Google has bombarded us with new updates this past year, and for what? To annoy us Search Optimizers? No, not exactly all these new changes have been toward improving user experience with relevant results. One area that has been tremendously affected is Local Search! Big G has updated many of the factors it judges local sites off.

This post offers some great areas to optimize your website and Google Places page to achieve higher rankings, and grab some more traffic and sales because of it.

Google Place Page Factors

Individually Verified Place Page
We can’t gauge the effect this will have on your local rankings, but it’s a necessary step. Businesses should go through their Google Places profile and make sure the accuracy of the information, optimize different areas of the places page according to suggestions below.

Physical Address in City of Search
This goes without mention … include your physical address! It will add to trust factor of your listing. It makes Google’s job easier in connecting localized searches with local vendors, instead of going through the dozens, if not hundreds, of indexed pages to determine we’re you’re located. If you have multiple locations, it’s best to setup multiple place pages.

Proper Category Associations
Having accurate category association screams relevance. There’s nothing more direct in telling Google what a particular page is relevant for. At times Google does categorize your website for you, but it’s probably best if you handle this from the start, instead of risking being placed in an irrelevant category.

Proximity of Address to Centroid
This is one signal you cannot have much control over, it’s a very a relative problem. In major metropolitan cities being 0-1 miles of a business centroid may make all the difference, while a larger radius is allowed in suburban areas. General rule to follow is to be 5 miles within the centroid you’re trying to target. Google is all about the user experience and displaying results based on proximity is essential in certain searches.

Local Area Code on Place Page
This is a common question we receive from clients to have a 1-800 versus a local phone number. If you’re targeting a local market, then a local phone number will not only help you in ranking your Place Page, but increasing conversions in customers who are superficially glancing at your website.

Off-site Factors

Quantity mixed with Quality of Structured Citations / Backlinks (IYPs, Data Aggregators)
As much as we want to say quantity matters, because it does, quality plays an equal role. The infographic presents them as two points, but we combined them here. Receiving citations, or backlinks, from a few websites with high Domain Authority can often outrank backlinks from websites with lower Domain Authority. Our suggestion would be to do a 60/40 split, spending 60% of your resources to receive citations from High Authority sources, and a lower 40% for the Lower Authority sources. We’ve listed some tools in the next section to help you scale, and reduce time and effort for this activity.

Consistency of Structured Citations
Consistency across the board within the local search ecosystem will help. Monitor and manage all the different local search players and contributors. The best way is to use identity management systems such as LocalEze.com which covers kudzu, fave, tripadvisor, bestoftheweblocal, dexknows, whitepages, yellowbot, mjopages, Comcast, hotfrog, and many others. Also use sites like Yext.com to manage Yahoo, Yelp, YellowPages.com, YellowBook, Mapquest, FourSquare, Local.com, and many more. Also don’t forget to use UniversalBusinessListing.com to cover the bigger players like: D&B, Infogroup.com, Acxiom, and couple dozen more which ultimately reach out to thousands more.

Quality & Quantity of Unstructured Citations (Newspaper articles, Blog Posts)
After a while you exhaust the supply of structured citations, so to rise above you’ll have to get unstructured citations. It’s always a wise idea to get citations from local press to help you get some quality backlinks, and receive extra credit because you’re relevant to your coverage area.

High Authority citations will be difficult to attain, but a method is to be featured on local newspapers. There are a few ways to approach this. Either build a relationship through social media channels, or using Help a Report Out.

Another popular method is to start Guest Blogging on other websites. It can be somewhat of a process to find blogs to write for that are relevant to your industry and demographic. It requires you to have a fairly maintained blog yourself, and be willing to offering opportunities to other authors.

On-site Factors

Domain Authority of Website
The authority of a domain has always been a key factor in search rankings, so it’s the same with local SEO. You can get a rough idea of a websites authority by looking at a domain domain’s PageRank as a indicator, or get a bit more in-depth look with services like the Open Site Explorer.  Although, don’t forget about relevance, you need a page related to the query otherwise you won’t show up on the search engines.

City, State in Places Landing Page Title
This particular part is essential if you want to higher your chances in ranking for local queries. Even though Google has multiple ways to discover your proximity to a searcher, it always helps to have this covered in the title along with the Product or Service you’re offering.

HTML NAP Matching Place Pages
Having your websites Name, Address, and Phone # (NAP) to be same as what’s on your Google Place Page. If what Google draws from its business databases to what you have on your website are the same, it’ll give your SEO an extra boost. In addition, it’ll prevent any chance of having duplicate listings on any of the local places aggregators. You’ll have to pay special attention if you have multiple locations.

Page Authority of Landing Page
The authority of the page linked from your Google Places may be different from your domain root URL, which means it’ll also have a different authority level. As a ranking signal, having high page authority helps your local SEO out.

Product & Service Keyword in Website URL
Not as relevant as this once use to be, but having a keyword in the website URL can, in certain niches, rank you alone. Subdomains are a way to include a keyword if you already have an old domain name, although, it won’t covey as much of an effect as having it directly in the URL would.

Review Factors

Quantity of Native Google Places Reviews
With the integration of the Zagat system, there have been significant changes. The old system use to be triggered by 5 reviews, while the new one takes 10, but then starts adhering to diminishing results as it gets more than that.

Product & Service Keywords in Reviews
Google wants to get as contextual as possible, which is why with the Panda update the more relevant the citing website, the higher the SEO value. Having customers name products and services you offer in reviews can influence your rankings across the board.

Social & Mobile Factors

Number of +1’s and Add/Shares on Website
We’re not going to say these will have a dramatic impact on your rankings, but hey in a competitive industry every little bit can count. Having higher +1’s on your website will definitely relate to more people seeing is which does translate into more views. As Google continues up the social ladder, it will figure out ways to use this as a ranking signal.

Click-Through Rate from Search Results
Google tracks every click from any of its properties, all the way down to what’s clicked on a website (Google Analytics). Google has the information, so why wouldn’t it use it? Have great titles, meta descriptions and tags will ensure higher click through rates.

Create a Mobile Website! This will definitely add to your stats on click-through and browsing of your website. As Mobile becomes more popular, it’s no surprise this has to become a common practice.