5 Takeaways from the 2020 Local Search Ranking Factors Report
The Local Search Ranking Factors report, which has been issued annually since 2008, is one of the best resources digital marketers have to stay up to date on current best practices for local search.
2020’s report, published by Whitespark, was created by polling close to 50 of the top experts in local search. Google is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to how their algorithms work, so this is the next best thing: expert opinions from the people that know this sector the best.
Why Should You Care About Local Search?
If you’re wondering why you even need to worry about your local search rankings at all, you should know that there are very few things in our universe that aren’t local search-related—when consumers look for products or services you offer online, Google’s local search algorithm decides how easily they’ll find your company (versus your competitors).
Just look at any Google SERP (Search Engine Result Page): Local Services Ads are at the top, followed by the local pack (sometimes called the 3 pack), with organic results near the bottom. The prioritization is even more evident on a mobile search. You should be prioritizing local search for your business, because Google already is!
Here are the five biggest takeaways from the most recent report, followed by seven actionable steps your HVAC, solar, or home performance company can take to improve its local search rankings on Google.
1. Google My Business Continues to Rise; Citations Continue to Fall
Over the last 7 years of this report, two points stand out: the rise in Google My Business (GMB), and the decline of citations (listings of your company that exist somewhere on the internet, like directory listings).
This shouldn’t be surprising—while Google used to look at citations as an indication of the validity of your company, GMB has taken over that role and Google has needed to rely less and less on citations.
2. Most of the Factors with the Biggest Impact on Local Pack Ranking Are Things You Can’t Control
Top Local Pack Ranking Factors (Image credit: Whitespark)
When asked to assign a percentage of influence to different general areas that could affect local pack/3 pack ranking factors, GMB and Google reviews made up a combined 50%, according to the experts surveyed, while your website (what Whitespark calls “on-page”) and backlinks (when other websites link to yours) were another 30%.
Top Individual Local Pack Ranking Factors (Image credit: Whitespark)
When asked about specific individual factors with the biggest impact on local pack rankings, the primary GMB category was ranked by experts as the most important. But the next three—keywords in your GMB business title, proximity of address to point of search, and physical address in the city of search—aren’t actually things you have much control over; your business address is what it is.
In particular, it’s frustrating to see that keywords in your business title are believed to be so important to your ranking, as it’s a commonly used spam tactic and adding keywords to your GMB business name is technically a violation of Google’s rules.
3. Almost Every Factor for Organic Ranking is Related to Backlinks
Top Localized Organic Ranking Factors (Image credit: Whitespark)
On the organic side, your website and backlinks (also called inbound links) were ranked as the general areas most important for localized organic ranking, combining for 63%. For specific individual factors, however, the top survey results are nearly 100% related to links—quality/author of inbound links to domain, keywords in anchor text of inbound links to domain, etc.
Top Individual Localized Organic Ranking Factors (Image credit: Whitespark)
The consensus here is that backlinks—other websites linking to your company’s website—continue to be the most important factor in organic ranking. Luckily, backlinks are something you do have some influence over.
4. But Remember: Organic Ranking Also Drives Local Pack Ranking
If you’re reading this, you might be thinking, “Okay, so if I want to improve my ranking in the local pack, I should focus on my GMB profile and my Google reviews, and when I want to rank better organically, I’ll turn to my website and backlinks.” And judging by this year’s survey results, there’s truth to that:
Local Pack vs. Organic Ranking Factors (Image credit: Whitespark)
But the reality is, local pack and organic ranking aren’t really siloed: organic ranking affects your local pack ranking. There is continued discussion about how relevant organic ranking really is, especially given Google’s focus on GMB, but over 2020 all the evidence we have shows us that investment in organic pays off in the form of organic traffic (which is good on its own), and that traffic helps drive local pack listings.
5. Reviews and Your Business Address Can Make (or Break) Your GMB Conversion Rate
Top GMB Conversion Factors (Image credit: Whitespark)
Looking to improve conversion rates from your GMB profile? According to the experts, focus on reviews—the top three factors for GMB conversion are a high average Google review rating, positive sentiment in the review text, and the overall number of Google reviews your company has.
On the flip side, when it comes to negative GMB conversion factors, the experts agreed that business address and listing problems cause the most issues. From listings detected at a false business address (including PO boxes or UPS Stores) to multiple GMB listings with the same or similar business name and address, it’s important to make sure your listed address follows Google’s guidelines—it’s easier than you might think to do your business harm accidentally!
7 Actionable Steps Your Business Can Take
So, what should your HVAC, home performance, or solar company be doing now to improve your local search rankings?
Actively manage your Google My Business profile, especially the categories.
Work to improve the volume, star average, and keywords of your Google reviews.
Use Google My Business’s engagement options (Messaging, Request a Quote, Q&A).
Have a clear and consistent content creation strategy.
Build up your links from other websites.
Make sure your GMB profile has no business address issues.