I asked Google's Bard, "How many ranking factors are there in Google's local algorithm?" It responded, "Google does not publicly disclose the exact number of local ranking factors in its local algorithm, but it is estimated to be around 200."
While that sounds credible, it's not clear where Google is getting this information because Bard doesn't cite any sources. Thank goodness for the Local Search Ranking Factors (LSRF) survey. Just published by Darren Shaw and Whitespark last week, it covers a total of 149 local ranking signals.
It's an opinion survey, but one that reflects the collective wisdom and experience of 44 leading local search experts. LSRF was first developed by David Mihm in 2008 and has been conducted since 2017 by Darren Shaw's Whitespark. This year is its 15th anniversary.
Seven Ranking-Factor Categories
There are seven categories or clusters of local ranking factors. They, in turn, break down into many more specific and granular variables. The chart below reflects local SEO perceptions of the evolution of ranking signals over the past eight years. Google Business Profile (GBP) signals had been climbing annually, but this year declined. On-page signals grew, while link signals fell in relative importance. Review and citation signals remained stable. Personalization and behavioral signals were up.
The Top 15 Signals
Year over year most changes are incremental. The two charts below show the top 15 ranking factors for 2023 and 2021 (the most recent survey before this one). The lists are substantially the same with a few differences. Among them, the following signals entered the top 15 in 2023, displacing others:
- Proximity of business address to city centroid
- Keywords in GBP landing page title and page headings
- Sustained review cadence (rather than concentrated bursts)
- Dedicated website pages for each service offered
In previous surveys, participating SEOs selected their top 20 ranking signals but no more. This year the survey asked participants to score every single factor using a five point drop-down scale. Each was scored across three categories: GBP ranking signals, organic signals and conversion factors.
Those with few votes, dropping to the bottom of the list, are this year's default "local SEO myths." The absolute last-ranked signal for 2023, and thus the top local SEO myth, is geo-tagged photos in GBP.
AI in Wide Use Already
There were several new questions this year covering suspension risk factors as well as ranking factors for Local Services Ads. Darren Shaw also asked about how local SEOs are using AI tools in their workflows:
- Creating content (edited by a human)
- Content ideation/inspiration
- Keyword research and topic classification/clustering
- Running images through Google Vision AI
- Writing spreadsheet formulas
- Responding to reviews
- Finding citation sources, sponsorships, and other link opportunities
- Generating Schema code
- Researching and generating content about local landmarks
- Writing regex
- Image generation, upscaling, and background removal
- Generating a list of FAQs
- Creating AI-assisted location pages
- Helping with content brief creation
- Exploring using it to streamline agency operations
- Understanding user intent
- Combing through data sets to uncover insights
- Generating html/css code for web pages
- Deduplicating similar content
- Identifying if competitor reviews are fake or real
- Inspiring ideas for SEO Audits
- Predictive analysis
- Rewriting business descriptions for citations
This is one of the most interesting parts of the survey, though it has nothing to do with local rankings.
What Went Down in 2023?
Ranking factors deemed less important in 2023 than in 2021 included the following:
- Link factors – authority of inbound links to domain, domain authority of website, page authority of GBP landing page URL
- Keywords in Google Reviews – Whitespark still recommends trying to get keywords into reviews because of other benefits.
- Owner review responses – keywords in review responses, presence of owner responses to reviews. (However, responding to reviews is important from a brand/customer service and conversion perspective.)
Last year Darren Shaw introduced questions about conversion factors into the survey. Conversions are the ultimate objective here. Ranking is just a means to that end.
As with last year, reviews are at the top of the list. However there are fewer review-related entries in the top 10 compared with 2021. A signal that didn't appear in the top 20 last time (assuming it was a choice) is "mobile-friendly/responsive website," which is now the third most important conversion factor after ratings and reviews:
- High numerical Google ratings (e.g. 4-5)
- Positive sentiment in review text
- Mobile-friendly/responsive website
- Quantity of native Google reviews (with text)
- Dedicated page for each service
- Completeness of GBP
- GBP booking feature is enabled
- Proper hours set on GBP
- Quality/relevance of photos
- Presence of owner responses to most reviews
Finally, the roughly 13 minute video below offers a useful overview of LSRF's survey methodology and a discussion of what's new for 2023. Darren also highlights noteworthy findings and offers some caveats.
You can read the full survey and analysis on the LSRF website.