Local SEO is undoubtedly one of the most volatile categories of search engine optimization.
Unlike conventional organic SEO, local SEO ranking factors include a wider spectrum of variables and considerations, and that change rather rapidly.
2019 was a profound year for local SEO, as there’s a wealth of compelling changes at play. For instance, mobile search overtook desktop search in 2018 with 58% of site visits coming from mobile devices.
While this in itself implies a considerable shift in user intent toward immediate, local needs being queried, adding to this is the rise in “near me” searches.
As reported by Think with Google, “near me” searches are increasing by 130% year-over-year. When you step back and take a big-picture look at this trend, this reflects a massive 34x jump in a single local search query since 2015.
So what will happen with Local SEO in 2021?
A Quick Look at Local SEO Rankings for 2021
Adding to the complexity of local SEO is understanding the nature of where a business can appear in Google’s Search Results. Essentially, there are two possible placements:
- Local Pack – Also commonly referred to as the “snack pack” or “3-pack” (although in some cases there can be just two listings showing,) this is the small box that appears at the top of search results accompanied by a Google Maps snippet. The Local Pack contains a business’s hours, reviews, and contact information. These listings are especially valuable for brands with a brick and mortar store, or tangible local presences.
- Organic Rankings – This is a more traditional approach to SEO, and in most cases, these listings will appear below or surrounding the Local Pack. The power behind the organic rankings is that if your local SEO strategy is fruitful, it can improve both your organic rank, as well as your ability to appear in the Local Pack, thereby enabling your business to occupy two placements on one search engine results page (SERP).
Now that we have a fundamental grasp of the two primary types of local SEO rankings, it will make understanding the local SEO ranking factors a bit more clear.
Let’s have a look at some top local SEO ranking factors for 2021.
It’s no question that the research and surveys done by Moz present the most authoritative source of local SEO ranking factors. Moz in itself is the online authority of local SEO, and every year the company continues to refresh the SEO community with ranking factors that matter most.
For reference, Moz has made available the charts below that list the top ranking factors for both the Local Pack and Organic Listings.
However, the data (and even the terminology) that Moz presents may appear so dense that it can often feel overwhelming to the common digital marketer.
So to help distil which local SEO ranking factors you should concentrate your efforts on in 2021, below we’ve distilled the top seven and what they mean.
1. Google My Business
Google My Business listings are what constitute the Local Pack rankings. In turn, a business can rank in the Local Pack with just a GMB page (without even a website), although these situations are not common in competitive markets.
Your GMB listing will also appear in the knowledge graph panel when users search for your business or brand name on Google. In conjunction with your website, this profile lets you present customers with all your important business information.
Fully complete your GMB profile to maximize its potential to rank in the Local Pack. Also, consider that GMB profiles that earn more customer reviews, have more replies, and have been online for a longer period of time will often have a ranking advantage.
2. Link Signals
Highly-prioritized for organic SEO, links are also a powerful signal for local SEO. The more links pointing to your site, and the more links coming from authoritative referring sources, the greater the ranking potential you will have.
For this reason, link building has become one of the most highly-sought avenues to improve a business’s local ranking. But the concept behind link signals is far from simple.
Considerations like inbound link authority, link relevance, link quantity, and link diversity are just a few factors at play. Check Moz’ link building and establishing authority guide to learn more about how to grow link equity surrounding your site.
3. On-Page Content
The third most influential local SEO ranking factor is on-page content. Like link signals, this too includes a series of considerations within itself.
First and foremost, gone are the days when stuffing your keyword copious times results in better rankings. In fact, this practice can actually get your site penalized as it’s purely considered webspam.
With on-page content, there’s a number of things to consider to best maximize your local SEO efforts:
- Content Length: A study conducted by Backlinko unveiled the average length of the top-ranking pages showing on the first page of Google. The number was just under 1,900 words. So take into consideration that in-depth content can help you get an SEO advantage and edge over your competitors, assuming it’s of good quality.
- Page Title: This is the main headline link that appears for pages in the Google SERPS. It’s also an important on-page ranking factor for both local and organic SEO, so be sure to include your primary keywords here.
- Meta Description: This is a 150-160 character description of your page that appears just beneath the page title on search engines. Here you’ll also want to establish keyword relevance, but also write a description that’s unique and compelling as to entice users to click your listing.
- GMB Page: The title and content of populating your business’s GMB page should also be relevant to local users.
