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Local SEO Ranking Factors – Let’s Shed Some New Light

Every year the power house in the industry releases a survey of “professionals” in the local SEO arena. I’m sure most of you have heard of and their Local SEO Ranking Factors survey that happen on a yearly basis. They take a handful of alleged experts and ask their opinions on certain things.

This type of content works great for Moz because the people contributing to the survey are bound to link out to it, creates a hell of a lot of backlinks for the page. I would do the same if I were included in the survey.

Their yearly survey gets a lot of attention. People think that it includes information that you can’t find anywhere else, they think this is the new guideline for local SEO.

One problem though… it isn’t.

Are Moz’s Local SEO Ranking Factors Misleading You!

Maybe that’s a strong heading, and maybe it isn’t entirely useless but I think people have a lot of misplaced confidence in these surveys/round ups.

Let’s look at history for a second so I can get to my point.

A “majority view” is something that gives people some sort of rationale that their line of thinking is some form of statistical law. Validation I suppose.

The problem is that throughout history the majority opinion has been wrong on major issues. Heck, if you took the majority opinion and deemed it as fact or didn’t question its’ legitimacy then the United States would not be its’ own country today.

Majority opinion was that the earth was flat.

Majority opinion was that women shouldn’t have the same rights as man.

Majority opinion was that earth was the center of the universe.

Majority opinion at one point was that smoking cigarettes had no health risks at all.

Here’s an excellent quote from a philosophy professor whose name I don’t remember..but will always remember the quote:

Collectives do not think creatively or honestly.  Their only concern is the survival of the system at all costs, and usually this requires a foundation of lies.

Now I won’t say that Moz or the contributors to this survey want to build a foundation of lies. I think Moz is an excellent source for news and opinions on SEO but you can’t judge or base a strategy on what people say in their round up/survey.

However… even the experienced, intelligent and data focused contributors of this survey get out-shined by a less experienced majority and that’s a problem. There may be some very good insights that are given but are statistically equal to a guy that contributes and pretends he knows what he’s doing but in all reality outsources all his work not knowing if he really is getting positive results or not.

Problems With The Local SEO Survey

Some of the problems I have with this, are problems I have with it every year. The gross absurdity of some of the responses, and then also the complete contradiction of responses.

Lets break this down.

Example 1: Top 50 Localized Factors (displaying top 10)


This makes me sad…

First let’s address domain authority which I did earlier in the year in a separate blog post. To summarize, domain authority is NOT a google metric, it never has been and never will be, it is just a metric created by Moz to substitute what PR used to be, so it is their best GUESS at reverse engineering the PageRank algorithm. I can tell you, Google would never use Moz’s best guess and if you do your own research, you will see pages with higher domain authority on page 5-10 than you will on page 1 and 2.

Next.. We have the recommendation of city/state being in the GMB landing page title. This has absolutely nothing to do with organic searches. Only the local algorithm would factor that in. However, you can reason that one will achieve some sort of benefit just due to the co-occurrence of certain terms being associated with a business.

CTR does not place as prominent of a role as you see here, it would struggle to be in the top 10, definitely shouldn’t be in the top 5.

Physical address in city of search… for organic? Somebody should send that memo to yelp, yellowbook, yellow pages, and all the other massive directories that still seem to do pretty well.

Citations play no role in organic search except for the backlink and possibly co-occurrence if you use your summaries properly on those directories.

City, State in most/all website title tags – that’s a little crazy. Once again, someone should be sending this memo to yelp and everyone doing exceptionally well without doing that.

I’ll spare you some time by not going over the top 50 local/snack pack factors. It’s just more of the same, though definitely not as absurd as the organic side of things. The shocking thing to me was that reviews weren’t even in the top 10. SMH.

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Example 2: Top Difference Making Factors


I shared the top 10, just to show an example once again how a collective can be so totally wrong, and maybe there were a few people included in this survey that absolutely knew what they were talking about but they get buried into a pile of not so significant data.

If these are the “difference makers”.. it’s no wonder why the average SEO client stays with a company for only three months!

Why are people still placing so much importance in citations like it is 2012 again? If you look at some examples of “Why it’s ranking” you will see that citations actually have little correlation with local rankings. Inconsistent citations, low quality or low authority citations, it doesn’t really matter as much anymore. I can tell you that both listing age (GMB) and domain age place a much more significant role than citations.

Links to GMB landing page URL? Really? CTR on snack pack results are also meaningless and not a factor, or I should say not a measurable difference making factor.

The only thing mentioned in the top 10 that REALLY makes a big difference is the reviews, and of course quality/authority and quantity of links to the site.

