Just because you’re on the track doesn’t mean you’ll win the race. Maybe you bought the shoes and paid the entrance fee, but if you didn’t train you’ll eat the dust of your competitors.

It’s the same with local SEO.

Sure, at one time clean citations and proper Google My Business (GMB) categorizations were enough to rank in the local pack and local organic.

No longer.

Citations and GMB listings are now considered foundational, similar to paying the entrance fee to get into a race.

Without them, there’s no way to rank in the local pack at all, and it’ll be harder to rank in local organic. But clean citations alone will not make you competitive in local SEO.

The things that will make you competitive and drive business are factors like the quantity and quality of sites that link to you, and the presence of robust, keyword-optimized content.

Competitive ranking factors harder to implement than foundational ones, but you can’t win without them.
To rank in local pack/local organic search results and, more to the point, generate leads for your business, you need to first build a strong foundation and then move onto what will make your website stand out from your competitors: the competitive local SEO ranking factors.

Moz, a key voice in digital marketing, recently released their annual Local Search Ranking Factors survey for 2018, detailing the top foundational and competitive ranking factors for local SEO.

We took a look at this survey and distilled it down to its core: the top foundational factors and the top competitive factors.

Basically, we’ll tell you what you need to enter the race—and what you need to do to win.


Foundational local SEO ranking factors: Your ante into the game

  • Your business’ proximity to searcher
    You have little control over this, but proximity is by and large the greatest factor for the getting into the local pack. Lately, proximity has outweighed every other factor, at least when it comes to the local 3-pack.Let’s say you own a pizza shop. If someone looks up ”pizza near me” on their phone, but your shop is located all the way across town from the searcher, you are unlikely to show up in the local pack (the 3-listing box atop search results).It’s important to note that local organic results—the results that lie below the local pack—are significantly less affected by proximity.Still, for both organic and local pack results, you need to have a physical location in the city of search, especially where there’s a geo-modifier—a city or location attached to a keyword phrase—in the search.Essentially, you won’t show up for local intent searches if you aren’t close to the searcher.But proximity hardly guarantees ranking, and only gets you into the running.
  • Google My Business Category Associations
    Your Google My Business category associations help Google determine what kind of business you are.If you are a plumber, but your GMB category is ’electrician,’ then you are less likely rank for your business—plumbing. Now, that isn’t a likely scenario, but it drives the point home.You won’t rank for your business in the local pack if your GMB listing doesn’t accurately portray what you do.Make sure your GMB listing aligns with your business. But your GMB listing will not help you compete with other businesses in your vertical—it simply gets you in the game.
  • Citation consistency
    Google wants to display accurate results to its searchers, especially in local where there is a high likelihood the searcher is looking to call or go to a business.Because Google doesn’t want to frustrate its users with incorrect addresses or phone numbers, it has a ”trust but verify” policy when it comes to the business name, address and phone number (NAP) in your GMB listing.That’s why Google cross-verifies your NAP across hundreds of other directories across the internet. Still, don’t worry too much about hunting down every single listing. NAP listings from primary data sources are given more weight. Start with cleaning up your listings in prominent directories, and then work down from there.After all, citations are important, but will not set you apart from the crowd.

Competitive local SEO ranking factors: The key to winning business

  • Inbound links to your site
    Your site’s link profile—the collection of sites that link to your pages—is one of the most important ranking factors.In fact, it’s the most important competitive ranking factor for local, according to Moz’s 2017 Local Rankings survey.Google takes inbound links as votes of confidence in your site’s authority and relevancy. The more inbound links you have, the better your chances of ranking in the local pack and local organic.Back to the pizza shop example: if sites all around town are linking to you menu with the anchor text, best pizza in town, Google will begin to believe that your pizza shop does, in fact, have the best pizza in town, and be more likely to feature your business when someone’s looking for pizza.The key here is that you need quality, relevant links, and you need a lot of them. And, especially when it comes to ranking locally, having local magazines and resources link to your site is an extra bonus. For ranking in the local pack, you’ll also need to earn inbound links to your GMB landing page—the page you link to within your GMB listing.
  • Your site’s domain authority
    Developed by Moz, your domain authority is a score assigned to your site out of 100 that gives you an indication of the strength of your domain.The number of unique domains linking to you, as well as your total amount of links are taken into account when calculating your domain authority. As implied, good domain authority numbers point to high authority in your vertical because many other sites are talking about you.Generally speaking, the higher your domain authority, the more likely you are to rank locally.
  • Inbound link diversity
    You link profile cannot all be comprised of all the same link.The pizza example again: If all your inbound links are from your city’s food magazine, point to your menu and use the anchor text ”best pizza in town,” Google might think something is up.You need diversity in referring domains (the sites linking to you), anchor text (the text in the hyperlink), and pages they link to (i.e., menu, homepage, blog).Google wants you to build natural authority—not just trade or buy them.And it knows your link profile is natural if a variety of sites are linking to you within relevant articles with varying anchor texts.If your link profile is diverse, you stand a greater chance of ranking over your competitors.
  • Keyword-optimized site content
    And the last competitive local SEO ranking factor we’ll talk about is keyword-optimized content.Basically, to rank for a keyword phrase, you need to talk about that keyword somewhere on your site.Seems pretty straightforward, right?It is. For Google to think you might answer a searcher’s question or satisfy their need, they need to know that you provide the answer or solve the problem within your site content.Without a keyword-optimized content marketing plan, it will be much less likely you will appear in local search results.

Local SEO is a hard race to win. What’s true today won’t necessarily be true tomrorow—the only constant in local SEO is change.

You need a dedicated team of local SEO experts who will stay up on changes—and implement them—for your business.

And you need your local SEO team to know what tactics are simply the foundation, and which ones will push the needle. You need them to get the foundation right, and move quickly to working on the competitive local SEO ranking factors that will improve your rankings and drive business.

Digital Strike is that team. We will tailor a local SEO solution that takes into account what you already have, and helps grow your business.

If you’re ready to get start growing your business, then let’s talk. Schedule a cost- and obligation-free consultation today!

Jay Buerck

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