2017 Local Search Results Survey Results

2017 Local Search Results Survey Results pixelwork

2017 Local Search Results Survey Results


Since its creation in 2008, David Mihm has been conducting the survey of Local Search Ranking Factors. It is a resource to help businesses and digital marketers understand what drives local search results and what they should focus on to increase their rankings.

This year, David is focusing on his new company, Tidings, a genuine service that automatically generates newsletters from the content of a Facebook page.

I'm excited to dig into the results, so without further ado, read below for a summary of what I consider most relevant. You can see the full report here (in English) https://moz.com/local-search-ranking-factors


change of priorities

Here are the results of the thematic factors in 2017, compared to 2015:

Thematic factors 2015 2017 Change
Google My Business 21.63% 19.01% -12.11%
Links 14.83% 17.31% 16.73%
On-Page 14.23% 13.81% -2.95%
Citations 17.14% 13.31% -22.36%
Reviews 10.80% 13.13% 21.53%
Behavioral Signs 8.60% 10.17% 18.22%
Personalization. 8.21% 9.76% 18.81%
Social Media Signs 4.58% 3.53% -22.89%


If you look at the “Change” column, you might get the impression that there were some major changes in priorities this year, but the Change number doesn't tell the whole story. Social factors may have seen the biggest drop with a change of -22.89%, but a change in emphasis on social factors from 4.58% to 3.53% is not particularly notable.

The drop in emphasis on citations compared to the rise in emphasis on link and review factors reflects the changing focus, but as will be seen below, citations are still crucial to establishing a proper footing in local search. We are getting smarter about how far you have to go with these factors.


The importance of proximity

For the past two years, “physical address in search city” has been the #1 local ranking factor. This makes sense for the search. It's hard to rank in a city where you're not physically located.

Well, as of this year's survey, the new #1 factor is...


Search Point Address Proximity

This factor has been rising from the #8 position in 2014, to the #4 position in 2015, to claim the #1 position in 2017. I have been seeing the importance of this factor increase for at least the past year, and clearly others have as well. They have noticed it. This leads to poor results in most categories. I'm looking for the best lawyer in town, not the closest one.

While search point direction proximity is playing a stronger role than ever in rankings, it is certainly not the only factor impacting rankings. Businesses with higher relevance and prominence will rank in a wider radius around their business and take a larger percentage of local search. There is still much to gain from investing in local search strategies.


Here's how proximity factors changed from 2015 to 2017:

Proximity Factors 2015 2017 Change
Address proximity to search point #4 #1 3
Proximity of the address to the centroid of other businesses in the industry #20 #30 -10
Direction proximity to centroid #16 #50 -34


While we can see that proximity to the search point has seen a significant rise to become the new #1 factor, the other proximity factors that we once thought were extremely important have seen a significant drop.

I would caution people not to ignore the direction proximity to the centroid, however. There is one situation where I think it still plays a role in the local rankings. When you're searching from outside a city for a key phrase that contains the city name (for example: plumbers in Denver), then I believe Google geolocates the search to the centroid and the proximity of the address to the centroid impacts the rankings. This is important for businesses that are trying to attract searchers from outside their city, such as attractions and hotels.


Local SEO links

Looking through the results and comments, a clear theme emerges: local SEO today is all about links.

In this year's survey results, we're seeing significant increases for link-related factors overall:

Local Link Factors 2015 2017 Change
Quality/Authority of Links to the Domain #12 #4 8
Website Domain Authority #6 #6 -
Diversity of inbound links to the domain #27 #16 11
Quality/Authority of Links to the GMB Landing Page #15 #11 4
Number of incoming links to the domain #34 #17 17
Number of inbound links to the domain from local domains #31 #20 11
GMB Landing Page Authority #24 #22 2
Number of inbound links to the domain from industry-relevant domains #41 #28 13
Keyword in incoming link - #33 17
Location Keywords in Anchor Text of Inbound Links to Domain #45 #38 7
Diversity of inbound links to GMB landing page URL - #39 11
Diversity of inbound links to GMB landing page URLs from relevant domains - #48 2


Google continues to lean heavily on links as a primary measure of a business's authority and prominence, and local search professionals who invest time and resources to secure quality links for their clients are reaping the ranking rewards.


