New research into local SEO ranking factors finds customer reviews as the most prominent, helping local businesses rank in the Local Pack results in Google even with low quality link profiles.
The research, carried out by localseoguide.com looked at more than 200 ranking factors across 100,000 local businesses to identify the patterns in what helps them rank in Google's local results.
Although local business websites tend to have, what the study author calls, "crappy link profiles", the usual organic ranking factors still correlate with local pack ranking factors. If a local business ranks well in organic search, then it also usually ranks well in the local pack.
However, the research also demonstrates that local businesses can rank well in local pack results without traditional ranking factors such as an authoritative link profile or even a business website.
Local SEO and the power of reviews
A local business that has a significant number of positive review associated with it's Google My Business page can rank relatively well in the local pack results.
Moreover, it's not just the number of reviews that matter - it's what they say that really tips the balance. Reviews that mention keywords and the location of the business are the ones that really make the difference.
The report says:
Reviews are obviously a driving factor of ranking in Google My Business pack results. The prominence of reviews isn’t particularly shocking, as it’s a way for Google to crowdsource ranking factors, it’s hard to spam, and the most problematic type of abuse is illegal.
It’s also something that let’s Google approximate online to offline ranking factors, as hot/trendy businesses are likely to skyrocket in terms of reviews before they are likely to kill it with traditional ranking factors. All of this means it’s something that is easier for them to trust then say, links.
At a high level, having a keyword you are trying to rank for, and a mention of a city you are working to rank in, in reviews has a high correlation with high ranking Google My Business results.
Do links still matter for local SEO?
Although the study certainly recommends focusing on reviews for local SEO success, the data also suggests that it's not quite time to abandon link building just yet.
Websites and businesses without links can rank well in the local pack on the strength of other factors like reviews, but links also play a part on the whole - particularly those with keyword/location targeted anchor text.
The report says:
While it’s only correlation, Google still seems to be rewarding some level of optimized anchor text, around both keyword and city.
At the very least, they are more lenient when it comes to slapping local websites with Penguin. All of this is more evidence of the organic algo’s substantial involvement in ordering local packs.
About the Author
Luke Glassford is an SEO expert with over 15 years’ experience.
During his time working in SEO, Luke has set-up an SEO agency, worked as an in-house SEO for a major national company and managed his own successful SEO consultancy - using a lot of different SEO tools along the way!