Note: This post is cross-listed from the Energy Circle PRO blog.
Local Search guru David Mihm provides an extraordinary service to all of us by annually compiling the most important Local Search Ranking Factors as assessed by a group of leading consultants and thinkers in the local field. Since no one really knows what the search engine algorithms are, and they’re changing constantly, one of the most reliable sources of information is a statistically vetted survey of experts. If there’s consensus amongst those living and breathing Local SEO every day, that’s probably as close to reality as you're going to get.
With virtually all of the Home Performance and Energy Efficiency contracting sector squarely in the category of "local business," there is much here to guide us. Here’s our summary of the most important takeaways for our industry:
That your business website is important is a pretty simple idea, we know. Though some have argued that the advent of Google Places has diminished the importance of individual sites, this year's Ranking Factors survey says otherwise. In fact, the experts judged the authority of the local business's website to have grown in importance from the prior year. Remember the fundamentals of an effective website and get a copy of our White Paper--Putting Your Website to Work.
At every one of my workshops you've heard me talk about how critical your Google Places page is. Keeping your Google Places page fresh is also increasingly important, so be sure to devote time to keeping your Places content fresh and generating buzz. Ask your happy customers for reviews, use the response feature to thank them, and keep feeding it with photos and videos.
Think of the local search ecosystem as massive data triangulation. One of the ways that Google establishes your company, brand and site as legitimate and authoritative is by looking for mentions of it in various online databases. The Ranking Factor report continues to support this as a critical tactic. Get your business listed on as many of these sites as you can--Hotfrog, Manta, Better Business Bureau, etc. You can never have too many mentions on other sites and directories.
You know the mantra: it should be easy for people on your website to contact you in multiple ways--phone, email, twitter. But it’s no longer just about the people; Google is looking too and matches this data with citations to confirm your existence. Your address and phone number should be prominently displayed, consistent, and crawlable (identificable by search engines).
One of the key findings in the survey is that Google favors businesses whose physical address matches the location of the original search. So, for example, a company located in Ann Arbor will tend to do better than one in an outlying town if the search term is "energy audit ann arbor." But what if your business operates in a service area with multiple cities and towns? This isn't addressed directly in the survey, and remains a big challenge for service area-based businesses such as those in the energy efficiency sector--something worth considering given that this factor ranked so highly in the survey. (Sales pitch: the Energy Circle PRO system has been built taking into account this challenge, and we provide coaching to our customers on how to work around the physical location bias.)
The number of reviews on your Google Places page continues to be a key ranking driver. But the do’s and don’ts may not be what you expect. According to the experts, the number of positive reviews (vs. negative) is not terribly important. Instead, encourage your customers to deliver more, consistent, and higher quality responses and try to keep a consistent flow of them over time. Yelp, Angie's List and others all get aggregated by Google Places, and your customers can use the Google Reviews tool as well.
Sleep is important, yes, but we’re not talking about a siesta here. As alluded to above, consistency among (N)ame, (A)ddress and (P)hone number data is critical and cannot be overstated. That means paying excruciating attention to seemingly little things--the use of parentheses, dashes, etc. Absolute consistency of how you display each of these is critical.
This isn't new to anyone with even a little knowledge of search engine optimization, but the fact that it remains in the Ranking Factors Top 10 things to focus on, should remain a kick in the butt for all of us. Remember that inbound links also drive traffic to your website, in addition to the fact that they are the "votes" that the search engines count to determine the authority of your site. One source of links is to engage with others in the home performance industry, but you should also work on developing relationships with local businesses, encourage subcontractors and other partners to link to your site, and make sure you’re listed with government offices and trade organizations. Remember, the quality and authority of links is often more important than the absolute quantity.
If you've done any searching for local businesses recently, I'm sure you've noticed Google's constant experimentation with Places (formerly Maps) intermixed with regular organic search results. This is what known as "blended" and is probably the most significant change to the local search landscape over the last year. Takeaway? It’s now essential to have a strong site and a strong Places page--they feed off of each other and serve to strengthen your position in search results.
If this post hasn't veered too far into the realms of search engine geekery for you, I'd strongly suggest taking a few minutes to scan David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors. He's a great information designer, so it's an easy and interesting scan. And there's much more to learn than what I've summarized here.