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Our previous post was an overview of the opinions of some of the best known SEO practitioners who mainly deal with businesses who are looking for local clients. Local SEO isn’t really different to the optimisation that any brand needs to carry out for their marketplace, it just comes with a set of adjusted strategies that will get a business seen in a less competitive (for the most part) smaller area, town or neighbourhood.

So… the question is: what use is all that opinion-based data that Darren Shaw and his pals in Canada collated, to businesses here in Carlisle, Cumbria and the Borderlands?

Firstly, there is the question of how visible is your business in the normal local organic search results. If you are new to the area and you need your eyes tested or glasses repaired. “Who ya gonna call?” I don’t think it’s going to be Ghostbusters! It night be one of the practitioners who shows up in the local pack at the top of the results on desktop or mobile as below, on the 9th of June 2023!

Desktop results

optometrist search on Google in carlisle from desktop

Mobile results

Mobile organic results for optometrist search in Carlisle

We can see that one of the national chains is slugging it out with 2 of our local practices. Below the local pack (the box of map results) a third local practice is top of the actual organic results. Their marketing team has done a great job of getting ahead of Specsavers, Look After Your Eyes and the NHS “Find a Sight Test” page. These searches were centred, where I live in the city.

On a great number of local searches, it’s the Local Pack that appears at the top of the results and only 3 businesses at most are ever shown there plus anybody who has paid for local ads. This gives a grand total of four slots to be seen in. Considering that most search is carried out on mobiles for local services and products, that is an important place to be seen.

That leads into the second question: “What exactly gets you to the top of the maps results so that you appear in that important Local pack? That will form the next section of this article. However, for illustration here are the map results as they look for the same searches.

Desktop Local Finder (Map) Results

Optometrist search in Carlisle - map results in the Local Finder

It’s clear to see that some of the national chains are willing to invest in local ads to nudge local practices’ Google Business Profiles out of view in the map results as well.

Mobile LF Results top screen

Mobile results in local finder for an optometrist search in Carlisle first screen full.

Mobile LF Results 2nd Screen

Mobile results in local finder for an optometrist search in Carlisle first screen full - screen 2

On mobile this is particularly effective as the paid listings occupy half of the initial results screen for this particular search. Sliding further down we see a mix of nationals and locals.

The Local Ranking Factors Survey 2023 asked each of the contributors to rate all the individual 149 ranking factors on a scale from 0 to 5: in terms of their useful impact on ranking. The scores from the 40 plus agency owners and SEO practitioners were then aggregated to give a final score. While this is not any more definitive than anything in SEO, I feel that this survey does have some useful indicators for  businesses here in Cumbria.

With 149 separate factors seeming to influence local visibility, as a 1-man band (most of the time) I can’t process all of that data, so it seemed sensible to look at the top 20 from the survey for both organic and map ranking and try to summarise these in a useful fashion for business owners who don’t have the time to digest this report for themselves.

Factors That Influence Local Organic Ranking and Business Visibility

Organic rankings are predominantly driven by keyword and locality relevance (which tends to reflect the keywords you use) and the structure and quality of the website you build.

  1. Having a Dedicated Page for Each Service!!! (Score: 163):

    Having a unique page for each service your business provides can helps search engines understand the breadth of services you offer. This improves the likelihood that your business will appear in relevant search results. In other words… stop putting all your services on one page and expecting to show up locally when people need that service! You can get away with it for a while – until your competitors twig on to this strategy.

  2. Internal Linking Across Entire Website (Score: 149):

    This refers to the practice of linking from one page on a website to another page on the same website. It can help search engines understand the structure and relationship between the content of your website. More importantly, it gives visitors to your website a much better user experience by making it easier to navigate the site. Your menu does do this, but it can be clumsy if not well set up. When a visitor has landed on a page or blog post about a particular eye condition, a link from within the text that encourages them to visit the eye tests page, from the paragraph explaining the importance of eye testing is contextually sensible and may just be the trigger for that all important call or first visit.

