Posted by MiriamEllis
“Why are those folks outranking me in Google’s local pack?”
If you or a client is asking this question, the answer lies in competitive analysis. You’ve got to stack Business A up against Business B to identify the strengths and weaknesses of both competitors, and then make an educated guess as to which factors Google is weighting most in the results for a specific search term.
Today, I’d like to share a real-world example of a random competitive audit, including a chart that depicts which factors I’ve investigated and explanatory tips and tools for how I came up with the numbers and facts. Also included: a downloadable version of the spreadsheet that you can use for your own company or clients. Your goal with this audit is to identify exactly how one player is winning the game so that you can create a to-do list for any company trying to move up in the rankings. Alternatively, some competitive audits can be defensive, identifying a dominant player’s weaknesses so that they can be corrected to ensure continued high rankings.
It’s my hope that seeing this audit in action will help you better answer the question of why “this person is outranking that person,” and that you may share with our community some analytical tips of your own!
Search term: Chinese Restaurant San Rafael
Statistics about San Rafael: A large town of approximately 22 square miles in the San Francisco Bay Area with a population of 58,954 and 15+ Chinese restaurants.
Consistency of results: From 20 miles away to 2000+ miles away, Ping’s Chinese Cuisine outranks Yet Wah Restaurant in Google’s local pack for the search term. We don’t look closer than 20 miles, or proximity of the searcher creates too much diversity.
The challenge: Why is Ping’s Chinese Cuisine outranking Yet Wah Restaurant in Google’s Local Pack for the search term?
The comparison chart
*Where there’s a clear winner, it’s noted in bolded, italicized text.
Basic business information
||Ping’s Chinese Cuisine
248 Northgate Dr.
San Rafael, CA 94903
|Yet Wah Restaurant
1238 4th St.
San Rafael, CA 94901
|GMB landing page URL
|Local Pack rank
|Organic rank among business-owned sites
*Remove directories and review platforms from the equation, as they typically shouldn’t be viewed as direct competitors
|Business model eligible for GMB listing at this address?
*Check Google’s Guidelines if unsure: https://support.google.com/business/answer/3038177...
|Oddities||Note that Ping’s has redirected pingschinesecuisine.com to pingsnorthgate.com. Ping’s also has a www and non-www version of pingsnorthgate.com.||A 2nd website for same business at same location with same phone number: http://yetwahsanrafael.com/. This website is ranking directly below the authoritative (GMB-linked) website for this business in organic SERP for the search in question.|
|GMB review count
|GMB review rating
|Most recent GMB review
*Sort GMB reviews by "most recent" filter
|1 week ago||1 month ago|
|Proper GMB categories?
|Estimated age of GMB listing
*Estimated by date of oldest reviews and photos, but can only be seen as an estimate
|At least 2 years old||At least 6 years old|
|Moz Local score (completeness + accuracy + lack of duplicates)
|Moz Local duplicate findings
|Keywords in GMB name
|Keywords in GMB website landing page title tag
||Nothing at all. Just “home page”||Yes|
|Spam in GMB title
*Look at GMB photos, Google Streetview, and the website to check for inconsistencies
|No||Yes: “restaurant” not in website logo or street level signage|
|Hours and photos on GMB?
|Proximity to city centroid
*Look up city by name in Google Maps and see where it places the name of the city on the map. That’s the city “centroid.” Get driving directions from the business to an address located in the centroid.
|3.5 miles||410.1 feet|
|Proximity to nearest competitor
*Zoom in on Google map to surface as many adjacent competitors as possible. Can be a Possum factor in some cases.
|1.1 mile||0.2 miles|
|Within Google Maps boundaries?
