For people like me, who live search, the annual release of THE Local Search Ranking Factors survey results is a very exciting time (up there with Michigan football season, seriously). I am very proud to be a contributor and also very grateful to Moz's David Mihm for the substantial work that coordinating this project undoubtedly requires.
For many lawyers, local search results are a critical channel for client development. After all, no matter how a potential client initially gets a lawyer's name, at some point, they are likely to "google" that lawyer. And the lawyer's Google My Business page(s) will be among the first listings shaping that potential client's impression.
So, let's dive into a few key takeaways from this year's survey that lawyers can use.
Factors Experts Are Focusing on More Since the Snack Pack Rollout
To me, this is the most valuable part of the survey results. It represents the factors upon which people who do this for a living are focused.
Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
To me, focusing on very high-quality structured citations is the starting point for local search visibility. Put another way, quality structured citations are necessary, but not sufficient. However, in competitive online landscapes, like legal, they're usually table stakes. In my view, they remain high on the focus list because you've got to get them right or all else won't matter.
The other key on structured citations is that it's about quality/authority, not quantity. Like links, which we'll get to, thousands of low-quality structured citations don't measure-up against getting the top 100 or so right.
Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
If there's any "magic" to local search rankings (pro tip: there isn't), it's quality/authority of inbound links to your domain. I'd also slightly modify to quality/authority of hyper-local/industry-relevant inbound links.
For the sites and SERPs we regularly monitor in legal, this is one of the most significant "difference-makers."
Again, the focus here needs to be on quality, local and relevant. I wrote about this back in 2013 and I think it's even more important now.
After getting your major citations right, this is the place to spend your time and money.
Quantity of Native Google Reviews (w/text)
Honestly, as a ranking factor, I'm surprised to see this one so high on the list. I see plenty of local SERPs in which the top-spots are dominated by law firms without any reviews at all.
On the other hand, getting native Google reviews is absolutely essential to earning attention from searchers. Needless to say, listings with stars jump off the page (although we've seen Google dial-back the usage of native stars for firm/lawyer name searches).
Nevertheless, people expect to see happy client reviews and ratings. Furthermore, if your competitors who appear lower in SERPs have a quantity of native Google reviews, you're losing click share to them.
From an overall "online legal marketing" perspective, earning positive reviews from clients probably ought to be among your top three to five priorities.
Consistency of Structured Citations
I'd probably put citation consistency closer to the top of my focus list (in fact I put it #2 to quality/authority of inbound links). Getting a bunch of citations, even high quality ones, that are inconsistent, can tank local rankings. In fact, as I write this, one could make a strong case for consistency as a number one focus, followed closely by local links.
And when we're talking consistency, we're talking strict consistency. Especially with regard to firm name, address and phone.
Fixing citation consistency issues is usually a big part of our job. It's a particularly thorny issue when firms have moved, lawyers have switched firms and there are multiple office locations.
So, here are my picks for focusing on more since the snack pack rollout compared with the survey results:
Hey, 4/6 on the short list, not too bad.
What are yours?