I have used a number of local search ranking factors to approximate Google results for local search for a number of searches relating to general contractors in Jacksonville, Florida. These are the final results from the case study that will be explained throughout th next two posts:
As you can see, the trendline is similar. The standard deviation (amount each individual number varies from that trendline) is rather high, but this is to be expected. I made a point of trying to keep my ‘algorithm’ simple as possible with regard to the calculations. It likely would have become more accurate the deeper into the results the study went (6+ pages instead of 3), but the point of this study was to illustrate how to show up in Google local search results with numeric values, not to get pinpoint accuracy.
I used basic arithmetic for my calculations: multiplication, subtraction, addition and division were all that were used to get my results.
In a nutshell, I approximated Google’s results by assigning relative weights to a number of local search ranking factors.
Google’s default equation for the trendline above is far more complicated than any math I did to create the results (the trendline is the default).
While I could have used less variables to get similar results, the minor local search ranking factors are included to give readers a better understanding of their relative importance. They are also there to illustrate that they are search ranking factors that can help change your rankings. Many of these factors are easy things to change for a company looking to improve their online presence. When we go into the analysis you will see that there are a number of factors that could have easily been omitted but were included to give a sense of estimated relevance.
Don’t believe economists (or anyone else) when they try to tell you more complicated equations are needed to explain more complicated systems; complicated equations are a facade to distract from a lack of genuine understanding if something simpler can work.
Don’t use something complicated when something simple works just as well or better.
Google’s algorithm is very complicated, but this shows why we only need to understand the major parts to benefit from that understanding.
Overview of our Journey to Recreate Google Results
The searches we are analyzing were the first 3 pages of results for ‘general contractor’, ‘general contractor near me’, and ‘general contractor jacksonville fl’ from 2 locations, in both the regular Chrome browser and in an Incognito browser. To see these results in detail take a look at general contractor search results here.
First we’re going to start out with an overview of the search results from all of our searches, then divide it into just the home searches, and from just the Multiverse searches.
While the last post showed the search results themselves, this one is meant to put all that information into more easily digestible format where we can start to see some trends and get more meaning from it all. After we look at the overview of the search results we’ll get into what the local search ranking factors I chose to use and why. Then I’ll show you the data I collected on those search ranking factors for each general contracting company. In the next post we’ll dive into further analysis of the results, but for now we’re just making sure we understand them.
Since there are a lot of charts and spreadsheets in this post I have included a table of contents to help you move directly to where you want to go. These dynamic charts are great because you can hover over any of the points on the graph to find out who the company is and what the value is, but apologies if it is a little glitchy. Google sheets has some pretty cool functionality, but it is still a little rough around the edges in places.
General Contractor Search Rankings Across 12 Searches for All 32 Companies
This includes search ranking positions for every search by every company. There were 32 companies that showed up in the search results, but there were never more than 20 that showed up on one search. This is due to results such as Wikipedia, Thumbtack, Angie’s List, etc. coming up. As you will also notice, the earliest a general contractor ever showed up is in result 7, due to many of these review and aggregator-type sites. While these sites will not always be first, it will definitely take some concerted effort to beat them in most fields. Unfortunately, even if a company showed up multiple times in the same position (were #7 for multiple searches) they are only shown once here, so it is hard to tell which companies did extremely well if they consistently had similar rankings (such as Breaking Ground Contracting Company, which was always 7, 8, or 9 with one 12).
This is the order that companies showed up in the results across the different searches. The reason why there are so few companies in the top 3 is because Breaking Ground Contracting Company and J. Lane Construction LLC dominated the first three ranking positions.
Search Results Broken Down by Search Location
Where you search from is very important for local results. I did searches from two areas so we could both see how well companies did for both locations and to see how different the results ended up being depending on my location. Here are the breakdowns:
Home Search Results
Multiverse Search Results
Overall Search Ranking Results Scores
As shown in the first post with all the original searches I compiled the results for the first 3 pages of Google, organic search results only. That means there were 30 potential ranking positions. Since it is clearly more valuable to score a lower SERP (search engine ranking position) I did this to get the values to add together across all 12 searches:
(31-ranking position for search #1) + (31-ranking position for search #2) + (31-ranking position for search 3) + …etc.
I also assigned each company that did not show up in that search a value of 31 so they would get 0 points.
That way if a company ranks 30th they get 1 point, if they rank 7th in search 1 and 13th in search 2 they get (31-7) + (31-13) = 42 points for those two searches. This was added up for all 12 searches to get these values:
As you can see, Breaking Ground Construction was the shining star of our general contractor local search results study! They showed up highly in all of the searches, as explored in my previous post. There were 7 more companies that all did relatively comparable before a significant dropoff after RPC General Contracting Inc. From there it is a more linear progression until it reaches NFFS Construction and Residential.
