Local SEO Ranking Factors Explained

Local SEO Ranking Factors Explained

From year to year Moz, a popular software used by many inbound marketers, publishes survey results of the most important ranking factors for local SEO. The results for 2015 have not been published yet as of the time of this writing.

When 2015’s results are published, I will do a follow-up post and link to it from this article.

To the laymen small to medium sized business owner, the terminology and results can be confusing.

The goal of this post is to help educate you, and decipher the information to read as easy as possible. After reading this post you should have a good understanding of what the results mean and how you can implement them into your own local SEO strategy.


Overall local ranking factors, in order of importance:


This has to do with how well optimized your website is for users and search engines.

What you need to do to optimize your website:

Presence of your business Name, Address, and Phone number on your website (commonly referred to as NAP)
Ideally the NAP should be on every page of the website, unless you have multiple locations. If your business has multiple locations, give each location a dedicated page that has this information on it.

Pro tip: Make sure the NAP uses Schema.org. Schema helps search engine bots identify and understand information you are presenting. Commonly referred to as Structured Data. You can easily create the Schema code needed by using the free Local Schema Generator Tool

Pro tip: Make the phone number (and all phone numbers on your website) click-to-call. To do this use this code as a template, and change accordingly: <a href=“tel:+15415260883”>(541) 526-0883</a>. The country code needs to be included in the “ “ for it to work. Adding this code to phone numbers will enable a user to place a call directly from your website.

Include keywords in your title tags

The title tag is what you click on to go to a page from a Search Engine Result Page (SERP). The title tag is also one of the first things a search engine bot sees when they crawl a web page. You don’t need to get to fancy with title tags. It is best to use the following as a baseline: “city state abbreviation keyword – business name”
Each page on your website should be themed to one central keyword. Don’t put multiple keywords in the title tag to try and help you.

Pro tip: Do a search for your primary keyword and see the title tags your competitor’s are using. Don’t copy what everyone else is doing. Make your title tag stand out by making your result look more enticing to a searcher.

Pro tip: If your title tag is longer than 512px in width it will be truncated. For best results, try to make each title tag less than 512px so users can see the entire title tag.

Pro tip: Don’t use the same title tag on every page. Each page should have a unique title tag.

Domain authority

Domain authority definition by Moz: “Domain Authority is a score (on a 100-point scale) developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines.”

To put it simply, the higher your domain authority is, the more likely you will outrank your competitors. One of the best ways to improve your website’s domain authority is to get high quality links pointing to your website.

How do you get high quality links? This is going to vary widely depending on the industry you are located in, location, and what kind of content strategy you are currently, or thinking about executing.

One of the best ways to get great links, and traffic, is to get involved with your community.

Here are some common ways to get involved, and get links:

  • Sponsor local events, charities, organizations, etc
  • Join the Chamber of Commerce
  • Sponsor a local Meetup group
  • Find and join industry related directories
  • Local directories
  • Guest posting opportunities from industry specific blogs
  • Guest posting opportunities from locally authoritative websites or bloggers
  • Mentions in the local newspaper (most publish digitally as well)
  • Join the BBB
  • Create a scholarship related to your industry. A good amount of University websites link out to student scholarship opportunities from private companies
  • See if vendors list testimonials on there website. If they do, offer one and ask for a link

Pro tip: Don’t buy links. You can find dozens of “link building services” on websites like Fiverr.com. Buying these links for the sake of getting links is not going to help. In fact it can result in your website getting a penalty.

Pro tip: Don’t overdo it. Link building needs to be natural. Don’t go out and do all of the above all at once. Like getting a penalty for having bad links, you can also get penalized for “over-optimization”.

Other on-page tactics to consider

Check out our post on how to tell if your website is mobile-friendly. Or simply look at your website from a smartphone. Do you have to pinch and zoom to read anything? Can you click on links in the navigation easily? If it isn’t, that should be priority #1.

Content: Write for people, not search engines. Try to put yourself in your customers shoes. What kind of information would be beneficial to them if they were looking for your product or service? Don’t plug keywords into the content to help you rank. Keywords in your content should come naturally, and use other variations of the keyword as well. How much content do you need to write on each page? Enough to answer the question(s) that a potential customer has for that given page.

