Updated:  2020-01-01

The 2020 Analysis of SEO for Local Search Enigne Marketing

SEO For Local Business

An Actionable Guide For SEO and Local Search Engine Marketing in 2020

Hello WooNation!

We're back with our 2nd installment for Local SEO in "What It Takes To Rank In X Industry Right Now". If you missed our epic 1st guide, we encourage you to read up on that now, right here.

To get some background on why we are doing this series and how we measure our findings, you need to read the 1st article we did on what it takes to rank in the higher education industry.


Because we will be comparing results from all our articles in this series to look at what's happening in SEO as a whole with later articles we write.

Plus, it's a great read to understand the foundation of what we are talking about when it comes to link building, anchors, content, keywords, domain age, and so much more.

So without further ado, lets dive right into our 2nd article!

Local SEO Marketing - What It Takes To Rank In 2020

I wanted to jump into local niches and see what's working for locality-specific terms such as:

  • Divorce attorneys in San Diego
  • Plumbers near me ( using different geolocations )
  • Louisville roofers
  • Carpet cleaners Boston, Ma
  • any many more ...

But everyone hates when you out niches.

While I won't divulge all the keywords and localities we researched, you can get an idea from the sample I listed above.

To make sure this was a valid study, I decided to look at thousands of listings, from many localities and keywords, to get a sense of what it is taking to rank local sites on the first page of Google right now.

Later on, we can compare this article with our prior SERPWoo - SEO For Higher Education article to get a broader sense of what's working for SEO in general.

Of note, I wanted a good apples to apples comparison of the local industries. So I removed listings ( for the ranking factors ) that included sites most local business owners will never outrank. Places like:

  • Yelp
  • Thumbtack
  • AngiesList
  • the BBB
  • and other large directory type mega sites.

If you're a local plumber or an agency helping a local HVAC business, you more than likely are not going to outrank one of these big guys.

This was my focus for this research. Comparing results you can strive to reach and beat.

Domain Age, Still No New Domains Ranking

Yep folks, age matters.

We wrote an article about this in 2017, and our prior Higher Ed research also proved this. We are still seeing that new domains are not ranking in the top SERPs.

And while we didn't get a 110% confirmation from this recent Feb. 2019 Google research article that Google is using domain age, we do get a glimmer from Google themselves that age should factor into their search results.

Parts of the article suggest that the age of sites which are relevant to queries can help refine which answer is the best choice.

If Google is presenting such information in research papers, don't you think they are using it other ways they haven't written about?

In our local SEO study, we found that the youngest domain is coming back as December 1st, 2016.

Ninety percent of all the domains in our local SEO research are showing older than 2013.

More than half are older than 2003.

And while we already covered this in our 1st article of this series, let's make the public announcement again...

Wither its domain age, the age of backlinks, the age of the trend of your link profile, the age of your content ( new, old, or updated ), etc. The fact remains that age/time matters.

And since the links and content live and connect to your URLs and domain, we lump this as domain age.

Simply put, no one is ranking brand new domains on the first page for "real" keywords. Not even SEO's that have access to thousands of dollars for great content, social media, and relevant high authority backlinks and mentions.

Maybe the trust still has to be built up.

Perhaps a trend has to be established.

No matter what, without the passage of time ( thus age ), the domains are not ranking until some age is acquired.

Bottom line, if you think you are going to throw up a new site and get it ranked, think again.

Prepare yourself, clients, upper management, and budgets to sit on the sidelines for at least 12-24 months minimum for any real keyword rankings.

Many of us can buy tons of content and get backlinks ahead of time to beat out our competitors. But, you can't cheat the aging process. Google has you beat here for the moment.

Don't shoot the messenger; I'm just here for the fact's ma'am.

Comparison from our prior rank studies:

Higher Education SEO In 2020 - We confirmed that new domains were not ranking. The youngest domain was a few days away from 12 months old and was an EDU domain. The others were all 3+ years old.


