Last week, Moz — a well-known SEO consulting and research agency — released the results of their “2015 Local Search Ranking Factors” survey. During the months prior, they asked agencies, like Now Media Group, how they rated the importance of the different variables that determine positioning on Google’s local results. The aforelinked survey breaks down the results further, but here are the overall weighting of the different factors:
Tap on each slice for the description.
What does this all mean to you?
Today, I want to discuss with you some of the survey’s lessons and takeaways, and how these should inform your marketing strategy. If you want to add something to the discussion, or if you have a question, don’t be shy and leave a comment below.
Your Local & Organic SEO are Inextricably Linked
In the Moz survey, link signals were considered the second-most important ranking factor, about 0.3 percentage points less than “on-page signals.” They’re actually more important than that. One of the variables that goes into “on-page signals” is your website’s authority, which Moz measures as “domain authority.” How is that number calculated? As it turns out, one of the most important factors is links.
Links influence both your organic listing and your local map pack listing. According to the Moz survey, “quality of inbound links” is the #2 factor for localized organic ranking, and “diversity of inbound links” is #6 — domain authority is #1. For factors that go into the local pack, domain authority is #6 and “quality of inbound links” is #12.
The quality of your links depends, to a significant degree, on the quality of your content marketing. The question is: is your content worth linking to? Not all content is linkable, so to speak, and not all content should be linkable, but a large fraction of it should be. Take a dentistry practice as an example. Many of the pages will have to do with the procedures offered, and this information can often be found on WebMD or Wikipedia, which are more likely to attract links. The procedural pages are still very important, because you want patients to know you offer those things, but they aren’t enough.
To attract links, the practice might embark on a strategic blogging campaign. It could, for example, invest into a series of well-researched articles on celebrities and the dental work they get. Or, they could give real world examples of how dental work has changed people’s lives, using the emotion and meaning behind the article to attract readers and, subsequently, links. The strategy could be something completely different; the point is, you can’t separate link building from content marketing.
But now we get into the realm of amplifying that content, so that it can get readers and links. This is related to your social media strategy, which is another part of SEO and, more generally, your business’ marketing. This means that your local SEO is, in some way, related to your content and to your social media, which are usually thought of as separate. But, they’re not — they’re all related.
If you want to be truly successful in your local SEO investment, you also need to invest in SEO and marketing on a broader scale: content, social media, on-page optimization, et cetera. All these elements work together to build a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
Reviews are Important for Converting, not Ranking
Of all the overall ranking factors, reviews seem to be one of the least important factors. It’s true that, as far as their influence on your local ranking, reviews have only a small impact. While based on a small sample size and only considering reviews from one source, so they can only tell us so much, the following graphs are clear examples of the fact that there are more important ranking factors than reviews:
The one outlier, with over 170 reviews, is the worst performing site! If reviews were a strong ranking factor, we’d expect the higher ranked sites (being #1 is ideal, so the lower your positioning the higher you are on the page) to have more reviews. Other than the outlier (that causes what looks like the opposite relationship of what it should be), we can see there’s no correlation. Again, you can’t read too much into these graphs, but, clearly, having 160 more reviews than your competitors isn’t going to get you to the top of Google, either in the local organic listings or the local map pack.
Still, reviews are heavily touted as being vital to local businesses. I myself have argued for the importance of reviews and I still tell clients that they should focus on getting more reviews.
It’s important to understand that the reviews aren’t necessarily for improving your site’s ranking on Google, they’re important on an even more fundamental level. Your potential customers or patients use reviews to gauge the quality of your business and your competitors, which means that they play a crucial role in the conversion process. And this matters, because even if someone finds you on Google, it doesn’t mean you’re getting their business. That depends on more than just your SEO; it depends on all the factors that go into that totally separate purchasing decision-making process.
Why You Should Diversify Your Marketing
One of the biggest pieces of Local SEO news this year was the reduction of the local pack from 7 listings to 3. The Moz survey has an entire section of commentary on this change.
What does Google’s update mean for you?
For businesses who were listed 4th or 5th, this is a big deal, because it can mean a loss in traffic. One message this sends is to step up your investment in local SEO, to increase your site’s competitiveness. Another message is more of a lesson: diversify, so that when one arm of your marketing strategy takes a hit, the rest can help make up for it.
There are many reasons and ways to diversify. More and more, Yelp, and other similar review aggregators and directory listings, are starting to dominate the first page of local searches. People are going to click on those links, and when they do you want them to still be able to find you. Your SEO strategy should take this into consideration, and you should diversify by doing what’s necessary to gain greater visibility in those websites, especially on Yelp.
Garret Mehrguth, whose commentary was featured in Moz’ study, puts it best,
No longer is it sufficient to be #1 on organic, in reality that’s the 7th result on the page (3 ad spots, 3 local spots). Instead, it is essential to think of all your SERP marketing positions. There are only so many searches for a service a month, the surest way to increase lead volume is to have as many spots in the SERP landscape as possible. So that means that to drastically change lead volume it is essential to be positioned on sites like Yelp, which rank very well organically, so that when someone clicks through to a “Best plumber in Irvine, CA – Yelp” link in the SERPs you’re positioned in the top 3 and maybe even a Yelp ad spot (if Yelp referral traffic converts well).
Similarly, the Google results page is getting more and more complicated. Below is an image highlighting the local pack and the organic search results, but most of what you immediately see are all paid advertisements.
Pay-per-click advertising can get you positioning on Google — positioning that’s more visible than organic search now — that is independent from your SEO and Local SEO, and by diversifying with ads you can help to make up for any losses in business caused by changes in the search results.
These are only two options and there are many more available to you. The point is that your marketing strategy should have many columns supporting it, so that, if one gives out or goes through a change, the other columns are still there to mitigate the damage.
Wrapping It Up
I looked at three interesting take-aways from Moz’ local search survey:
- You can’t look at just local SEO or just organic SEO. They share many of the same influencing variables, so proper SEO has to be holistic — you need to focus on both.
- Reviews may not have a strong influence on your SEO, but they do have a strong influence on attracting potential customers and converting them into actual customers.
- Diversifying your marketing strategy not only helps to build a pie larger than the sum of its parts, but it also helps to lessen the impact of a sudden shock to one of the individual pieces.
What do you think? Join the conversation below.
Formerly at [Tony] Robbins Research International and at Now Media Group as their Director of Marketing, Jonathan has a background in quantitative economics and analytics.