The release of Google Plus’s Local Search feature was to many websites a sign of a completely new era in local search engine marketing. One in which a commerce websites no longer had to compete with gigantic international ones for a high ranking in the SERP. All they had to do now was have a Google Places listing and be close to searcher.
Unfortunately, with the number of businesses doing just that, it’s not that simple. Ranking locally has become its own activity. And the signals can often be as ambiguous as many of Google’s general ranking factors.
Ratings are Not as Important as You’d Think
Many SEOs believed that the Zagat rating on the Google Places page was the key to ranking high in the Local results. It made sense within the context of a city guide trying to show you the best businesses but with negative SEO and the spam rich world of the internet, Google had no way of the knowing the real value of such ratings.
While the two factors often seem correlated, it’s also seen that low rated listing getting top rank. But the factors affecting it could be individual. As its part of the G+ network, Google may be valuing rating from members of your circle and ratings from popular users higher than general ratings.
Although overall, it seems ratings may not even be a direct ranking factor but rather just a complementing aspect. Similar to the SEM value of a compelling meta description.
Reviews are Often a Matter of Perspective
Reviews on the other hand, seem to follow a more traditional line of SEO, although still somewhat different. The keywords and links (although often nofollow) in the review has been seen to affect ranking in Google Local.
Search engine marketing specialists have speculated that it may be connected to Google’s AgentRank, which rates the credibility and value of authors on the web. Normal SEO factors such as Velocity (how often you get reviews) and Freshness (how recent the reviews are) also seem to figure into Google’s algorithm.
Other Factors Likely Affect Local Ranking
Many local search engine marketers have noticed many other factors affecting their ranking the Google+ Local results beyond rating and review interactions on your Places listing. These include:
* Clickthroughs to your site or Google+ page from your Places listing
* Requests for Google Maps or driving directions – this shows high buying intention
* Social connections on your G+ page
We’re not trying to say that ratings and reviews are redundant but rather that they complement your business listing rather than make it. It tells people that have found your listing already, the level of service quality they can expect from you. But ranking requires good old fashioned user interaction and keeping your content fresh and relevant.