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Top 25 Local Search Ranking Signals You Need to Know

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Top 25 Local Search Ranking Signals You Need To Know


Getting a local business to rank is challenging for three reasons:

  • An uptick in mobile uses because more people are using their phones to find businesses near them.
  • A surge of businesses recognizing the value of local SEO are making results more competitive.
  • Google Local Pack, which was once the top seven, is now just the top three.

So, what does it take to appear at the top of these competitive local results, to get you in front of the people searching for products and services like yours?

Here, you’ll learn about 25 specific local ranking signals you need to understand and optimize for in order to perform as well as possible in local search.

First, let’s take a look at how these changes with Google’s Map Pack/Local Pack are a game-changer for businesses.

Recent Map Pack Changes You Need To Know

Google’s Local Pack is where a searcher makes a query with local intent and Google’s three most relevant results show up above the organic listings.

The importance of the Local Pack tool is evident in that Google is constantly modifying the Local Pack to be more useful to searchers.

For example, Google recently announced that they are rolling out to the search interface on desktop that when people search for places or businesses nearby, such as [restaurants near me], they’ll easily see local results on the left and a map on the right.

Here’s an example of how that search would work:

Screenshot from search for [restaurants near me], Google, November 2021

Why is Google’s Local Pack so important?

It allows the searcher ultimate convenience to quickly find a business near them and see hours, phone numbers, reviews, and more without clicking through a website.

Ranking locally for your business is vital and local SEO must be a critical component of your overall optimization strategy if you hope to increase your odds of getting ranked in Google’s Local Pack.

As with all things Google, there is no exact formula for getting to the top and the competition is fierce.

But, this article will outline important steps you can take to build your local online presence and increase your chances of ranking well as a local business.

What Are The Top Local SEO Ranking Signals?

I have organized the list of critical SEO Ranking Signals into two broad categories:

  • The Basics: This covers the most foundational ranking signals. These are the low-hanging fruit and the fundamental factors that must be addressed to rank for SEO.
  • The Nitty-Gritty Local Ranking Signals: This outlines the more advanced local ranking signals that you’ll need to move to the top and outrank a competitor.

The Basics

1. Google Business Profile

You may know Google Business Profile by its previous name, Google My Business.

It is easy and free to claim your Google Business Profile.

This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to improve your local SEO.

There are two methods:

With the first, you enter the name and address of the business and choose it from the search results.

With the second method, you find your business on Google Search or Google Maps and click “Claim this Business.”

2. Google Business Profile Categories

Categories describe your business and help you connect to the customers who are looking for you.

Choose a primary category that describes your business as a whole and be specific.

For example, if you are a nail salon, select “nail salon” rather than just “salon.”

3. Photos On Google Business Profile

You can add photos or videos to your Google My Business Page. These could include your location, products, staff, and even customers (with permission, of course).

Photos can add interest and credibility to your listing and also serve as a local ranking signal.

4. Bing Places For Business

Google is the most commonly used search engine, but Bing still holds a small share (about 7% of the world market according to this source).

Cover all the bases by setting up your Bing Places for Business.

5. Online Directories/Citations

Claim your business in other popular online directories, such as these:

  • Apple Maps.
  • Yellowpages.
  • Foursquare.
  • Yahoo’s Localworks.

6. Listings On Review Sites

A study by Harvard Business Review shows the power of listings on review sites.

Their findings were that a business’s one-star improvement in YELP rating leads to a 5-9% increase in revenue.

To get reviews, start by getting listed on these sites:

  • Yelp.
  • Glassdoor.
  • Angie’s List.

It appears that reviews on Google carry the most weight, but listings on these other sites are still very valuable.

7. Number Of Positive Reviews

Achieving positive reviews and interacting with your customers by responding to their reviews is important.

According to Google, high-quality reviews help the customer by improving your business’s visibility and increasing the likelihood that a customer will visit your location.

It is important to respond to reviews.Screenshot by author, November 2021

Don’t forget this important caveat to this recommendation on seeking positive reviews: It is against their policies to buy reviews by asking for reviews in exchange for something else.

