Reviews are the new link alternative?
Reviews are obviously a driving factor of ranking in Google My Business pack results. 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. It’s also something that let’s Google approximate online to offline ranking factors, as hot/trendy businesses are likely to skyrocket in terms of reviews before they are likely to kill it with traditional ranking factors. All of this means it’s something that is easier for them to trust then say, links. 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. Keep your eyes peeled as we have some exciting research in the pipeline to try to understand more about how Google uses reviews to rank businesses. Another thing that seems to matter with Google My Business is engagement. Google clearly uses engagement to order search results, and local packs are no different. So, things like photos are content for your users to engage with. Same with reviews, which means they are likely valuable in several different ranking contexts.
SMBs have crappy link profiles, news at 11
What I think is most interesting about this data, is that websites that rank tend to have low quality and low authority links. I mean, how else would having low citation flow and trust flow correlate with positive results? Because most business that tend to rank in packs are low in trust themselves, and as such, have links from other low trust and low-value websites. There are obviously significant exceptions to this rule, e.g., brands, but this could also be why brands tend to clean up in local search results. Another relevant point, it looks like winners in local packs have likely invested in SEO services at some point. Otherwise, they would probably have fewer keywords in their anchor text 😉 While it’s only correlation, Google still seems to be rewarding some level of optimized anchor text, around both keyword and city. At the very least, they are more lenient when it comes to slapping local websites with Penguin. All of this is more evidence of the organic algo’s substantial involvement in ordering local packs.
Off-Site Local Signals
Are we still paying attention to these?
There is even less correlation with these types of factors than last year, which tells me that while they are table stakes, they aren’t going to differentiate you among even the top 10 local search results. This shouldn’t be surprising, after all, we live in a world where the organic algo is a significant driver of the local algo. There are a couple of exceptions where they could likely provide competitive value and that is through the reviews and links on the citation sites. Pay attention to places that drive you leads, fix your local data if it’s a trainwreck, and if you are a multi-location brand make sure you capitalize on the potential for local citation links. Other then that, yawn.
You own this asset, why is it under optimized?
To be successful in local SEO, you have to have a holistic SEO strategy, with a heavy emphasis on your website. While some businesses do rank without a website, after all, that is why the Google Local Business Center and local algo came about, having a site, ranking organically and links are features that HEAVILY correlate with positive pack performance. If you want to be in local packs, the best thing you can do is crush it in organic search. Because if you are ranking in local organic search, you are much more likely to be ranking in packs. You know what SMB’s are bad at? Websites. Also, some of the first SEO advice I learned is just as valuable now as it was then: If you want to rank for a term, make sure it’s on the page you want to rank.