You know the saying that the only constant in life is change? Well, nowhere is that more true than in SEO. Search engine optimization strategy changes all the time, depending on Google’s algorithm changes, and so best practices and recommendations for how to continue to rank highly in search change as well. Keeping up in this dynamic field can be a challenge, but luckily there are plenty of resources to help you make sense of shifts and to determine what tactics you need to adjust to keep up.

Every two years top thought-leaders and influencers in SEO contribute to a comprehensive survey covering multiple thematic areas of search ranking factors. The insights are compiled and published in a report covering:

• Broad Ranking Signals – Google My Business (GMB), citations, landing pages, reviews, etc.
• Local Pack and Local Organic Factors – a primary concern in healthcare marketing – specific to the local pack
• Foundational vs. Competitive Ranking Factors – basic SEO & competitive difference makers
• Negative Ranking Factors – SEO tactics that can damage ranking

The resulting study allows you to:

• Understand changes in Google’s algorithm. Since Google doesn’t directly tell us all ranking factors, rigorous research and testing is required to understand what’s happening. The combined knowledge presented in this report helps illuminate these signals.
• Determine successful strategies. In order to gain a competitive advantage and win greater visibility in local search results, you can use this report to figure out what strategies to prioritize.

2018 Ranking Factors Breakdown
The top ranking factor for the coming year from the 2018 report is Google My Business, which includes the Google Maps listing and the photos, categories, description, engagement, etc. that accompany it. According to survey respondents, GMB listings account for 25% of a business’ ability to rank in search results, a huge piece of the pie!

Reviews came in as the third most important ranking factor, at 15%, which definitively confirms the assertion by most experts that Google is using ratings and review sentiment to determine what listings rank in the local 3-pack across all verticals and regions.

On the flip side, personalization saw the greatest decrease in prominence as a factor, down to 6% from 10% in 2016. Personalization encompasses a user’s search history, interaction with listings/brands/entities, and other such elements that are not able to be influenced by SEO practices. This is good news, since it means more ranking factors can come under the influence of your organization and your marketing efforts.

Google Posts
With the increasing importance of the GMB listing as a ranking factor, it’s important to consider the different elements within the listing itself and how those influence visibility and consumer behavior.

Google Posts feature prominently within the commentary in the study, with respondents agreeing that businesses have everything to gain by incorporating regular Posts into their strategy, much like social media.

Regularly providing content via Posts shows Google that you’re an active and engaged business owner and is rewarded with ranking benefits.

Furthermore, user engagement with Posts means users will spend more time on your listing, sending important behavioral signals to Google. (Behavior signals account for 10% of ranking.)

Native Google review volume is on the rise across all verticals. Many local 3-packs previously populated by listings with a handful of reviews or no reviews are now featuring listings with dozens of reviews at minimum. This year Google launched its Local Guides program, which incentivizes users to leave reviews and publish photos and other content to Google listings. Reviews from third party sources such as Healthgrades and Yelp now feature prominently in the Knowledge Panel.

With the ubiquity of reviews, consumer expectations have shifted. Consumers are using reviews to discover more than just the sentiment about a business, and they are accustomed to seeing some negative reviews. The expectation now is that businesses will respond to feedback about bad experiences, giving important indications of whether that organization is engaging with its customers and in what capacity.

Best Practices
One of the first things you should do is actively solicit and encourage customers to leave reviews or provide feedback. This is guaranteed to increase review volume. Reviews are going to happen whether or not you ask, and this can never be totally controlled. However, it’s more common that asking will yield more positive reviews. If you need recommendations for how to implement a review solicitation strategy, we can help.

Next, make sure you respond to reviews. Better yet, respond in a personal way to the reviewer. Google now sends a notification to the user when the owner responds, shifting the Google listing from a static source of address and phone number to a dynamic, interactive tool. Utilized correctly, your organization’s Google listings can be a powerful instrument to amplify your message and engage consumers at various stages of their journey.

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