Google’s algorithm to rank local search results relies on a wide variety of different signals, so it can be difficult to know where you should dedicate your efforts. To ensure a local business ranks well for relevant search terms, it’s important to pay attention to a number of different local SEO ranking factors.
As more and more local businesses grasp the importance of SEO, ranking well in the search engine results pages (SERPs) will naturally become harder. As striving towards search success becomes more competitive, understanding how to dominate the SERPs becomes all the more valuable.
In this article, we’ll explore the most important factors for ranking—in both the Local Pack and the localized organic results—based on data from the 2023 Local Search Ranking Factors Report from Whitespark. We’ll also highlight how these results have changed over time, and discuss which tasks you should focus your energy on.
Where does this data come from? The Local Search Ranking Factors survey has been conducted near-annually since David Mihm kicked it off in 2008, with Whitespark taking over in 2017. The survey polls around 50 local SEO experts for their opinions on the most important actions and factors for local business rankings.
The Top Local SEO Ranking Factors in 2023
|Local Pack||Local Organic|
|1. Google Business Profile (32%)||1. On-page (36%)|
|2. On-page (19%)||2. Links (26%)|
|3. Reviews (16%)||3. =Behavioral (9%)|
|4. Links (11%)||3. =GBP (9%)|
|5. Behavioral (8%)||4. =Personalization (7%)|
|6. Citations (7%)||4. =Citations (7%)|
|7. Personalization (6%)||5. Reviews (6%)|
This table shows what the expert survey respondents believed were the most important local search engine ranking factors inbreat 2023. As you can see, they’re separated into Local Pack and localized organic.
What’s the difference between the Local Pack and localized organic results?
These two sets of results are treated differently in this survey because the underlying algorithms Google uses to surface them are different. The Local Pack is made up of Google Business Profiles, while the localized organic results are the traditional ‘blue links’ that lead to websites.
We’ll go into the individual factors in more detail shortly, but first let’s look at how the Local Ranking Factors survey has documented ranking trends over time. This should help to give you a snapshot of what impacted local search rankings in 2023 and where things are likely headed next year.
If you’re working towards improving Local Pack and localized organic rankings at the same time, then it can be helpful to see the average importance of the local SEO ranking factors when combined:
1. On-page optimization (28%)
2. GBP (21%)
3. Links (19%)
4. Reviews (11%)
5. Behavioral (9%)
6. =Citations (7%)
6. =Personalization (7%)
It’s important to remember that each of these factors will require different amounts of time to be invested; the percentage does not correlate with the amount of time that should be allocated to each.
For example, link building is an ongoing task that is quite time-intensive, whereas Google Business Profile (GBP) setup and management should not take too much of your time.
Local SEO Ranking Factors 2013-2023
As with Google’s regular search algorithm, the local algorithm is often updated by Google. This ongoing fluctuation means that doing the best job for your clients will require you to pay ongoing attention to what’s happening in the SERPs.
If you’re an agency working specifically with local businesses, being vigilant to the changing local environment can be critical to success. The factors that have the biggest impact on local search engine rankings can make a huge difference to customer conversions, so changes in importance should be monitored closely.
As with the 2020 and 2021 Local Search Ranking Factors surveys, social signals aren’t included in the 2023 results. Social signals have been decreasing in importance in relation to local search rankings for a while, so it makes sense to exclude them entirely from the survey.
Local Pack / Local Finder Ranking Factors Over Time
Since 2015, Google Business Profile has continued to increase in importance for Local Pack/Finder ranking importance, leaping from 15% in 2015 to a peak of 36% in 2021. In 2023, this percentage dropped slightly to 32%, although it remains the factor rated as most important. Links, citations, behavioral signals, and personalization have all seen drops in importance during this time.
On-page signals have seen an increase from 17% in 2021 to 19% in 2023. This finding reinforces the importance of ensuring your key content is well linked internally, as well as maintaining the accuracy of your NAP information.
