More threads by DanLeibson


LocalU Faculty
May 17, 2013
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Hey Everyone,

I know some of you were interested in the actual presentation, so here is my 2016 Local SEO Ranking Factors deck from SMX Advanced:

2016 Local SEO Ranking Factors

If you like the Silicon Valley and data then you should like it! Also if you want to check out the full study you can find that here:

Local SEO Ranking Factors Study 2016 - Local SEO Guide


(Added by Linda)​

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Between that and the potentially diminished ability to get a client into the soon-to-be-2-pack, certainly makes it clear where the organic work needs to be at least. Shore up their local factors then hit organic heavy, if they get into the 3-pack for broader terms, awesome, if not, you'll still be getting pages in the organic SERPs at least.
In all honesty, organic traffic drives a greater ROI for our clients most of the time anyway. Even with great pack rankings. At the 10k foot level our engagements are structured something like this:

Website audit and project management of recommendations - > Getting local house in order (GMB and some citation consistency work) -> Link/content related stuff with maybe a break here or there for some citation building (generally vertical or geo specific).
Great Dan, thanks for sharing! Nice to know when I'm on the right track.

One thing I was curious about, I noticed that follower count was pretty high on the list. What are your thoughts on that? I would have expected it to not matter at all. Do you think it's just a correlation, and that high ranking businesses for other reasons also happen to have a lot of followers, or does getting more social engagement on your GMB page actually do something? Or am I misunderstanding, and that metric actually means something else entirely?
No I think you are spot on, I think it's based correlation. But things like Photos, Hours, Reviews etc I think do create some engagement with the page and the research that engagement/clicks -> increased rankings is pretty persuasive.
Thanks for the research and the article Dan. Great update. I've been working on local optimization since before google maps, the pacs, etc. So your telling us its sort of full circle...not completely....but basic organic components are VERY IMPORTANT. Back to links...but keep doing all the local "stuff" you've been doing for a while. BTW: I like your focus over time. Local/organic/local/organic. Get all the components on the site and getting in touch with google on all the components of the GMB.

Very helpful analysis. Great work
That is the best local study that our industry has produced to date. F&$@ing awesome dude!


I appreciate that it was void of talking head speculation. Rad dude!
Thanks Cody, that is awesome to hear! This has been a pet project of mine for years so I'm glad you find it useful.
Fabulous information. Thank you, Dan!

One thing that caught my attention was the appearance of "meta keywords" in the Categorical table, and that it was in the same level as HTTPS.

Does that refer to the use of the "keywords" meta tag? If so, do you interpret that as meaning that it is worthwhile to use that meta tag? For a long time it has seems like all the cool kids have been saying that using the keywords meta tag is useless.

Just trying to make sure I know what's going on. Thanks!
Fabulous information. Thank you, Dan!

One thing that caught my attention was the appearance of "meta keywords" in the Categorical table, and that it was in the same level as HTTPS.

Does that refer to the use of the "keywords" meta tag? If so, do you interpret that as meaning that it is worthwhile to use that meta tag? For a long time it has seems like all the cool kids have been saying that using the keywords meta tag is useless.

Just trying to make sure I know what's going on. Thanks!

Hey Tim,

Neither the keywords meta tag nor HTTPS correlated with better GMB performance.

It's been pretty well reported with anecdotal evidence that HTTPS migrations haven't necessarily helped sites rank better. We work with a lot of pretty big sites that have migrated to HTTPS since the announcement that it was a "ranking factor" and the results have been all over the place. Likely a much bigger deal in the top 1% of the top 1% of search queries.
Very interesting, and so much more trustworthy than the typical studies that we have relied on in the past "we asked 1,000 SEO's what they thought was important, and here is what they said" (which, have a value, but, this seems more scientific and useful)

Together with the study from last week about "on page SEO is dead" (which was derided, but, also acknowledged as pointing out some interesting data) - I think you have to really have to thinks that some long standing SEO tactics are no longer that important. . . and I think most of us know this, but, still yet, don't really acknowledge it For some of these tactics, it may be time to give up the ghost.