  3. Quality or Authority of Inbound Links to Your Website’s Domain (Score: 148):

    This refers to backlinks from other websites, pointing to your website. Even though their influence has declined somewhat, they are still a very positive factor if they come from a good quality website. The search engines all have some process weigh up the quality and authority of these inbound links. Backlinks from high-quality, authoritative sites generally improve your site’s search ranking. Like everything else in SEO, they are not a one-shot solution, they are one of 149 (or more) possible nudges in the right direction.

  4. Geographic (City/Neighbourhood) Keyword Relevance of Domain Content (Score: 146):

    The relevance of a site’s content to local keywords like the names of cities, towns, suburbs or neighbourhoods can affect how the site ranks in local search results. If you want customers from Carlisle, is the name of the city mentioned in texts, titles heading etc.?

  5. Keywords in GBP Landing Page Title (Score: 140):

    The GBP landing page is the page that your Google Business profile points to. For most single location businesses this will almost certainly be the home page. This observation refers to the inclusion of locally relevant keywords in the title tag of the Google Business Profile (GBP) landing page. For multi-location businesses having a locally relevant landing page for each of the locations becomes important. The keywords used in this title can influence how the site ranks for searches by people in or around the individual locations.

  6. Quantity of Inbound Links to Your Website Domain from Locally Relevant Websites (Score: 137):

    Numbers still matter to a large extent. The quantity of links to your site from other websites that are relevant to your local area. Do you sponsor a local organisation or team? Have you left a testimonial on another business’ website? Been mentioned in the local press but not linked? All of these and more are opportunities to improve your local recognition in search engines and people’s eyes. Don’t let these opportunities pass you by.

  7. Topical Product and Service Keyword Relevance Across Entire Website (Score: 135):

    Have you identified and used the keywords and phrases that search engines identify with your services and products? Many of the experts in this survey emphasised the importance of using relevant keywords related to your products or services right across your website. This helps search engines understand what your business offers and match your site to relevant search queries.

  8. Volume of Quality Content on Service Pages (Score: 134):

    Is your website fat and juicy with information, or threadbare and thin? This factor refers to the amount of high-quality content on your service pages. Detailed, relevant, high-quality content about your services, helps to improve your site’s search rankings and puts your brand in front of more people. This is one of the most important areas where SEO consultants and copywriters can help your business grow.

  9. Volume of Quality Content on Entire Website (Score: 132):

    Similar to the previous factor, this one focuses on the overall volume of quality content across your entire website. The more quality content your website has, the more valuable it can be considered by search engines.

  10. Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain (Score: 128):

    This refers to the practice of including relevant keywords in the clickable text (anchor text) of links that lead to your website. In much the same way as we described in Internal Linking (factor 2 above) these keywords can provide context about the content of your site to search engines, influencing how your site ranks for those terms.

These top 10 local ranking factors, relevant to showing up in organic searches with a clear local intent, highlight the importance of having a well-structured, keyword-rich website with a high volume of quality content. In addition, having a healthy number of inbound links from other good quality, locally relevant websites, along with the appropriate use of keywords in the anchor text of inbound links, is also important.

Top 10 Local Ranking Factors for Map Results (and Getting Into the Local Pack)

Most of the really influential factors, that dictate your visibility in Google’s maps results, relate to your Google Business Profile (GBP as we’ll often call it for brevity).

  1. Primary GBP Category (Score: 193):

    Getting the main category correct for your business in your Google Business Profile (GBP) is absolutely critical. This can be a difficult one to achieve as Google and many other listing services only allow you to choose from a pre-set list of categories. According to Pleper.com, an SEO tool that helps me monitor local SEO issues, there are currently 4056 Google Business Profile categories to choose from (9th June 2023). In the previous 30 days “The Big G” added 2 new categories: Cannabis Club and Farrier Service.
    If your business is slightly left field or a completely new idea, it may be hard to pin down exactly which category is best to choose. Because your chosen category should accurately represent the primary nature of your business you may need help to pin down the best choice. It’s crucial for helping Google understand the entity that is your business and what it does. If successful, your business and brand will be put on the correct shelf for future reference. Get it wrong… and you risk never being found again.

