2023 Local SEO Ranking Factors: Whitespark Report Deep Dive

Since 2008, the Local Search Ranking Factors annual report has illuminated what’s driving local search rankings and conversions by polling top local search experts on the factors they believe are most impactful. Although the report should not be construed as a scientific assessment of Google’s search engine algorithm itself, it does provide a useful gauge of the effectiveness of various local SEO factors that business owners can use to their advantage.

For anyone interested in boosting their local SEO success in 2023, the insights shared within the Local Search Ranking Factors report should not be missed. You’ll find an overview of the report’s key takeaways from this year below.

Want more tips on how to boost your local search ranking in 2023?

What's New in the 2023 Local Ranking Factors Report?

Local Ranking Factor Group Change Over Time

Historically, the Whitespark local search ranking survey asked participants to select their top 20 local SEO factors. This year's survey allowed for a higher level of response granularity as it allowed contributors to rank all 149 possible factors that could impact search results. By and large, the survey focused on Google local ranking factors to the exclusion of other search engines, given Google’s global dominance outside of China.

In general, the survey did not reveal massive changes from last year, but there were still plenty of interesting revelations. One notable update was the rise of the “fake reviews” or “review spam” ranking, although this may reflect a change in the survey format rather than a Google crackdown on spam reviews. Other changes included:

  • The rise of Google visual search: Google is increasingly choosing to display pictures in response to search queries. While this signals a departure from the past, it may not have much of an influence on search engine results page (SERP) ranking.

  • A vicinity update: Starting in November 2021, Google revamped the way it shows listings based on implicit searches, or searches that lack an explicitly defined location. This change has tightened the geographic radius for these queries, meaning if someone Googles "tasty pizzas," only nearby pizza restaurants will pop up on their SERP.

  • The decline of Google Business Profile (GBP) signals and enhanced on-page performance: Compared to past years, GBP signals saw a modest decline as a local SEO ranking factor. Much of that weight seems to have shifted to on-page signals, which continue rising as a ranking factor.

How to Rank in the Google 3-Pack

The Google 3-Pack refers to the three local business listings and the accompanying map that you find at the top of Google's SERP when you search for a nearby business. Previous iterations of the 3-Pack included as many as 10 business listings. The whittling down to just three listings shows how local search is now more competitive than ever. How valuable is a spot in the Google 3-pack? Krystal Taing explains:

Businesses that rank in the 3-pack typically get 88% additional clicks in driving directions, 76% more clicks on call, and 76% more clicks to websites, according to a recent Uberall study.

Krystal Taing, Director of Pre-Sales SolutionsUberall

Because of its prominence at the top of Google's SERP, landing in one of those three spots garners your company maximum visibility. Read on to learn about the top seven factors that influence your spot in the 3-pack according to the 2023 Whitespark Local Search Ranking Factors Report.

Top 7 Local Ranking Factors

#1 - GBP Signals

At 32% of the vote, GBP signals constitute far and away the most significant local SEO ranking factor when it comes to getting into the Local 3-Pack. Fortunately, you don't have to pay anything or learn a totally new skill to optimize your GBP. Scoring high on this metric is largely a matter of following directions and matching up well with the search query.

To maximize the effectiveness of this key local ranking factor, it's important to make your profile as complete as possible. That means ensuring your name, location, description, and photos are accurate and up to date. It also means answering questions and responding to customer reviews. Make sure your GBP has a link back to your website or location page too if you run a franchise.

GBP signals are everything within your Google Business Profile. This means your name, your category, your address, and the images that you have uploaded. It also includes other elements that are available to you, things like your Google posts, Q&A and messaging.

Krystal Tang, Director of Pre-Sales SolutionsUberall

#2 - On-Page Signals

At 19% of the vote and with steady growth over the past five years, on-page signals constitute the second most important local SEO ranking factor to consider when optimizing for Google 3-Pack eligibility. Of course, the importance of on-page signals is closely tied to proximity, and there's little you can do to change that.

But you can change the quality of your communication. Your website should explain in detail what makes you uniquely qualified to do what you do. A convincing demonstration of your expertise on your core pages or on a location landing page can go a long way toward pulling you into that coveted 3-pack position.