- Page Copy: In addition to in-depth, quality page copy, the user of headers (i.e. H1 and H2 tags) indicates the topics of web pages. Keyword inclusion here is also a signal of relevance to search engines.
- Local Relevance: On-page content should also reference the target location for which a business is located.
- Business NAP: The name, address, and phone number of your business should be mentioned accurately (ideally in the header or footer) on all pages of your site. Google crawls and compares the NAP of your site, GMB page, and other citation listings throughout the web to ensure accuracy and consistency. This ultimately impacts Local Pack rankings.
Backlinko also compiled a handy on-page SEO guide that’s been updated for 2021 for further reading on this topic.
4. Citation Signals
As mentioned above, citations (or mentions of your business’s NAP on directories, social media profiles, publications, etc.) reflect how well your company’s information can be verified by other online sources.
This ranking factor is almost solely concerned with the Local Pack. So to maximize your rankings in this coveted search real estate, consider:
- Citation volume: The more citations your business can earn or build, the better it will be for its SEO. Most citation sources also include a link back to your site.
- Citation relevance: Certain citation sources can be more relevant than others. For example, a membership profile on your local chamber of commerce website will have far greater value than a generic listing on some local directory.
- Citation consistency: In addition to accuracy, consistency is absolutely critical. If any of your citations’ data differs between sources, it essentially “confuses” Google, thereby diminishing trust and ranking potential.
- Citation authority: Similar to relevant, more authoritative sites will provide more beneficial citations. For example, sites like BBB.org and LinkedIn.com will offer stronger citations than BizFind.us or 10Best.com.
Take a look at Moz’ Citations by Category to see which citations will offer the greatest SEO impact for your particular business.
5. Review Signals
Review signals are a local SEO ranking factor that heavily influences the Local Pack, more so than the Organic Rankings. As such, developing a review generation strategy is a wise decision for local businesses.
This can be as simple as asking customers for constructive feedback, or as intricate as an email follow-up program that directs users to your GMB page via a “Write a Review” button.
Not only do reviews help increase your GMB ranking potential in the Local Pack, but studies have shown that 56% of users will click a business if it has positive reviews displayed in Local Pack, even if it’s not ranking #1.
6. On-Page Behavior
On-page behavior – or how users engage with your site – continues to become a more heavily weighted ranking factor for a site’s organic rankings. These metrics can be evaluated with free tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools). The most important of these behavioral metrics include:
- Click-Through Rate (CTR): This metric is the frequency by which users click your search listings versus other competing pages. The higher your CTR, the more relevant your page appears to search engines.
- Bounce Rate: This is how often users arrive at your page from the search results and leave immediately. High bounce rates (typically above 50-60%) indicates weak, irrelevant content, and can thus diminish your rankings.
- Average Time on Page: Conversely, users who do not leave your site immediately, and spend several minutes exploring its content will signal to search engines that it’s relevant and valuable, thereby helping to improve your SEO as a result.
On-page behavior is one ranking factor that continues to grow in importance. Technical SEO variables factor into this as well, such as site load speed and how content is delivered. In turn, it’s increasingly critical to serving users with a quality experience that delivers exceptional content. Consider using engaging videos and other visuals to help facilitate these objectives.
While the intricacies of Google’s search engine algorithm continues to be a mysterious evolution, it’s no secret that every user receives unique search results based on their location, browsing history, cookies, and other personal settings. For this reason, personalization is often considered the X-factor with local SEO, yet an important ranking factor worth consideration.
But how does personalization fit into a local SEO strategy? Like the previous factor surrounding behavior metrics, ensuring your site is responsive across all devices is an essential foundation for SEO.
Additionally, having an SSL integrated for site security is also a vital cornerstone that’s become a ranking factor in itself. These elements pay dividends in helping maximize your business’ potential in both the Local Pack and Organic Rankings.
Final Takeaway About Local SEO in 2021
As best summarized by Local SEO Guide’s Andrew Shotland, “local SEO is a fickle beast.” To address the vast, ever-changing SEO factors around a business’s website, you also have to stay abreast the wide range of Local Pack signals like GMB, citations, and reviews.
Hopefully, this distillation of local SEO ranking factors for 2021 will help you prioritize your strategic efforts and enable your business (or your client’s business) to achieve optimal placement in both the Local Pack and Organic Rankings.