Local Organic Ranking Factors Over Time
The Local Search Ranking Factors survey has revealed that on-page optimization and links are the most significant factors for localized organic rankings, accounting for a combined 62% of ranking importance.
Although the remaining factors reportedly carry less weight, they’re still important to give some attention to, and doing so could give you the final push you need to outrank your competitors.
Interestingly, after declining between 2018-2020, citations have consistently remained at 7%.
The Top 15 Individual Local Search Ranking Factors
|Local Pack/Finder||Local Organic|
|Primary GBP category||Dedicated Page for Each Service|
|Keywords in GBP business title||Internal linking across entire website|
|Proximity of address to the point of search||Quality/authority of inbound links to domain|
|Physical address in city of search||Geographic (city/neighborhood) keyword relevance of domain content|
|Additional GBP categories||Keywords in GBP landing page title|
|High numerical Google ratings||Quantity of inbound links to domain from locally-relevant domains|
|Completeness of GBP listing||Topical (product/service) keyword relevance across entire website|
|Quality/authority of inbound links||Volume of quality content on service pages|
|Keywords in native Google reviews||Volume of quality content on entire website|
|Removal of spam listings||Keywords in anchor text of inbound links to domain|
|Keywords in GBP landing page title||Diversity of inbound links to domain|
|Quantity of native Google reviews (with text)||Mobile-friendly/responsive website|
|Verified GBP listing||Quantity of inbound links to domain from industry-relevant domains|
|Quality/authority of inbound links to GBP landing page URL||Keywords in GBP Landing Page Headings|
|Proper placement of map pin||Website’s degree of focus on a specific niche|
Concentrating your efforts on the individual factors from the table above is a great way to move forwards when optimizing for local search. However, don’t overlook the fact that there are many more contributing factors beyond those featured here, therefore it’s important to give your attention to a wide range of optimization tasks.
Google Business Profile Signals
Important individual ranking factors within Google Business Profile include the primary category, the use of keywords in the business name, and the proximity of address to the point of search.
The impact and value of GBP for Local Pack/Finder rankings has been on an upward trajectory since 2018. However, it has fluctuated slightly in importance for the localized organic results. It’s significant to note that, while the impact of GBP within the Local Pack remains the top ranking factor in 2023, it has decreased from 36% in 2021 to 32%.
|Localized Organic Results||10%||10%||8%||7%||9%||7%||6%||9%|
The overall increase in the significance of GBP for local rankings in recent years correlates with how Google continues to evolve and improve this tool. New features are often being added to enhance the user experience, so it makes sense that GBP has become even more valuable to local business owners.
However, with the slight decrease in expert respondents citing GBP as the most important ranking factor for Local Pack/Finder, it also suggests an increased weighting across other ranking signals.
If we look back at the two lists for the top 15 individual local search ranking factors, we can see that many are directly related to Google Business Profile. This includes actions such as setting the primary GBP category, completing and verifying the GBP, using keywords on the GBP landing page, and more.
It’s clear that there are certain actions on these lists that are great for rankings, but that you don’t have much control over or potential to optimize.
For example, the primary GBP category is the most important ranking factor for the Local Pack/Finder, but as soon as you’ve set the relevant category, there’s no more work to be done here.
Similarly, having keywords in the business name listed on GBP can boost rankings, but if the business in question doesn’t have keywords in its name, then there’s not much you can do (without violating Google’s guidelines). Once you’ve entered the name into the listing, this task won’t require any ongoing attention.
What you can do, however, is ensure the ‘completeness’ of your Google Business Profile. This means making sure you’ve filled out all of the relevant sections and that you continue to add photos and make new Posts.
Data from Google highlights how important this is, stating that, “Customers are 70% more likely to visit and 50% more likely to consider purchasing from businesses with a complete Business Profile.”
Google Business Profile Factors That Don’t Impact Rankings
It’s worth noting that you don’t need to take advantage of every aspect of GBP if you’re only focusing on improving your rankings.