Other sites, such as YELP, similarly have policies in place against manipulation with the goal to keep the reviews authentic and unbiased.

8. Reviews With Keywords And Locations

Not all reviews are created equal.

When reviewers use the city or keywords, it sends signals to Google that you are a trusted local business.

If you have many products or services, it’s recommended to have your customers send them in individually and according to the specific product or service that they have.

9. Reviews With Responses

Owner responses to Google show that the page is actively managed and that you are engaged with them.

Google has also indicated that your replies are important because reviews build trust.

10. Percentage Of Negative Reviews Not Responded To

In a double whammy, the number of reviews with responses counts, but so does negative reviews with no responses.

You need to have a plan in place for responding to all reviews and particularly negative ones. Read here for more guidance on how to handle negative reviews.

Google has set up a system if you believe there has been an inappropriate or negative review on Google and want to get it removed.

11. Create A Facebook Business Page

Many people are comfortable with Facebook and use it as a search engine, so it is on this list.

Make sure you at least create a business page and update it with your website, hours, and a description.

Social signals may have a limited impact but they do have an impact on social SEO.

Social signals may have a limited impact but they do have an impact on social SEO.Screenshot by author, November 2021

12. Social Listings

Whether you plan to be active on social listings or not, you should at minimum claim your business on all of the popular social sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Pin a tweet or post inviting users to call/visit your website/follow you on whatever social platform you are most active on.

In a survey of 3,200 customers, the average customer expectation of response time was four hours!

With an expectation of fast response from businesses on social, short turn-around replies, your business needs to reply lightning fast to meet this expectation.

13. Consistent Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP)

Be consistent with your business name, address, and phone number through every medium to allow Google searches to provide accurate information.

Also, a consistent name, address, and phone number can make it easy for your customers to connect with your business.

Attention to detail here is important.

For example, if your business name is Jon’s Burger, LLC on one site and Jon’s BurgerS on another site, the slight difference in name and entity could cause confusion.

14. Mobile Responsiveness

Google looks at your mobile site first, not your desktop site. This tool can help you get started on achieving mobile responsiveness.

The Nitty Gritty Local SEO Ranking Signals

15. Structured Data Markup

There are several ways you can use structured data markups for local SEO, including for:

  • Multiple departments.
  • Hours.
  • Address.
  • Menu.
  • Website.
  • Phone number.

These are highly recommended by Google. You can add markups using Google’s guide or a tool like Schema.

It is also worth noting there is some lack of clarity on whether including GPS coordinates within structured data is helpful.

See ‘How to Use Schema for Local SEO: A Complete Guide’ for use cases and sample markup.

16. Click-Through Rates From Search Results

If you are succeeding at SEO in general, you will do well in local SEO. Makes sense, right?

Focus on making sure your meta titles and descriptions make sense so users find what they expect when they arrive at your site.

17. Localized Content

Consistent publication of content is key here. Set a goal for ongoing content and measure your progress to ensure results.

Make sure you can organically include your key term and location.

For example, write about local events, share efforts to raise funds for a local charity, include information topics important in the local community, etc. Think about what makes sense for your brand.

18. On-Page Location + Keyword Optimization

For example, don’t just optimize for “furnace repair.” Optimize for “furnace repair Sacramento.”

19. Title + Meta Description

Include key terms and location in your title and meta descriptions when feasible.

This is in coordination with on-page location plus keyword optimization, but it is important enough to warrant mentioning separately.

20. High-Quality Inbound Links

Links from sites Google trusts are good for SEO. The topic of inbound links is important and extensive and a deep discussion is beyond the scope of this article.

Learn more in this local link building guide.

21. Diversity Of Inbound Links

You want a range of inbound links that are relevant, authoritative, and gained organically.

A good analogy in an investment portfolio. You would want diversification of different types of investments and different levels of risk.

Your link strategy should be similarly diversified.

You want as many links as possible from as many different websites as possible, with the note that you want all of the links to be high quality.

22. Inbound Links From Local Relevant Sites

Links from local news sites, community blogs, and so forth prove that your site is trusted by your neighbors.

