Relationship between Local and Organic SEO: a Simple Diagram

Too few people realize that local SEO is mostly organic SEO plus a few other moving parts.  I (and others) have found that without also doing what it takes to rank well in Google’s “10 blue links” results, you won’t grab as much visibility for your business on the local map.

Local visibility isn’t a lovechild of a Google My Business page + local citations + “optimized” site (+ spamming when convenient).  Rather, it’s the result of a smart, labor-intensive organic SEO campaign with a couple of twists.

I’ve had to explain that concept enough that I thought it best just to whip up a graphic to show what I mean.  Here it is:

 

Basic explanation (very basic)

As you can probably tell, the idea I’m trying to get across is that your local rankings are hollow and fragile without that solid core of organic SEO work.

Having a website and local directory listings for a business with a keyword in its name is not a strategy.  Even if that low-effort approach seems to work, the rankings likely won’t last, and if they do, you still probably won’t rank for as many search terms as you otherwise could.

Google knows where your business is located and (probably) what you offer.  But how does Google know you’re any good?  In a semi-competitive market, Google will usually cherry-pick.  It does that, above all, by seeing how good your links are and how much good in-depth info you’ve got on your offerings.

Explanation of each “circle” and of some ranking factors

Most of the ranking factors in each circle should be clear, but a few I should explain a little.  While I’m at it, I should also define each of the 3 circles.

“Organic results” circle

Work on the things in the dark-blue, innermost circle and you’ll rank well, whether or not you’re a “local” business.

Organic results are often non-local.

But sometimes they show local businesses, and show different local businesses based on your location.

Now, a couple notes on a couple of the factors in the “Organic” circle:

Note on “Business name” factor: What your business is called has some influence on what search terms you rank for in the organic results.  But, sad to say, it’s even more of a factor in how you rank on the local map.

Now, an argument could be made that I should have “Business name” in all 3 circles, because it affects your rankings everywhere.  I’ve chosen not to do that.  For one thing, it’s messy.  Also, in my opinion you shouldn’t name your business differently just because at the moment it’s an inflated ranking factor in the Google Maps 3-pack.  To me, how you name your business is part of the core strategy.

Note on “User-behavior” factor: How searchers interact with your site – both when they see it in the search results and when they’re on it – seems to matter to Google.  “User-behavior” might include things like how many people click on you vs. on a competitor, what terms they typed in before clicking on you, and whether they hit the “back” button or dig deeper into your site.  In my experience, that can help your organic rankings.

But there’s also local user-behavior that may matter, like what customers’ mobile location-tracking data tells Google, lookups of driving directions, and which businesses in the 3-pack attract the most clicks.  Again, tough call as to which circle(s) to put “User-behavior” in, because it’s really common to all 3.

“Local-organic” results circle

Since 2012, Google has shown local-business results in the organic search results.  They’re mixed in with the other “10 blue links,” usually right below the local map.  Often businesses that rank in the map also rank in the localized organic results, and vice versa.

You’ll probably show up prominently in the local-organic results if you’ve got at least some of the factors from the “Organic results” circle going for you, and you happen to be a local business – with or without a Google My Business page or other local listings.

Note on “Rough location” factor: Google’s organic results aren’t as location-sensitive as the Maps results are.  Even if your business isn’t located in or very near your target city, as long as it’s in the vicinity, it should be at least possible to rank in the localized organic results.

“Maps results” circle

Also known as the 3-pack, or Google Places results.  You’ll only appear there if you’ve got a Google My Business page and – in markets that are even a little competitive – if you’ve also got the factors from the other two circles working in your favor.

Note on “Exact location” factor: Sometimes your Maps rankings depend on whether your business is 1 mile or 1/4 mile from your customer.  Location (of customer relative to business) is usually less of a factor if you’re really dialed-in on your organic SEO (that is, if you’ve got enough good links to suggest to Google that you’re a prominent or authoritative business).

Does my diagram make sense to you?

Is it clear what each ranking factor refers to?

Any questions or suggestions?

Leave a comment!

Breakdown of Page 1 of Google’s Local Organic Search Results: Who Dominates?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwarby/11513424364/

Though the first page of Google’s local results usually consists of 3 “local map” results plus 10 organic results, that doesn’t mean your business has 13 chances to rank somewhere on page one.  Nor do all pages on your site have an equal chance at ranking.  Nor does having the most-dominant site necessarily mean you’ll get the most or best visibility in the local results.

How well your business ranks in the local “3-pack” depends on many factors, including where your business is, where the searcher is, who clicks on you and other behavior, the name of your business, and – above all – on how well you rank in the local organic results (the “10 blue links,” usually right below the local map).

Your organic rankings, in turn, depend mainly on how relevant your site is to what the customer searched for and (even more so) on how good your links are.

So what are your chances of getting your business’s site to rank somewhere on page 1 of the local organic results?

One way to answer that is to know how Google usually fills up the first page of local organic results – Google’s tendencies and quotas, you might say.

Google has a very specific way of carving up the local search results.  It’s not all local businesses, nor is it a grab-bag of “something for everyone” search results.

I’ve just done a study of 500 local markets – 500 first-pages of local search results – and have some numbers on which sites and pages typically rank on page one.

Here’s the pie-chart, which sums up my findings and the dozens of hours of research that went into it.