If there is a criticism about the study, is that it seems that it So many different variables about links, that it would skew the perception of the study.

There are so many variables about the quality and number of links. While this is very important to help us understand how links work, and what kind of links to get, how to get them etc. . . when you are comparing tactics, and variables, to have 3-4x variables for one broad tactic, it can skew the perception of results.

So, while there at least 20 link variables, there are like 5 citations variables (rough estimate, because I'm too lazy to count), and when you present that in the chart, it can't help but show that "WOW LINKS ARE IMPORTANT". When really many of those variables (while important), are repetitive for the purposes of comparing tactics.

Reduce that chart by 15 link variables, and I think the intrepretation is less stark.
Thanks for the feedback!

Just to be clear, the amount of factors of each type have zero bearing on if they correlate with better GMB performance or not. While there are lots of link metrics that do correlate, there are lots of crappy link metrics that don't either.

I'm not sure I agree with the sentiment that the link metrics aren't relevant for comparing tactics. The highly correlating link metrics are across a wide variety of things like:

Link volume
Link diversity
Link anchor text

as well as several sub-sects of those all correlate with positive search performance. To me, that makes it much easier to say something like Links are the main competitive difference maker in GMB.

Meanwhile there are lots of junk link metrics like:

Edu/Gov domains etc

Which show that specific type of volume or diversity in links is irrelevant.

It would be easy to cherry pick and leave things out to tell a compelling narrative, but to me that damages the integrity of what I wanted to accomplish.
Thanks Dan - I do think the study is great. . .

I think my feedback is misunderstood.

I'm not saying that the amount of measured data points for links correlates at all to GMB rank. What I am saying is, putting 20+ link data points in a chart, and comparing them to only 5 citation data points could cause some wrong conclusions. It makes it look like the top SEO items are overwhelming link based, when the other factors are important too. I realize, that the goal of the chart was not to compare links to citations, and there is an overall ton of information in it, and useful for so many purposes.

We have sooo many metrics that measure "links" (# of subdomains, # of .edu, keywords in title tags, etc) and all of these are great and important to know, but, if you want to compare the overall worthiness of links vs. citations it is a bit skewing to have so many more link variables vs. citation variables.

I'm not saying that there was any attempt to mislead in any way. What I am saying is, a major conclusion of the study is the importance of organic factors and links, and the superiority of links to citations. As a person that wanted to learn more about this, when you look at the ordinal factors chart, it doesn't make the citations vs. Links comparsion easy because there are so many more link variables. I realize that wasn't the goal of the chart, it was just how I used it.

A good chart to see would be one that compared three link metric variables, with three very similar citation variables. That would be more illustrative for that one point about links/citations.

I guess this seems a bit nit picky, and it is a great and valuable study that was sorely needed.
@Hoosier - One of the reasons that studies like this are challenging for those of us without a background in dealing with data, is because when it comes to statistics, common sense often isn't all that useful. There's a famous problem called the Monty Hall problem that was kind of amusing. The problem goes, you're on a game show, and there are 3 doors, one of which has a car and the other two have goats. You pick the door with the car and you win. So you pick a door, then the host opens one of the other doors, showing it has a goat behind it. So now the car is either behind your first guess, or the other door. The host then asks you, if you want to change your guess.

Do you stand a better chance to win the car if you switch, or if you stick with your first guess?

The answer is you've got a 66% chance of winning if you switch, and only a 33% if you stick with your first guess. Most people think it's 50/50, and they're so sure of it even it takes some painstaking proofs to make them even question their assumptions, much less intuitively understand why this answer is correct.

Making conclusions about which of two categories is 'better' from a bunch of small data points sounds like a non-trivial task to me. I'm not saying your gut instinct isn't worth anything, but given that statistics is a formal field of study, you should probably look at your gut feeling more like a hypothesis. "If you were to ask if citations on the whole are more or less important than backlinks, how would you prove that given the data available?" Sounds like a question for one of Dan's statisticians. In fields like math and programming, when someone comes in to solve problems with 'common sense' you usually end up with something called the 'naive solution'. Taking 3 similar data points from each sounds like not the right way to solve that problem to me. I'll leave it to the statisticians to decide which of us is correct though, statistics can get intense (one of my best friends is a data scientist, and we've had some interesting conversations) and it's not my field.