The 2023 Local Search Ranking Factors survey experts are in agreement that several GBP-related factors don’t impact rankings.
- Geo-tagged photos uploaded to GBP
- Keywords in GBP description
- Keywords in GBP products
- Keywords in Google Posts
- Keywords in GBP services
- GBP messaging feature enabled
- Frequency of Google Posts
- Setting service areas
Remember, there’s more to Google Business Profile than just rankings. The actions that don’t influence rankings could still contribute to conversions, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to the bigger picture.
A Note on Google Business Profile Name Spam
2020 was the first time that GBP spam fighting was included as a possible ranking factor in the Whitespark survey, and this task has remained relevant into 2023.
Although this is an action that doesn’t improve your own listing, it can still give you a boost if higher-ranking competitor listings are penalized for spam violations.
Fighting spam sits within the top five actions that the experts have given more focus to when working towards Local Pack/Finder rankings. This task has dropped in prominence slightly, however, from third in 2021 to fifth as of 2023.
Arguably, as long as keywords in the business title remain a top ranking factor, some listings managers will continue to try to violate the guidelines by inappropriately including keywords. As of 2023, this is ranked by experts as the second most impactful factor for Local Pack rankings.
Tools that show Google Business Profiles and business names on a map as part of a grid tracker can make the process of combating spam a lot easier. This is because all of the appropriate information can be easily seen on a map display.
To learn more about Google Business Profile, check out these resources:
Individual review signal factors include first- and third-party reviews, review recency, review site diversity, and positive sentiments in review content.
Reviews have grown slightly in importance for Local Pack/Finder rankings over the last few years, moving from 12% in 2018 to 17% in 2021. Although 2023 has seen a minor decrease to 16%, the relative stability reflects the ongoing value of reviews among consumers. Having consistently been the second most important Local Pack/Finder ranking factor since 2018, review signals have now been overtaken by on-page signals in 2023.
|Localized Organic Results||6%||7%||6%||7%||6%||6%||5%||6%|
If we look at the top 15 Local Pack/Finder ranking factors, we can see fewer review-specific signals have made it into this list as of 2023. Higher Google ratings, the quantity of native Google reviews, and a steady influx of reviews over time sit at sixth eight and thirteenth within this list respectively.
The experts also revealed, for a second year running, that a high Google rating from reviews is the leading factor driving conversions in GBP. So as well as helping local businesses to rank, reviews can also increase sales.
Wondering how to get more reviews from your customers? You might be surprised to learn that, generally, all you have to do is ask. Figures show that 57% of consumers who are personally asked to leave a review will go on to do so, and 51% of consumers will leave a review if prompted via email or SMS!
As online reviews remain an important factor for local rankings, developing processes to monitor, grow, and display reviews can be extremely beneficial. This helps save time, while also enhancing a local business’s online reputation and rankings.
Review management software, such as BrightLocal’s Reputation Manager, can automate review monitoring. This helps to ensure that you don’t miss important feedback, and can also help you to grow the quantity of your reviews through slick review campaigns.
It’s easy to believe that consistently getting five-star ratings is the only way to dominate reviews, however, this isn’t the case. In November 2021, Google shared that a mix of positive and negative reviews actually makes a business appear more trustworthy. On top of that, our own Local Consumer Review Survey found that 88% of consumers state they’re fairly or highly likely to use a business that responds to all types of reviews, whether positive or negative.
Remember, Google isn’t the only place that you should be getting reviews. Third-party review sites can also impact rankings and encourage conversions. The authority and diversity of third-party review sites, as well as the quantity of these reviews, are considered amongst local search ranking factors.
To learn more about online reviews, check out these resources:
Individual on-page optimization factors include NAP data, keywords in titles, and domain authority.
