This article is a companion piece to our previous 2020 Local Pack SEO Ranking Factors blog post. That post focused exclusively on factors that influence rankings in the local map pack (that appears above localised organic search results). This post will examine the factors influencing rankings in the localised organic search results themselves. The data for this was provided from Whitespark’s semi-annual survey of local search practitioners.
The top 15 localised organic search ranking factors for 2020 are as follows:
- Quality and authority of inbound links to the domain
- Volume of quality content on entire website
- Keywords in anchor text of inbound links to the domain
- Topical (product/service) keyword relevance across entire website
- Geographic (city/neighbourhood) keyword relevance of domain content
- Mobile-friendly/responsive website
- Domain authority of website
- Keywords in GMB landing page title
- Diversity of inbound links to the domain
- Quantity of inbound links to the domain
- Quantity of inbound links to the domain from industry-relevant domains
- Volume of quality content on service pages
- Keywords in domain
- Quantity of inbound links from locally relevant domains
- Click-through rate from search results
1) Quality and authority of inbound links to the domain
The top-ranking factor for localised organic search remains the quality and authority of inbound links to the website hosting your potential landing page. The higher the domain authority (D.A.) of the websites that link to yours, the better. Google generally associates a link from a high domain authority site as being of higher quality than a low D.A. site link. It should be noted that fully 1/3 of the ranking factors in the list above relate to inbound links in one form or another. I will explain the various nuances of these links as we proceed.
2) Volume of quality content on entire website
Content is king. Well-formatted, keyword-rich, value-adding service pages perform multiple functions. They improve search-term relevance, increase conversion signals and generally provide opportunities to position oneself as an “expert authority” on a given topic.
Content creation is a core principle of any Conscious Solutions SEO campaign and the fact that content relevance is the 2nd most important factor in localised search bears witness to that focus.
3) Keywords in anchor text of inbound links to the domain
To make it simple, it’s better to have an inbound link from another website that is industry keyword-specific rather than just “website” or “click here”. It is much better that the link comes from an anchor text containing a term such as “solicitors in xxx”. A healthy and natural variety of anchor texts is also of value, as a preponderance of exactly the same anchors might indicate an unnatural link-building campaign.
4) Topical (product/service) keyword relevance across entire website
This ranking factor is related to the 2nd factor above as both pertain to website content. It is crucial to think of your content as needing to please both human visitors and also Google’s crawl bots. It is much better to have a fully fleshed out family law section of your site with multiple sub-pages than it is to have a single page with some bullet points that mention divorce and pre-nups. Turn those bullets into sub-pages and fully flesh them out for keyword relevance and you will be improving ranking factor 2 at the same time.
5) Geographic (city/neighbourhood) keyword relevance of domain content
To rank for localised searches you need to demonstrate that you are local to a searcher. If the search term is “solicitor near me” it’s helpful to have location keywords in your content that inform Google that your services are located near the searcher.
6) Mobile-friendly/responsive website
Your website needs to display equally well on both desktops and mobiles. This is why Conscious Solutiond builds mobile responsive websites that automatically reconfigure their appearance based on screen size. Most web designers now employ this strategy, so it only really becomes a de-ranking factor for older sites that were built purely for desktop viewing. If you are unlucky enough to still be driving one of these older models around, then a new responsive website would be your first port of call for a rankings boost.
7) Domain authority of website
The domain authority of your website is crucial to ranking against your competitors in your local market. There is no magic number that wins here. It is simply a matter of how yours relates to the competition. If your competitors have a D.A. of 57 and yours is 12 then you can assume that all else being equal (content, relevance, proximity etc) they will tend to rank higher than you in the localised search results. The opportunity for wins against a higher D.A. site can be found in having better content with more relevance, having better localised backlinks, and playing for the local map pack results above the localised organic results instead. My previous blog post on map pack ranking factors explains the different rules that apply to that space, and D.A. is not as important a ranking factor there.
8) Keywords in GMB landing page title
Your GMB listing is connected to your website and you have total control of where it links to. Small firms generally link to their home page, but multi-location firms usually have multiple GMB listings and each one linked to its relevant contact page. This allows you to employ contact page titles like “solicitors in Bristol” for instance. We now have two very relevant keywords in our landing page title and will benefit from searches for “solicitors in Bristol” and even “solicitors near me” should the search be conducted from a Bristol location. Google is clever like that.
9) Diversity of inbound links to the domain
Google prefers that your website is linked to from a variety of sources. Having links exclusively from business directories might help you to rank in the local pack, but to rank in the localised organic results you need more.
10) Quantity of inbound links to the domain
There is generally an association of a high number of links to a higher D.A. but more than that a large number of links from a large variety of sources over time sends Google a confidence signal. It implies a natural, organic process of link building from 3rd parties to your site. If many sites link to your content, then that is an indicator of valuable content worth linking to in the first place. Now remember that quality plays a factor here. Thousands of links from porn sites or multi-level marketing sites won’t help you. Those will actually do damage if not disavowed.
11) Quantity of inbound links to the domain from industry-relevant domains
For the legal sector these types of links are from organisations like The Law Society, S.R.A., Legal 500 and solicitor-specific directories. They would also include niche service governing bodies like APIL pointing to your P.I. page, Resolution pointing to your family law section or ACTAPs linking to your probate page.
12) Volume of quality content on service pages
This is a continuation of the 2nd ranking factor above that refers to content across the entire website, including blogs, case studies etc. This ranking factor is about building up your service pages and sub-service pages to improve relevance and add value to the user’s search journey.
13) Keywords in domain
At the current time we are seeing value in keyword focused domains. This is harder to do for firms that offer multiple services, but easy for ones that specialise. If your sole focus is on family law then a domain home page url such as “xxx-family-law-solicitors” will give you a local boost for family law search terms. Does this mean it’s worth trashing your 15-year-old branded domain name and building a new website with a brand-new name? The most honest answer is “it’s complicated” as domain age is a ranking factor in itself. Is it worth building multiple sites that each focus on a different service? Again, it’s complicated. You might gain from more local search relevance, but you might also lose from having multiple brands associated with the same physical address.
14) Quantity of inbound links from locally-relevant domains
This one is self-explanatory. Local links, even lower D.A. ones, are generally favourable for building local relevance. A high number of links from local businesses sends a strong signal to Google that you really are not only local but valued by your local business community. Local news and “what’s happening” sites are great but a link from your local hardware store is still a good local link that will help you raise your local rankings.
15) Click-through rate from search results
This signal is about trends over time. How often does a searcher choose to click your search result vs the competing offers? Does a user pass up the top 3 listings and click on yours down at number 4? Does that happen consistently? If so, you might just start moving up the line. There are even greater benefits to be had if those people start converting once they reach your website, but you have to get them there first. This means your Title tag and meta description has fulfilled function one by providing enough keyword relevance to be served up in the first place, but now it must also be catchy enough that a searcher feels inclined to click through for more.
This 2nd part of our blog on Local SEO Ranking Factors has focused on the localised organic SERPS exclusively. Again, see my previous blog post for Map Pack ranking factors and use the two posts together to affect a working strategy.
The main takeaways from the results above indicate that almost every one of the 15 points listed is actionable in one way or another. Location, content, keyword relevance and backlinks are the main pillars of Local SEO and optimising for these factors is what we do here at Conscious Solutions.