Local Search Ranking Factors Used for Approximating Google Results
As mentioned before, Moz’s 2017 Local Search Ranking Factor Survey is one of the best resources out there for learning about local search result data. This case study is putting a lot of those assertions to the test. I was not able to use information from all the categories of Moz study. Here are the categories from the Moz study and whether or not I used metrics to measure them for this study:
- Link Signals: Incoming links (29%)
- Moz Domain Authority
- Moz Page Authority
- Referring Domains
- On-Page Signals: NAP, Keywords, Domain Authority (24%)
- On page SEO Audit
- Moz Domain Authority (yes, again)
- On Site Name, Address, Phone (NAP) Evaluation
- NO evaluation of keyword presence throughout site, only on page that showed up in search
- Behavioural Signals: General conversions (11%)
- NONE. I don’t have access to these for these sites.
- Personalization (9%)
- NONE. Sticking to more easily quantifiable metrics.
- Citation Signals: NAP consistency and volume (8%)
- Moz Local Citation Score
- On Site NAP evaluation (same as #2)
- Google My Business Signals (7%)
- NAP correct
- Keyword in Business Title
- Review Signals (7%)
- Number of Reviews
- Average Review Score
- Social Signals (4%)
- NONE. I did not use any social signals.
- Link Signals: Incoming links (29%)
Recreating 74% of Google’s Local Search
I was able to use metrics to recreate 74% of the search result criteria. That 74% will not be completely accurate, but enough to get us in the ballpark. With Incognito searches the personalization aspect is taken out of the equation. This didn’t change much between the search results in general, but it is noticeable.
Keep in mind this analysis is all based on publicly available information, as we do not have any access to analytics, bounce rate, or any of these other helpful metrics for this case study.
Below is a description of more detail about each category that I used and what the signals mean that were used.
Already familiar with ranking factors and want to skip to the results?
1. Link Signals from Other Sites
I used a few metrics relating to link signals, including (in order of importance):
- Moz’s Domain Authority
- Moz’s Page Authority
- Number of referring domains
As mentioned before, what other people say about you is more important than what you say about yourself. Everybody thinks they are the most important business or person in the world, but clearly only a few businesses or people can be. Make sure that other people care about what you’re doing in the real world and the virtual one and you’ll be a lot better off here. If other people think your business and your online content are important they’ll link to you and that makes you look more important in the almighty eyes of Google. Bing too, but not many people use it.
Even if people mention your name without linking to your site that is being counted as well now. How much relative weight it has I’m not sure if anyone knows, but it does matter and is certainly better than nothing.
Brief Explanation of Domain Authority and Page Authority
Domain Authority is a metric that seeks to measure that by looking at the quantity and quality of links pointing to your site, whereas Page Authority does something similar for just one web page. In this case almost all the pages we looked at were homepages, which tend to have the most links to them for a site, so they have the highest Domain Authority. Many SEO tools will use these metrics, as they are very useful!
How do you do get people to link to your content?
Quality content marketing. Not just making content, but making content that offers people value. This post was designed to give value through helping people learn SEO experientially instead of just being told about it.
Pay Attention to Linking Domains, not Overall Backlinks
Counting overall backlinks wihtout looking at quality of links can make you feel like something good just happened when a spammer links to your site. They could be stealing your images or doing any of a number of other spammy things that can potentially cause a downgrade to your rankings. Backlinks are not all created equal, and not all of them are good. Having a low number of backlinks from each site is generally a good thing and points to having legitimate, higher quality backlinks.
The best backlinks you can get are backlinks that are in the middle of an article and link to you using text including your target keywords for that page, or a close variation. The more you get of these and the more important the sites are that you get them from the better of your site will be. Quality backlinks add up fast.
Lots of bad backlinks only inflate your number of backlinks, not your rankings. They can even hurt your rankings.
What About Backlinks from Local Authorities?
Yes! Backlinks from quality local sources are much more important here than they are for national SERP rankings. Less and less searches are truly national searches anymore, as most searches will show up some mix of local and national search results. I did not get into analyzing the backlinks themselves. That is something we do for our clients, but is beyond the scope of this case study.
2. On Page Signals
Multiverse Free SEO Audit Tool
For on page signals I used the Multiverse Free SEO Audit Tool and put in the url that showed up in the search with the keyword ‘general contractor’. Since the term general contractor was contained in every one of the searches I only used that for the SEO audit to keep the results consistent. Using ‘near me’ in the keyword for the SEO Audit Tool is also not a good idea, as this is supposed to be a smart keyword that Google understands to not be taken literally. I say supposed to be, because from our search results it is clear that this isn’t always the case: Potential short-term Google Hack.
