Local Search Ranking Factors? Sadly, They’re Not Actual Industry Practices

Filed in Featured, Local Search, Statistics by Matt McGee on September 7, 2011 12 Comments

seo-reportLocal search advice seems to go in one ear and out the other. I’m drawing that conclusion after reading the 2012 SEO Benchmark Report from Marketing Sherpa, which tells what local search tactics are actually being used by more than 1,500 marketers around the world. What I’m seeing is this: the tactics that score highly year-in and year-out in the “Local Search Ranking Factors” aren’t actually being used by a lot of marketers.

Local Search Tactics Being Used in 2011

Let’s look at two charts from the 2012 Search Marketing Benchmark Report – SEO Edition — these are from the chapter on local search, which is filled with all kinds of interesting data.

This first chart shows what tactics are being used by marketers dealing with local business listings.


As you can see, only two tactics are being used by more than half of respondents — adding a phone number to the business listing, and optimizing the listing with important keywords. Everything else is in use by less than 50% of the marketers surveyed.

Here’s the second chart, which looks at local SEO tactics being used outside of business listings.


What’s most alarming here is down near the bottom: Only 19% are doing any local citation building. Say what??!! Well, a little bit higher on the list, the two items involving local directory listings are being used by 35% and 32% of marketers. Those are both part of citation building, so the 19% number is a bit misleading. But still … none of the three tactics that involve citations scored more than 35% usage.

Local Search Ranking Factors Comparison

A lot of what I see above doesn’t fit well with the tactics that regularly score highly for importance in the annual Local Search Rankings Factors survey that David Mihm coordinates (and I, along with a few dozen local search marketers, contribute to each year).

If you look at this year’s Top Ten, you’ll notice these items on the list:

3. Proper Category Associations

According to the first chart above, only 43% are using categories to optimize their local listings.

4. Volume of Traditional Structured Citations

According to the second chart above, only 32% to 35% are working to get citations from local directories like Yelp or Superpages and only 19% say they’re doing any local citation building.

5. Crawlable Address Matching Place Page Address

According to the second chart above, only 58% are making sure to have a local address on their web pages.

7. Quality of Inbound Links to Website

Also in the second chart above, only 53% are doing a link building-related tactic — “local keywords in external anchor text.”

If you go further down the page on the Local Search Ranking Factors, you’ll see that “Overall Volume of Reviews of Place” ranks sixth as a ranking factor … but at the bottom of the first chart above, only 17% said yes when asked about making customers “aware of presence on Yelp, Places, Judy’s Book, etc.” and only 24% say they’ve posted reviews on their website.

What Gives?

This is pretty sad and disappointing for someone who’s been writing about local search optimization for a long time.

Is no one listening?

I’m not sure that’s the case. Actually, it probably is — but indirectly. I’m gonna chalk up the survey results to the fact that this was an international survey and that many of the tools, tactics and websites that we often discuss are only available in certain countries. In some places, marketers don’t have the option of piggybacking on strong 3rd-party sites like Yelp or Superpages, right?

Still, the basics are the basics, and if a marketer has access to local business listings in his/her country, you’d hope that more than 43% would be utilizing categories.

More Local Search Marketing Stats

Here are some of the other interesting stats that I’m pulling from the local search chapter of Marketing Sherpa’s report:

  • Only 37% of respondents say they’ve claimed a local business listing on one or more search engines. 41% said “no” and 22% said they’re not sure.
  • On the other hand, 60% listed local search marketing as at least “somewhat important” to achieving their overall objectives. 18% listed it as “critical.” Only 26% said it is “not important.”
  • Only 27% said “yes” to a question that asked, Does your organization currently optimize for local terms as part of your organic search (SEO) strategy? 59% said “no,” and I presume the rest didn’t answer the question.
  • 40% of marketers who work in a company of less than 100 employees said “yes” to having claimed a local business listing, compared to 32% of marketers in companies with more than 1,000 employees.
  • 45% of retail industry respondents say they’ve claimed a local business listing, compared to 29% in the healthcare and education industries, and 28% in the software industry.

The report is quite interesting overall. I wrote about previously on Search Engine Land with some general SEO charts and statistics.

As I said in that article, the entire report runs $400 but you can download a free excerpt from Marketing Sherpa’s website.