On-page signals are incredibly important for both traditional and local SEO. As we can see from the table below, on-page optimization has been consistently important for rankings since 2013, and especially so for the localized organic results. This has grown even more so for both the Local Pack and localized organic results in 2023.
|Localized Organic Results||27%||27%||26%||24%||26%||32%||34%||36%|
In particular, having relevant and dedicated service pages on your website, good internal linking throughout, and maintaining topical relevance across your site can make a difference to local rankings.
The importance of optimizing your local business website for search engines shouldn’t be overlooked. Optimizing increases your chances of being discovered in both general organic and localized searches. On-page optimization is always going to be essential, so it’s wise to master this aspect of SEO.
Keyword research is a huge part of on-page SEO, and you should always be thorough with this when building your strategy. Be sure to get into the mindset of your target audience and tailor your content towards the words and phrases you know these people use. Essentially, you need to think like your customers in order to better appeal to them.
To be a serious competitor in the local search results, you’ll need to feature the name of your location (city, town, state etc.) in multiple places across your website. You’ll also want to use location-specific keywords in the metadata for titles and descriptions across your site.
To further boost your local authority in the eyes of Google, create dedicated pages on your website for local content. You’ll also want to make frequent mentions to your location within your blog posts—and if you’re not writing blog posts, then you’ll need to start!
What about multi-location businesses? In this case, you’ll need to create separate pages on your website for each location. Be sure to include all of the relevant NAP data on each page, as well as your opening hours, and any additional relevant information.
Not only is this helpful from a customer perspective, as they can easily find the information they’re looking for, but it can also impact local rankings for each of the locations listed.
If you’re working to boost the SEO efforts of a business with multiple locations, then enrolling in BrightLocal Academy’s How to Perform Local SEO Audits for Multi-location Businesses course is a great place to start. This course will equip you with the knowledge you need to comprehensively audit a business with two locations or 200!
To learn more about on-page optimization, check out these resources:
Individual link factors include inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, and linking domain quantity.
Link signals have long been known to be very valuable for boosting organic search rankings, and the same is true of localized results.
Links make up 26% of the localized organic ranking factors in 2023, having decreased from 31% in 2021.
|Localized Organic Results||24%||25%||25%||29%||28%||31%||31%||26%|
The quality and authority of inbound links to a website have dropped considerably as factors considered important for Local Pack/Finder results in 2023. However, the quality, authority and diversity of industry or locally-relevant inbound links sit within the top 15 most important factors for localized organic rankings.
Earning quality backlinks can be a difficult and time-consuming task, but they go a long way to improving the authority of a site, and are a worthwhile investment of your resources.
A word of caution: Bad backlinks can actually be harmful to your site overall, so it’s critical to assess the quality of the websites you’re getting links from. A simple way to do this is to download the MozBar Chrome extension.
The MozBar tool will show you the domain authority of the website you’re visiting, as well as the page authority of the individual page you’re on. The higher both of these numbers are, the better the quality of the site.
You can also use this tool to check the spam score of a website. If the spam score is high, then it’s probably best to avoid this website as a link could be detrimental to your SEO efforts.
Use of relevant keywords in the anchor text of inbound links is the tenth most important ranking factor for localized organic results, with quantity of inbound links to domain from locally-relevant domains coming in sixth (moving up from ninth in 2021).
To learn more about local link building, check out these resources:
The individual behavioral ranking factors include click-through rate, mobile clicks to call, and dwell time.
In terms of importance as a Local Pack/Finder ranking factor, behavioral signals have been in steady decline for three years, dropping from 10% in 2018 down to 7% in 2021. As of 2023, it sits at 8%.
After seeing a slight increase in importance for localized organic search in 2021, behavioral signals have decreased from 11% to 9% in 2023.
|Localized Organic Results||5%||7%||10%||11%||12%||10%||11%||9%|
Behavioral signals are a reliable source of information for Google because they’re much harder to manipulate than other factors. These actions are taken by the searcher, and therefore can only be influenced to a certain degree.
