Our Takeaways from Whitespark’s 2023 Local Search Ranking Factors Study

In this article, we will discuss our takeaways from Whitespark’s annual local search ranking factors survey. Each year, top experts participate in a survey in which they rank the importance of a variety of factors on a scale of 0 to 5 (0 being not important and 5 being the most important). Each factor is ranked by importance to Local Pack, Local Finder, and Organic results. The image provided below represents what each category means. This year’s survey contained 149 possible factors that the experts believe Google uses to determine a business’ ranking.

Each ranking factor can be categorized into a larger group. These groups are GBP (Google Business Profile) signals, on-page signals, review signals, link signals, behavioral signals, citation signals, and personalization. We are mostly concerned with GBP, on-page, review, and link signals, as they are the most prevalent groups currently. The importance of each group can be compared using a change over time graph that was provided in the survey, which is included below.

Our Main Takeaways (TL;DR)

Previously, posting each week on your Google Business Profile would create a more positive effect than it is currently. Now, because of the decrease in impact of posting this often, we recommend posting once a month and dedicating more of that budget to other important groups such as on-page signals.

On-page signals, which relate to quality and relevance of the content on your website, have become increasingly important over time and will continue to require more attention in the future. Because of this, it is necessary to focus more on optimizing your website, which includes having dedicated service pages and improving internal linking throughout the site.

Reviews continue to be very important on how well your listing both ranks and converts.

How Should You Be Optimizing For Local Search in 2023?

It would be impossible to discuss all 149 factors and their specific impact on rankings, so we have decided to highlight a few of the important factors that Whitespark mentioned as well as some factors that we feel are also very impactful.

1. Proximity

To begin, there are some factors that unfortunately we have no control over. Google recently implemented an update called Vicinity, which means that the user’s location when searching has become much more important when determining the ranking of surrounding businesses. For example, a noteworthy factor that increased in importance was the proximity of your business’ address to where the user is searching from.

2. Website Optimization

However, there are still many factors that can be controlled. As briefly mentioned, website optimization has become increasingly important over time. Having keywords throughout the website’s landing page takes up multiple spots towards the top of the list of most crucial factors and is reiterated in the rankings for each category. Having a dedicated page on your website for each service offered has also become increasingly important and is remarkably high in the list of most impactful factors. Because of this, ensuring that your website aligns with what Google is looking for can have an extremely positive impact on your rankings.

3. Reviews

Another factor that stood out for us was the importance of reviews. Reviews have always been and most likely always will be a large factor for where Google is ranking your business. The following factors related to reviews are ranked within the top 20 most important factors within each section:

  • High Numerical Rating in Google Reviews (4 or 5 star reviews)
  • Quantity of Native Google Reviews
  • Recency of Reviews
  • Positive Sentiment in Review Text
  • Presence of Owner Response to Most Reviews

Ensuring that you are connecting and creating positive relationships with your customers can make it much easier to achieve these goals, which in turn will undoubtedly boost your rankings.

Being consistent with getting reviews is the most important thing. Having a sustained influx of reviews rather than bursts of reviews over short periods of time is another factor that was ranked very highly by experts. This further highlights the importance of consistently obtaining quality reviews.

4. Link Building

Having a diversified link portfolio for your website has always been important, but the way that Google views these links has been shifting. One ranking factor that scored very highly was the quantity of inbound links to your domain from locally-relevant domains. This means it is very important to obtain links to your domain from other local domains in your area. This can be achieved through sponsorship opportunities, making connections with local business owners, joining local organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, and being featured on local news networks.

Another conclusion that we came to is the importance of quality over quantity in regard to linking. Previously, it was more important to have a wide variety of links. Having a wide variety means getting links from all different kinds of domains, rather than focusing on domains with a higher domain authority (domain authority is a score every domain is given that ranks the “importance” of that domain). Because of some of the changes Google has made, it is now imperative to start focusing on mainly obtaining links from domains that have a high domain authority, hence shifting towards quality over quantity.

5. Google Business Profile Optimization

Lastly, ensuring that your Google Business Profile is properly optimized remains as important as ever. Although many of the factors may seem like trivial things, to Google even the smallest issue could cause major problems. This is so important because any mistakes in your business’s profile can have a negative effect on your ranking and even get your Google listing suspended or banned.

For example, having an incorrect primary category in your Google Business Profile was ranked as the biggest factor that can negatively affect rankings. Having any reports of violations on your Google Business Profile was also ranked as the second most likely factor for the suspension of a profile. Ensuring that none of these issues exist not only keeps you from negatively affecting your business but will actually help to improve your ranking.

The following factors that have to do with Google Business Profile optimization were all ranked in the top 20 of the ranking factors survey:

  • Primary GBP Category
  • Additional GBP categories
  • Verified GBP
  • Completeness of GBP
  • Proper Placement of the Map Pin

6. Spam Fighting

Because of the increased importance of Google Business Profile optimization, spam fighting has also become extremely important. Many listings will use keywords in their profile’s business name when their business name is completely different. This can help boost their rankings, which is shown by the survey as well. One of the key factors mentioned in the survey was having keywords in the GBP business title. Since some listings use keyword stuffing in these incorrect titles, it is especially important to get these spam listings removed through spam fighting.

What’s Our Takeaway?

In conclusion, familiarizing yourself with each factor and the positive or negative effects it can have on your business’s rankings will only benefit you in the long term. This survey highlights the importance of having a strong website that complies with what Google is looking for, ensuring that you are developing good customer relationships to improve your review profile, building a strong link profile within the local community, and keeping up with Google Business Profile optimizations. Maintain these factors, and the sky’s the limit!

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