Change of priorities with subpoenas

At first glance from all the declining factors in the table below, you might think that yes, citations have declined, but the situation is more nuanced than that.

Citation Factors 2015 2017 Change
Consistency of citations in primary data sources n/a #5 n/a
Quality/Authority of Structured Citations #5 #8 -3
Citation consistency in level 1 citation sources n/a #9 n/a
Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper Articles, Blog Posts, Government Sites, Industry Associations) #18 #21 -3
Number of citations from relevant local domains #21 #29 -8
Prominence in major industry domains n/a #37 n/a
Number of citations from relevant industry domains #19 #40 -21
Citation Quality/Completeness n/a #44 n/a
Appropriate category associations in Tier 1 aggregators and referral sources n/a #45 n/a
Number of Structured Appointments (IYPs, Data Aggregators) #14 #47 -33
Consistency of structured citations #2 n/a n/a
Number of unstructured citations (newspaper articles, blog posts) #39 - -11


You will notice that there are many “n/a” cells in this table. This is because I have made some changes to the citation factors. Elaborate on the survey results, but for quick reference:

To reflect the reality that you don't need to clean up your citations across hundreds of sites, Structured Dating Consistency has been broken down into 4 new factors:

  1. Consistency of citations in primary data sources
  2. Citation consistency in level 1 citation sources
  3. Citation consistency in Level 2 citation sources
  4. Consistency of citations in level 3 reference sources

I've added these new citation factors:

  1. Improving/Completing Appointments
  2. Presence of the Business in “The Best” lists and Similar lists
  3. Prominence in major industry domains
  4. Appropriate category associations in higher-level aggregators and referral sources

Note that there are now more citation factors appearing, so some of the scores given to citation factors in 2015 are now being split across multiple factors in 2017:

In 2015, there were 7 dating factors in the top 50

In 2017, there are 10 citation factors in the top 50

That said, overall I think the emphasis on citations has seen some decline (certainly in favor of links), and rightly so. In particular, there is an increasing focus on quality over quantity.

I was disappointed to see that Business Presence on “Best” and Similar lists did not reach the top 50. I believe this factor can provide a significant boost to a business's local prominence and, in turn, its ranking. . Of course, it's a difficult factor to influence directly, but I'd love to see an agency make a concerted effort to reach their clients on their list, measure the impact, and do a case study. No tenant?


GMB (Google My Business) Factors

There is no longer an editable description in the GMB listing, so factors related to the GMB description field were removed from the survey. This is a good thing, since the field was misused, or abused, in the past. Google is saying they didn't use it for ranking, so keyword stuffing has always been more likely than a penalty.


These are the changes to GMB factors:

GMB factors 2015 2017 Change
Suitable GMB Category Associations #3 #3 -
Product/Service Keyword in GMB Title #7 #7 -
Keyword location in GMB title #17 #12 5
Verification on GMB #13 #13 -
Main category Corresponds to a broader category of the search category (for example, main category = restaurant & search = pizza) #22 #15 7
Age in the GMB listing #23 #25 -2
Local area code on GMB listing #33 #32 1
Photo Association with GMB - #36 14
Google Account Domain Matching GMB Landing Page Domain #36 - -14


While we saw some upward movement in GMB Headline Keyword Location, I'm surprised to see that GMB Headline Product/Service Keyword didn't also rise this year. It is one of the strongest factors in local rankings. Perhaps the strongest, after the direction proximity to the search point. It seems to me that everyone is complaining about how effective this is for spammers.