For what it's worth though, it seems like that question's already been pretty clearly answered. Citations are important and worth paying attention to, but they're almost in the same category as on-site and GMB optimization. Something to be done once, before the long, gradual, most important work of backlink building.
This was an excellent study and I was excited to hear about it in-person at SMX last week!

Dan, if you guys ever include branded searches I'd be curious to see how the factors differ :)
Dan, if you guys ever include branded searches I'd be curious to see how the factors differ :)

Just for you I will see about getting a small set in for 2017. The problem is most branded searches return one boxes versus packs so there isn't really anything to measure, but I can think of a few (besides insurance agents) that might yield some interesting small scale results.

If Links were a high school. The would have a championship banner in the gym. One for every year since the Internet started.

And reviews are how you steal all the clicks and conversions. No need for awesome meta descriptions. No need to be 1st organic position. Just get more GOOGLE and YELP reviews.

Why does everyone get so hung up on citations? Forget about how much weight they carry or don't carry. They are easy to do. Childs play. You need to do more as a consultant or agency than citations. Doing killer citations does not make anyone move SEO needles. They are part of the game. Like having a website.

A business with 100 plus Google reviews and 25 plus Yelp reviews has f@$jing insane click through rates, time on site, repeat visits, HIGH conversion rates. And LOW bounce.

They outperform other sites on every metric. Like Labron playing a high school student.

Clean citations don't tell me s@$t about a business.

I also appreciate that this is the first study that I've read where domain age was acknowledged. A huge factor that can move the needle imo. How? Buy old domains and place them on the local business.
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Having read Cody's comments above, having read the report, and having been working on links for over a decade......and being the smb('s) which means talking to the leads and the customers I have to add one thing:

We are getting more contacts....both by phone and by form...wherein the people/leads aren't really spending time on the website. Sometimes they are not on the site at all. They see every piece of info on the knowledge box and they just might call.

On an anecdotal basis I get more and more of those phone calls. Is this a universal trend? I don't know, but I know for two utterly different kinds of services I'm getting more of those calls or when I get back to a lead and I ask if they saw the information on the site the answer is NO!!!!

In various industries with regard to changes such as the knowledge box or all sorts of "editorial commentary" sites I see more and more evidence of this.

Specifically search on 20 or 30 terms relative to hotels in a city: cheap hotels, luxury hotels, 4 star hotels, etc etc.

Look at the results. Outside of the 3 pac...which also opens up to direct bookings and eliminates traffic to the site there are HARDLY any examples of organic results. The bigger the city the fewer the organic results for the hotels.

All of which leads to less direct traffic!!!!

Boom!!!! Take it back to what Cody said with regard to conversions.

On Click through rates...well that is an adwords discussion. Can't calculate that for organics. But conversions/ conversions. Its where you need to look at the actions.

At least IMHO.
So speaking of links. How many hours/money would you say is a good budget monthly for a link building campaign? I know typically good link building is expensive and I was talking to a client the other day who wanted to understand why and I told her that it was because it's done in stages, all of which take several hours and it's not until the 3rd stage where you actually see results.

These are the 3 stages I described

1. Coming up with the idea - finding a good piece of content to create, doing the research on why anyone would care to link to it, why it's better than what is out there etc.

2. Creating the thing that needs to be linked to (whether this is an article, page, study, survey, infographic etc)

3. Reaching out to people to link to it.

So I'll throw in a second question. Along with how much you think a good budget is (we bill by the hour so money = time), how many people would you say you have to outreach to to make a link building campaign successful?

These are all very generic questions and I realize it varies based on specifics, I just figured the link-lovers like Cody and Dan might have some great insights ;)

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