My post on Bizible’s new local search ranking factors study is now up at SearchEngineLand. You can also get more detail on the study and the results on Bizible’s blog. As mentioned in my SEL post, Bizible claims the study is scientifically valid and while in general I liked their approach, I can think of a number of flaws in the methodology – the #1 flaw being that they are not Google 🙂  And of course CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION. I expect the data and methodology to generate a fair amount of discussion.

Here’s the list of the top factors according to the study.  They are broken down between factors that affected listings in blended results v those in “pure local” results.

Factors in Integrated/Blended Results
For those pages in the integrated results, the top local ranking factors while holding all other variables constant are:

  1. Primary category matches a broader category of the search category = 1.42 improvement in rank. For example, primary category is set to “restaurant” and the search category was “pizza.”
  2. The search category or a synonym in the business name = 0.64 improvement in rank.
  3. The search category or a synonym in “at a glance” = 0.36 improvement in rank.
  4. Five or more Google reviews = 0.31 improvement in rank.
  5. At least one photo = 0.25 improvement in rank.Listings with all of these signals showed an improvement in ranking of about three positions – pretty high considering that on average there were five integrated local results in the main search page.

Factors in Pure Local Results
For those pages not in the integrated results, the top local ranking factors while holding all other variables constant are:

  1. Five or more Google reviews = 1.47 improvement in rank.
  2. Search city in “at a glance” = 1.42 improvement in rank.
  3. Search category or a synonym in in review content = 0.97 improvement in rank.
  4. Search category or a synonym in the business description = 0.85 improvement in rank.
  5. Search category or a synonym in “at a glance” = 0.85 improvement in rank.
  6. Primary category matches the search category = 0.79 improvement in rank.
  7. Search category or a synonym in the business name = 0.75 improvement in rank.
  8. Secondary business category that was a broader category than the search category = 0.68 improvement in rank.( i.e. secondary category is “restaurant” when searching for “Seattle pizza.”)
  9. At least one photo = 0.66 improvement in rank.
  10. Owner verified listing = 0.52 improvement in rank.Listings with all of these signals showed an improvement in ranking of about nine positions. Given that they were in the top 30, an improvement of nine is significant.

While this is all juicy stuff, I really liked their “Surprising Takeaways” section:
Surprising Takeaways

  • Having a physical address in the city of the search did not turn out to be a strong ranking factor, only distance from centroid seemed to matter.  So, if you are just outside the city and your address is not officially in the city, this didn’t seem to hurt any more than a business whose address was in the city, but just as far from the centroid.
  • Not having any Google reviews or having an average review score of one hurt ranking, although the incremental increase in ranking as the review score increased from two through five was negligible.
  • The presence of a business description alone did not help ranking, but having the search category in the business description did help.
  • Getting your fifth Google review significantly helped ranking, although incremental reviews between one and four and above five had a very small impact on ranking. You have to get 100+ reviews to again have a significant impact on ranking.
  • On average, for every mile away from the centroid, ranking dropped by 0.4 of a position.  Note that this is the average across all 22 cities.  In very dense cities like New York, this number was higher and in sprawling cities it was lower.
  • Seven of the 484 queries did not have local results on the main page (they removed those 7 from their analysis). On average, there were five local results on the main page.

To see the list of factors they measured, more on their methodology, etc. definitely check out their post.

And since you asked, no, I have no affiliation with these guys other than they gave me a preview of the data and I thought it was interesting.  Let the snarky comments commence…

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15 Response Comments

  • Chris Savage  March 19, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Very interesting pieces of information. I was surprised to see the number of reviews as low as 5 to have a significant impact.

    Thanks for sharing the study!

    • Andrew Shotland  March 19, 2012 at 9:06 am

      As David Mihm pointed out in the comments on the SEL post – this is more than likely a correlation v. a causation factor.

  • Andrew Huskinson  March 19, 2012 at 9:19 am

    On one hand Google tell us not to add a Category to our Business Name but then use it as a ranking factor in there. As I advise in my ebook careful thought needs to go in selecting a new business name.
    There also is a discrepancy between looking for categories in the description but then ranking several categories in there as spammy with a soft or hard penalty.
    Also I find its not orthogonal describing Places as ‘Local’ and then adding a location penalty.