Your turn: What are your thoughts on the statistics above? Why aren’t more marketers taking care of the most basic local search tactics? Comments are open…

Comments (12)

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  1. wingding says:

    Matt, great post.

    my $.02… To do the job right, as you listed above, takes some serious time and money. IMHO, most SMBs aren’t going to spend that kind of money to have it done correctly and thoroughly. They think just having a website presence is enough, or they hire companies like YellowBook who they trust are doing the job right, but aren’t.

    It’s not the SEO companies that need to be reading your post, it’s all the the SMBs out there. Unfortunately they don’t read this stuff.

    Lastly… Go Packers!! 🙂

  2. Matt Marko says:

    Interesting…and somewhat inexplicable!

    I lead local marketing for a corporation with over 30,000 independently-operated locations across the USA. “Independent” meaning, we can’t claim listings for them from corporate. Our data is largely in line with the above: 32% of the locations have claimed their Google Place Page, 34% have not, and 34% aren’t sure. This, after more than a year of persistent effort from corporate and our sales force to try and educate and encourage local search participation – listing claiming, citation building, review generation, etc.

    Yet, we also know that the locations that are participating in local search are generating 2 to 3x the lead volume from local search that they are from their SMB web site. From an SMB perspective, there seems to be a lot of confusion and misinformation.

  3. It only reaffirms why I crush competition. 🙂

  4. Nyagoslav says:

    Phone number included – as far as I am concerned the phone number is a required element, so 81% means that the other 19% have totally no idea what Google Places is I suppose

    Categories – I am regularly encountering the problem of people not knowing that they can add up to 5 categories; they usually add just one, and it is a Google suggestion, which in many cases does not match the actual business type

    Citation building – you are right that probably the main reason is that the survey is international. Yelp is available only in a handful of countries, I’m not sure if Insider Pages and Judy’s Book are anywhere out of the US (probably Canada?), but for instance in a country as Australia it is quite hard to find more than 4-5 good directories to list a contractor business. In Bulgaria these are down to 1-2. Similar with New Zealand.

    As long as the inbound links go, I think it greatly depends on the role and capabilities of the surveyed marketers.

  5. The local ranking factors are pretty much the same as the factors for getting a web page properly ranked. On the whole you need links and you need to tell the truth! i.e. Your categories need to be correct to what it is your business does.

  6. Chris says:

    Agree wholeheartedly with the Packer fan’s comments.

    It’s a time, money, and education equation…as with any prospect needing perpetual follow up.

    The avg SMB doesn’t trust the strategy & tactics because they don’t understand the environment (generally).

    In my very limited experience, the avg SMB does unfortunately trust the YP more than any local marketer.

    And they think DIY after seeing an Angieslist or Superpages spot…but don’t have the foundational wherewithall to maximize even if they do manage to not procrastinate.

    Weird…brainwashed, lambs to the slaughter.

    Good news is, with the current economic climate looking to slide or perhaps eternally remain stagnated, marginally effective SMBs will soon realize the error of their ignorance.

  7. wingding says:

    Chris, does that mean you are a Packer fan? 🙂

    Matt, I wanted to mention that I use http://getlisted.org once in a while to help SMBs to better understand what we are talking about. It seems the low Listing Score and the red circles with the “X” mark helps them realize they might need to do something more to build their local visibility and drive more customers to their brick-an-mortar location.

    What gets me more are the businesses that hire devious SEO guys to create “False” positive customer reviews and yet the steps you list above are not done. I tweeted a great example I found by accident this morning. All your above advice they don’t really understand but they do understand positive/negative reviews and comments.

  8. Matt McGee says:

    One other thing I should’ve mentioned in the post is that the survey — as much as I understand — is taken by marketing companies, not specifically by SEARCH marketing companies. So they’re bound to have a variety of knowledge of local because of the likely diversity of their specialties.

    Still disappointing to see such a low pick-up of the basic and most important aspects of local search marketing.

  9. Josh says:

    I have also seen a large correlation between local rankings and the number of reviews on other sites such as Yelp, Urbanspoon, etc. I think these play a large part in the rankings as well.

  10. Robert Maxim says:

    Marketing in general is a weakness with most small businesses. I find they get caught up in the day-to-day core of putting out “fires” and ignore issues that involve long term planning. I also agree with Chris that the average “SMB doesn’t trust the strategy & tactics because they don’t understand the environment.” The auto repair website clients I work with don’t want to understand marketing. And especially anything related to the Internet! It is sad to watch many of them slowly slide into business failure but also exciting to watch the ones who do get “local” Internet marketing see their business grow at unseen before rates.

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