Analysis: Moz releases 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors survey

Since its inception in 2008, Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey has been the go-to guide for digital marketers and local businesses looking to increase their rankings in Google’s local search results.

Each year the survey asks various industry experts to share what they think are the most influential ranking factors in local search results based on their experience with Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) and algorithms. The survey is broken out into two main sections:

  • Local pack ranking factors (elements that affect search results that appear in the local 3-pack/snack pack).
  • Localized organic ranking factors (elements that affect organic search results for local business websites).

The survey includes the top 50 ranking factors for each section and groups various ranking factors into thematic categories. The survey also includes the top foundational and top competitive factors to provide insight into what businesses need to do to get listings ranked in the first place, and what can be done to out-rank competitors.

Local pack ranking factors

Google local pack ranking factors

Compared to last year, this year’s survey revealed a shift in the thematic factors that affect search results in the local pack. Google My Business (GMB) signals, such as proper business category associations, are still the most influential group of ranking factors; but, their importance decreased slightly from last year.

As GMB signals dipped, review signals increased in importance over the past year. These shifts suggest that Google is rewarding businesses who have a higher quantity and variety of reviews and that properly setting up your GMB account is still crucial if you want to rank in the local pack.

The most notable shift in local pack ranking factors this year was link and citation signals. This year, link signals took over as the second most important group of ranking factors, whereas last year citation signals held this spot. Citation building is still essential to a successful local SEO campaign but the focus is shifting from quantity/authority of structured citations to quality structured citations on the primary data sources (the four main data aggregators) and tier 1 data sources (major search engines and local directories).

Moz’s top 10 local pack ranking factors

  1. Proximity of Address to the Point of Search
  2. Physical Address in City of Search
  3. Proper GMB Category Associations
  4. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
  5. Consistency of Citations on the Primary Data Sources
  6. Domain Authority of Website
  7. Product/Service Keyword in GMB Business Title
  8. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
  9. Consistency of Citations on Tier 1 Citation Sources
  10. Click-Through Rate from Search Results

Local organic ranking factors

Ranking factors of organic results in local searches on Google

Ranking signals for localized organic search results did not see as big of a shift this year as local pack signals. Similar to the previous year, signals were the most influential category of ranking factors in 2017. In fact, “Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain” surpassed “Domain Authority” as the No. 1 ranking factor for localized organic results.

“Diversity of Inbound Links to Domain” and “Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain” also increased in importance over the past year as both factors are now in the top five most influential ranking factors. Over the past few years, the survey’s results indicated that Google is putting more weight on inbound links. This year’s survey solidifies this trend as five of the top 10 factors impacting localized organic results are related to inbound links.

Similar to the results for the local pack ranking factors, citation signals decreased in importance for localized organic results in this year’s survey. All ranking factors related to citations moved down on the organic list as the focus also shifted to quality of structured citations on the primary data sources and tier 1 data sources.

Another notable shift in ranking factors for localized organic results is the decrease of importance placed on factors that focus on geo-modifiers on the site. For instance, “City/State in GMB Landing Page Title” and “City, State in Most/All Website Title Tags” both fell out of the top 10 most influential ranking factors, with each factor dropping at least 10 positions. This shift reinforces the notion that simply adding geo-modifiers to your site will not suddenly increase rankings for local search results.

Moz’s top 10 organic ranking factors

  1. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
  2. Domain Authority of Website
  3. Diversity of Inbound Links to Domain
  4. Topical (Product/Service) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content
  5. Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain
  6. Quantity of Inbound Links to Domain from Locally-Relevant Domains
  7. Click-Through Rate from Search Results
  8. Geographic (City/Neighborhood) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content
  9. Product/Service Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain
  10. Mobile-Friendly/Responsive Website

Need help managing your brand’s local listings? Contact Mindstream Media Group to learn more about our Location Services.