Heading tags: Only use one H1 tag per page. This should contain your location and keyword, but not just that. Try to be creative with your main heading. When it comes to adding H2-H5 tags, think about how separating content to make it flow easier for the user. Then use those headings accordingly. Obviously you want to use H2 and H3 to highlight important parts of the page. Good rule of thumb is to use heading tags to separate the content on the given page.

Images: Use images often, and only if they help communicate what the page is about. We process images much faster than we do text, so use images to your advantage. Having a wall of text will turn users off and they’ll just go somewhere else. Name your images with a keyword, and be sure to add alt text to each photo. When it comes to adding alt text for photos, here’s how I explain it: If you had to explain the photo to someone who couldn’t see it, what would you say? Then use that for your alt text.

This has to do with the quality and quantity of links you have pointing to your website.

Inbound anchor text

When you click on a link, the anchor text is the text the link is contained in. Before Google started rolling out an algorithm update called Penguin, manipulating links to get rankings was pretty easy. If you wanted to rank for the keyword “drug rehab Portland” you would try to get links with the anchor text of “drug rehab Portland” from various websites, directories, and forums. Now your inbound anchor text needs to be more diverse and mainly be about your website (www.myawesomecompany.com)  or brand name (My Awesome Company).

This becomes a bit of a gray area if your business name is your primary keyword. If your business name is Drug Rehab Portland and your website is www.drugrehabportland.com, then the anchor text of your website and business name are keyword rich. This is commonly referred to as a Exact Match Domain (EMD).

If your location or keyword are in your business name and/or website, that’s great. If not, don’t worry too much about it. Focus more on providing great content and a positive user experience.

Linking domain authority

What do you think sounds better? Getting 1 link from a website that has a domain authority of 88, or getting 50 links from websites that each have a domain authority rating of 14? The higher the domain authority of the website linking to you is, the stronger that link is. News websites have a lot of authority, and getting a link from one could help a lot. This doesn’t mean to go to these sites and comment spam them to get links. If they even approve the comment, the link you get will be nofollow.

When a link has the nofollow attribute added to it, search bots don’t give any credit to the link. This doesn’t mean nofollow links are bad, it just means they don’t give you any benefits for SEO. But if you add commentary to something useful and get a nofollow link, it can still drive traffic to your website.

Linking domain quantity

How many websites link to your website? When it comes to quantity of domains linking to you, it’s best to focus on quality, not quantity. It would be better to have 30 different quality websites linking to you rather than 1000 crappy sites linking to your website.


This has everything to do with how your business data (NAP) shows in the local ecosystem. We have a post on what a SEO citation is and how it can help your local SEO for further reading.

Major data aggregators

There are 4 major data aggregators, including: Factual, Acxiom, Neustar Localeze, and Infogroup. These 4 aggregators feed data directly to Google, and other 3rd party websites such as Yelp, Apple Maps, Superpages, etc. Make sure your business Name Address, Phone number, and website (NAP) are correct on these sites. Also look for duplicate listings, or listings that contain incorrect information.

NAP consistency

Google wants to serve the most relevant information possible to users. This is very important for local searches. When a user performs a search, Google looks at all possible local listings to display, and NAP consistency is the most important. Think about it this way, if you wanted to take your significant other out for sushi on a vacation, would it be ok if you ended showing up to a sushi restaurant that moved? NO!

The more consistent your NAP is on the top data aggregators, and other third party local directories like Yelp, Superpages, etc., the more likely your business will rank in the Maps section.

Citation Volume

Making sure your business is on the top aggregators mentioned above, and correctly, is first and foremost. After that, there are roughly 50 other citation sources that every business should be on. Interested in knowing what they are? Send an email to hello[@]ricketyroo.com and I will send you over our list that we use for clients. But you shouldn’t stop there, there are other citation sources that could be beneficial as well. These include:

  • Local directories for your city, and your city only.
  • Unstructured citations: These are when your business NAP is included in an article, YouTube video description, etc. Focus on quality, not quantity with these. If it can benefit a user, then include it
  • Industry related directories: Some industries have dedicated local directories. Do a search on Google for “industry directory” to find opportunities.


This is specific to how your Google My Business listing is optimized.


You can add up to 10 categories on your Google My Business listing. Make the first category, or primary category, the most important category for your business. Then follow suit with other relevant categories. You don’t need to have 10 categories, just list out the categories that match what your business is.

