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Secret Local Search Ranking Facts For Free

Local Search seems to be taking dramatic steps forward on a weekly basis. Not too long ago, a search for anything local would bring up a 10 pack on Google, and since then, we have seen local listing ads, lucky 7 packs, and even the possible future low 5 pack.

The above all have to do with the User Interface, but what about the ranking factors? Are they evolving?

The answer is definitely Yes! It seems that information provided in the Local Business Center is losing a bit of ranking power, and off-LBC-criteria is gaining momentum.

Denver Dentist Local Search

After viewing Tom Critchlow’s recent research, I took the search phrase “Denver Dentist” on Google, and looked at the following information…

  1. Business Name
  2. Citations that have part of the Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP) in the title tag
  3. Citations that show up in the page content
  4. Citations from Local websites
  5. Custom search citations “company name” 000-000-0000 (phone number)
  6. Reviews left on Google
  7. Reviews from other IYP’s
  8. Distance from the city center
  9. Star Rating
  10. User Generated Content
  11. Categories the Business is Listed In
  12. Business Detail Providers
  13. Street View Picture

You can download the .xlsx data sheet Denver Dentist By Mike Ramsey @niftymarketing for your own study and application.

Local Search Findings

Location, Location, Location…unless you have major citations.

In the data sheet, take a look at 7th Ranked Denver Dentistry. They have 68 listed citations, 28 total reviews with 5 star ratings, and pull business details from the business owner (meaning the listing was claimed),,,, and For a dentist, this is a very solid listing. The only issue is that his address, though only 9 miles from city center, is in the suburb of Lakewood and not Denver. This single factor is keeping him from being ranked higher in the results.

Next, look at the 5th ranked Littleton Orthodontics with a measly 6 citations and 1 review. This is a spammy company name, and the listing is having some major duplicate issues. This listing is also in a town 16 miles away from the city center. So, why in the crazy world of Google maps is this listing even showing up? Let alone in the 5th (and 3rd if you click on maps tab)? The only answer that seems to make any since has to do with the user content for this listing. One of the duplicate listings has the name Ken Caryl in the title and because of this, their are 4 wikipedia pages linking to “littleton Orthodontics”. So, a listing with very little reason to rank gets a boost from wikipedia citations and is ranking in a major city that it is not even in. To view more information on this check the second excel tab on the report entitled “littleton orthodontics “.

These examples definitely support the notion that all citations are not created equal,  and user content might play a bit more of a ranking factor than it used to.  Location is still very much the king and the closer you are to that coveted city center the more relevant you will always be, but looking at the examples above…location was beat out by quantity in one case, and quality in another. As a matter of fact, 4 of the 16 listings do not have a Denver address. So, location can slow you down, but some find a way around.

Not all citations are created equal

Though this was mentioned above, it deserves much more mention and study, because this is becoming a very important issue for businesses involved in local search. David Mihm stated in his recent SEL Post The Other 20% of Local SEO

“In local search, a citation from a trusted website like a city or state government or even a commercial site like a Chamber of Commerce or city newspaper can often be the difference between #1 and not appearing in the seven-pack.”

These “Denver Dentist” businesses ranged from having 1-6 local citations. I don’t think this study dives deep enough to weight local citations, but it is notable that all companies ranking did have a mix of local citations. I am also under the impression that some national IYP’s carry a heavier rank as well. For instance, any site that is being used to provide information for the Business details tab is most likely worth more than another given citation. Here is the list of these sites found in this study…

  • Local Business Center
  • superpages
  • demandforce
  • dexknows
  • healthgrades
  • nomoreclipboard
  • angieslist
  • dentist
  • healthprofs
  • kudzu

Now I am not saying these are the only heavily weighted citations, but they are authoritative for dentists, or they wouldn’t be used to gather business details like hours, payment type, etc. It seems that there are even more trusted sources such as wikipedia that don’t get the honorable mention by the business details tab.

business details

54% of the citations Google is showing have Name, Address, or Phone Number (NAP) in the title of the page. I do think that citations have a higher change of getting listed if this is the case, this also could be something that gets more points for the algo.

Another important thing to note is that Google is showing very few citations compared to what is really out there. If you run a search for “company name” 000-000-0000 (that is the phone number) then you will see that there are literally hundreds of places throughout the web where the information needed for a citation is listed. Why these aren’t listed is a Google mystery, but many think they might actually pull some weight as well.

Overall, citations are a major player along with location, but this study definitely showed me that quantity was not king. So, start the engines to figure out the secret behind quality.

Reviews are making headway…

Reviews seem to be pulling more and more ranking power. Look at the 1st ranked Comfort Dental for an example… They don’t have a large amount or any special citations. But, they do have  49 Reviews. This seems to be one of their major ranking factors. Most importantly they are receiving reviews from 3 different websites since 2005. Of the top 16 sites, only 16% of the reviews were left on Google. The rest were located on different IYP’s. I do believe this shows the important of reviews, and getting reviews around different sites.

My Maps…

From what I am seeing in this study, User content in the form of my maps is treated as a citation. That became very apparent  in the Littleton Ortho listing that was linking UGC to wikipedia. It is the only ranking factor that could even start to get that listing to rank.

Limited Categories

This is currently strictly speculation, but I was surprised to see so many top ranking companies that only had one category being “dentist”. I wonder if you stick to one category, your change at ranking within that category rises. The funny thing about this is the reason those businesses only have one category is because they have not been claimed (no business owner details).

Street View Image

Only two of the top 16 listings didn’t have a street view image associated with their places page. If google is able to load a street view image, your trust rank should increase and ultimately play some effect on rankings.


Ranking in local search results is about spreading your eggs in many different baskets. You have to be close to the centriod, carry lots of citations on the local and IYP level, find some authoritative citations, get reviews on google and other sites that are listing as citations, have some user generated content, and this is only starting on the basic things that need to be done outside of the local business center. The fact of the matter is, you have to be extremely relevant, and established for the search query and hope that the competition isn’t, possibly higher someone that is into local search marketing….or get some citations from wikipedia.

Merry Christmas,

Mike Ramsey

P.S. I used the words Secret and Free in title to just get you here.