It’s Not Just News: Google Is Having Trouble with Fake Biz Listings Too

Google has faced intense scrutiny lately amid accusations they’re helping spread falsehoods and half-truths across the web. I know what you’re thinking and no I’m not referring to “fake news,” I’m talking about a different section of Google’s search results – local business listings. 

In a blog post last week, Google representatives touted the results of a new study as evidence they have taken significant steps to address the issue of fake listings. The study, co-produced with the University of California-San Diego, examined more than 100,000 fake (or abusive) business listings on Google Maps from June 2014 to September 2015. 



To learn more about Google’s effort to fight fake business listings, check out the full article on LSA Insider.

SMX West – Day Two Recap

Mindstream Media Group’s Allison Eckberg, Heather Ottenhausen and Stephanie Cheek are at Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West, a leading conference for search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing professionals (SEM) since 2007. Mindstream’s search pros will be providing their analysis of the day’s most interesting sessions. Their recap of Day Two is below. For more coverage, check out our SMX Day One Recap and SMX Day Three Recap.

Special Flash Session: Changes To AdWords exact match


Ginny Marvin | Contributing Editor | Marketing Land

Matt Van Wagner | President | Find Me Faster

Recap by:

Stephanie Cheek | Paid Search Manager | Mindstream Media Group

SMX Day Two kicked off with a panel discussion on a Google update so earth-shattering it warranted a “special flash session.” Mindstream’s Stephanie Cheek was there and provided her analysis of what the update means for exact match keywords.

Google made a huge announcement last week: The exact match setting in AdWords is going through a significant change. Exact match is going to transition from a syntactic match type (matching the search word for word) to a semantic match type (matching the meaning or purpose of the search). Advertisers are going to have to retrain themselves in how they think about and use exact match.

After this announcement, SMX added a “special flash session” to the Day Two agenda to have an open discussion about the potential impact of the change and what advertisers can do to prepare.

So, what kind of change should advertisers expect related to exact match keywords over the next few months?
  • Close variant matching will expand to include rewording and reordering:
  • Function words – prepositions (e.g., “in” and “to”), conjunctions (e.g., “for” and “but”) and articles (e.g., “a” and “the”) – will be ignored:

Google is “selling” these changes as a time saver to advertisers – making it so they won’t have to build out exhaustive keyword lists to reach their customers. The company has reported that early tests show that advertisers may see up to a 3 percent increase on exact-match clicks with comparable click-thru and conversion rates.

Google explained that they will only match to rewording if it doesn’t change the intent of the keyword, but there’s concern that this would mean Google’s machine learning is solely responsible for discerning the intent of an advertiser’s keywords. “San Diego to San Francisco Flights” has a completely different meaning than “San Francisco to San Diego Flights” – if Google gets this wrong, advertisers will pay the price. Many advertisers attending the session expressed concern with relinquishing the tight control they have been accustomed to with exact match.

Google plans to roll these changes out over the next couple of months in English and Spanish, and to other languages throughout 2017.

Here’s what can advertisers do to prepare:
  • Monitor your search query reports closely.
  • Take a closer look at your most popular exact match keywords. Examine them to see if changing the order of the words also changes the meaning. If you uncover cases where it does, add those as negative keywords.
  • Review your search query reports to see what close variants have been triggering your ads. If you find that the variations currently triggering your ads will be affected, add them as negative keywords.
  • Consider using phrase match in cases where syntactic matching is necessary to preserve the meaning of the keyword.

Session: Survive and thrive with SMB PPC


Kirk Williams | Owner and Minion | Zato

Recap by:

Allison Eckberg | SEM Specialist | Mindstream Media Group

Moving from a new paid search challenge to one as old as AdWords itself, Allison Eckberg reviews what it takes to run a successful campaign on a tight budget.

