Video: Deep Dive into the Local Search Ranking Factors with David Mihm

This week's deep dive video takes a look at David Mihm's recently released Local Search Ranking Factors. This is the sixth installment of our Deep Dive Into Local series, for the week ending 9/25/15. David Mihm is back from England and joined Mary Bowling and Mike Blumenthal to talk about the previous week in local. The complete video is posted in the Local U forums (paywall).

Mike: Let's move on to the deep dive for this week. The big news, at least in our industry from a deep dive perspective, is the Local Search Ranking Factors, David's annual effort at assessing opinion about what things drive rank. David, maybe you could ... the question I have always asked you is really what are we surveying in the survey?

David: Right. We're surveying experts' opinion on what they would focus on if they were working with a small business on improving local search results. That's really, I think, the goal of the survey. The high-level takeaway really, in my opinion anyway, is that the algorithm is definitely maturing. Most people said the trends were definitely towards quality, authority, those sorts of things, and less about quantity and more easily-gamed signals. I think that that's really the big takeaway that I saw. Mary, I don't know. You were certainly a key participant. Did you have a different read on what you saw going on?

Mary: No. I think, just like you do, that Google's algorithm has matured so much that they're doing a pretty good job of mirroring the real world now. I think that the upshot of that is that we have to stop focusing so much on what we're doing to satisfy Google, step back, and try to become prominent within our own market area. Then, that will be reflected online and help our rankings.

Mike: I think one of the things, the point you made initially that it's the opinion of practitioners, is important to make. It's not some sort of independent measurement of Google's rank factors.

David: Right.

Mike: It's what practitioners found worked for them. In that sense, it's crowdsourced information, which is valuable to see what other people are moving towards. Did you feel that it -- I know Mary and I have talked about this a lot and you and I have talked about it a lot: Google is getting better at assessing in terms of real world things, articles, news reports. Did you feel that the survey reflected what we've talked about the last couple of weeks in terms of that?

David: Yes. I think that's a really good point to bring up. I certainly feel that, personally and in my own survey response, I weighted those kinds of factors pretty heavily, especially in competitive markets. I don't know that the rest of the survey participants have either discovered or experimented with that stuff yet. I think the folks in our Local U faculty circle, guys like Darren Shaw and Mike Ramsey and those folks, they were more likely to say that those -- what I asked about were unstructured citations and locally relevant citations and those sorts of things. Those mattered more relative to the broader group that I surveyed.

Mike: You're saying, in general, you think there's a shift from importance of structured versus unstructured-type citations.

David: I think so. I guess how I described it in a few recent presentations is that the structured aspect now is just table stakes. If you don't have it, you can be chasing your tail for years with unstructured and reviews and all those things. If you don't have the fundamental kernel of clean, structured data on your own site and on the aggregators and important other sites, you're not going to show up, period.

Nowadays, almost everyone has that -- or a significant enough number of businesses have that -- where Google shows those by default. It's what are the other things that you're doing to differentiate yourself against your competitors in your local market. That generally is we think -- Mary and I think, and others in our group think, that Google is rewarding those quality mentions on local news sites, local chambers of commerce, prominent blogs in your area, those sorts of things. I personally have seen that I think with some of the research that you've done with the keyword relevance within Google Maps based on news mentions of places. I've certainly seen that impacting results. I'm not sure that the broader group has quite gotten there yet.

Mike: There was an interesting attribute mentioned in the ranking of entities patent that I it Brenda Starr wrote about?

Mary: Barbara.

Mike: Barbara Starr, yes, I think on Search Engine Land. In that patent, Google mentions not just reviews from review sites but professional reviews, for example of restaurants, movies, and theater events, where they're now perhaps more trusted or a trusted source. That kind of coverage where you're getting a review in a professional environment might start coming into play more.

David: Right. That makes perfect sense to me relative to what we're seeing in the actual search today. If you look at the sites primarily that are ranking organically for local intent keyword searches, yes, you have Yelp and TripAdvisor and really high-end brands as review sites. Then, the sites beneath that, or mixed in there, are generally your local "going out" magazine if you're looking for the top 12 restaurants in Portland or whatever. It's OregonLive's rating of restaurants showing up highly organically. I think that those are the sites that Google's now rewarding with their organic algorithm in 2015, compared to 2008, 2009, the sites that were ranking were these longer tail, horizontal directories. Even from that very basic "here's what we can see algorithmically" perspective, you would think you'd want to shift your efforts into trying to get more exposure on these local professional review sites as opposed to the horizontal industry-type review sites.

Mary: Yeah, I definitely agree. The other thing that was quite interesting is overall the effect that we saw for, I think, the localized organic rankings links didn't jump up very high, but the overall effect of links did jump quite a bit. That, I guess, is explained because with localized that happened last year with Pigeon. Now overall, everybody thinks they need to emphasize good incoming links more. Personally, I don't think that the links have any more of an influence. I just think that because the local pack shrank down to three places that that is probably why most people are thinking they're more important now.

Ranking-factorsMike: Like we've talked in the past, link building needs to become more organic marketing-event driven or article driven so that the links aren't links bought or links begged but they are earned links due to some activity on the part of the business. I think that's an important distinction. The idea of buying links, getting reviews, you just end up focusing on the right thing when Google is trying and succeeding at moving towards real world metrics.

Mary: However, technically some of the links that you get for sponsoring, for donating, you're paying for those links.