Instead of thinking up innovative new ways to influence user behaviour, why not spend this time optimizing your GBP to give the user the best possible experience? This involves creating optimized copy for titles, meta descriptions, Posts, and more. Make your listing as valuable and coherent as possible, and you’ll move closer to winning at rankings and conversions.
Try to remember that the end goal of SEO isn’t just to improve rankings, the focus must also be to attract the right customers to a business for those all-important sales. When you start getting seen by the right customers—those who want to learn more about your business—these users will naturally help to enhance the behavioral signals towards your site.
To learn more about influencing user behavior, check out this resource:
Individual citation ranking factors include location data, IYP/aggregator NAP consistency, and citation volume.
Citations have decreased in ranking importance over the years, dropping from joint second for Local Pack rankings in 2013, down to sixth place in 2021 and 2023.
In relation to Local Pack/Finder importance, citations dropped from 17% in 2015 to 7% in 2020, and has held steady at 7% since.
In terms of importance in localized organic search results, citations decreased from 10% in 2015 to 6% in 2020, and back up slightly to 7% in 2021, where it has remained static since. While this percentage has not changed in 2023, the position of citation signals has moved from fourth to six in the list of seven possible ranking factor groups.
Even though citations have gradually decreased in overall importance, they’re still valuable for visibility and for building trust with consumers. When a potential customer can observe that a business’s information is correct and consistent across the web, this helps to establish credibility.
|Localized Oranic Results||11%||11%||10%||8%||9%||6%||7%||7%|
There are two different types of citations—structured and unstructured.
Structured citations, which are listings made by a business on relevant directories and third-party websites, are the most common type. These citations provide a quick and easy way for a business to earn backlinks.
Many of the websites that structured citations appear on are seen as trustworthy and authoritative by Google, which makes these backlinks valuable to the business in question. This can help a business to begin building the authority of its website, as well as to give an established website a boost.
Take a look at the example below of a recent Google search for ‘Cafe in Sacramento’. You can see that there are several results from business directories, including the top three spots!
To learn more about citations, check out these resources:
Individual personalization ranking factors include search history, search location, and device.
Personalization essentially boils down to how you’re more likely to see results from websites that you’re already familiar with and have visited frequently. However, it’s also influenced by the location a user searches from and the language that they use, among other factors.
In relation to Local Pack/Finder ranking importance, personalization peaked at 10% in 2017, and has fluctuated between 6% and 4% since. For the localized organic results, personalization was rated consistently at 9% throughout 2013 to 2017, and has been at 7% since 2018, with a minor decrease to 6% in 2021.
|Localized Organic Results||9%||9%||9%||9%||7%||7%||6%||7%|
Although personalization can have an impact on general search results, this is much less likely to impact local search results. This means there’s not much you can do from an SEO perspective to optimize a website for personalization considerations.
Businesses that serve customers in countries with different native languages can translate—and therefore personalize—their content to reach the relevant audiences. Multilingual SEO is a largely underutilized resource that local businesses can tap into where appropriate.
It’s worth noting that in the US, 60 million people—almost a quarter of the population—aren’t native English speakers. So if you operate a business in a multicultural city, then it’s likely worth targeting your website at the languages besides English that are commonly spoken.
To learn more about personalization in search, check out these resources:
As you likely already know, there are no guarantees on the path to SEO success. This is a process that requires ongoing research, effort, and a willingness to adjust your strategy as you go.
Although there are a number of different factors influencing search rankings, some of the associated tasks require much more ongoing effort than others. Understanding where your priorities should lie—and being able to adjust your focus accordingly—will be key to staying one step ahead of your competitors.
The insights provided in the latest Local Search Ranking Factors survey should serve as your guide as you assess your local search strategy for the year ahead. This expert advice helps to take the guesswork out of local SEO so that you can dedicate your time and energy in all the right places.
Finally, we’d like to send our gratitude and appreciation to Darren Shaw, the Whitespark team, and everyone who contributed their expertise to the survey!