When working with small or medium-size businesses (SMBs), it can be difficult to run a successful pay-per-click (PPC) campaign. The biggest challenge facing SMBs is typically their very limited budget, often less than $2,500 per month. Since you can’t just throw money at it, like you might be able to with a large corporate campaign, you’ll need to rely on hard work and skill to manage SMB campaigns effectively. Here are four tips to help you excel at running SMB PPC campaigns.

SMB PPC Tip No. 1: Set everything up well from the beginning

“The slower the getaway car, the more important a good head-start (is).” – Kirk Williams, Zato

Setting your campaign up for success requires a well thought out and organized foundation. As the session’s presenter, Kirk Williams of Zato, put it: “The slower the getaway car, the more important a good head-start (is).” One suggestion for setting up SMB campaign structure is to segment campaigns by match type to push spend towards the keywords and match types that are driving the best performance. This allows you to have more control over a very limited budget and, in turn, spend your budget more effectively. (When naming your campaigns, it’s also good to use naming conventions that will avoid confusion in the future.)

SMB PPC Tip No. 2: Always be conscious of your budget

It’s always important to keep tight control over campaign spend, but it’s even more so with smaller budgets. Williams provided a few strategies for managing smaller SMB budgets:

  1. Use an SMB automated budget rule strategy – assign campaign labels and pause poorer performing campaigns throughout the month. You can then apply an automated rule to find your designated labels, and push campaigns live at the beginning of a new month.
  2. Turn shared budgets into an SMB win – this will allow you to keep your most important campaigns separate and split budgets amongst your remaining campaigns.

SMB PPC Tip 3: Focus on targeting

Thanks to a more centralized audience, SMBs typically have a significant advantage over their larger competitors in terms of precision targeting. SMBs have plenty of options to optimize their campaigns – keywords, geo-targeting, re-targeting, etc. – to reach specific target audiences.

SMB PPC Tip 4: Provide relevant reporting

Instead of putting time and effort into low budget, weekly reporting, focus more on beneficial monthly or quarterly reporting.

It’s important to provide and review as much relevant data about PPC campaigns as possible while avoiding wasting time evaluating unnecessary metrics.

Here are some additional reporting tips from Williams:

  1. Avoid pointless metrics – it’s important to not waste their time with metrics that are not as crucial to their PPC campaign. Instead, focus on the main goal, or KPIs, of each campaign and how the campaign is meeting, or working towards, that goal.
  2. Don’t over-report – instead of putting time and effort into low budget, weekly reporting, focus more on beneficial monthly or quarterly reporting. This a larger dataset to review, compared to the small amount of information provided by weekly reporting.
  3. Make it pretty – nobody wants to sit down and review a bunch of pages of excel reporting. Instead, focus on providing a visually appealing summary of performance data that can be reviewed in a timely manner.

While it can be challenging, SMB PPC campaigns can be extremely successful even when working with limited budgets. If we set up our campaigns the right way, target audience accurately and budget intelligently, we can pull off SMB campaigns that are just as successful, or more so, than PPC campaigns from even the largest of companies.

Session: SEO for Google’s mobile-first index and mobile-friendly world


Eric Enge | CEO | Stone Temple Consulting

Gary Illyes | Webmaster Trends Analyst | Google

Leslie To | Senior Director of SEO | 3Q Digital

Recap by:

Heather Ottenhausen | Team Leader, Local Solutions | Mindstream Media Group

Google announced its mobile-first ranking index months ago and it seems like it’s inching closer to go fully live. Heather Ottenhausen attended a session with Google’s Gary Illyes to find out what brands need to do to make sure their websites are ready. 

In November 2016, Google announced that it started testing its mobile-first index, which looks at the mobile version of your website for ranking signals to determine the site’s position in search results.

On Day 2 of SMX, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes let us know that “2017 will be an interesting year” thanks to the mobile-first index launch, but urged the crowd not to “freak out.” Illyes said the mobile-first index is still in the experimental phase and, while the company isn’t sure when it’ll be 100 percent ready, he assured the SMX crowd that the launch is probably still months away.