The “Negative Local SEO” Factors, aren’t nearly as bad, and you can probably do a lot of good by avoiding certain things that are listed. There are still a few options there that don’t make sense like “hiding” the business address, since Google guidelines actually REQUIRE you to do so for certain businesses. Apparently, private WHOIS information is a negative factor according to this survey. News to me..

Next… The Complete and Total Nonsense of the Snack Pack Roll out.

This one just makes me cringe.

I really don’t want to be mean but it’s just so utterly stupid that I can’t believe people don’t question this stuff.

Example 3: What to Focus on More and Less since the Snack


The reason I find this to be so ridiculous is the fact that the local algorithm never changed. The snack pack roll out reducing the GMB listings to 3, has nothing to do with a shift in the algorithm. It is only a user experience change and has absolutely nothing to do with rankings.

To put it simply… If your strategy worked in the first place, you wouldn’t need to focus on ANYTHING differently. The fact that people are choosing an entirely different strategy because of this, shows that as a collective, they weren’t getting very good results. If you had top 3 placement, why would you focus on different things, more or less, when the update was visual and user experience based instead of algorithm based?

For those of you actually doing SEO for clients, I hope you are using your own experience and analyzing what works and what doesn’t instead of using these surveys as a guideline. Chances are if you have experience, you will NOT follow what is being exhibited in this round up.

What Else?

I like to see the commentary, seeing people put up their opinions and either labeling themselves as a clueless consultant or showing that they have some chops to be in the arena.

One of my favorite quotes:

I don’t think what it takes to rank has really changed much – best practices still apply. The algo did not change IMO, mainly just the display and the fact there are fewer spots. From what I’ve seen, in most cases whoever ranked in the top 3 in the old 7 pack is still in the same order at the top of the new 3 pack. I know SOME consultants that even see this as an opportunity. If you are really good and usually get your clients in the top 3 (which should always be the goal anyway) then this update just knocked out 42% of your competition! – Linda Buquet /

I really like Linda. She always uses common sense and doesn’t buy into the hysteria that some like to bring to the table. Was that a shout out to me about seeing this as an opportunity? I definitely see it as an opportunity and every single person that is involved with SEO for themselves or for clients should see this as an opportunity.

The results of the Moz survey for Local SEO should be even further motivation for a lot of you. If these experts and authority figures don’t understand how to rank in the top 3, then that means with a little work, research and data analysis you can easily rise above the majority of the competition.

Another good quote:

Joy Hawkins Imprezzio Marketing

One of the biggest things I see impacting organic ranking these days is the presence of content on your site that is semantically relevant to your industry. For example, I worked on a pediatric dentist who had no mention of things like “crowns” or “nitrous” or “invisalign” on their site even though they offer services relating to all those things. Adding more content related to the services a business provides has shown to have a positive impact their ranking and the amount of organic traffic they receive as a result.

When I get a business that is in a competitive market I almost always start by looking at what their competition has that they are missing. I specifically look at the content they have on their website and how Google might be using semantic keyword grouping.

I don’t know much about Joy, never spoke with her, I don’t know her capabilities. However, this is the stuff I’ve been saying forever. There are 2 things that matter in local search. The first is location relevance. The second is industry relevance. Her nugget of information is more applicable and relevant to local SEO than most of the other quotes on there.

She also impressed me later on with another quote:

When it comes to reviews, I don’t believe it’s just the quantity of reviews that matters but also the age of them. If Google has 2 businesses that had 20 reviews but one of them had all 20 left in the last 6 months whereas the other had them spread over 4 years, I think the choice of which business to rank higher would be clear. I often see businesses with a few really old reviews ranking high without a ton of other important ranking factors in place. Staying 1 step ahead of your competition might be the best ranking factor you can look out for.

It impresses me because this is a subject not a lot of people talk about and she is 100% correct that the age of the reviews matter. However, there is an entirely different algorithm for reviews that place the weight of a review. Think of Page Rank, an algorithm inside an algorithm. The same thing applies to reviews. Not only the age of the review but the age of the Google account used, the location relevance of the user leaving the review, keywords used in the review, rating of the review in comparison to other reviews the reviewer made.

There’s a lot more to reviews than one would initially think.

Closing Thoughts

I like Moz. I don’t know if they really care about the results of the survey, I kind of think they do since the commentary provided after the results came from sensible people and contributors, and weren’t focused on some of the outlandish results.

I didn’t post this because of any problems with Moz, I wanted to publish this because I know there is a lot of misleading information out there.

Sometimes if you want the best results possible, you have to ignore the majority consensus and create your own path based on reason and data available from your own experience and experiments!

What are your thoughts? Agree, disagree? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!


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