If you're handling a web project where the domain is new, you need to take into account that ranking on the first page of Google might take a full 1, 2, or 3 years to play out.

Make sure upper management is informed and expects this, and that the project budget reflects such a timeline.

Not only does our 2017 study reflect this, but our analysis of the Higher Education industry is also confirming these findings too.

What The Local SEO SERPs Look Like Day To Day

Besides a few outliers, the majority of the Local SERPs are pretty calm. Meaning, they aren't volatile like I expected them to be.

Of note, this is one topic where I was not able to take out the sizeable mega directory sites like Yelp, AngiesList, BBB, etc.

Most of the keywords and localities we examined looked a lot like this:


If you recall from our 1st post in this series, I tend to shy away from scores higher than 30. Here is an example of what I try to stay away from:

The outliers for local SEO where I didn't find calm waters?

Those came from the legal niche side of local SEO. Where the terms are expensive ( PPC ), competitive, and many agencies are trying to specialize and sell their Legal SEO services to firms and attorneys around the nation.

But, the majority of local keywords tend to be calm and look ripe for ranking still.

More than likely, the calmness is a factor of locality. Instead of thousands of sites trying to rank for "emergency plumber," you have a hundred ( or less than a dozen in some cases ) local providers trying to rank for "emergency plumbers in Nashville."

That's good news for some of us.

And while volatility seems calm, we also are seeing the same pattern for the top positions not moving much in comparison to the rest of the top 20 results.

Here is what we found in our last article:

And what we are seeing in local:

We learned last time that the top 3 are pretty much unmovable. In local SEO, it shows the same pattern with many times the top 5 spot not moving very much day to day.

And just like looking for competitors that we could model backlinks and content from, we do the same research of who has longevity and exclude those that do not.

If we exclude sites that most local SEO websites will not outrank ( Yelp, BBB, HomeAdvisor, AngiesList, etc.), we can start to examine real competitors that have ranking longevity for clues to what they are doing right, like this example.

We don't want to research sites that are starting to rank. We don't know if they are using black hat tactics or getting a bump from freshness. It's better to research those we know have been ranking for a while for best analysis.

And even better, our Local Search Results Checker can help you examine what other localities look like for your chosen local keywords if you need to see how you could fare in a nearby city.

Monitoring many variations of your keywords and their localities can help you spot gaps that you might be able to rank for.

But how do you come up with all those possible city AND keyword variations?

No worry, like in our Higher Education SEO Analysis, we are providing you with a copy/paste replacement list that will make this work easy for you.

Keywords like:

  • carpet cleaners near me
  • carpet cleaners in Miami
  • carpet cleaners in my area
  • emergency carpet cleaners
  • Miami carpet cleaners
  • carpet cleaners Miami

You can replace "carpet cleaners" with your chosen keyword and "Miami" with your chosen locality.

Our downloadable list contains thousands of variations of cities and states ( USA ) with a default keyword parameter that you can copy/paste and replace!

With this list, change out XXXXX with your chosen keyword, and you will have a list of 6300+ variations of your term that you can track with SERPWoo that includes all states and major cities.

Download the free full list now

No need to say thanks.

But if you could share this article on social media, we'll take that as your appreciation!

Comparison from our prior rank studies:

Higher Education SEO In 2020 - The SERPs, in general, were more volatile day to day, but pockets of easier rankings still abound in less volume keywords. We saw the same pattern of unmovable top 3 rankings that barely bounced around too. A solid keyword list ran through our Local Search Results Checker tool can help you see how your listings look in other cities.


Many opportunities for low hanging fruit are still available for local niches as the SERPs tend to be calm.

Repeat patterns of hitting the top 3-5 positions will be harder as those sites tend not to bounce around as much, showing longevity if you can get those rankings.

We provide a vast keyword list for helping you track local listings with a copy/paste and replace download.

Keywords Are All Important In Your Content

In our last post, we showed how more content allowed you more opportunity to inject your keywords which lead to better rankings. Simple, right?

The math worked out.

A 10,000-word article would allow more content to stuff your keywords than a 1,000-word article. Stuffing a lot of your keywords would be pretty easy with a longer piece.

Yet, for local SEO we are seeing word counts only at the 1,000 to 1,100-word level. That's not a lot of opportunity to stuff your keywords.

But the correlation to your keywords in the content is still showing the most critical factor in page 1 rankings for local SEO.

Maybe we are going to hit on a golden ratio of keywords to content in the future if the pattern keeps up?

Here are the results for word count we found:

And here, in order of importance, is how keywords are impacting rankings.

Getting the right keywords into your content, large or small, is impacting rankings. And getting them into the right areas of your content is also essential.

We found a lot of this out back in our 1st article for the Higher Ed industry, but it's nice to see it is still a strong signal in another industry like local.

As a quick note, we didn't count just the primary keyword as the keyword counts in our results, but variations of the main keyword.

This is also how we did our prior Higher Education study as well.

An example of the term "Las Vegas Carpet Cleaners" would include keywords in the content such as:

  • carpet
  • carpet cleaner
  • carpet cleaner las vegas
  • carpet cleaners
  • carpet cleaners las vegas
  • carpet cleaner's
  • carpet cleaning
  • carpet cleaning las vegas
  • carpet cleaning's
  • carpeting
  • carpets
  • cleaner
  • cleaners
  • cleaning
  • las vegas
  • las vegas carpet
  • las vegas carpet cleaners
  • las vegas carpet cleaning
  • Etc. You get the picture.

So when you see these results, don't think that we are just counting the exact match keyword by itself. We are looking at the variations and breakdowns too.

Comparison from our prior rank studies:

Higher Education SEO In 2020 - Many keywords, within a lot of content, proved to help with rankings on the first page of Google. Getting the keywords in the right parts of the content also affected rankings as well.


I'm not saying you should "stuff" your keywords in your content, but getting them in the material, and in multiple areas, is one of the top ranking factors we measured for local SEO in 2020.

Even with less content, your keywords and the way you use them is essential for rankings.

Remember to use variations of your keywords, not just the main keyword itself.

Keyword In First 100 Words Again, But Also The Last 100 Words

Having your keywords in the first 100 words proved to be a ranking signal in our research from our 1st article.

But for local, we also see keywords in the last 100 words also a ranking factor too.

Here are the results for our current study on first 100 and last 100 words:

The fact we are dealing with less content ( 1,000 - 1,100 words per article on average ) is more than likely the reason why the last 100 words are showing important for this study.

Getting in those keywords when you have less opportunity ( content length ) would naturally spill over to the end of your content — namely, the last 100 words.

I'm going to go on the safe side and stand firm that the first 100 words are more important for rankings since this overlaps with our 1st article

The last 100 words seem to be the result of having less content in general.

But, if you have shorter length content, I would try to focus the keywords at the end of your content as well.

Comparison from our prior rank studies:

Higher Education SEO In 2020 - Many keywords, within a lot of content, proved to help with rankings on the first page of Google. Getting the keywords in the right parts of the content also affected rankings as well.


Keywords in the first 100 words as a ranking signal is overlapping from our 1st article in this series, so I stand firm on this as a strategy for your content.

Keywords in the last 100 words is a by-product of the shorter content that we found naturally from the local SEO industry as a whole.

However, it would be wise to try to get your terms in the last 100 words if you are dealing with shorter length content.

Nofollow Links Still Showing Outstanding Relevance In Ranking

Our breakthrough findings on nofollow links caused some severe chatter in the SEO sphere lately.

SERPWoo has pretty much been the only experts in the SEO world to talk about this and study it.

But that's how we roll.

Our study on how Quora helped us rank back in 2017 caused some debates that no one wanted to admit. That nofollows do help you rank.

Then we went further and did our Higher Education SEO piece that proved the same thing.

Now we see it again, here in our local SEO guide, you are reading now.

I get it. No, I really do.

Some of you don't want to admit that some false SEO gurus and talking heads from Google might have lied to you a few years ago

Some of you might feel more comfortable drinking the Kool-Aid and "getting along" to what link sellers on Fiverr and black hat SEO forums are selling you.

Many more of you don't have the time to do the research and confirm what we have been saying for years already and think that because Google said nofollows didn't help back in 2008, that nothing has changed ( or ever will ) with their algorithms.

But the data doesn't lie.

No worries, you keep stacking up those dofollow only profiles that look oh so natural. The rest of us will keep topping the SERPs and making bank with our nofollows.

I've already gone into detail on why the nofollows are helping for rankings in our prior Higher Ed study. Please read that to find out why if you need to learn more.

Comparison from our prior rank studies:

Higher Education SEO In 2020 - Nofollow links were showing as a strong ranking signal. Not just as links coming in, but linking out as well. It all makes perfect sense when you think about it, but read the article to find out more and why.


SEO is all about what's currently working in the SERPs. That's why I invented the concept of SERPWoo years ago so I could watch the SERPs and hone in on what was working in my niche.

Reading and trusting outdated information from companies that don't want you to manipulate their results isn't the best way to learn how to rank at the top of the SERPs.

We now have three studies that show nofollows help with rankings.

Local Phone Number - Proving Local Intent?

This is where things got a little unusual with our study.

I mean, we all should know that different keywords and SERPs behave differently and contain different ranking signals, but when has someone showed you this before with real data?

Well, my guess is no one.

Because these were the same questions I had when I dreamed up SERPWoo. No other tool was showing what worked in different SERPs.

Everyone gave you bland, generic SEO advice or "SEO Weather" updates based on a predetermined small subset of plain vanilla keywords that had nothing to do with your niche

No one was giving data on what worked in X niche or Y keyword.

That's why SERPWoo invented SERP Tracking years ago.

We did this so you could learn what worked for your keywords.

Learning things like having a phone number correlating with local SEO rankings.

Don't you think this would help you in picking the right phone number for your business?

Before this confirmation, you could have gone out and picked a generic 1800 number instead of that local 404 Atlanta number, only to be doomed to getting outranked by someone who knew better.

And what about those poor souls that don't even have a phone number on their site and instead opted for a contact form

Tisk Tisk.

If you're a national franchise looking to compete in a local market, it might be tempting to grab a generic 1800 number and let an automated operator funnel customers to the right locality.

Even as a local provider, you might be tempted to let people call toll free to your 1800 number. That's nice, right?

However, you need to put in the work and get the local number to help prove your local intent to Google. Doing so should help improve your regional rankings.

Comparison from our prior rank studies:

Higher Education SEO In 2020 - Phone numbers were not a signal for the Higher Ed industry. This factor could very well be specific for the local SEO business niche.


Local intent comes down to even the smallest of factors, like the phone number used on your website.

Do you have a phone number listed where it can be found?

Is it even a local number to the area you want to rank in?

Consider these factors before you make the wrong choice because it's more convenient or makes you look like a "larger entity." Sometimes this thinking can backfire on you.

More Links = Better Rankings, Again

I feel like I don't need to explain this finding too much.

Any digital marketer worth their salt has seen or heard this over the years. More links = better rankings.

I mean, it's what Google built their foundation of search on when they named it BackRub.

But I include it because there is a lot of chatter about how links matter less and less, or how backlinking is dwindling as a ranking factor.

Yeah, not with our findings.

Even with local niches, backlinks count.

And while backlinking has changed over the years and not every link counts as much as another ...

We are still finding more links wins out in general over fewer links for first page rankings.

Just make sure you have the right type of links.

Right now, that means having relevant domain links pointing to your site over links that might be authoritative URL links.

And that might be super hard for some local niches like funeral parlors and piano tuners. But one link from a relevant domain could help you outrank someone with a dozen high authority URL links.

If your competitors all have backlink profiles that contain relevant domains, you are going to have to match and exceed them no matter what to outrank them.

Comparison from our prior rank studies:

Higher Education SEO In 2020 - Relevant domain links are beating out any other type of link building. Having more links is also beating out having less. All of this should be no surprise.


Having lots of links from any source doesn't cut it if you are trying to match and exceed your competitors in link building.

But you will have to match and exceed nonetheless.

Building more and more of the right kind of links is still critical to ranking on the first page in 2020 for even the local niches.

Google Plus And Videos - Making A Small Impact, But Helping

I almost didn't include this finding.

Something kept telling me to include it though. I mean, every little advantage helps, right?

What if what you learned here helped you outrank your competitor and change the course of your business?

And yes, I know Google Plus is going away. No need to bring this up in the comments.

However, it was showing up as helping with first page rankings when I pulled the research.

And even though you might not be able to use Google Plus soon, you could still put videos on your site to help you with rankings.

More importantly, you should take away that adding certain types of social ( Google Pages, YouTube videos on your page, maybe other types of media ) can help you in the future for rankings.

Sometimes you need to be a first mover and make "hay while the sun shines." Those who used Google Plus for years benefited in the local SEO niche while it lasted.

Now that it's going away, it will be interesting how this study plays out in the next 6 to 12 months.

Until then, I advise those of you with no videos on your site to create one on YouTube and embed it on your website to help with your rankings.

Comparison from our prior rank studies:

Higher Education SEO In 2020 - Social media and videos were not a factor in our prior Higher Ed study.


Sometimes good things ( like Google Plus helping local ) come to an end.

This is why monitoring the top of the SERPs daily with a tool like SERPWoo is so important when looking for, and keeping, an edge in SEO.

You can still use video on your site to give you the push you need to crack first page rankings.

Conclusion of Local SEO Marketing

Each SERP is its own beast.

And while some things never change like

  • More content = better rankings
  • More links = better rankings

You need to know how to use links and content within your niche to rank.

What is Google telling you with its SERPs on how you should use links and content?

This is what you always need to be thinking about.

You can't take vanilla guru advice from other lame bloggers that haven't ranked a website since 2002. Information like "build more links." You need to know which type of links to build.

You know, like how we showed you nofollow links. Or how Grindstone showed you domain relevant links over any other kind.

You also can't take advice from VC backed SaaS companies that tell you to write more content, but the article telling you this is only 450 words of fluff and BS by some guest blogger. You need to know how that content is structured and what kind of material is ranking on the first page of YOUR niche.

Like how we showed you lead forms for Higher Ed with keywords set in specific areas, or phone numbers and keywords in the first 100 words for local niches.

Sadly, no one shares this kind of data with you.

No one does this type of research and puts it on their blog or Medium page. They don't even hint about it on Twitter.

No one is showing you case studies on specific aggregated niche topics like the Higher Education niche, or local marketing niches.

Ask yourself why and think hard about it ...

It's because no one is innovating in this space. At least no one was until SERPWoo came around and upset the entire rank tracking space with our invention of SERP Tracking years ago.

Most of our competitors do the bare minimum to hope to stay relevant.

And now that everyone has tried to copy us, the space has become stale and "me too" again.

What a sad circle.

But no worries. We are about to disrupt again, and we are sharing our findings with you in this series of studies.

Sharing with you what it takes to rank and what's happening in the SERPs and keywords you care about.

We don't like generic vanilla SEO advice. We never did. Even for sub-niches like SEO for local businesses

So why not show you how SEO ( and tracking rankings ) should be done instead?

Stay tuned for more. We're about to revolutionize our industry once again.

If you want to get more frequent detailed reports like this, sign up for a paid SERPWoo account. We send out monthly exclusive guides like this to all our paid members that include private content found nowhere else online!

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