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A Study of Google Local Ranking Factors

When is the last time you opened a phone book? Small businesses (and their curious customers) no longer rely on those old-fashioned tomes. Instead, they use the Internet and search engines like Google to quickly and easily communicate with each other. To ensure that you’re getting the most out of your online marketing efforts, check out the 2016 Quantitative Local Search Ranking Factors Study created by Mark Kabana (of Places Scout), Andrew Shotland (of Local SEO Guide), and Dan Lebison (of Local SEO Guide) in collaboration with Megan Smith and Marija Pejcinovska, statisticians from the University of California, Irvine. This rigorous, eye-opening study of Google Local ranking factors may make you see Local SEO in a whole new light.

A Study of Google Local Ranking Factors

A Study of Google Local Ranking Factors

Before we dig in too deep, remember that this is a correlational study; it does not prove causation. In addition, note that we’re only summarizing the vast amount of information provided in the study. To view the full list of Google Local ranking factors that the study investigated, check out the charts in the study. The ranking factors were divided into two groups: ordinal (numerical factors, in which higher values matter) and categorical (binary factors, which you either have or don’t have). These are the top five factors in each group:

Ordinal Factors

  1. Google Reviews
  2. Profile View
  3. Majestic AC Rank
  4. Referring SubNets
  5. Referring IPs
  6. Referring Domains
  7. Majestic Citation Flow
  8. Photos
  9. Number of Backlinks with City in Anchor Text
  10. Majestic Trust Flow

Categorical Factors

  1. Organic Rank
  2. Keyword in Business Name
  3. Has a Mobile Website
  4. Google Reviews Binary
  5. Backlinks with Keyword in the Anchor Text
  6. Has Photos
  7. Backlinks with City in Anchor Text
  8. Has Business Hours
  9. OV
  10. Meta Keywords

Are you surprised by any of these results? Reassured? Delighted? These and other important ranking factors can dramatically alter the course of your SEO performance, affecting your business’s marketing success (or failure) . . .

A Popularity Contest

Above all, it is best to be popular (just ask Galinda). SEO is a popularity contest, so if you want to rank higher, you need to focus on convincing others to like, admire, and support you. If you can increase your popularity, you won’t have to worry so much about other ranking factors. Just gaining favorable attention and support can translate into more reviews and high-quality backlinks.

Reviews Rank #1

As we mentioned above, reviews are currently the top dogs when it comes to correlating Google Local ranking factors. The more reviews you have, the better your business will rank in local search results. Given the ever-increasing popularity of social media, it should come as no surprise that Google considers reviews to be of great significance. Whether your reviews are positive or negative, Google views them as affirmation of your popularity within your community.

Backlinks Aren’t Behind the Times

So have reviews replaced backlinks? Absolutely not. Backlinks remain as important and influential as ever, with 64% of Google Local ranking factors qualifying as backlinks. We don’t expect this to change in the foreseeable future, so continue building strong and high-quality backlinks to your website. For example, seek out backlinks from high-authority and highly relevant websites. Additionally, be sure to disperse these backlinks amongst a variety of subnets, domains, and IP addresses to further boost your ranking.

Don’t Snub Images and Text

Sometimes people zero in on the behind-the-scenes and peripheral aspects of SEO (backlinks, reviews, meta tags, etc.) and forget about the simple stuff. Just as readers enjoy a well-written website and excellent images, so do Google’s spiders. If you build it, they will comeTo this end, add images to your Google My Business page, and fill your website with top-notch text. Avoid stop words, emphasize word count, and use headings to organize the text and communicate with Google (and your readers).

Turn Your No’s into Yes’s

When it comes to binary factors, you simply need to add the Google Local ranking features that you don’t currently have to improve your rank. For example, do you have organic ranking(s) in your core keyword? If not, get on it! Is your keyword in your business name? Especially if your business (or its name) is new on the scene, this is a quick way to improve your ranking. Does your website welcome mobile users with responsive web design? If your answer is no, get with the times! Not only will this please your customers (many of whom likely view your site on the go), but it will also help you rank in local search results.

In addition, if you don’t already have these items, implement them to upgrade your SEO performance:

  • Google reviews
  • Google My Business rating (this appears when you have at least five reviews)
  • Photos on your Google My Business page
  • Followers on your Google My Business page
  • At least one backlink with your core keyword in the anchor text
  • At least one backlink with your city name in the anchor text
  • Your core keyword in your title tag
  • Your core keyword in your meta description tag
  • Backlinks from .gov and/or .edu sites
  • Claim of your Google My Business page
  • Business hours on your Google My Business page
  • Secure HTTPS (instead of HTTP)
  • Same phone number on website and Google My Business page

Not Worth Your Time

As you scan through the full list of Google Local ranking factors, pay attention to those at the bottom of the list, which may have less influence on Local SEO than you previously thought. For example, the quantity and strength of your citations don’t matter much (though consistency is still important). In addition, including your city and state in your title tags, URLs, and page copy doesn’t correlate with higher rankings. Spend your time on more important factors – like links!


If you want to improve your Google My Business ranking, focus on your organic rank first. Invest your time in crafting a well-written and mobile-friendly website, building links, and gaining reviews and followers. Finally, remember that the factors listed in the study may or may not improve your Local SEO. Websites that include these factors do tend to rank higher though, so you can use the data to improve your understanding of Local SEO and prioritize your resources. Good luck!

If you’re interested in improving your search engine optimization (SEO), check out 417 Marketing, an online marketing company based in Springfield, Missouri, that specializes in SEO and web design. Click here to contact us and learn more about what we can do for your company.

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