Being a good SEO involves research. You need to be constantly pushing the envelope on the data that you gather, the insights that you gain and what recommendations you provide in terms of what works and what doesn't. Google Local is a particular area that I've been investigating recently both for clients and because I'm an SEO geek. I've found some interesting thing and some not-so-interesting things. Having done my own analysis however I thought it would be useful to make some data available to the SEO community as a whole, the data below is in a Google Docs and is freely accessible. I'd love to kick-start a discussion about the data and to hear other SEOs analysis and feedback!
Before I dive into the data and the analysis, here's a quick primer on Google Local:
- David Mihm's Local Ranking factors
- What is a citation anyway?
- Mike Blumenthal's local ranking factors presentation
What's In The Data?Here's an iframe embed of the data to get a quick feel for what you get. Contained in the full spreadsheet is Google Local data for a particular search phrase "Hotels in Seattle".
- Summary - The summary information which contains the hotels which rank for the phrase. The top 7 are the ones that I see in the Google Local one-box. The remaining 13 are the ones which rank once you click on the map to explore Google Local rankings. The data contained includes the number of reviews, the number of citations and the distance to the centre of Seattle for each hotel.
- Sheet 1-20 - These sheets list the complete individual citation list for the relevant hotel. So for the edgewater hotel which ranks 4th we click on sheet 4 and see the full list of citations for that hotel.
My Own AnalysisI don't claim to be the most knowledgeable SEO in the world about Google Local, though I'd like to think I'm getting there, I still look up to people like David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal. In particular, David Mihm's Google Local Ranking Factors is an invaluable resource.
That said, it's always nice to try and quantify exactly how important different factors are and do some analysis on which hypothesis are actually correct and which are just learned from the crowd and generally accepted as true.
I've got no ground-breaking insights in this post, but by analysing this data and other data I have come to the following conclusions:
1) - The raw number of reviews is not the only ranking factor.
We can see this by comparing for example the Renaissance Seattle Hotel and the Hilton Seattle Hotel - the Renaissance has WAY more reviews but still doesn't rank.
2) - The raw number of citations is not the only ranking factor.
We can see this because the Grand Hyatt Seattle Hotel has an obscene number of citations compared to any other hotel in Seattle.
3) - The combined number of citations and reviews is not the only ranking factor
Although we're getting warmer here (the sum column, E) this isn't the whole story. If we look at the average sum of the top 7 ranking hotels we see that there are 3 hotels that don't rank which have a higher sum than average - Renaissance, Grand Hyatt and the Crowne Plaza.
4) - Distance to centre (of Seattle) seems to play some part in the rankings
Looking at the data we see that the Edgewater Hotel has the highest combined total with many many reviews and a large number of citations but doesn't rank number 1. Perhaps this is something to do with the fact that it's a lot further out from the centre of Seattle than the other hotels - 1.3 miles to be precise, almost double the next furthest out ranking hotel at 0.7 miles (the Best Western).
5) Star ratings could well play a part in the rankings
Typically people have assumed that the raw number of reviews is more important than the sentiment of those reviews. However, this may not be true. Take a look at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, a very low combined reviews and citations score but 4.5/5 stars in total of the reviews.
6) Quality of citation almost certainly plays a part
Firstly, assuming it didn't - citation spam would be big business! But digging into the data I see that the best western has a very low combined score but has citations from sites such as the New York Times. Same again with the Hilton, which has some very strong citations from authority sites. This suggests to me that quality of citation is important, or perhaps the number of citation root domains? (like with links, perhaps multiple citations from one domain don't count so much...)
There is still speculation that the 'regular' SEO factors come into play such as pagerank or strength of domain. I'm not convinced this is a factor. After all, Google Local Listings are attached to an business name (and address/phone number), not a URL. Sometimes there isn't even a URL for Google to attach to the listing. This makes me think that regular on-page SEO factors don't carry that much weight. I'd like to hear other's thoughts on this though?
It's worth noting that in the data you might like to exclude the Crowne Plaza Hotel from your data analysis - when gathering the data I see that it's missing an image which may imply a wider issue about data perhaps? Not sure what a missing image means but I doubt it's good news for the Crowne Plaza. This is backed up by the fact that it by rights (i.e. combined citations and reviews score) it should rank, but it doesn't... Screenshot of what I'm seeing:
In a usual analysis I would have looked at the category of the listings, I don't think this is a factor in this case since it's a competitive SERP and all the listings are likely tagged with the Hotel category.
To Conclude...What can you do to get better rankings? Get more citations and reviews! The combined number of these seems reasonably well correlated with rankings once you factor in distance from centre etc. Especially if you can get positive reviews and citations from strong websites.
But also, to conclude, we see that the algorithms are somewhat complicated. I've still not completely figured out why some sites rank and why some don't but I'm getting close. I'd love to hear analysis from other Google Local SEOs who've been digging around in data. I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours ;-)
Oh, and if you'd like to enquire about having Distilled manage your Google Local SEO then click here to get in touch...