New Study Helps SMB Owner Analyze Local Search Data

local search rankingsLocal reviews and citations are critical to helping your SMB site rank in the search engines’ local algorithms. We’ve heard this countless times.

But is it just raw numbers that matter or does the quality of the review site domain play a part? Is there more that goes into it? These were the questions that Tom Critchlow of the London Internet marketing firm Distilled sought to answer with his newly released data on local search ranking factors. And in the spirit of giving and free information, Tom has made all of his research available for download via both XLS file and Google Document. Happy early holidays.

To conduct his research, Tom used the phrase [hotels in seattle] to see which factors Google was using in order to return results for relevant hotels. Tom mined the results, made note of the number of citations, reviews, the sum of both, rating, distance and then recorded them to see how the raw numbers compared to actual hotel rankings. He also broke down the individual citations for each hotel, to show which sites and citations were most important for rankings. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by telling you that Tom discovered that it’s not just the raw number of reviews and citations that determine ranking. The engines are far more sophisticated than that. You’ll have to read Tom’s analysis to get the full dirt.

One thing I found really interesting was the idea that Google may be using the star rating system as a way to determine the overall sentiment of reviews (good, bad, neutral). Previously there’s been lots of talk that the engines just wanted to see many reviews from lots of different places, but this shows that perhaps they’re really digging a lot deeper than that.

If you’re a small business owner, I recommend two things:

  1. Download & mine Tom’s data – Whether you’re in the hotel industry or not, I’d still recommending taking a look at the data and looking for your own takeaways. You’re going to be looking at it from a completely different perspective than Tom, one that is unique to your industry. Use your own filter to put meaning to the data.
  2. Recreate it for your own industry — Do a local search for you industry, take the top 30 results and go through the same process that Tom did. Look for the citations that seem most powerful and make sure your site has the same ones. Every industry is going to have a different scale for the number of reviews and citations needed for rank based on how competitive it is. Your job is to master what works in your industry and then use that information to equal, and then better, everyone else in your class.

While people and blogs can sit and talk about what we think the engines are and are not looking when determining rankings, there’s no substitute for collecting your own data, seeing what works for your specific industry, and then acting on it. Thanks to Tom and the folks at Distilled for putting this one together. Very, very useful information.


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

3 Reactions
  1. Tom should be selling this. I’m sure there are some companies that would like to have an analytical guy like Tom do this research for their industry and keywords.

    But no, this is a great exercise and I love that he is being so transparent with the methodology.

  2. I’m totally with Robert here. This is stellar stuff and I’m very thankful to Tom for sharing it. Pass on our appreciation.

  3. Have you compared Google’s local searches with Bing’s “decision engine” and travel service? How do they match up?