More threads by HoosierBuff

Dec 12, 2013
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Here is a search for "car accident lawyer" in 08225 (NJ). any reason why these three out of town show up in the organic 1-3? (#1 is Florida, #2 is NC, #3 is Virginia). When I do similar searches in other areas, these don't show up at all. I can kind of get why the Organic may be the same nationally, but, when it changes for different locations, and doesn't seem to correlate to the local area, it boggles my mind. The below the map organic seems so random.

Whoa, @HoosierBuff. That is crazy. I was able to recreate that with a search (probably would see the same thing in the AdWords ad preview & diagnosis tool, too).

I can see why the 1st organic result - a mostly-informational blog post - might be somewhere in the mix, even though the firm that put it out isn't local. The other two results puzzle me, though.
My theory: backlinks.

Using the SEMrush backlink gap tool to count the number of backlinks:

#1 Local Pack: 3.6k

#1 Organic: 3.1M
#2 Organic: 31k
#3 Organic: 118k

I read something recently from Darren Shaw in which he opined that in 2018, what really set the leaders apart from the rest were reviews and backlinks. (These two are the big "difference makers".)

This jives with my personal experience. When an out-of-town business tops the organic results, I've found that they tend to have an enormous number of backlinks. Search for "massage" in any Ontario city and I'm willing to bet that you'll find Massage Addict (a chain) at or near the top of the organic results. And I'm also willing to bet that their site has more backlinks than anyone else in the SERPs.

That raises another point: backlink quality vs. quantity. There's lots of discussion across industry forums and blogs about whether or not we should bother disavowing toxic links. Google's public-facing figures are talking about how Google is getting good at ignoring them. (Here's a good read on Penguin.) (More recently, here is John Mu RE: ignoring .edu links, which were, historically, the Holy Grail of backlinks). Google claims to be getting better at recognizing (and devaluing) toxic links and low-quality links.

In this particular case, the #1 rank in the organic listings has 3.1M backlinks! Of course, they're not all "quality". It's easy to find spammy links. E.g. The firm commented "Very neat post.Thanks Again. Keep writing." on a Japanese blog which appears to be an overview of the book "Murder on the Orient Express" Next to the comment, of course, is a link to their "truck accident attorneys" page. The link is spammy, by any measure, but whether or not it passes any PageRank to the business's domain is the real question.

Maybe within the 3.1M backlinks, there are a bunch of "quality" links. Or maybe 3.1M "spammy" links pass little PageRank individually but a significant amount when all summed. It's easy to find examples of people arguing both sides of the quality/quantity debate. Either way, this reinforces my belief in the importance of backlinks.
Thanks Stefan . . very interesting.

I did some more research and learned a few things:

1. Those guys show up below the maps across the country (I checked like 20 zip codes), they consistently rank in the top 20.

2. They rank better when the local competition isn't as strong (punch in a rural, or not major city zip code, and they are closer to the top - in bigger cities the competition is better and they are on page 2).

#2 is interesting: No doubt they rank better in Petoskey, Michigan, because there isn't any competition. What was interesting is that in the suburbs of major cities they do better to (local competition does worse). I wonder how much of that is, when Google does an organic search in <Suburb of major city> nobody is optimizing for that term in title tags or page content because they all want to rank in <major city> - and thus, Google doesn't see anything as relevant.

I'm going to try to test it by optimizing for the suburb and see what we get.
@Stefan Somborac, you're probably right. I wonder about two things, though: (1) lots of attorneys and law firms have pages with tons of links, and (2) those two pages in the SERPs still aren't relevant to what is in this case a local search term.
@Phil Rozek 1.) True enough: lots of law firms do have tonnes (clunky Canadian spelling) of links. A response in two parts:

a.) Follow those three links. You'll see that they don't take you to the home page but rather, a deeper page, with some textbook optimization for the keyword "car accident lawyer". That exact phrase appears in the page title, h1 and an h2 heading. It's also in 2 of the 3 URLs. (The third uses "/accident-attorney/car-accidents/".) Note that the URLs you see in the SERPs aren't always what you get. Bottom line: those pages were created to be found for that specific search.

b.) The anchor text of many of the backlinks is optimized for "car accident lawyer". In fact, one site has a backlink from the domain using the anchor text "hire a car accident lawyer"! (Impressive!) And in cases where the anchor text is just the URL, well, that too is optimized for the keyword "car accident lawyer".

So, between the page content and the anchor text of the backlinks pointing to those pages, Google is obviously pretty confident that those pages are relevant for the search "car accident lawyer". (I suppose these days it's relevant page + site E.A.T.)

2.) We all know the 3-pack/local finder is different from the organic rankings. And I'm sure we've all seen a 3-pack where one of the listed businesses didn't have a website. No website means no backlinks, which I read as an important (but still confusing) clue about how the 3-pack is determined. Or, at least it shows you that you can get in the 3-pack with no backlinks whatsoever.

Getting to the top of the organic rankings, however, appears to be more influenced by backlinks. There's a good reason I mentioned the chain "Massage Addict" previously. I have a client whose massage therapy clinic is at the top of the 3-pack (for the keyword "massage" and for a search done in the same postal code as the clinic) but is second in organic to "Massage Addict".

My client has about 40 good backlinks. Massage Addict has about 12k. (No comment on their "quality".) And Massage Addict dominates organic results around Ontario, even in cities where they don't have a location.