Explaining why you are an expert in your field and what sets you apart from your competitors are some of the most important things you need to do on-site. And one of the ways you can do that is by optimizing pages like your core pages and especially the page that you're linking to from the GBP.

Elizabeth Rule, SEO Analyst and Account ManagerSterling Sky

#3 - Review Signals

Ranking at No. 3 with 16% of the total vote, review signals saw a decline in perceived value as a local SEO ranking factor over the past year. This may reflect a growing concern by Google about fake reviews or review spam. To stay ahead of Google, it's vital that you operate in good faith at all times. Using review farms to artificially inflate your positive review count may damage your ranking, while soliciting honest feedback from your customers should result in a boost.

Review signals encompass reviews from around the web and not just those on your GBP. From Yelp to Trustpilot, any publicly available review can impact your chances of inclusion in the local search 3-pack. Generally speaking, maintaining a healthy online presence helps you cultivate positive reviews naturally.

Review Signals are your entire review profile — the volume of reviews, overall rating, review replies — and how that's impacting your visibility.

— Krystal Taing, Director of Pre-Sales Solutions, Uberall

#4 - Link Signals

Although they ranked as the fourth most important local SEO factor, link signals have seen a steady decline in relative importance over time. Perhaps this is an indicator of how difficult link building can be, but it should not be taken as the idea that building up a solid link profile to your website is unimportant. On the contrary, experts seem to agree that links still yield very strong SEO results.

Just be careful about how you build backlinks. A solid strategy should consist of a link strategy within your website domain and then relevant links in our local marketing strategy via social and business listings.

Focus on building links to your actual website—like the landing page for your location or your local services pages. We see a lot of really great boosts by giving links there.

— Darren Shaw, Founder, Whitespark

#5 - Behavioral Signals

Behavioral signals are another important local SEO ranking factor that came in at 8% of the total vote share.

This factor refers broadly to how users interact with your website and includes factors like click-through rate, bounce rate, and time spent on a webpage. In the past, some site owners employed black hat SEO tactics, such as paying for simulated website engagement to get good results. But retaining a strong ranking over the long haul requires that you create engaging site materials and an overall positive user experience, which is very hard to simulate.

You want your listing to be engaging. The best way to manipulate dwell time is not to hire micro workers to spend time on your listing; it's to actually make your listing engaging so people stay on it.

— Darren Shaw, Founder, Whitespark

#6 - Citation Signals

Citation signals come in just behind behavioral signals with 7% of the total vote share of local ranking factors. This represents a marked decline from several years ago. A website's citation signals refer to the consistency of its name, address, and phone number across multiple online directories. Its decline in terms of relative importance may be a reflection of how deeply competitive the local SEO landscape has become.

I think that the impact of citation signals is perceived to be lower because the competition is so much higher. So do not be fooled by a data point like this and say, oh, I don't need to worry about citations. They're table stakes now.

Darren Shaw, FounderWhitespark

#7 - Personalization Signals

Personalization saw a modest uptick in relevance from 4% to 6% of the local SEO ranking factors vote. This may represent little more than statistical noise. Personalization simply refers to how Google tailors your search results to your individual preferences. If you consistently click on Wendy's when you search for fast food restaurants nearby, Google may catapult Wendy's up to the No. 1 spot for your individual SERP. Unlike the above local SEO factors, there's nothing you can do to influence or change this detail.

You’re getting personalized results based on what Google knows you like, what you've clicked on in the past, and your browsing history. That's what personalization is. You cannot manipulate it. You can't change it in any way. It's a nonissue, a nonfactor.

— Darren Shaw, Founder, Whitespark

Exciting Changes Ahead

The 2023 Whitespark Local Search Ranking Factors survey saw mostly modest changes compared to the previous year, making it clear that what matters most for landing in the Google 3-Pack fluctuates little year to year.

However, growth in on-page signals signifies the importance of a well-round strategy that includes a mix of channels. In addition, a renewed emphasis on controlling review spam and the introduction of predefined services for GBP are exciting areas to watch in the coming year. Take advantage of the insights highlighted above and optimize your website and GBP to rank higher for local search on Google this year.

Want more tips on how to boost your local search ranking in 2023?