Be warned: if you decide to stuff your business title with keywords, international spam catcher Joy Hawkins will probably penalize you. :)

Also, remember what happened when everyone was link spamming with private blog networks, and then they got slapped by the Penguin update? Google has a complete history of changes to their GMB listing, and they could decide at any time to roll out an update that will retroactively penalize your listing. Is it really worth the risk?

Seniority on the GMB chart may have fallen two points, but was ranked extremely high by Joy Hawkins and Colan Neilsen. They are both top contributors on the Google My Business forum, and I'm not saying they know something we don't know, but uh, maybe they know something we don't know.

Partnering Photos with GMB is a factor I've heard in a few talks lately. It didn't make the top 50 in 2015, but is now coming in at #36. Apparently some Google support people have said this may help the rankings.

I guess it makes sense as a quality consideration. Listings with photos may indicate a more committed business owner. I'm wondering if it matters if the photos are uploaded by the business owner, or if it's a constant stream of photo uploads from the general public. I can imagine that a business that regularly receives photo uploads from users could be a sign of a popular and important business.

Although this factor came in as benign in the Negative Factors section (#26), not having operating hours on GMB might be something you should pay attention to. Nick Neels noted in the comments:

Our data showed that listings that were incomplete and missing operating hours were highly likely to be filtered out of the results and lose visibility. As a result, we have worked with our clients to gather missing schedules. Once the hours of operation were uploaded, the listings were no longer filtered.


Behavioral Factors

These are the numbers:

GMB factors 2015 2017 Change
Clicks to call #38 #35 3
Clicks to get directions on how to get there #29 #43 -14


It's not very exciting, but these numbers DO NOT reflect the serious impact that behavioral factors are having on local search rankings and the greater impact they will have in the future. In fact, we will never get numbers that truly reflect the value of behavioral factors, because many of the factors that Google has access to are inaccessible and incommensurable to SEOs. The best place to get an idea of ​​the impact of these factors is in the comments. When asked about what he's seeing driving the rankings this year, Phil Rozek notes:

There seem to be more uncertain ranking scenarios, which to me suggests that behavioral factors have grown in importance. What terms do people type before clicking on your result? Where do these people look? How many customers click on you instead of the competitor above you? If Google moves you up or down in the rankings, will many people still click? I think we are somewhere beyond the beginning of the era of soft ranking factors.

Mike Blumenthal also talks about behavioral factors in his comments:

Google is in a transition period from a web-based linking approach to a semantic knowledge graph approach. As we move toward a mobile-first index, lack of linking as common mobile practice, voice search, and single-answer responses, Google needs and has been developing ranking factors that are not dependent on linking. Content, actual in-store visits, truth-on-page verification, third-party validation, and news validity are becoming increasingly important.

But Google never releases anything. Citations and links as we have known them will continue to play a role in ranking, but they will become less and less important as Google increases its understanding of entity and real-world prominence.

And David Mihm says:

It is a very difficult concept to examine, but the primary factor in local ranking is the authority of the entity. Ask yourself: “If I were Google, how would I define a local entity, and once I do, how would I rank it relative to others?” And you will have the underlying algorithmic logic for at least the next decade.

How well known is the entity? Especially locally, but, if it's nationally known, search engines should REALLY know about it.

What do people say about the entity? (I should probably sort for similar phrases)

What is the commitment to the entity? Do people recognize it when they see it in search results? How many Gmail users read your newsletter? How many call or visit you after seeing it in the search results? How many visit your location?

David touches on this topic in the survey above, and then in BEAST MODE about the future of local rankings in his post on Tidings The Difference-Making Local Ranking Factor of 2020.

The thing is, Google has access to so much additional data now through Chrome, Android, Maps, Ads, and Search. They would be crazy not to use this data to help them understand which businesses are favored by real, live human beings, and then rank those businesses accordingly. You can't play with this, friend. In the future, my ranking advice might be: “Be an awesome business that people like and interact with.” Fortunately, David thinks we have until 2020 before this really takes hold, so we have a few years left of keyword stuffing in business titles and building optimized anchor text in links.