For some businesses, a press release to local news stations could help here. For others, engaging in discussion on local social media sites might be helpful.

23. Inbound Using Local + Keyword In Anchor Text

Are you ready to set a hard goal?

An inbound link from a high authority site using both your city or neighborhood and the main key term is like the “holy grail” of links.

24. Proximity To The Searcher

Your proximity to the searcher is what it is, and you can’t optimize this factor.

However, it is a strong ranking signal, which is why claiming your Google Business Profile and having a consistent name, address, and profile is important.

25. Domain Authority To Your Website

Domain authority is a search ranking authority developed by Moz that predicts how likely a website is to rank.

Increasing your domain authority isn’t a quick or easy process, but it is likely to pay off handsomely.

Conclusion

What do all these local SEO features mean for your local SEO strategies?

Here are the two major takeaways:

  • Your Google Business Profile is the first and most important place to start to optimize your local SEO ranking. Claim it. Make sure it’s complete and accurate. Choose the categories. Get reviews. Respond to reviews.
  • The second most important thing you can do for local SEO is to focus on a big-picture, holistic SEO strategy. Build a high-quality link profile, create useful well-researched content with both local and key terms, and make sure your meta descriptions are optimized.

Local SEO is a competitive field, but for most businesses, there is still room for growth and improvement.

This list will help you increase your chances of being included in Google’s Local Pack, but most importantly, it will help increase your ability to be found by and connect with local customers.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal





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How to Block ChatGPT From Using Your Website Content

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How to Block ChatGPT From Using Your Website Content

There is concern about the lack of an easy way to opt out of having one’s content used to train large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT. There is a way to do it, but it’s neither straightforward nor guaranteed to work.

How AIs Learn From Your Content

Large Language Models (LLMs) are trained on data that originates from multiple sources. Many of these datasets are open source and are freely used for training AIs.

Some of the sources used are:

  • Wikipedia
  • Government court records
  • Books
  • Emails
  • Crawled websites

There are actually portals and websites offering datasets that are giving away vast amounts of information.

One of the portals is hosted by Amazon, offering thousands of datasets at the Registry of Open Data on AWS.

Screenshot from Amazon, January 2023

The Amazon portal with thousands of datasets is just one portal out of many others that contain more datasets.

Wikipedia lists 28 portals for downloading datasets, including the Google Dataset and the Hugging Face portals for finding thousands of datasets.

Datasets of Web Content

OpenWebText

A popular dataset of web content is called OpenWebText. OpenWebText consists of URLs found on Reddit posts that had at least three upvotes.

The idea is that these URLs are trustworthy and will contain quality content. I couldn’t find information about a user agent for their crawler, maybe it’s just identified as Python, I’m not sure.

Nevertheless, we do know that if your site is linked from Reddit with at least three upvotes then there’s a good chance that your site is in the OpenWebText dataset.

More information about OpenWebText is here.

Common Crawl

One of the most commonly used datasets for Internet content is offered by a non-profit organization called Common Crawl.

Common Crawl data comes from a bot that crawls the entire Internet.

The data is downloaded by organizations wishing to use the data and then cleaned of spammy sites, etc.

The name of the Common Crawl bot is, CCBot.

CCBot obeys the robots.txt protocol so it is possible to block Common Crawl with Robots.txt and prevent your website data from making it into another dataset.

However, if your site has already been crawled then it’s likely already included in multiple datasets.

Nevertheless, by blocking Common Crawl it’s possible to opt out your website content from being included in new datasets sourced from newer Common Crawl data.

The CCBot User-Agent string is:

CCBot/2.0

Add the following to your robots.txt file to block the Common Crawl bot:

User-agent: CCBot
Disallow: /

An additional way to confirm if a CCBot user agent is legit is that it crawls from Amazon AWS IP addresses.

CCBot also obeys the nofollow robots meta tag directives.

Use this in your robots meta tag:

<meta name="robots" content="nofollow">

Blocking AI From Using Your Content

Search engines allow websites to opt out of being crawled. Common Crawl also allows opting out. But there is currently no way to remove one’s website content from existing datasets.

