Local SEO Ranking Factors 2021: a Different Way to Look at Them

I’m attending the Local Search Summit, and I have to say I am very impressed. First, the technology that they are using for the live sessions is really awesome. It’s just super easy and a breeze to find a session, add it to your calendar, and “show up” when you want to hear it. By the time you read this, it will probably be over. That said, I attended Darren Shaw‘s keynote, which was a preview of the “local SEO ranking factors for 2020 / 2021.”Local SEO Ranking Factors: a Different Way to Look at Them

I don’t see my role as the same as the speakers in these types of conferences; most of them are masters of esoterica, of one or of a very narrow set of digital marketing elements. I think of myself as a popularizer; as a person who takes knowledge on digital marketing (SEO, Social Media Marketing, and Google Ads / advertising) and helps DIYers and small business owners and marketers to “get the job done.” Sometimes “less is more,” and so I think it goes with “Local SEO Factors.”

Video: Local SEO Ranking Factors 2021


The presentation (soon to be available as a full blog post) went over the major factors here. There is always the temptation to provide a huge list… literally hundreds of factors.  But, reading a bit between the lines, I think you can look at just a few factors that are relevant to ranking a local business, and focus primarily on those. I would argue that most of us can safely ignore the micro factors, and I think the “elephant in the room” is how to use online advertising in combination with local SEO.

Let’s get started.

What is Local SEO?

Basics matter. So what is local SEO? I would define local SEO as the art and science of getting your company to rank in the top position either a) in the “local pack” and/or b) in the local organic results for a local search. For example, a search for a Brownsville Texas accident attorney generates both types or results. A local accident attorney such as https://jvlawfirm.net/ appears at the top of the local pack and then lower down on at least page one of the local Google results.  Similarly, a search for Dallas Probate Lawyers generates both the local pack and localized organic results.  Companies such as Dallas Probate Attorneys.com compete to rank in either or both positions.  Thus the game of “local” SEO is to influence Google so that your relevant company shows near the top.

Local SEO Ranking Factors

Local SEO ranking factors are those factors that have been distilled by experts through research and trial-and-error to influence these. Some, such as whether your company is nearby to the searcher – called “proximity to the searcher” – can NOT be influenced, and merely emphasize that a vendor that ranks well in one zip code, may not rank well in just the next zipcode. You can use tools like MobileMoxie or the Google Ads Preview Tool to “see” whether you rank… or you can get in your car and literally drive around town. So, “proximity to the searchers” – matters, but you can’t do anything about it (other than move your physical office or open new ones).

Next, you get to many factors you CAN influence. Some are more important than others, but here I start to disagree with the local cognoscenti – it really doesn’t matter if a factor is #1 or #2 or #3, what matters is how easily can you influence it in a positive direction. Here are a few that I think are easy to influence and ones you should definitely optimize for your local business –

  1. Google My Business category. Of course, you must claim your Google My Business listing. Next, choose the most appropriate “master” category and a few closely related “subordinate categories.” Don’t overstuff this, but definitely choose more than one.
  2. Keywords in Your Business Name. This one is a bit spammy, but businesses that include the “keyword” in their name as in “probate attorney” for a “Dallas probate attorney” law firm, or “Sushi” for a Tulsa Sushi restaurant will often outrank more robust business listings. I’m not saying be spammy, but there is a LOT of value in having a keyword-heavy name if you can pull it off.
  3. Links to your Business. This helps both with local SEO (“local pack”) and organic (“organic listing”), so by all means engage in link-building, especially “local” link building – that is join local organizations, work with local business partners, and otherwise work on links from keyword-relevant, and local businesses.
  4. Keywords in Customer Reviews. The review count (raw #1 of reviews), velocity and age (more reviews, newer reviews) matter a LOT.  I am surprised at how little press this factor gets, because most local businesses can do a LOT to influence this. Create an active review solicitation strategy – it can be as easy as asking happy customers for a review, or as complex as using a vendor such as Gather Up. You can’t easily get customers to include relevant keywords in their reviews, but try. In a good, above-board, non-spammy way such as “please mention that we are a PLUMBER” in your review, for example. Related to this your star average. Here’s a shocker! Customers prefer businesses with many reviews, and many four or five star reviews to those with few reviews or low-star scores. So get some HAPPY customers to review you!

Those are four or five key factors that will influence whether you rank. But next, you need to go to “traditional” SEO issues. Aspects such as whether your keywords are in your TITLE tags (including city names), whether your content spits back the keywords you want to rank for, whether you have an active blog… all the “traditional” SEO factors are at play as well, especially with respect to the local organic listings. So traditional SEO isn’t something you can ignore.

Advertise on Google: the Dirty Little Secret of Local SEO

Finally, and here is where people get too compartmentalized I think. You can spend hours and hours and dollars and dollars working on your “organic” SEO efforts for both the local pack and organic results. And I am all for that. Yes! You should work hard on your local SEO efforts. But, there are ads, too. Google has worked hard to force us all to advertise. A common strategy is to take a short tail like “probate lawyer” or “accident attorney” or “plumber” and advertise ONLY on phrase match or exact match in and around your business. New ad formats such as Google Ads local service ads are now available in key cities and key categories. They are “crowding out” the organic / SEO-based listings. So you can’t just focus on the free SEO things. You need also to focus on high ROI paid opportunities. I have many clients who do both. Do local SEO and do local Google Ads, especially on short tail, high value / high volume searches. It’s Google’s world. We just live in it. So ignore advertising at your peril.

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About Jason McDonald

Jason McDonald is a top-rated San Francisco SEO Consultant. His consulting services include search engine optimization consulting, social media marketing consulting, and Google AdWords consulting. Jason's motto as a consultant is that he doesn't do SEO 'for you' but rather he does SEO 'with you.' That goes as well for his social media marketing consultant activities and Google AdWords consultant services. Besides serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jason consults with clients in Silicon Valley (San Jose), Oakland and other cities throughout the Bay Area. Beyond the Bay Area, Jason is available as an SEO consultant, Social Media Consultant, and as an expert witness in litigation involving social media marketing, search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising.