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We're now 14+ years deep into local search marketing since the launch of Google Maps.

These days, local businesses and search marketers struggle to come out on top in search results landscapes full of moderately strong competitors that may already have passable websites, reasonably complete Google Business Profiles, and a set of accurate and consistent managed citations on top directories.

So how do you spot room for growth when the local SEO playing field looks too even?

Though an audit could uncover important improvements you can make to the overall optimization and health of a business's online assets, it won't always be enough to move the needle versus the competition. Meanwhile, Google's increasing control of local experiences on the search engine results page (SERP) tends to leave you with few options for growth.

Take heart, though—it's not all bad. When you take a closer look you'll find that the opportunities for growth are there and they can have direct, measurable impacts on both business online visibility and bottom lines.

Polling the Experts for Local Strategy in 2019

Each year, Moz publishes the Local Search Ranking Factors survey, aggregating opinions from the world's leading local SEO experts on which elements have the greatest impact on Google's local and localized organic rankings. I've contributed to that survey since its inception in 2008. This year, I also spearheaded the new Moz State of Local SEO Industry Report, which surveyed 1,400+ local business owners and marketers from all levels of commerce.

Together, these two surveys paint an interesting picture:

  1. The table stakes haven't changed much: You should still strive for the most influence on Google local pack rankings, with essential basic factors such as correct Google My Business categories, accurate citations, and an address in the city of search.
  2. However, links and reviews are the top two competitive difference-makers, profoundly affecting local search outcomes in crowded markets.

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image of Miriam Ellis

Miriam Ellis the local SEO subject-matter expert at Moz. She has been consulting with local businesses for 15+ years and is a proponent of thriving local business communities.

Twitter: @Miriam_Ellis