Reviews appear to be the most prominent ranking factor in local search, helping businesses rank well even if they have low quality link profiles.
This information comes from the annual study of local SEO ranking factors conducted by Local SEO Guide.
The study examined 200+ factors over 100,000 local business to find similarities between the businesses that are ranking well in Google’s local pack.
Despite local businesses having “crappy link profiles,” organic ranking factors are still highly interconnected with local ranking factors.
If a business ranks well in organic search, it was found to also rank well in Google’s local pack.
With that said, it was also found that businesses can rank well in local packs without the presence of traditional SEO ranking factors. That includes things like links, or even a website.
Reviews Correlate With Rankings
A business with a significant number of reviews on its Google My Business page can rank relatively well in local packs.
”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.”
However, it’s not just the number of reviews that matter. Even more important than quantity of reviews is what’s being said in those reviews.
Google My Business pages with reviews that mention a keyword, and/or the name of a city, were found to have higher rankings in Google’s local pack.
”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?
Websites without high quality link profiles do not seem to have a problem with ranking in local search. Although that doesn’t mean links have become any less important.
”What I think is most interesting about this data, is that websites that rank tend to have low quality and low authority links.”
Businesses are able to rank in local search without a lot of great links, but those that put effort into building their link profile were also positioned well in search results.
”While it’s only correlation, Google still seems to be rewarding some level of optimized anchor text, around both keyword and city.”
Don’t Neglect Your Website
Small businesses are bad at websites, the study says. So bad, in fact, that some didn’t even have a website.
Having a website is key to ranking in organic search, and ranking in organic search means a business is much more likely to rank in local packs.
The study concludes that investing in owned assets, like a website, should be a business’s highest priority.
What Does this All Mean?
There’s a lot to digest in this study, but it all boils down to a few important takeaways.
- Ranking in organic search correlates to ranking in local packs.
- Make a concerted effort to acquire reviews on your GMB page.
- Have a website and optimize it.
For further details see the full study.