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The REAL Ranking Factors for Local Search

Posted on: February 28th, 2012 by Cody Baird 3 Comments

Google Inside Search Update

The REAL Ranking Factor for Local Search

Yesterday Google  announced 40 search updates on its official Google Search Blog.  3 of the announcements were related to local searches so I thought I would discuss one of those changes in this post.  I have personally noticed some of the effects of these changes for months now throughout various client accounts and research.  Even though the announcement just happened, these changes have been taking place for quite some time now.

Improvements to ranking for local search results

“Improvements to ranking for local search results. [launch codename “Venice”] This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.”

Google is implying here that rankings the Local Algorithm will be influenced more by the traditional organic algorithm.  This shouldn’t come as a big surprise.  The first signal of this would have been Google introducing the Blended Algorithm and Blending results back in 2010.

Since the introduction of blended results many Local SEO experts have questioned, speculated, blogged, discussed why some queries trigger Local results and others trigger Blended results.  In some cities “dentist” triggers pure local results and other cities “dentist” triggers a blended result.  Why? The most common speculation is that it is random, that Google was trying or testing the algorithms.

#1 Ranking Factor – Centroid

Trying to understand why I did some research throughout 2011.  I picked 75 US cities with populations of 250,000 +.  I then scraped 15 points of data from the “A” position and the “G’ position in the search results.  I calculated the distance from centroid (geographical city center), volume of total citations, volume of Google reviews, volume of 3rd party reviews, , exact match geo modifier in url (example:, exact match product/service modifier in url (example:,  exact match geo modifier in business title (Example: Salt Lake City Legal Associates), exact match product/service modifier in business title (Example: Salt Lake City Legal Associates).  I also tracked the Name, Address, Phone (NAP) consistency score as provided by Yext as well as Getlisted’s  tool.

The results were discouraging.  Why?  Because I found that the businesses winning were simply those closest to the centroid.  Period. Paragraph.  Bottom line, if you are a dentist that is outside a 1.98 mile radius from the city center – you wouldn’t be ranking in the 7 pack of a major city.  The average “A” position dentist was located 1.67 miles from the centroid.

Yes there were and are exceptions to the rule.  But there you have the spoiler alert.

Why improvements have been made to the Local Algorithm

I am fairly confident that Google is aware that the centroid has created an unfair advantage for businesses that don’t necessarily deserve the rankings that they had been achieving.  This why Google has been slowly moving toward more traditional ranking factors like page authority and domain authority that are used the organic algorithm.

The truth about what triggers a Blended Result

I will also let another cat out of the bag.  While many other Local SEO’s were and are speculating if blended results or local results were random, I found that you can force a blended result.  How?  If a small business did not or does not currently rank in the pure local results (their location is too far from the centroid for example) was to strengthen their domain/page authority – results can be changed to Blended for that query.  Why?  Because the Blended results algorithm relies more heavily on on traditional organic factors (linking root domains for the website), and the centroid is less of a factor for queries that are blended.  This is why we have seen more and more queries moving to Blended results from Pure Local results.

Ultimately, as more local business improve their domain authority we will see that citation building and cleaning up NAP will be less and less influential and domain authority and page authority will become more and more necessary if you want to ride high on the 1st page.

So if your frustrated with not getting into the 3 pack or a 7 pack and you just can’t seem to get there no matter how many citations the business gets or how amazingly clean your NAP consistency is – Go beef up your link profile and watch what happens.

Why the Change is Great

  1. Lame SEO’s that only build up or clean up citations won’t have an offering in the future.  ”SEO’s” that don’t have a strong natural link building strategy will struggle to get any results for their clients.
  2. Lame local business that don’t even have a website or haven’t even claimed their places page that are winning because of the Centroid will lose rankings and dominant positions.
  3. Local businesses with a natural link building strategy and content strategy will win and get the rankings they deserve.
  4. SEO’s with successful natural link building strategies will win in the Local SEO game.

The Take Away

Google also said yesterday that it is getting rid of a link evaluation signal that it’s been using for years.

Link evaluation. We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.

A link evaluation signal that’s been used for years is now turned off? This one’s sure to prompt a lot of discussion and speculation.  What will happen next………

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In 2011, I founded, a firm specializing in local search marketing and local brand strategy. Local SEO, search marketing, SEO, conversion optimization, local brand development and messaging.

My role as President involves recruiting and managing our marketing and sales teams. Leading the product/strategic vision and evangelizing local search, local brand strategy, search marketing, and

To relax I read on a variety of subjects, go golfing, hiking, running, & anything outdoors.

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