Furthermore, research scientists don’t seem to offer website publishers a way to opt out of being crawled.

The article, Is ChatGPT Use Of Web Content Fair? explores the topic of whether it’s even ethical to use website data without permission or a way to opt out.

Many publishers may appreciate it if in the near future, they are given more say on how their content is used, especially by AI products like ChatGPT.

Whether that will happen is unknown at this time.

More resources:

Featured image by Shutterstock/ViDI Studio



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Google’s Mueller Criticizes Negative SEO & Link Disavow Companies

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Google's Mueller Criticizes Negative SEO & Link Disavow Companies

John Mueller recently made strong statements against SEO companies that provide negative SEO and other agencies that provide link disavow services outside of the tool’s intended purpose, saying that they are “cashing in” on clients who don’t know better.

While many frequently say that Mueller and other Googlers are ambiguous, even on the topic of link disavows.

The fact however is that Mueller and other Googlers have consistently recommended against using the link disavow tool.

This may be the first time Mueller actually portrayed SEOs who liberally recommend link disavows in a negative light.

What Led to John Mueller’s Rebuke

The context of Mueller’s comments about negative SEO and link disavow companies started with a tweet by Ryan Jones (@RyanJones)

Ryan tweeted that he was shocked at how many SEOs regularly offer disavowing links.

He tweeted:

“I’m still shocked at how many seos regularly disavow links. Why? Unless you spammed them or have a manual action you’re probably doing more harm than good.”

The reason why Ryan is shocked is because Google has consistently recommended the tool for disavowing paid/spammy links that the sites (or their SEOs) are responsible for.

And yet, here we are, eleven years later, and SEOs are still misusing the tool for removing other kinds of tools.

Here’s the background information about that.

Link Disavow Tool

In the mid 2000’s there was a thriving open market for paid links prior to the Penguin Update in April 2012. The commerce in paid links was staggering.

I knew of one publisher with around fifty websites who received a $30,000 check every month for hosting paid links on his site.

Even though I advised my clients against it, some of them still purchased links because they saw everyone else was buying them and getting away with it.

The Penguin Update caused the link selling boom collapsed.

Thousands of websites lost rankings.

SEOs and affected websites strained under the burden of having to contact all the sites from which they purchased paid links to ask to have them removed.

So some in the SEO community asked Google for a more convenient way to disavow the links.

Months went by and after resisting the requests, Google relented and released a disavow tool.

Google cautioned from the very beginning to only use the tool for disavowing links that the site publishers (or their SEOs) are responsible for.

The first paragraph of Google’s October 2012 announcement of the link disavow tool leaves no doubt on when to use the tool:

“Today we’re introducing a tool that enables you to disavow links to your site.

If you’ve been notified of a manual spam action based on ‘unnatural links’ pointing to your site, this tool can help you address the issue.

If you haven’t gotten this notification, this tool generally isn’t something you need to worry about.”

The message couldn’t be clearer.

But at some point in time, link disavowing became a service applied to random and “spammy looking” links, which is not what the tool is for.

Link Disavow Takes Months To Work

There are many anecdotes about link disavows that helped sites regain rankings.

They aren’t lying, I know credible and honest people who have made this claim.

But here’s the thing, John Mueller has confirmed that the link disavow process takes months to work its way through Google’s algorithm.

Sometimes things happen that are not related, no correlation. It just looks that way.

John shared how long it takes for a link disavow to work in a Webmaster Hangout:

“With regards to this particular case, where you’re saying you submitted a disavow file and then the ranking dropped or the visibility dropped, especially a few days later, I would assume that that is not related.

So in particular with the disavow file, what happens is we take that file into account when we reprocess the links kind of pointing to your website.

And this is a process that happens incrementally over a period of time where I would expect it would have an effect over the course of… I don’t know… maybe three, four, five, six months …kind of step by step going in that direction.

So if you’re saying that you saw an effect within a couple of days and it was a really strong effect then I would assume that this effect is completely unrelated to the disavow file. …it sounds like you still haven’t figured out what might be causing this.”

