When it comes to Google, local SEO is shifting. Marketing analytics firm Moz reports on its annual Local Search Ranking Factors survey that ranking signals for Google My Business, links, citations, and reviews are shifting.
Google is said to be in a transitional phase — and it shows. As the search giant moves from a web-based linking approach to a knowledge graph semantic approach, other factors are becoming more important. But that doesn’t mean you should throw the baby out with the bathwater. Here’s our take on the Moz survey.
Small Shifts at the Macro Level
The first result of the survey is that the experts don’t see a seismic shift for thematic clusters of ranking signals from the 2015 survey to today.
Google My Business signals may have slipped in importance by 2.5 points, but the cluster still has the largest slice of the pie at around 19% of SEO expert respondents ranking it top priority for ranking well in local pack and local finder.
The biggest shift seems to be that link signals factors and citation signals factors seem to have switched places. Now it’s link signals in a close second place priority.
On-page signals, review signals, and those citation signals have equalized around the 13% priority mark.
All this to say, that it’s not that these “falling” priority factors don’t matter, SEO experts are just becoming more savvy about how much attention and fuss they need to give you a good ROI.
The Big Shift: Proximity Becomes Paramount
Local SEO has long depended on the factor of the “physical address in city of search,” which has sat at the top of 50 individual ranking factors. But in the latest survey, that ranking signal has been dethroned. Now “proximity of address to the point of search” takes precedence.
It may seem like a small distinction to outsiders, but for the experts this is an important change with important implications. The change reflects a shift for Google to mobile and on-the-go search.
But as the survey report points out, this can be a double-edged sword. The shift is great for some businesses — gas stations, fast food, and so on. But that’s not necessarily the same for lawyers, dentists, or brain surgeons. Closest lawyer is not necessarily best lawyer.
For that reason, there’s hope among experts that this “point of search” signal gets turned down a bit. Centroid ranking factors have decreased in importance, but that doesn’t mean they’re out the window. A search for “Denver hotels” from Sally in Cleveland will depend on the centroid factor, not the proximity factor.
The Other Big Shift: Local Loves Links
Google’s local SEO algorithm appears to be favoring links more and more these days. “Quality/authority of inbound links to domain” was a top-four ranking factor for local pack and local finder search in 2017, with other related factors also moving up in importance.
Survey lead Darren Shaw’s decision to flesh out the comments section of the survey has also proved analytically fruitful. Links was at the top of everyone’s discussion list, mentioned 76 times, double the mentions of “citations” or “reviews.”
In a lot of ways, the links signal factor has become a quality over quantity issue. Those marketers spending time and resources on quality linkbacks appear to be getting a great return.
There’s no mistaking that local SEO is undergoing a shift. The outsized effect of proximity over centroid signals definitely shows Google is aiming to serve those on-the-town mobile users. Elsewhere, the survey respondents’ focus on links shows this is a) important and b) worth the effort. The other shifts reflect the transitional nature of local search at this moment in time.
This is a cursory look at a wide-ranging survey. The entire thing is worth a deep dive for the serious SEO marketers out there. We particularly recommend the commentary from survey respondents.