Domain authority measures how important a site is, largely based on the quantity and quality of the links ranking to the site. It also takes into account a number of factors about the site itself. This is meant to be an all around metric for predicting how well a site will show up in Google and encompasses a large amount of information that is not available to us otherwise.
On Site Name, Address, Phone Number Evaluation (NAP)
This is something that is very important for any site that wants to show up locally in Google results. This should really be included in your footer so that no matter what page of your site your visitor is on they can find your contact information right there. Just having a phone number is better than nothing, but your full NAP information should be on your site.
That said, once per page is good. Don’t go putting it in both your footer and your sidebar! If it shows up twice on your contact page that is OK, but it shoudn’t anywhere else unless there’s a good reason for it.
Make sure your NAP information is consistent with your Google My Business account, down to the character.
We’ll get into that more in the next section.
5. Citation Signals: NAP Consistency and Volume
Name, address and phone number. Make sure it is exactly the same on Google My Business as on your site and on all the major directories. Wondering what these are? You can check out one of Moz’s free tools and search to see how good your local listings are on the major directories. Here’s ours as an example of what you want yours to look like:
These are the listings in the order they appear above: Google My Business (g+), Facebook, FourSquare, Superpages, Infogroup, Localeze, Factual, CitySearch, InsiderPages, Best of the Web, Apple, HotFrog, Acxiom, and Yelp.
Moz Local can do this for you by pushing out your Google My Business information to these other listings over the span of a few months or you can get to the grind and do it yourself. If you do it yourself just make sure to keep all your login information for all of them someplace safe where you’ll be able to find it in case you need to make changes in the future.
Why is NAP so Important?
NAP is important because it shows that the business really exists where it says it does. Google doesn’t want people showing up in the wrong place or to the wrong business, as this makes Google look bad and irritates them. Consistency across a lot of different citations shows that both that location is likely a real location with a business and that the business name is the business people will actually find there. Anybody can put up a few phony citations, and many people do. This helps to make sure neither Google nor you get fooled.
Why is Location so Important for Services that go to the Location?
Where your business is located is just as important to local search as it is to getting real walk-ins to your business. Do general contractors, plumbers, and electricians tend to get a lot of walk ins to their offices?
Maybe not. Certainly not as many as a hair salon or retail shop.
Do people tend to search for their business from their home and choose someone located nearby?
Would they prefer to choose someone nearby over someone farther away? Maybe, maybe not. In this case the Google 3 pack results displayed in Google maps are very location dependent, while the local search rankings (below the 3 pack) tend to be relatively consistent across cities. I did a brief case study of how some strange things can happen in Google 3 pack results . That is because location is the #1 search factor for Google 3 packs.
6. Google My Business
NAP! Again! Make sure it is right down to the character! Also important on Google My Business:
- Categories- Very important to have the main things your business does covered. This is tricky. To find out more take a look at my notes on Google My Business in our Local SEO Guide.
- Location- How close you are to the person searching will still matter, just a lot less
- Keywords in business name- despite it being spammy to include keywords that aren’t a part of your business name, having important keywords in your business name helps. This is something to consider for anyone starting a new company or rebranding.
7. Review Signals
Google My Business Reviews are by far the most important. Generally, Facebook will be second, but this can depend on your industry. The overall strategy is pretty obvious: focus on getting good reviews! The more you have the better, but getting over 5 is a meaningful first goal, and getting over 10 gives another meaningful boost. After that it is still important, but declining returns per each extra review.
It is still always better to get more, but after you get to 10 it might be more advisable to focus on a variety of platforms including Google My Business, and not just Google My Business. Getting a bad review isn’t the end of the world, it happens. Just make sure that you are focusing on getting good ones so that they aren’t as big of a problem when/if they happen!
Your efforts to get more good reviews should last for as long as your business does.
Now that you know what you’ll be looking at, I’ve put the spreadsheet below.
Google Local Ranking Factor Results
This goes on the spectrum of green being good to red being bad and bright red being very bad.
Lots of information to go on! In the next post we’ll make some charts and see what kind of conclusions we can draw from it!
A Note on the Very Red Companies
In all cases except NFFS with their NAP the very red actually means these companies are doing very well for themselves by showing up for a search in Jacksonville when they are not based in Jacksonville. The exception is while Brasfield and Gorrie does have an office in Jacksonville, since they have a lot of offices they do not list their NAP on the site.