  2. Keywords in GBP Business Title (Score: 181):

    In some ways this factor is a disaster as it is still so prone to blatant spamming. Your Google Business Profile title (or business name) should be exactly as people know you in the real world. So, if people know me as ClimbHigh SEO – that is how I should (and do) label my GBP.
    I could of course spam-label my listing as ClimbHigh SEO Digital Marketing, Digital Media and Backlink Development for Carlisle Businesses. It’s what I offer, but it isn’t my recognised business name. ClimbHigh SEO is a trading name of my company Consulting Cumbria Ltd. So, I don’t use that name either; as it’s just the entity in the background, that I have kept on after my rebrand.
    Because spamming extra keywords into GBP titles is so ubiquitous and works so well, it drives ethical business owners and SEO practitioners absolutely nuts at times. If you notice a local competitor including relevant keywords in their GBP title and it isn’t their business name as everyone knows them… then put in a complaint to Google Business Profiles’ support team. Why should you put up with them cheating their way to the top against Google’s Ts & Cs for business listings?

  3. Proximity of Business Address to the Point of Search (Searcher-Business Distance) (Score: 176):

    This factor is about how close your business is to the location where the search is being made. As more mobile search happens these days it is still an important weighting to the results that are shown, even though it’s no longer the number 1 factor for maps. The closer your business is to the searcher’s location, the higher the chance of appearing in the Local Pack.

  4. Physical Address in City of Search (Score: 170):

    Your business is in Penrith or Brampton, and you want to show up on the Carlisle map results? It ain’t going to happen – unless competition on the map is very low. That’s when you see results from the other side of the country for a Carlisle (or your location) search. Having a business address in the same city as the location specified in a search, significantly improves your business’ chance of showing up. To overcome this block, you will need to create some content that tells potential clients how your business is the answer to their problems in their town and get yourself pushed up the organic rankings.

  5. Removal of spam listings through spam fighting (Score: 143):

    This refers to the practice of reporting and removing irrelevant or fraudulent listings that violate Google’s guidelines, as mentioned above. This has the added benefit of helping to improve the overall quality of local search results. (Interestingly Darren Shaw, author of the 2023 report, disagreed quite strongly with his colleagues’ rating of this factor, suggesting it isn’t maybe quite as effective as it had become in recent years.)

  6. High Numerical Google Ratings (e.g. 4-5) (Score: 138):

    Reviews have declined in importance… probably due to the cottage industry of false reviewing that’s bloomed in the past few years. However, reviews do impact engagement and click-through. This factor emphasises the importance of having high numerical ratings on Google Reviews. A high average rating can improve your business’s reputation and trustworthiness, which can positively influence your local ranking. False reviews have the potential to get you wiped from the map completely so beware of dealing with a terrible review that way.

  7. Additional GBP Categories (Score: 134):

    The primary category for your business is critical, but most businesses are not just “one-trick ponies”. Optometrists practices are almost always opticians as well, if not also ophthalmologists too. See what other categories your business can also be listed under, on your GBP. This does help your business appear in a wider range of relevant local searches. It’s another good use case for Pleper.com’s free tools. Here is a screenshot of the related categories for an accountant from Google’s UK list as unearthed by Pleper.Main category, related categories as unearthed by SEO tool, Pleper.

  8. Quantity of Native Google Reviews: With a Text Comment (Score: 128):

    This factor highlights the importance of having a plenty of Google reviews, especially those where your reviewer has been sufficiently impressed to add a text comment. These reviews can provide valuable user-generated content and feedback about your business.
    Recently an odd situation occurred where a client got a one-star review which caused him some consternation. He asked me to look at it, as his recollection was of a happy customer. When we read the text content it was absolutely glowing. The customer had obviously mistakenly clicked the 1st star before posting by mistake. We responded and although we weren’t contacted by the reviewer, the mistake was quickly rectified. Which also goes to show the importance of checking and responding to reviews.

