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Almost two-thirds of local marketers (64%) agree that Google is becoming the new “homepage” for local businesses, according to The State of Local SEO Industry Report 2019 [download page] from Moz. Within that environment, it makes sense that local marketers are interested in learning more about organic SEO as well as new Google local features.

Based on their reading of the local SEO industry, the survey’s respondents were most apt to say that they’ll be devoting more of their own time in the next 12 months to studying organic SEO, as about one-quarter (24%) pointed to this as their main future field of study. This focus reflects a separate finding, in which close to two-thirds agreed that there’s a strong correlation between organic and local rankings.

Beyond organic SEO, the other top areas that local marketers want to explore in greater detail in the next year are new Google local features (cited by 14% share of respondents), coding (12%), link building (11%) and paid advertising including Adwords and Local Service Ads (11%).

Highlighted results from the report offer more context for some of those areas. In terms of paid advertising, the study notes that 69% of respondents said that their company or most of their clients are paying Google for online advertising or leads in the form of ads, Local Service Ads, and other such products.

As for link building, there seems to be room for improvement, as more than one-third (35%) do not have a local link building strategy in place. Among those who do, however, content development is the clear leader in terms of the strategy returning the best ROI, with direct asks a distant second. That tracks with other research which has found on-page content to be perceived as the most effective SEO tactic.

Which Ranking Factors Are Important?

Local search can be quite complex, and for more than one-fifth (22%) of the local marketers surveyed it’s simply too diverse to pin down a top ranking factor.

However among the two-thirds of respondents who do have an opinion, proximity was easily the top response. One-third of all respondents (or close to half of those with an opinion) named proximity of address to the searcher as the top local ranking factor.

But that isn’t necessarily a good thing in the minds of local marketers. Fully 9 in 10 feel that Google’s emphasis on searcher proximity either frequently (35%) or sometimes (55%) generates results that favor closeness over quality.

Local marketers also see other factors having an impact on rankings:

  • Half (49%) believe that use of other Google Knowledge Panel Features, like Posts and Q&A, impacts local pack rankings; and
  • More than 9 in 10 (91%) believe aspects of reviews, including ratings, quality, positive/negative sentiment, presence of keywords and/or recency can impact local pack rankings.

A recent study from BrightLocal lends some support to that latter point, as businesses appearing in Google’s top 3 local positions had a larger average number of Google Reviews (47) than those in lower positions (positions 4-6: 40; 7-10: 38). Higher-ranking local businesses also had high average star ratings in the analysis, when including those businesses without Google reviews. (Correlation of course does not equal causation, but there appears to nonetheless be a link between reviews and rankings.)

Despite the perceived impact of ratings and reviews, 60% of respondents to the Moz survey said they do not have a complete review management structure in place, from acquisition to response and sentiment analysis.

About the Data: The results are based on a survey of more than 1,400 local marketers across industries, job titles and roles.

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