Perhaps the single most critical update for local search in 2014 was Google’s announcement of the Pigeon algorithm, which had major implications for small businesses and local SEOs. Pigeon significantly changed the way local businesses are ranked by integrating basic web search ranking signals into localized queries. The result: a far more dynamic ranking of local businesses that is highly relevant to the user’s individual search based on their query and geographic location–and a more complicated challenge for SEOs.
There are a slew of rising SEO trends in 2015 that experts are keeping an eye on, and local SEO is certainly one that should not be overlooked. Google is putting greater effort into local search, and we must do the same. This entails, according to Search Engine Journal columnist Greg Gifford, that we take a more inclusive approach and not become sidetracked by individual tactics that seem to impact one or two ranking signals. Instead, we should observe how involved local search rankings have become, and strategize various tactics that account for each of the major ranking signals.
2014 Trends in Local Search Rankings
Moz’s 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors survey, conducted by David Mihm, visualized this increase in the complexity of local search results. Participants in the survey were asked to weigh the influence they have observed of certain ranking signal groups. On-page signals, which include keywords in titles and domain authority, among others, held a 21% influence over rankings. Link signals–including linking domain authority, quantity, etc.–came in second at 18.3 percent, and external location signals was third at 15.5%. While there were eight groups in total , and some held more influence than others, no single ranking signal outweighed any other significantly enough to warrant a narrowed focus in local SEO strategy.
The survey, which you can view in detail here, goes into further detail about the differences between localized organic results and pack/carousel results, and asks participants to rank the importance of specific individual ranking factors. In the final section, participants ranked 10 factors that have increased in importance since the Pigeon update. Domain authority is considered to be the most important factor affected by Pigeon, with proximity to searcher, the authority of inbound links to the domain, and the authority of inbound links to the landing page close behind.
Seeing the Big Picture with Local Search
In his post, “Local SEO in 2015 – Look at the Big Picture”, Gifford advises SEOs to shy away from using a “microscope” in their strategies, arguing instead that the focus should be on the “big picture”. This statement is only reinforced by the findings of Mihm’s survey.
Local SEO is not, nor has it ever been, based upon a single tactic. Recently, it seems like many business owners will read a post or watch a video, realize that they’re not utilizing the tactic mentioned, and immediately drop everything and concentrate on the shiny new object…A few years ago, you could rock some citations and do nothing else, and you’d still rank at the top of the map pack. Now, there might not even be a map pack for your vertical.
Google’s recent approach to local search has proven that single-tactic strategies do not work. Pigeon itself integrated a myriad of ranking factors into U.S. search rankings, and in the final week of 2014, Google rolled out Pigeon internationally, beginning with the UK, Canada, and Australia, and expanding to all English-speaking locales except India. The extensive roll-out of Pigeon is just one of several updates Gifford notes in his post that further demonstrate the continued evolution of local search we can expect to see in 2015.
Should we be concerned with the trajectory of local search in 2015? Probably not. By integrating more complex ranking signals into local search rankings, Google is forcing local SEO’s to avoid shortcuts and tunnel vision. Founder of Fuze SEO, and Yext Partner, Jon Clark, reminds us that, “Pigeon is a very SEO-friendly update. Because the update aims to align local search with traditional web search, many best practice SEO strategies still apply. On-page optimizations, link building, and a solid content strategy are strong ranking signals for all searches; these should be a key component of your local search strategy.” If anything, integrated local search rankings will help SEOs with their overall strategies.