Local Search Expert
- Jun 28, 2012
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Google Local Algo:
What Controls Ranking Order? Citations, Reviews or Organic?
What Controls Ranking Order? Citations, Reviews or Organic?
<img title="LocalSEO" src="http://marketing-blog.catalystemarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/LocalSEO.jpg" alt="" width="122" height="61" align="left" hspace="10" />With David Mihm's latest Local Search Ranking Factors soon to be published... (I think a sneak peek may be coming today) and with all the misconceptions floating around, I wanted to share my take on the Local Algo again - and prove it.
Back in 2011 I blogged that the blended algo was based primarily on ORGANIC ranking factors and and I've been saying it ever since. Here is one in a series of long posts I did about the algo back in June 2011 showing it. Tale of 2 Google Local Algorithms – Blended vs Places Ranking Factors Revealed.
Below I show you that it's still the ORGANIC algo that controls the ranking order.
There have been lots of posts lately about the new Local Carousel saying that reviews rule the ranking order. (Not true, as I'll attempt to prove below.) Plus there are lots of consultants and business owners that still think # of citations and reviews rules the ranking order OR they question why a listing that has lots of reviews is not ranking on top of the pack.
The BLENDED algo is all about pure organic ranking factors - NOT # of reviews or citations. At least that's usually true for the top 3 -4 listings in the "7 Pack". And we don't want to just get clients on page one - we want to get them in the top 3, right??? So the top 3 are the ones to beat. In order to beat them you need to understand why Google chooses them to be on top of the pack!
Below I'll show again, but even better than I did back in 2011, that organic rules, and show you how you can do the research yourself on your own client listings.
Since a pic is worth a thousand words, I'll drop the 1st screenshot with more explanation below it.
So to summarize what you are seeing above and understand it, follow top down on the RIGHT AOL SIDE which is pure organic. You'll see the top 3 organic are also the top 3 organic in Google search on the left. Sandwiched in are the top 3 local. A, B, C listings from regular Google search on the left are in the exact order they show up in pure organic on AOL search on the right. Even though A and C have zero or few reviews they rank higher than listings with lots more - because organic controls the ranking order.
Note: Some of the high ranking organic results that show on the AOL side, don't show in the pack and only show in Google organic search - usually due to some kind of problem on the Places side of the house. (Explained more below.)
But every listing in pure organic on the AOL (right) side is in the same exact order in Google search, it's just a matter of whether the listings qualify to show up in the pack or not.
SO THE CORRELATION IS...
The top 3 (or so) Google blended results in the 7 Pack, almost always match
the PURE ORGANIC ranking order which is what AOL search displays.
Top organic listings in AOL only show in Google organic and DON'T rank in the "Pack"
if there is a problem on the Places side. Usually one of the following: No Place page,
duplicate confusion, NAP mismatch, Places violations or outside the ranking radius.
But the search order for the top 3 or so listings in the "pack" almost always match up, which shows that it's the organic algo that controls ranking order...
Reviews and citations don't control who's in the top 3, organic factors do!
SEE ANOTHER EXAMPLE BELOW - But 1st let me explain more about the comparison you are looking at above, so you can do your own comparisons and ranking analysis.
EXPLANATION: AOL search which is what I used above, displays Google organic results. Startpage is another one I like better in some ways. There are others, but these 2 are the best and they all pull the same Google results - there are just a couple differences in display and options.
WHAT THESE TOOLS DO: They pull "PURE ORGANIC" search results from Google. These results have nothing to do with reviews, citations, maps, they are just pure organic.
Prove it to yourself. (So you have a baseline trust in what I'm telling you.) Search for something that does not have any local listings and not a lot of directory or commerce listings. "Pet Rock" is a good generic term. Use regular Google search for "Pet Rock" then do the same on AOL search and Startpage. You'll see the results are in the exact same order. (Occasionally there will be one out of place due to different data centers or because G did an algo update on live search that has not flowed out to custom search results yet or whatever.)
So as I explained and showed above. The ranking order for the top 3 in the "Pack" matches the ranking order in pure organic.
So in this example as well A, B, C perfectly match the pure organic ranking order.
Again reviews aren't the deciding factor. A, B, C only have a few. D & E have tons, yet are not on top.
Additionally as we saw in the 1st example, many of the high ranking organic sites on the right, didn't make it into the "Pack" due to a wide variety of issues, so they land in Google search as just organic listings.
NEED MORE PROOF? If you don't quite believe me or want to hear it direct from Professor Maps - you need to sort of read between the lines, but Mike allude to this in the comments of this post about authorship markup. See Mike's comments #26, #30 and #34. This also helps to explain why the # of blended organic results vary. I've been saying "usually the top 3 are based on organic" but it varies somewhat based on competition. Here are a couple short quotes from Mike:
"In any given blended pack results the first results (it could be anywhere from 1 to 7) are created by blending web content with the local results." "All the of the lower pinned results are “pure” map results NOT blended results. Thus to get an author photo it is necessary to have a blended result which occurs when you have a highly placed (as in the first web search results) web page AND a highly placed maps listing." "Google only blends at the start for any listing that is ranked high in both web and local… once it runs out of those it pushes the high ranking web results down in the SERPS and “backfills” with pure Local results. So depending on the niche there might be only 1 blended result but if more competitive there might be 7."
So now after reading Mike's comments, look at my screenshots again and see if it does not start to make more sense.
DISCLAIMER - There are over 300 ranking factors that go into the organic algo. And I can't remember how many used to go into the old "Places algo". Then everything got mashed together. Plus there numerous different of Google algos at any one time and they are constantly changing. So there is nothing you can point to that is always 100% consistent with Google Local.
So in some comparisons you run, using my methodology above, you'll find discrepancies due to different data centers or whatever. ALSO some markets are really hard to run this particular comparison for. One industry I've talked to Miriam about in her posts listed below, is Restaurants. That's largely because there are so many food review sites, local directories and strongly branded chains mucking up the pure organics that it's really hard to find the individual restaurant sites to try to cross match. And sometimes they don't match well, so maybe a little different algo or something?
If you do enough comparisons though, you'll see that what I am suggesting above is true MOST of the time. There are always search anomalies and glitches and updates in mid-rollout that can cause differences in any search comparison.
Bonus Tip - In my on-site Local SEO training in addition to covering what on-site factors Google LOVES for local that helps boost ranking. I also explain that using AOL Search or StartPage is a must for analyzing ranking problems and penalties. It helps you see if the ranking drop/problem is on the organic or Places side of the house. Some day if I get time I'll do a post, but this one is way too long to go into ranking troubleshooting here.
TO BE CONTINUED... I'm going to break this post off here and in part 2 right below I'll go into a little bit of ranking strategy and post some related links. Hang on, it's coming right up.