I'd be happy to have @JoyHawkins weigh in. In another thread about backlinks Joy commented that Sterling Sky was able to get good rankings for clients without doing any (or much?) backlink building. My question: 3-pack/local finder rankings only? Or, also getting good organic listings for lawyers without tonnes of backlinks?

Ooof... that post is way too long...
@Phil Rozek In another thread about backlinks Joy commented that Sterling Sky was able to get good rankings for clients without doing any (or much?) backlink building. My question: 3-pack/local finder rankings only? Or, also getting good organic listings for lawyers without tonnes of backlinks?

One word on that: getting some good rankings without any link-hustling can be very doable, and sometimes pretty easy, depending on 3 things: (1) the niche, (2) the specificity of the search term, and (3) how well the business is doing on links already. For very competitive search terms, at least the domain - if not the specific page - needs some good links.
One word on that: getting some good rankings without any link-hustling can be very doable, and sometimes pretty easy, depending on 3 things: (1) the niche, (2) the specificity of the search term, and (3) how well the business is doing on links already. For very competitive search terms, at least the domain - if not the specific page - needs some good links.

Nicely written @Phil Rozek. One word on your one word, included on the odd chance that anyone else is following this thread:

SEO is a matter of competition. For one business (or page) to rise in the ranks, another has to be displaced.

Yes, that's so obvious and simple I can practically hear people rolling their eyes as they read it. But I find it to be a useful guide in my thinking.

And it speaks to your points. It may be hard (or easy) to rank in a particular niche or for a particular search term because of the level of competition.

When speaking with clients I use the analogy of locking a bicycle. You don't have to have Fort Knox level security, your bicycle just needs to be better locked than the others in the bike rack.

In local, your SEO doesn't have to be world class, it just has to be better than your local competition.
I 100% agree that backlinks would be the main cause of these. I think Google wants to show local websites but if there are a few sites that just have an insane amount of authority, they prevail over the local sites. If you search in Brooklyn, you'll get these same sites but they don't rank as high. I didn't look at every single one but would assume that the attorneys in Brooklyn are doing a better job with backlinks than the ones in NJ at the beginning of this thread.

@Stefan Somborac we don't focus a ton on backlinks here but that's because we're not really aiming to get our clients ranked nationwide. I would argue that if that's the objective then you're not really looking at Local SEO and my agency wouldn't be a good fit (we're really good at local but stick to that). It's possible that some of these attorneys can take cases nationwide but if they are only licensed to practice in their state it makes me wonder what the value of this traffic actually is, even if it's impressive.

car accident lawyer.png
I see this a lot in SEMrush in the backlinks competitors tab for this domain. You can see very similar backlink profiles and those showing in the SERP for ranking nationally.


I agree with Phil if the competition is low the competitiveness for the keyword you can easily obtain rankings if the domain is clean. However, for this question and the backlinks being displayed, it's odd to see scholarships campaign links when Google is now ignoring .edu links.

Joy, do you have any information if someone uses an exact keyword rich question does that help local pack to stand out?

@JoyHawkins I would love to but cannot make it, unfortunately. It would be an honor to meet the people I look up to and read their case studies. I'm going to assume that adding keyword rich questions does help, just like when a customer leaves a star review for the business and has an exact keyword match the client is trying to obtain to help local results — the more data for crawlers to learn and provide to users.

I need to get over the fear of flying :\
I agree with the recommendation for LocalU in Santa Monica!
In my opinion...

This demonstrates what is the most important factor for Local ranking, the same signals Google uses for organic ranking, which backlinks is one of the most important.

You can choose to put less (or no) effort into backlink building (talking other than NAP citiations in directories of course) but I think you're only going to rank in the 3-pack if you are lucky enough to either be working in a small niche industry with not that many competitors and/or a small geographic market (mid and small size cities as opposed to big ones.)

Like you all I've studied and studied various situations. I don't claim to have "cracked the code" but I've seen many posts in various forums just like the ones I've read over the past 15 years in which many of us beat our heads against the wall to reverse engineer Google and examine every little signal we can think of. In reality, while every signal helps, there's only a handful that REALLY make the difference. We are all probably spinning our wheels somewhat on the less important ones, typically because they require less work and are easy to manipulate.

For local, I've found that proximity to the user's location or the center point of their location intent (something we have no control over) and 5-star review quantity (something we have modest control over) seem to be the top local factors after the organic ranking. And as this thread demonstrates if you do organic well enough, you can overcome deficiency in these other local factors.

I think the most important question is, who did these guys' SEO? I want to hire them for organic SEO. :)

Also, didn't Google stop assigning any negative value to spammy backlinks to prevent Negative SEO (SEO Sabotage) practices so they are indeed just ignored. I suppose if you have enough of them you could risk a manual penalty but I bet that's pretty rare.
Somewhat off topic, but...

The first time I read the title for this thread, "Why do these three out of town lawyers show up high?", I laughed out loud. I read something completely different into what the post could be about. ;)

HAHA that's a good one Tim. I am now unable to unsee that.
These are very high authority sites that aggressively build links..

Try this one: Uber Accident Lawyer.

(Assuming you see the Los Angeles result - can someone please report that local listing as spam, too, if you don't mind? I flag it and tweet GMB support and they just let it go.. It's obviously a lead gen page..)

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