*Look up city by name in Google Maps and note the pink border via which Google designates that city’s boundaries
|Age of domain
|March 2013||August 2011
|GMB Landing Page Authority
|Links to domain
|DA/PA of most authoritative link earned
|Evaluation of website content
*This is a first-pass, visual gut check, just reading through the top-level pages of the website to see how they strike you in terms of quality.
|Extremely thin, just adequate to identify restaurant. At least has menu on own site. Of the 2 sites, this one has the most total text, by virtue of a sentence on the homepage and menus in real text.
||Extremely thin, almost zero text on homepage, menu link goes to another website.|
|Evaluation of website design
||Outdated||Outdated, mostly images|
|Evaluation of website UX
||Can be navigated, but few directives or CTAs||Can be navigated, but few directives or CTAs|
|Basic mobile design, but Google’s mobile-friendly test tool says both www and non-www cannot be reached because it’s unavailable or blocked by robots txt. They have disallowed scripts, photos, Flash, images, and plugins. This needs to be further investigated and resolved. Mobile site URL is http://pingsnorthgate.com/#2962. Both this URL and the other domains are failing Google’s test.||Basic mobile design passes Google’s mobile-friendly test
|Evaluation of overall onsite SEO
*A first-pass visual look at the page code of top level pages, checking for titles, descriptions, header tags, schema, + the presence of problems like Flash.
|Pretty much no optimization||Minimal, indeed, but a little bit of effort made. Some title tags, some schema, some header tags.
|HTML NAP on website?
|Website NAP matches GMB NAP?||No (Northgate One instead of Northgate Drive)||Yes
|Total number of wins: Ping’s 7, Yet Wah 9.|
Download your own version of my competitive audit spreadsheet by making a copy of the file.
Takeaways from the comparison chart
Yet Wah significantly outranks Ping’s in the organic results, but is being beaten by them in the Local Pack. Looking at the organic factors, we see evidence that, despite the fact that Ping’s has greater DA, greater PA of the GMB landing page, more links, and stronger links, they are not outranking Yet Wah organically. This is something of a surprise that leads us to look at their content and on-page SEO.
While Ping’s has slightly better text content on their website, they have almost done almost zero optimization work, their URLs have canonical issues, and their robots.txt isn’t properly configured. Yet Wah has almost no on-site content, but they have modestly optimized their title tags, implemented H tags and some schema, and their site passes Google’s mobile-friendly test.
So, our theory regarding Yet Wah’s superior organic ranking is that, in this particular case, Yet Wah’s moderate efforts with on-page SEO have managed to beat out Ping’s superior DA/PA/link metrics. Yet Wah’s website is also a couple of years older than Ping’s.
All that being said, Yet Wah’s organic win is failing to translate into a local win for them. How can we explain Ping’s local win? Ping’s has a slightly higher overall review rating, higher DA and GMB landing page PA, more total links, and higher authority links. They also have slightly more text content on their website, even if it’s not optimized.
So, our theory regarding Ping’s superior local rank is that, in this particular case, website authority/links appear to be winning the day for Ping’s. And the basic website text they have could possibly be contributing, despite lack of optimization.
In sum, basic on-page SEO appears to be contributing to Yet Wah’s organic win, while DA/PA/links appear to be contributing to Ping’s local win.
Things that bother me
I chose this competitive scenario at random, because when I took an initial look at the local and organic rankings, they bothered me a little. I would have expected Yet Wah to be first in the local pack if they were first in organic. I see local and organic rankings correlate strongly so much of the time, that this case seemed odd to me.
By the end of the audit, I’ve come up with a working theory, but I’m not 100% satisfied with it. It makes me ask questions like:
- Is Ping’s better local rank stemming from some hidden factor no one knows about?
- In this particular case, why is Google appearing to value Ping’s links more that Yet Wah’s on-page SEO in determining local rank? Would I see this same trend across the board if I analyzed 1,000 restaurants? The industry says links are huge in local SEO right now. I guess we’re seeing proof of that here.
- Why isn’t Google weighting Yet Wah’s superior citation set more than they apparently are? Ping’s citations are in bad shape. I’ve seen citation health play a much greater apparent role in other audits, but something feels weird here.
- Why isn’t Google “punishing” Yet Wah in the organic results for that second website with duplicate NAP on it? That seems like it should matter.
- Why isn’t age factoring in more here? My inspection shows that Yet Wah’s domain and GMB listing are significantly older. This could be moving the organic needle for them, but it’s not moving the local one.
- Could user behavior be making Ping’s the local winner? This is a huge open question at the end of my basic audit.* See below.