  • Dave Oremland  March 19, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Andrew: I think the make up of these guys at Bizible is impressive and interesting: Data engineers from Bing disecting Google’s algo….ha ha. Love it. But frankly I’d want folks like this to do the analysis: they’re thinking process is similar to that of the Google engineers that created the G Places algo.

    yeah…so correlation is not causation….but I tend to believe and see in my own searches that there is a lot to this study.

    One thing that screws it up though is how google adjusts results based on your originating point of search. If you are searching from a Northern suburb of one of those cities your results tend to be different than when searching from a southern suburb.

    Localization tends to have a big impact –at least in my experience and humble opinion.

    I also think the study of impacts based purely on the Places results and then the organic results is very insightful in general. I mostly don’t care about the purely Places results in real life. It gets virtually no traffic. Organic google is where the volume traffic goes. But from an analytical perspective it helps in guiding us toward how to get better rankings.

    Congrats to you for publishing and spreading the info.


  • Andrew Shotland  March 19, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Thanks Dave. The originating point of search factor is probably the hardest to overcome in this kind of research. Some kind of crowdsourcing method might be the best way around it if you could trust the crowd.

  • Aaron Bird  March 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks for the comments, we loved doing the analysis. Your point about location is spot on, we intially targeted “the average user” and didn’t want location to add a bias. We have thought about doing a study dedicated to the impact of location. We can send latitude and longitude data to Google with the query (or the more ambiguous city setting.) So, we could run tests with searches that originated from various places within a city and compare their results.

    We love feedback like this, it helps drive future studies.


  • Pitstop Appliance Repair  March 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    After reading this, our biggest problem is that our ‘main category’ shows up as General Contractor, followed by Charity.

    Why? NO idea. We’ve never chosen those, and if you were able to look at what our categories are when logged into the place settings.. it doesn’t say either of those. But yet, there they are..

    Oddly enough, I think it was caused by using Google Express. There is another local appliance repair service who also shows up with charity in their category.

    If anyone knows anyone at Google that can fix that for us, we will buy you much beer. 🙂 First and foremost we should be – appliance repair service, followed by washer repair, refrigerator repair, etc..

  • Andy Turman  March 19, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    @Pitstop: We’re testing a theory for a future blog post which addresses this bug of Google auto-miscategorizing GPlaces pages. We’ve been successful thus far. Would love to help you. Send me a note at or call 206/817.3890.

    @Andrew: Same offer re: the ISP category on your Places page.

  • Daniel Hollerung  March 20, 2012 at 6:53 am

    @Pitstop take a look into Map Maker to solve your problem or head over to the Google Products forum. One or the other should help you.

    @Andrew great summary here, thanks for keeping us ground. I won’t go into the correlation v. causation debate, enough said and I tend to agree with you.

    Although these statements from Bizible are influenced by data, it is difficult to accept them as truth. Time for more testing on my end.

    Additionally, I believe that timing on where and when these samples were run add a better sense of validity to their. I would like to see more details on that.

    Back to the trenches.

  • Sam Smith  March 21, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    We constantly work on our google reviews since we believe it helps with our rankings but also helps when other consumers are thinking about using our services. I do think that having a local address in the city you service does play a big role in things.

  • Mike Bayes  March 27, 2012 at 4:29 am

    I am surprised we haven’t seen the Page Authority the Domain Authority show up in the top 5. In our work organic SEO has the largest impact on Local rankings.

    With the latest Google changes this seems more obvious than ever, yet the “Local” community seems to ignore it.

  • Pitstop Appliance Repair  March 28, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    @Daniel Hollerung

    Thanks for pointing me to map maker. never knew it existed, and it apparently fixed my problem!

    All the categories I want are now displayed, although for some odd reason they are in a different order when logged out (such as a customer would see them) and logged in as myself and how I set them.

    The most important one (appliance repair service) gets put in last position and cut off unless you expand.

    Does anyone think the order matters, or not?

  • Wolfgang Bloomfield  March 29, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Google Places seems to work differently for different areas.

    I live on a small island called Tenerife, and here most niches don’t come up on Google places even if there are businesses listed in them.

    What I have found is the larger niches, such as property and rent a car, seem to work fine, however with the smaller niches Google slips hotels into the categories, perhaps this iis to help them come up.

    If you are a carpenter for example, if someone types carpentors, they are presented with hotels, and not even 1 carpentor-

  • Serge  June 3, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Awesome information, thank you for sharing and to those who put in the hard yards, i also noticed my places was not really seen until my second review.