Here are some key takeaways:
- The influence of Google Plus/Google My Business is effectively nil. Google is not displaying Plus profiles on Maps results or the main SERP page anymore. Since the user-engagement of Google Plus never really took off in the first place, a Plus profile is turning into little more than a “nice to have”.
- Link authority is becoming more influential. Getting a backlink from a high-authority domain is a serious gain for a website. The mantra has been “content is king” for a while; links are challenging for a chunk of the kingdom.
- No one knows what to make of the Snack Pack. Well, everyone has an opinion. The problem is that there is no consensus. Some professionals think it’s a huge shakeup; others a minor change. Some think it will push more business to business directories, harming local business. My verdict? It’s too early to tell. The change is too recent, and we haven’t been able to collect enough data to see how the clicks are trending.
None of these three points should have been surprising for anyone who has stayed abreast of the industry’s developments. The general impression of G+/GMB has been trending negatively for quite some time; Google lopping GMB out of the SEO picture would be a relief to all of us. Link authority has been the subject of an increasing number of strong case studies over the past year, all of which point to quality links being more influential than simply quantity.
Some caveats to keep in mind…
- Reading the commentary, there is a very wide spectrum of opinion about the changes in local search ranking between 2014’s survey and the 2015 edition. Many think it’s more of the same, with the Snack Pack being the most interesting change (recency bias may play a part, but I’m inclined to agree).
- The survey is very Google-centric, and for good reason. Google’s algorithm is the most mature, it’s used in the large majority of web searches, and there is a sizable overlap between Google ranking factors and Bing ranking factors (based on the common goal of connecting web users to what they want). The results are thus less useful for a general guide to Bing-powered search.
- Remember, the survey is a survey of the impression that SEO professionals have of the influence of a list of ranking factors. Each professional’s impression is molded by the questions they choose to study, the data they get in order to answer that question (whether or not that data is appropriate to the question), and their interpretation of the data. Given the number of participants, the data should be reliable, but there is still some room for subjective “fuzziness”.