  9. Verified GBP (Score: 117):

    Having your GBP verified by Google is crucial. A verified business is considered much more trustworthy and is more likely to rank well in local search results. This is becoming increasingly awkward for some businesses as Google keeps changing the goalposts, with some businesses being asked for video verification, documentary evidence and so forth. What was wrong with the trusty old postcard? If you are having difficulty verifying… persist – it’s important.

  10. Proximity of Address to Centroid (Score: 114):

    Sorry about this horrible term. It’s the main lump in the middle of town, that’s all. It’s about the proximity of your business address to the central point of a city or area. For much of the past 5 or 6 years, businesses located near the “centroid” were believed to have an advantage in local search results. It seems this factor has become less influential as Google has improved its understanding of local areas after years of mapping and data from phone searches.

To summarise, the top 10 factors for showing up high on map results highlight the importance of fully optimising your Google Business Profile. Get the right categories, use relevant keywords if possible, and verify your business. Reviews also play an important role, both in terms of quantity and quality. Lastly, geography matters to a fairly significant extent.  Locality factors such as the searcher‘s proximity to your business location. In other words – is the person doing the searching anywhere near you?  Having an address in the town or city where the search is being carried out will all influence whether it’s you popping up in that Local Pack.

Is there a Pattern to This Which Helps Us Organise our SEO Work and to be Seen In Carlisle?

When I’ve scoured the entire list, the themes relevant for map visibility are somewhat similar to those of the organic ranking factors, but with a stronger focus on Google Business Profile optimisation, review management, and geographic relevance. The important themes include:

  • Content and Keywords: For map and organic rankings, the presence of keywords in the GBP title, GBP landing page title, and throughout the website’s content is more significant now. This emphasises the need for strategic keyword usage. It’s probably not going to change much despite all the hoo-ha about AI and Chat-GPT. Words contain the meanings and connections; whatever tool is being used.
  • Website and GBP Factors: Website-related factors like having a dedicated page for each service and listing it with a description in your GBP seem to run in parallel. Internal linking is still relevant and important for organic results. Since the survey was published Darren Shaw has noticed that there is something going on with Service and Product fields in GBP listings. It seems that service area businesses may be losing the ability to list their services, so parts of the survey may well be rendered out of date before they are fully grasped.
  • Google Business Profile Optimisation: For maps, a significant number of factors are tied to GBP optimisation, indicating the critical role that Google’s own platform plays in local search rankings. There doesn’t seem to be a massive boost to visibility in the organic results, but it would be unwise to think it doesn’t influence your visibility.
  • Reviews: Several factors (beyond the top 10) are related to both the quality and quantity of Google reviews, highlighting the importance of customer feedback in local search performance.
  • Geographic Relevance: Several factors emphasise geographic relevance, such as proximity to the point of search, having a physical address in the city of search, and proximity to the centroid. These factors highlight the importance of geographic considerations in local search rankings.

In overview, there are similarities between the factors influencing organic local search results and the Local Finder / Local Pack, but the latter places a stronger emphasis on GBP optimisation, review management, and geographic relevance. Organic ranking in local searches requires a strong emphasis on website structure and relevant content. That is: relevant to the way that your potential customers are searching… in the language and probably, in the idiom they are searching with. The map results and the organic results go hand in hand and for most businesses you will need to pay attention to both.
This post was written with the help of Chat GPT to summarise some of the key points inherent in the 2 sets of “top tens” I ploughed through. It gave me a starting point for summarising the practical use of the information in the Local Ranking Factors 2023 Survey.

This article is based on the work of Darren Shaw of Whitespark’s “Local SEO Ranking Factors Survey 2023“, which collated the observations and thinking of  himself and 43 other contributors from the USA, Canada, UK, Malaysia, Denmark and Cyprus.