavioral indications in localized organic search increased somewhat this year, rising to 11% after previously declining.
Because behavioral signals are far more difficult to manipulate than other aspects, Google can rely on them as a dependable source of data. These decisions are made by the searcher, therefore they can only to some extent be altered.
Why not use this time optimizing your GBP to provide the best user experience instead of coming up with creative new tactics to influence user behavior? Among other things, this entails writing optimized copy for titles, meta descriptions, and Posts. You’ll get closer to succeeding at rankings and conversions if you make your listing as valuable and coherent as you can.
Try to keep in mind that SEO’s main objective should be to draw in the proper clients to a company in order to generate those all-important sales, not only to increase rankings. These people will naturally contribute to improving the behavioral signals towards your site once you start being seen by the proper customers—those who are interested in learning more about your company.
Location information, IYP/aggregator NAP consistency, and citation volume are each individual citation ranking variables.
Citations’ ranking significance has dropped over time, from joint second for Local Pack rankings in 2013 to joint sixth this year.
According to the findings of the Local Search Ranking Factors survey, citations started to lose significance as a ranking factor in 2015.
Citations decreased from 17% in 2015 to 7% in 2020 and remained at 7% this year in regard to Local Pack/Finder significance.Citations’ weight in localized organic search results has dropped from 10% in 2015 to 6% in 2020 and then slightly increased to 7% this year. The percentage amount only slightly increased, but despite this, it moved up the list, from joint-sixth essential in 2020 to position four in 2021.
Although the total significance of citations has gradually declined, they are still useful for increasing awareness and fostering consumer trust. Credibility can be established when a potential consumer can see that a company’s information is accurate and consistent online.
Structured and unstructured citations are two distinct sorts.
The most typical kind are structured citations, which are listings created by a company on pertinent directories and independent websites. These citations offer a fast and simple technique for a company to build backlinks.
Structured citations frequently appear on websites that Google considers to be reliable and authoritative, making these backlinks useful to the concerned company. This might assist a company in starting to create the authority of its website as well as promote an already established website.
Look at the example of a recent Google search for “Cafe in Sacramento” in the section below. You can see that several results, including the top three positions, were from company directories!
Signals of Personalization
Search history, search location, and device are all deciding criteria for personalization rankings.
You’re more likely to receive results from websites that you’re already familiar with and have regularly visited, which is essentially how personalization works. However, it’s also influenced by other elements, such as the user’s search location and the language they employ.
Personalization reached its high in terms of Local Pack/Finder ranking importance in 2017, and it has remained at 6% ever since. Personalization was continuously ranked at 9% for the localized organic results from 2013 to 2017, and at 7% as of 2018.
Personalization may affect broad search results, but it has considerably less of an effect on local search results. This means that optimizing a website for personalized purposes is not something you can do much from an SEO perspective.
Businesses that cater to clients in nations with various official languages can translate—and then personalize—their material to target the appropriate audiences. Local firms can take advantage of the neglected resource known as multilingual SEO when necessary.
It’s important to remember that 60 million Americans—nearly a quarter of the population—don’t speak native English. Therefore, if you own a business in a place with a diverse population, it may be worthwhile to focus your website at the other languages that are frequently spoken there in addition to English.