Whitespark’s 2023 Local Search Ranking Factors report is out, and it’s packed with helpful insights about what marketers believe matters most right now in local SEO – and where to prioritize as you plan for the year ahead.
Developed in 2008 by David Mihm and taken over by Darren Shaw in 2017, this report has become one of the industry’s most trusted sources of insight into local ranking factors. This year, 44 prominent local SEO experts were polled about 149 potential local ranking and conversion factors.
As Shaw notes in his report, neither he nor the survey respondents have any special access to the internal workings of Google’s local search algorithm. Rather, the survey gives us a high-level look at what industry experts perceive to be the most important factors for ranking in the Map Pack and local organic search results, based on their extensive experience as local SEO practitioners and researchers.
In this post, we’ll look at the key insights from this year’s report. First, let’s dive into a few important changes in this year’s survey for more context.
What’s new in the 2023 local ranking factors report?
Potential ranking factors were grouped into the same seven broad categories this year as last, namely:
- Google Business Profile signals
- On-page signals
- Review signals
- Link signals
- Behavioral signals
- Citation signals
However, the perceived weight of each group in Google’s local algorithms changes as the various factors inside it shift. For example, Google Business Profile signals were perceived as slightly less important this year than last, while on-page signals grew in importance from 2022.
Shaw wrote in his report, “Local search experts in 2023 are investing more time and resources on website content, and seeing this work drive improved local pack/finder and local organic results.”
He dismisses the slight increase in personalization signals importance, writing that although they increased from 4% to 6%, he wouldn’t give this much thought. Shaw explains, “Personalization is always going to play a small role in search results, and there isn’t anything you can do to control it.”
Importantly, the survey structure changed for 2023. In previous years, respondents were asked to choose their top 20 factors in each category and rank them in order of importance. This led to somewhat arbitrary results after the top 10, and Shaw wanted to give marketers a more robust view of the perceived value of all ranking factors.
So this year, rather than sorting only the top factors, the expert panel was asked to rank each of the 149 potential factors on a scale of 1 to 5, as seen below:
“This will give us information on the perceived ranking and conversion impact of all the potential factors, not just the top 20 most common factors,” Shaw says.
Other changes of note in this year’s Local Ranking Factors survey include:
A new section called “Suspension risk factors”
Shaw explains, “The survey has always had a negative ranking factors section, but Yan Gilbert smartly points out that some of the factors in this list would be more appropriately classified as suspension risks rather than factors that can harm your rankings. I thought this was a great idea, so in the Negative Factors section, I asked the participants to score each harmful factor in terms of negative ranking impact and suspension risk.”
A new table for Local Services Ads factors
Shaw asked those contributors who do client work on LSAs what they see as the most important ranking factors. He then assessed their responses for the volume of mentions each factor received and compiled them in a new table of LSA factors for optimizing LSA packs.
A new table on how local SEOs are using AI
Contributors were asked how they’re using AI in local SEO. The top five aggregate responses were:
- Creating content that is then edited by a human
- Content ideation/inspiration
- Keyword research and topic classification/clustering
- Running images through Google Vision AI
- Writing spreadsheet formulas
Top Google Search ranking factors in 2023
Here are the top ranking and conversion factors, according to Whitespark’s survey:
Local Pack/Map Pack ranking factors:
- Primary GBP category
- Keywords in GBP business title
- Proximity of address to the point of search (searcher-business distance)
- Physical address in city of search
- Removal of spam listings through spam fighting
Local organic ranking factors:
- Dedicated page for each service
- Internal linking across entire website
- Quality/authority of inbound links to domain
- Geographic (city/neighborhood) keyword relevance of domain content
- Keywords in GBP landing page title
- High numerical Google ratings (e.g. 4-5)
- Positive sentiment in review text
- Mobile-friendly/responsive website
- Quantity of native Google reviews (with text)
- Dedicated page for each service
Key local SEO takeaways for multi-location brands
Whitespark’s Local Search Ranking Factors gives us a front row seat each year to what the best and brightest local SEO practitioners are focusing on – and what they’re not spending time or budget on. Brands can use this to guide their local SEO strategy and determine what deserves their attention most. Here are a few of the key takeaways and insights from this year’s survey.
Quality local content is increasingly important
Link signals and Google Business Profile signals dipped in importance slightly as on-page and behavioral signals rose. Content is an integral part of the local customer experience, and the quality bar has risen substantially as competition in search results continue to increase.
Having a defined process and tools in place for enabling local stakeholders to create rich content without sacrificing brand controls is essential. Check out these content tips for more effective local marketing.
Local Service Ads are gaining prominence and expanding to new categories
This ad format displays above PPC results and is a great way to augment your brand’s visibility, especially in competitive markets where you’re not yet ranking organically. Shaw added a new table of LSA factors to his report this year, and you can learn how Local Service Ads work and what you need to do to get started in this article.
Local SEOs are experimenting with innovative ways to use ChatGPT
Using generative AIs, like ChatGPT, to create content that is then edited by human professionals is the top usage of this technology so far, according to survey results. That editorial process is crucial, particularly at the brand level where publishing misinformation can have major legal and PR consequences. See How ChatGPT Impacts Local SEO to learn more.
Google reviews are an impactful part of ranking and conversion
Reviews are more than social proof; they’re a heavily weighted local search ranking factor, too.
Enterprise brands must have technology in place to monitor for new reviews across platforms, triage and escalate negative reviews, alert local stakeholders to reviews that need follow-up, and compile meaningful insights for the brand. Local reviews are not only a record of what customers are saying about your brand but an important opportunity to connect and engage in the moments that matter.
Learn more by exploring all of this year’s 2023 Local Search Ranking Factors survey results. The full report is available without download on Whitespark’s website.