John Mueller: Negative SEO and Link Disavow Companies are Making Stuff Up

Context is important to understand what was said.

So here’s the context for John Mueller’s remark.

An SEO responded to Ryan’s tweet about being shocked at how many SEOs regularly disavow links.

The person responding to Ryan tweeted that disavowing links was still important, that agencies provide negative SEO services to take down websites and that link disavow is a way to combat the negative links.

The SEO (SEOGuruJaipur) tweeted:

“Google still gives penalties for backlinks (for example, 14 Dec update, so disavowing links is still important.”

SEOGuruJaipur next began tweeting about negative SEO companies.

Negative SEO companies are those that will build spammy links to a client’s competitor in order to make the competitor’s rankings drop.

SEOGuruJaipur tweeted:

“There are so many agencies that provide services to down competitors; they create backlinks for competitors such as comments, bookmarking, directory, and article submission on low quality sites.”

SEOGuruJaipur continued discussing negative SEO link builders, saying that only high trust sites are immune to the negative SEO links.

He tweeted:

“Agencies know what kind of links hurt the website because they have been doing this for a long time.

It’s only hard to down for very trusted sites. Even some agencies provide a money back guarantee as well.

They will provide you examples as well with proper insights.”

John Mueller tweeted his response to the above tweets:

“That’s all made up & irrelevant.

These agencies (both those creating, and those disavowing) are just making stuff up, and cashing in from those who don’t know better.”

Then someone else joined the discussion:

Mueller tweeted a response:

“Don’t waste your time on it; do things that build up your site instead.”

Unambiguous Statement on Negative SEO and Link Disavow Services

A statement by John Mueller (or anyone) can appear to conflict with prior statements when taken out of context.

That’s why I not only placed his statements into their original context but also the history going back eleven years that is a part of that discussion.

It’s clear that John Mueller feels that those selling negative SEO services and those providing disavow services outside of the intended use are “making stuff up” and “cashing in” on clients who might not “know better.”

Featured image by Shutterstock/Asier Romero



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Source Code Leak Shows New Ranking Factors to Consider

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Source Code Leak Shows New Ranking Factors to Consider

January 25, 2023, the day that Yandex—Russia’s search engine—was hacked. 

Its complete source code was leaked online. And, it might not be the first time we’ve seen hacking happen in this industry, but it is one of the most intriguing, groundbreaking events in years.

But Yandex isn’t Google, so why should we care? Here’s why we do: these two search engines are very similar in how they process technical elements of a website, and this leak just showed us the 1,922 ranking factors Yandex uses in its algorithm. 

Simply put, this information is something that we can use to our advantage to get more traffic from Google.

Yandex vs Google

As I said, a lot of these ranking factors are possibly quite similar to the signals that Google uses for search.

Yandex’s algorithm shows a RankBrain analog: MatrixNext. It also seems that they are using PageRank (almost the same way as Google does), and a lot of their text algorithms are the same. Interestingly, there are also a lot of ex-Googlers working in Yandex. 

So, reviewing these factors and understanding how they play into search rankings and traffic will provide some very useful insights into how search engines like Google work. No doubt, this new trove of information will greatly influence the SEO market in the months to come. 

That said, Yandex isn’t Google. The chances of Google having the exact same list of ranking factors is low — and Google may not even give that signal the same amount of weight that Yandex does. 

Still, it’s information that potentially will be useful for driving traffic, so make sure to take a look at them here (before it’s scrubbed from the internet forever).

An early analysis of ranking factors

Many of their ranking factors are as expected. These include:

  • Many link-related factors (e.g., age, relevancy, etc.).
  • Content relevance, age, and freshness.
  • Host reliability
  • End-user behavior signals.

Some sites also get preference (such as Wikipedia). FI_VISITS_FROM_WIKI even shows that sites that are referenced by Wikipedia get plus points. 

These are all things that we already know.