It’s also important to know that your categories should be ordered on all other local directories, just like your Google My Business listing. This ties back into NAP consistency. To find the best categories for your business, use the Moz Local Category Tool to help you in your research.

Keyword in business title

If your keyword is in the business title, this will help you. If not, it’s not the end of the line for your ranking efforts. What you SHOULD NOT do is try to add your keyword to your business name to help. This is against Google My Business’ terms of service, and can result in your listing getting suspended. Use the legal name or DBA name of your business only.


In a mobile world, proximity does play a factor in if/how your listing will rank. Proximity used to be based on a cluster of competing businesses, but now is more gauged on where the user is physically located.

Other Google My Business things to consider

Add a great description to your profile, add a great cover photo to the profile, add photos, and post great content on your Google My Business Page. Much like your website, this can be the first thing a user sees when deciding on who to choose for a product or service.


This has to do with the quality and quantity of reviews of your business on your Google My Business page, and other third party review sites like Yelp.com.

Review quantity

Obviously the more quality reviews your business gets, the better you look online. Please be aware that for certain websites like Yelp, it is against there terms of service to ask for a review. Don’t pay for reviews, or offer people incentives to leave reviews of your business.

What review sites should you focus on? It depends on the industry. Google My Business should be included, but to find out what other sites to get reviews on, do a search for your keyword. Do any other sites like Yelp rank for that keyword? If they do, then it would be good to get reviews there too.

Review velocity

If you’ve been in business for 10 years and have 2 reviews online, and out of nowhere get 20 reviews in 30 days, does that look natural? Keep reviews flowing at a rate that is natural. This will also vary depending on what industry you are in. Restaurants get a lot more foot traffic than lawyers, as an example.

Review diversity

Don’t place all of your review eggs in one basket. it’s good to get reviews from different sites. Don’t get caught in the trap of trying to only getting Google or Yelp reviews.

This has to do with Google showing personalized results. If you’re logged in to your Google+ account while searching on Google, you will get personalized results based on your past searching behavior, and will get results based on the people in your Google+ Circles.

Though Google+ hasn’t taken off as Google would have hoped, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with personalized results in the next year or so.

Mainly talking about how users interact with your website, both from desktop and mobile devices.

Clickthrough rate

Many SEOs have speculated for years about Google using click data from search results to help, and improve rankings. Rand Fishkin, Co-founder of Moz, ran a test May of 2014 to see if click data effects ranking at all. The test was very interesting, though the results are not conclusive.

This DOES NOT mean that you need to have all of your friends and family do a search and click on your result to help your rankings. Instead focus on writing a great title tag and an even better meta description.

Coupled with a great title tag and meta description is providing a good user experience on your landing page if a user does click on your result. If users are clicking on your result, and are bouncing back to go to another result, this may result in your rank dropping.

Mobile click-to-calls

Making your phone numbers have a click-to-call action on mobile is something every website should be doing. Google may be using this data, though there is no evidence of it directly helping rankings increase at all.

What it does do is it enables your customers to contact you seamlessly. How frustrating is it to either write down a phone number, or try toggling between the page and your phone to dial the number.


Earlier in 2015 Twitter gave Google access to a firehose of data, and now Tweets, and Twitter profiles are showing more prominently in Google search results. Your Facebook business page is also indexed by Google. The better content you post, the more engagement you get from your audience, is great for social.

Will social have a direct impact on rankings? Hard to tell. Instead of trying to use social media to help boost your rankings, focus on what social media is actually meant for; To engage your audience. Social media is not a giant megaphone for your business to post on what you offer. Post great content that will help users, not try to sell them. The occasional self-selling post is ok, but that’s far and few between.

All in all, what is a small to medium sized business owner to do?

Citation audits/building, link building, social media, website design, and review management can be overwhelming. Do you, as a business owner, have the time to do all of this? Maybe..maybe not. My business does this as a service to clients, and I have a hard time keeping up on this for RicketyRoo. True story.

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Blake Denman

Blake has more than 14 years of local SEO and paid search marketing experience. He founded RicketyRoo in February 2009. Outside of running RicketyRoo, Blake enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife and Goldendoodle, June, hiking throughout Central Oregon.
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