Understanding Local Search Ranking Factors

Just in the last week, the 2012 Local Search Ranking Factors survey was released by David Mihm- the 5th edition of his study. While the release didn’t make headlines in the search industry, I would argue that if you are trying to understand the basics of local search, this is the place where you want to start.  So what exactly is the Local Search Ranking Factors Study and why should you pay attention?

Every year David Mihm invites the top expert’s in local search to participate in his study (leading search guru’s polled this year included Mike Blumenthal, Matt McGee, Will Scott, Mary Bowling and John Carcutt).  The goal is to identify the factors that would be most helpful for ranking well in the Google local search algorithm (as well as the Yahoo and Bing local search algorithms which generally follow the same signals), and the techniques you want to avoid so as not to harm your ranking. What makes the survey so helpful, is that amidst the often confusing torrent of information and articles today on how to rank better in local search- this survey presents the most important things you need to pay attention to in easy to consume, prioritized order.  All you need to do is look at the top factors the experts identify and — like basic blocking and tackling– execute against it.

So here- in a “make life simple for me” moment– are the top 10 local ranking factors the experts identified for 2012.  I’ve also included along with each factor my compilation of key quotes from the experts polled over the years to help explain what exactly each of these are.  (The top 10 below is the place to start, and if you want to go all propeller head there are also 80 additional factors included on the Overall Rankings list).

  1. Physical Address in City of Search on Place Page – “Having an address located in the city being searched largely affects local rankings. Almost all the time, local businesses located in the city being searched are given more importance for local rankings.” – Shagun Vatsa
  2. Proper Category Associations on Place Page – “Knowing the most commonly-used business category names to associate with your business is highly beneficial for ranking purposes when consumers search for the category name in your locality. Category is probably treated as a stronger ranking element than a mere keyword association”. – Chris Silver Smith
  3. Proximity of Address to Centroid on Place Page – “…’near me’ means in my city, and ‘near the center of my city’ is the best approximation of this for users of unknown location. As mobile blends more with local (and location aware browsers become more sophisticated, and Google becomes more sophisticated, etc….), this may lessen a bit.” – John Biundo
  4. Domain Authority of Website – “This is actually a universal factor- whether it’s local or Organic. The stronger Google thinks your domain is, the better you will do”. – John Carcutt
  5. Quantity of Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators) – “This is definitely a determining factor. Having a 100% optimized profile is not enough if you don’t have citations to back up your business information. Local links from citation sources such as vertical directories, IYP sites builds trust for a business and provides Google with uniform information”. –  Shagun Vatsa
  6. City, State in Places Landing Page Title – “It’s a good idea to use a key aspect of your website’s content and information structure to communicate your location.” – Aaron Weiche
  7. Quantity of Native Google Places Reviews – “Search engine reviews are definitely given a lot of trust because they come from registered users who have a profile and an account history.” –  Shagun Vatsa
  8. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations – “We have seen quality over quantity win out. It’s not just about having consistent data across all channels it’s also about staying ahead and getting your location data to the right places.” – Erik Whaley
  9. Local Area Code on Place Page –  “While I’ve seen active local listings with an 800 number, local numbers still reign when it comes to ranking prominently in local results. Moreover, customers are more likely to call a business which provides local service rather than an 800 number due to their perception of it being a large business with a call-centre.” –  Shagun Vatsa
  10. HTML Name/Address/Phone Matching Place Page NAP– The consistency of your NAP is important across the board- however tieing the NAP from your site to your Place Page is even more important.” – John Carcutt.


John’s digital experience dates back over two decades, to before the web was born. He is currently VP Marketing for Advance Digital, and is a regular writer and speaker on topics including Search, Social Media, Content Marketing, Local Media and the Digital Marketing Revolution.

One response to “Understanding Local Search Ranking Factors

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