Here’s a list of tips from Illyes to help webmasters get ready for a mobile-first world:

  • Copy over content that you want to rank for from your desktop version to the mobile version.
  • Take your time on implementation so that it’s done right.
  • Follow the advice of SEO industry experts.
  • Implement structured data.
  • If you have a mobile responsive site, you should be good to go.
  • And, again, don’t freak out!

Although it is tougher for Illyes to release details about the mobile-first index, Leslie To from 3Q Digital presented some dos and don’ts of mobile, regardless of configuration:

Dominate Google’s Search Results by Following These 3 Steps

Google’s search engine results page (SERP) layout routinely adapts as Google tests new features and updates ranking factors. The protean approach has given the search engine a variety of result types available for any given search. For instance, a search for “pizza” may result in a SERP consisting of a paid ad for a nearby pizza restaurant, a map pack of local pizza restaurants, organic results for websites with pizza recipes and a knowledge panel on the history of pizza.

Google’s collage of search result options has made it essential for brands to embrace a variety of tactics to increase visibility in search results. Local listings, organic results and paid ads are different entities but they have the same end goal and share ranking factors in Google’s algorithm. Brands looking to boost search visibility should avoid treating them as separate campaigns and embrace a holistic strategy that maximizes the potential of each tactic.

No. 1: Local search engine optimization (SEO)

Local SEO is the foundation of a digital strategy aimed at increasing visibility. The main goal of local SEO is to make sure a brand’s location information is accurate and consistent across the web. This includes accurate listings on local directory sites, data aggregators and search engines, as well as consistent information on the brand’s website.

Accurate and consistent business information is one of the most important ranking factors in Google’s search algorithm. Google uses citations (i.e., mentions of the local business information) to reinforce the legitimacy of a brand’s location information. Google also checks the citation information against the location information on the brand’s website, so it’s important to make sure all location data matches.

No. 2: Organic SEO

If local SEO is the foundation needed to increase search visibility, then organic SEO is definitely the backbone. Local SEO establishes relevancy and legitimacy to Google, but it doesn’t cover all the core aspects of organic SEO like technical SEO and content optimization.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is the behind-the-scenes optimizations like schema markup, metadata and site structure. Optimizing technical site elements around keywords related to your services or products will help search engines understand your site’s content and increase organic rankings for keywords related to your industry.

Content optimization

Content optimization is the public-facing elements like blog posts, location pages and landing pages. Producing unique content that speaks to your business and naturally includes keywords will also help with organic rankings as Google can read and interpret content. Google also takes into consideration how often you publish new content, so producing a steady stream of fresh material is crucial for remaining relevant.

Local and organic SEO go hand-in-hand by influencing one another and sharing many of the same ranking factors. A perfect example of this is publishing unique content on each location page of a brand’s website. This can help raise the domain authority of the website, which is one of the most important ranking factors for both organic results and local listings.

No. 3: Paid search ads

The last piece of SERP real estate to tackle on Google is paid search ads. Ads can appear at the top and bottom of the search results on any device. Some ad types are only available to certain industries that allow for additional features. One example is Google shopping ads, which provide users detailed information about products they can purchase online.

Paid search and SEO strategy should align as there’s a lot of overlap between the two. This means optimizing for similar keywords and focusing campaigns on the same products and services. One way to make the two strategies work together is by publishing unique content on each paid search landing page on your website. This should increase your paid search campaign’s quality score, which will lead to lower costs per click on your ads while also adding fresh content to your website and boosting organic visibility.

Bringing it all together

Unified management allows for deeper insights in terms of reporting and attribution. This allows you to provide a holistic view of your digital campaigns and determine:

  • Which strategies are producing the most traffic
  • Which campaigns are performing the best
  • Which campaigns or campaign tactics need attention

If you are looking to increase visibility on Google, devising a strategy that includes local SEO, organic SEO and paid search is a great place to start. For more information on increasing your visibility on Google, contact us today.