Understanding Local Search Ranking Factors


For small businesses that don’t have the size or strength to compete for their keywords on a national level, Local SEO is a crucial part of drawing new traffic to their site. And for many businesses, targeting geo-specific keywords brings in much more qualified traffic. A plumber in Seattle doesn’t really care if someone in Texas finds his site through Google. Local SEO helps businesses rank for competitive keywords that will drive traffic to their site from visitors within their service area.

Each year Local SEO expert David Mihm, surveys other leading experts and compiles their answers into his Local Search Ranking Factors report. The 2012 version of the report was released just a couple of weeks ago and I’d like to take some time to go over the results with you.

A Few Definitions

Before we go any further, let’s define a few terms/concepts just to make sure we’re all on the same page:

  • Local SEO - a specific branch of search engine optimization that focuses on location-based keywords like “Pizza in Chicago” and the methods used to achieve quality rankings for those keywords. In Google, geo-specific keyword searches often bring up Google Places listings in the results showing the company’s address, phone number and location on a map.

    Pizza in Chicago
  • Google Places - Google’s business directory. Set up and management of your Google Places listing is included under our standard monthly fee. (Note: Google recently moved Google Places under the Google+ umbrella. While it’s still generally referred to as Google Places, this might change to something like Google Local or Local+ in the near future).
  • Citation - a mention of your business name on any website that usually, but not necessarily, includes address, phone number or website information.
  • NAP - Name, address and phone number. Combining these three points of information creates a fingerprint for your business that search engines can use to match information within their database.

The Top 10 Local Search Ranking Factors

Okay, with that out of the way, we can move on to the good stuff! Based on the answers from 41 local search experts, here are the top 10 factors that influence ranking in local search results:

Local Search Ranking Factors


That’s great and everything, but what do these really mean? Let’s go through them one by one.

  1. Physical Address in City of Search - This is fairly self-explanatory. If someone uses Atlanta in a search term, Google isn’t going to show them a business in Orlando. But it is important to remember that this applies to neighboring cities as well. If I search for “IT Consultant San Jose,” a business in Santa Clara is very unlikely to show up even though it’s just a few miles away.
  2. Proper Category Associations - This refers to a specific field in Google Places in which you can list up to five categories that describe your business. Choosing the correct categories here helps Google determine which search results you should appear in.

    Google Places Categories


3. Proximity of Address to Centroid - The centroid is what Google considers to be the city center. Essentially, a business located near the city center is more likely to rank for a keyword than a business located on the outskirts. You can determine the centroid of any city by searching for the city and state in Google Maps. Wherever Google puts the city name is where it considers the centroid to be.

Austin Centroid


  1. Domain Authority of Website - Domain Authority is a metric created and calculated by SEOmoz which attempts to predict the overall SEO strength of a domain. It is primarily calculated by looking at the inbound link profile of a domain, so the only way to improve your Domain Authority is by building high quality links.
  2. Quantity of Structured Citations - Citations are to the strength of your Google Places listing, as inbound links are to the Domain Authority of your website. Building citations for your business across a large number of directories and data aggregators can go a long way towards improving your local search results. Thankfully, our Local Listing Booster program does exactly that.
  3. City, State in Places Landing Page Title - As a best practice, your Google Places listing should almost always point to your homepage. So this is basically telling you to include important keywords in your homepage title tag. Nothing to worry about here - we’ve already done this for you!
  4. Quantity of Native Google Places Reviews - Lots of positive reviews are a great sign that your business is awesome! You can get some more in-depth information about this in an article I wrote about business reviews and better SEO - it’s slightly outdated but the principles discussed still apply.
  5. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations - As with links, citations aren’t just about sheer numbers, but quality as well. You can get high quality citations by submitting your site to trusted directories like Yelp, Angie’s List, CitySearch, the Better Business Bureau, etc. Again, check out our Local Listing Booster program if you haven’t already.
  6. Local Area Code on Places Page - This one is pretty simple. You’re better off listing a local number on your Google Places page rather than using a toll-free number. A local number tells Google that your business is actually located where you say it is.
  7. HTML NAP Matching Places Page NAP - Another easy one that Pronto already handles for you. The only thing to do here is to make sure the NAP information on your website exactly matches the info on your Places page.

I know 10 is nice round number, but I can’t help throwing in #11 from David Mihm’s list because it’s super relevant to what Pronto can do for you.

  1. Consistency of Structured Citations - Not only does the NAP information on your website and Google Places page need to match, but it also needs to match across all of your citations. This can seem really daunting especially since your business is probably listed on hundreds of sources around the Web. But don’t worry - Local Listing Booster to the rescue again! This program allows us to manage your NAP info across 100+ directories.

Now What?

There’s a lot great information included the report, but what can we do with it? Some items are unactionable. Changing your business address to a new city or to a location closer to the centroid isn’t really feasible. There are also a few items that Pronto has already taken care of for you, specifically, #2 Proper Category Associations, #6 City, State in Places Landing Page Title and #10 HTML NAP Matching Place Page NAP, but there is still a lot you can do to improve your chances of ranking in local search results.

As I mentioned previously, the Domain Authority of your website can be improved by building links to your site. You can find resources I’ve put together on link building here and here. Or, there are plenty of SEO companies that provide link building services - just let us know if you would like some recommendations. This will not only help with Local SEO, but with your overall SEO as well.

You also have a bit of control over the reviews you receive on your Google Places listing. Start taking reviews seriously - ask satisfied clients to leave a quick comment, and read this article for more ideas.

Last, but definitely not least, you need to go sign up for our Local Listing Booster program right now! Three of the Top 11 ranking factors deal with citations and this exactly what the program was built to focus on. Our research shows that this program has lead to an average increase in search traffic of over 14%. I’ve written about citations and Local Listing Booster many many times, but I’ll never get tired of pushing it because it’s the right thing to do for your website. And at only $150/year, it would be foolish not to sign up.

Got some questions about citations or Local SEO? Leave a comment below!

Tim Kelsey
SEO & Social Media Manager

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  • Avatar
    Travis Lugo

    Thanks for sharing lots of good info. We have found that terms IT Support and IT Services are the 2 most searched terms for B2B searches locally. The competition level is enormous for these keywords however. Supplementing less popular keywords that have good traffic such as IT Consulting can help bring more inbound leads until the campaign matures and you can rank for those tougher keywords. I suggest using Pronto's Business Listing Management. It's important to have good local directory links too.

  • Avatar
    Tim Kelsey

    Great points, Travis! IT Support and IT Services do seem to have the highest search volume, but as you pointed out, that increase volume also comes with increased competition. I've also found that the results for IT Services can sometimes be a little ambiguous. Google doesn't necessary read it as "I.T. Services," but as "it services," so you'll sometimes see Limo Services, Plumbing Services, Municipal Services, etc. in the results. This confusion makes ranking even hard. We're kind of at Google's mercy when it comes to the relevancy of the results. 

  • Avatar
    Manish Roy

    Good article. Does Pronto already include all of these in their services for customers like us ? Is there anything in this article that pronto doesn't do for us that we should be doing on our own ?

  • Avatar
    Tim Kelsey

    Hi Manish,

    We set up Google, Bing and Yahoo listing for all of our Managed Website clients. If you're looking to expand your social presence beyond that, I'd suggest checking out our Local Listing Booster service (https://app.prontomarketing.com/services/22/details/).

    And as for things you can be doing on your own, I'd suggest reaching out to your happy clients to ask for positive reviews on your listings. You can learn more about that here: https://app.prontomarketing.com/services/22/details/.

    Let me know if you have any other questions!