(click to enlarge)

You may not need to know any more.  Or you may want more detail on the pie, on my methodology, and on what it all means for your local SEO strategy.  In the latter case, just read on.

What does each slice of the pie represent, exactly?

“Business: homepages”

I’m referring to the homepage of a site that belongs to a specific business.

Homepages are the biggest slice of the pie, averaging 37.62% of Google’s local organic search results.  On average, 3-4 out of 10 of the organic results consist of one homepage or another.  The homepage typically has the most link-juice (which is one reason I usually suggest using it as your Google My Business landing page).  It’s no surprise to me so much of page one goes to various homepages.

“Business: subpages:

If homepages constitute more than 3 out of 10 spots on a typical first page of results, that must mean other pages usually grab the other 7 spots – right?

Wrong.  Subpages (like yourbusiness.com/city) and subdomains (like city.yourbusiness.com) only account for 12.68% of the 5000 individual search results I studied.  In a typical first page of results, only 1-2 results are for pages on a business’s website other than the homepage.

So 37.62% of the results are for businesses’ homepages, plus 12.68% are for other pages on businesses’ sites.  That’s about half of the pie.

Who gets the other half of Google’s local organic search results?

“Directories: category search”

It probably doesn’t surprise you that local-business directories take up a lot of real estate on page one.  I’m talking about Yelp, BBB, YellowPages, and so on, and industry-specific sites like Zillow, HealthGrades, TripAdvisor, etc.

Those directories’ internal search results show up more often than do other pages on their sites.  “Search results within search results” take up a whopping 36.62% of Google’s local organic results.

“Directories: business pages”

Sometimes a business’s Facebook or Yelp or BBB or YellowPages page will rank on page one for a popular search term.

Known as barnacle local SEO, it’s great if you can get an online property other than your site to rank for a main keyword.  But it’s tough to do.  Only 7.58% of Google’s search results go to directory results for specific businesses.

“News”

Local-news sites and other sources of news take up a small piece of the search results (not as much as I thought they would).  News results made up 0.64% of the results I studied.

Good coverage can drive business.  A unfavorable piece can dog you.  News stories tend to have many backlinks, usually are on authoritative sites, and tend to get clicked on often.  Because of those things, news pieces can stick around for a while.  The news isn’t always “new.”

“Other”

Google throws other results onto page one, too.  The most-common “other” sites I ran across were Craigslist listings, Indeed.com (for jobs), weird directory results (e.g. Yelp forum threads), and government sites – usually local government.

Methodology & notes

When Sydney Marchuk (of Whitespark) and I did this research, we tried to be as methodical and scientific as possible.  As with most studies, there are limitations to this one, and I’m sure there are some holes.

You can look at our raw data here, but here are some lab notes:

  • We Googled 500 different search terms – 500 different combinations of cities and keywords
  • We searched for explicitly local search terms: “city + keyword.” As opposed to typing in “keyword” and seeing what local search results Google shows you.  (Yes, Google is watching you.)  In my experience, the results differ a little between when you type in the city and when you don’t.  To do a study on that would be more technically complicated and even more of a slog, but I’d love to do one or see one some time.
  • As I said at the start, we didn’t include the Google Maps “3-pack” rankings in this analysis. Again, we just looked at the localized organic results – which usually contain all the business that rank in the 3-pack.
  • Sydney lives in Canada, but searched at Google.com (not .ca), was signed out of Google, and used an incognito browser tab. The results weren’t biased by search history or anything like that.  In any case, I live in Massachusetts, and the searches I did matched up with what Sydney found.
  • We did the research in mid-December – about a month ago. Some of the SERPs surely have changed since then, but I doubt they’ve changed significantly.  To the extent I’ve had to spot-check some of the results in the past few days, I’ve found that they’ve changed very little.
  • Of course, the breakdown will change over time. It’s Google.  They like to twist the dials.

Conclusions (very general)

What does the breakdown of a typical page one mean – especially for your business?  Some things I’ve gleaned from looking at the data (and from doing local SEO for 8+ years):

  • On average, only about 5 of the results are for specific businesses. Your other competitors are directories.  Wherever you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  You’ll get some visibility either when people click on the directories’ “search results within search results,” or if you get your listing or page itself on the site to rank on page one of Google’s local results.  That’s often just a matter of piling on the reviews.
  • Homepages dominate, especially in markets where smaller, locally-based businesses duke it out mostly with each other, and not as much with Big Ugly Corporations that happen to have a nearby branch. Again, homepages tend to have most or all of the link juice.  Assuming you’ve got at leasta few decent links, if you have some good local content on your homepage it should have a good chance of ranking well.
  • Subpages (example.com/city) tend to be more dominant in markets where big businesses tend to congregate (e.g. car rentals). I have my theories as to why that is, but that’s for another day.
  • Your crappy keyword-stuffed blog post from 2 years ago probably won’t rank on page one for any semi-competitive term. (Maybe if it attracted some good links.)
  • Given how Google splits up the real estate between directories and businesses’ sites, dominance isn’t a matter of just getting your site to rank. As I’ve said, it’s not about site vs. site; it’s reputation vs. reputation.

Here’s the pie, once again:

Any questions on my findings?

Any conclusions you’ve drawn (that I didn’t mention)?

Leave a comment!

P.S.  If for some crazy reason you want to do an (unrelated) study of your own, consider hiring Sydney to help (schedule permitting).  You can email me, or connect with her on LinkedIn.