Mike: Right. They may be -- I think Google may be discounting those also as well. What else? Anything else on this? Do we want to wrap with a discussion of our upcoming events?

David: Sure. I'll just throw in one quick thing, which is behavioral signals jumped up the biggest amount this year, primarily click-through rate, especially in competitive markets. I think this is a hard thing to actually test empirically on a day-to-day basis for your clients. Rand's done some work. Darren Shaw's done some work around the effect of click-through rate. Phil Rozek mentions potentially time on site post click, those sorts of things. I think those signals are absolutely playing a bigger role today. I think with the -- I'll say "scary" -- ability for Google to detect location on Android, and for those iOS Google Maps app users, I even think that the closest proxy they can get for closing a sale in terms of an in-store visit following a search, I think that all of that stuff is starting to get tracked. I see behavioral signals definitely moving up this year and in future years.

Mary: Agreed.

Mike: Mary, do you want to give a summary of the two events we have coming up, three events actually, Dallas October 15th and then Williamsburg and Local in Seattle.

Mary: We're doing a Dallas small business event on October 15th. We're hoping to have about a hundred people there. It's going to be not an all-day event, I don't think, but three-quarters of a day. We'll do our normal teaching, and then we have some workshops in the afternoon with Google. Anybody else putting on workshops, Mike?

Mike: We're doing some group site clinics, and then I think some folks from DFW-SEM are doing some lunchtime one-on-one site clinics. It should be an interesting day.

Mary: Right. Then, February 18th and 19th, Moz is putting on MozCon Local. Local U is going to be part of that putting on some hands-on tactical workshops the day before the keynote touch-style speeches. David, Mike Ramsey, Ed Reese and I will be there. Darren Shaw will be there. We encourage you all to come. This is your opportunity to actually sit down and talk one-on-one with all of us and ask any questions you might have and also talk to the fellow attendees, who are a bunch of brilliant people.

David: For sure. That's what impressed me the most about our LocalUp event, I think, last year. The level of attendee at that event was incredibly high. I think the learning opportunities from your peers are pretty impressive at that event.

Mary: Most definitely. Then, March 6th or 5th?

Mike: March 5th.

Mary: March 5th, it's a Saturday, we're going to put on our flagship annual event where it's just us. We're in an enclave. We're going to be in colonial Williamsburg which is exciting for me because there's a lot of historical stuff to see around there.

Mike: It's a beautiful hotel, and it's only $99 a night for the hotel. Actually, when you count the hotel cost, it's going to end up being an inexpensive weekend for folks.

Mary: Right. We usually do a mixer the night before so we get to know everybody before the event. I think that really helps with the flow during the day. People get over being shy. Again, it's the attendees. I learn as much from them I'm sure as they learn from me.

Mike: This is going to be a more intimate event. I think probably 60 people plus the full Local U staff, David, Mary, myself, Mike. Ed, Aaron, Will, Scott, as well as hopefully some guest speakers. The agenda for that will be out in a couple of weeks. Right now, you can get a pre-agenda ticket for $499 at With that, I think this is a wrap for This Week in Local. Thank you very much. Good seeing you again, David.

David: Thank you guys.

Mike: We will talk again next week.

David: All right, sounds good.

3 Responses to “Video: Deep Dive into the Local Search Ranking Factors with David Mihm”

  1. One more comment….for the road, folks.

    With regard to quality/professional reviews….it might surface as something important, but I’d suggest that google might just insert other types of elements into the local serps:

    Case in point. Go to CBS local. There are currently 29 different “markets”/cities/ regions. Go to any site. Try as an example.

    Scroll to the bottom of the page. There is a blue area on the bottom. Click on ANY category in the Top Spots list. Any one. Go to the list of articles.

    Take a look at the articles. Don’t they look similar??? Every article is formatted exactly the same. They are short articles with a short lead and then references to different smb’s or services in the metro region.

    Okay. Starting in late 2011 or 2012 these articles were flying out of each market on the CBS site. At the time all the pages were replete with adsense.

    The articles were all written by “no name” journalists and all of the same type. Stylistically identical.

    Now if you were to go to almost any major city, the major “professional reviewer” in most cities is connected to the major newspaper site in the metro region. Yes, different TV reviewers had followings, but mostly the major professional reviewers were connected to the newspapers.

    Now here is the catch. Search on city and service or smb vertical for the topic of the story. Today, a lot of these articles have dropped in ratings, but for a year or two they ALL ranked at or near the top of serps. All of them in every city/region.

    You can speak to quality, “professionalism, trust, etc. Since these articles were sitting at the top of serps in every market for every one of these phrases/ or for searches with just (service/city)…..I think it was a “deal”. It had nothing to do with quality.

    It seems the “deal” has passed. A lot of the cbslocal pages no longer highlight adsense ads. It probably had a limited life.

    As to the survey: I’ve always been a “links” person, and some time ago it was revealed to me and I saw some examples of big jumps via huge volume “unstructured citations”….but they had to be huge volume.

    I suppose things are moving along…although those google pages are replete with ads these days. Its tough to be seen.

  2. It was really helpful and will be for everyone reading. It’s now really a cut-throat competition for ranking on local 3-pack but I strongly believe the fundamentals will remain same. Importance of GMB listing, consistent structured and unstructured NAP, positive reviews and authority links, are not going to change.

    Soumya Roy

  3. Thanks David, Mike, and Mary 🙂

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