But something interesting: there were several factors that I and other SEOs found unusual, such as PageRank being the 17th highest weighted factor in Yandex, and the 19th highest weighted factor being query-document relevance (in other words, how close they match thematically). There’s also karma for likely spam hosts, based on Whois information.

Other interesting factors are the average domain ranking across queries, percent of organic traffic, and the number of unique visitors.

You can also use this Yandex Search Ranking Factor Explorer, created by Rob Ousbey, to search through the various ranking factors.

The possible negative ranking factors:

Here’s my thoughts on Yandex’s factors that I found interesting: 

FI_ADV: -0.2509284637 — this factor means having tons of adverts scattered around your page and buying PPC can affect rankings. 

FI_DATER_AGE: -0.2074373667 — this one evaluates content age, and whether your article is more than 10 years old, or if there’s no determinable date. Date metadata is important. 

FI_COMM_LINKS_SEO_HOSTS: -0.1809636391 — this can be a negative factor if you have too much commercial anchor text, particularly if the proportion of such links goes above 50%. Pay attention to anchor text distribution. I’ve written a guide on how to effectively use anchor texts if you need some help on this. 

FI_RANK_ARTROZ — outdated, poorly written text will bring your rankings down. Go through your site and give your content a refresh. FI_WORD_COUNT also shows that the number of words matter, so avoid having low-content pages.

FI_URL_HAS_NO_DIGITS, FI_NUM_SLASHES, FI_FULL_URL_FRACTION — urls shouldn’t have digits, too many slashes (too much hierarchy), and of course contain your targeted keyword.

FI_NUM_LINKS_FROM_MP — always interlink your main pages (such as your homepage or landing pages) to any other important content you want to rank. Otherwise, it can hurt your content.

FI_HOPS — reduce the crawl depth for any pages that matter to you. No important pages should be more than a few clicks away from your homepage. I recommend keeping it to two clicks, at most. 

FI_IS_UNREACHABLE — likewise, avoid making any important page an orphan page. If it’s unreachable from your homepage, it’s as good as dead in the eyes of the search engine.

The possible positive ranking factors:

FI_IS_COM: +0.2762504972 — .com domains get a boost in rankings.

FI_YABAR_HOST_VISITORS — the more traffic you get, the more ranking power your site has. The strategy of targeting smaller, easier keywords first to build up an audience before targeting harder keywords can help you build traffic.

FI_BEAST_HOST_MEAN_POS — the average position of the host for keywords affects your overall ranking. This factor and the previous one clearly show that being smart with your keyword and content planning matters. If you need help with that, check out these 5 ways to build a solid SEO strategy.

FI_YABAR_HOST_SEARCH_TRAFFIC — this might look bad but shows that having other traffic sources (such as social media, direct search, and PPC) is good for your site. Yandex uses this to determine if a real site is being run, not just some spammy SEO project.

This one includes a whole host of CTR-related factors. 

CTR ranking factors from Yandex

It’s clear that having searchable and interesting titles that drive users to check your content out is something that positively affects your rankings.

Google is rewarding sites that help end a user’s search journey (as we know from the latest mobile search updates and even the Helpful Content update). Do what you can to answer the query early on in your article. The factor “FI_VISITORS_RETURN_MONTH_SHARE“ also shows that it helps to encourage users to return to your site for more information on the topics they’re interested in. Email marketing is a handy tool here.

FI_GOOD_RATIO and FI_MANY_BAD — the percentage of “good” and “bad” backlinks on your site. Getting your backlinks from high-quality websites with traffic is important for your rankings. The factor FI_LINK_AGE also shows that adding a link-building strategy to your SEO as early as possible can help with your rankings.

FI_SOCIAL_URL_IS_VERIFIED — that little blue check has actual benefits now. Links from verified accounts have more weight.

Key Takeaway

Yandex and Google, being so similar to each other in theory, means that this data leak is something we must pay attention to. 

Several of these factors may already be common knowledge amongst SEOs, but having them confirmed by another search engine enforces how important they are for your strategy.

These initial findings, and understanding what it might mean for your website, can help you identify what to improve, what to scrap, and what to focus on when it comes to your SEO strategy. 

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