*I don’t have access to either restaurant’s Google Analytics, GMB Insights, or Google Search Console accounts, so perhaps that would turn up penalties, traffic patterns, or things like superior clicks-to-call, clicks-for-directions, or clicks-to-website that would make Ping’s local win easier to explain. If one of these restaurants were your client, you’d want to add chart rows for these things based on full access to the brand’s accounts and tools, and whatever data your tools can access about the competitor. For example, using a tool like SimilarWeb, I see that between May and June of this year, YetWah’s traffic rose from an average 150 monthly visits up to a peak of 500, while Ping’s saw a drop from 700 to 350 visits in that same period. Also, in a scenario in which one or both parties have a large or complex link profile, you might want additional rows for link metrics, taken from tools like Moz Pro, Ahrefs, or Majestic.
In this case, Ping’s has 7 total wins in my chart and Yet Wah has 9. The best I can do is look at which factors each business is winning at to try to identify a pattern of what Google is weighting most, both organically and locally. With both restaurants being so basic in their marketing, and with neither one absolutely running away with the game, what we have here is a close race. While I’d love to be able to declare a totally obvious winner, the best I could do as a consultant, in this case, would be to draw up a plan of defense or offense.
If my client were Ping’s:
Ping’s needs to defend its #1 local ranking if it doesn’t want to lose it. Its greatest weaknesses which must be resolved are:
- The absence of on-page SEO
- Thin content
- Robots.txt issues
To remain strong, Ping’s should also work on:
- Improving citation health
- Directing the non-www version of their site to the www one
- A professional site redesign could possibly improve conversions
Ping’s should accomplish these things to defend its current local rank and to try to move up organically.
If my client were Yet Wah:
Yet Wah needs to try to achieve victory over Ping’s in the local packs, as it has done in the organic results. To do that, Yet Wah should:
- Earn links to the GMB landing page URL and the domain
- Create strong text content on its high-level pages, including putting a complete dining menu in real text on the website
- Deal with the second website featuring duplicate NAP
Yet Wah should also:
- Complete work on its citation health
- Work hard to get some new 5-star reviews by delighting customers with something special
- Consider adding the word “Restaurant” to their signage, so that they can’t be reported for spamming the GMB name field.
- Consider a professional redesign of the website to improve conversions
Yet Wah should accomplish these things in an effort to surpass Ping’s.
And, with either client being mine, I’d then be taking a second pass to further investigate anything problematic that came up in the initial audit, so that I could make further technical or creative suggestions.
Big geo-industry picture analysis
Given that no competitor for this particular search term has been able to beat out Ping’s or Yet Wah in the local pack, and given the minimal efforts these two brands have thus far made, there’s a tremendous chance for any Chinese restaurant in San Rafael to become the dominant player. Any competitor that dedicates itself to running on all cylinders (professional, optimized website with great content, a healthy link profile, a competitive number of high-star reviews, healthy citations, etc.) could definitely surpass all other contestants. This is not a tough market and there are no players who can’t be bested.
My sample case has been, as I’ve said, a close race. You may be facing an audit where there are deeply entrenched dominant players whose statistics far surpass those of a business you’re hoping to assist. But the basic process is the same:
- Look at the top-ranking business.
- Fill out the chart (adding any other fields you feel are important).
- Then discover the strengths of the dominant company, as well as its potential weaknesses.
- Contrast these findings with those you’ve charted for the company you’re helping and you’ll be able to form a plan for improvement.
And don’t forget the user proximity factor. Any company’s most adjacent customers will see pack results that vary either slightly or significantly from what a user sees from 20, 50, or 1,000 miles away. In my specific study, it happened to be the third result in the pack that went haywire once a user got 50 miles away, while the top two remained dominant and statically ranked for searchers as far away as the East Coast.
Because of this phenomenon of distance, it’s vital for business owners to be educated about the fact that they are serving two user groups: one that is located in the neighborhood or city of the business, and another that could be anywhere in the country or the world. This doesn’t just matter for destinations like hotels or public amusements. In California (a big state), Internet users on a road trip from Palm Springs may be looking to end their 500-mile drive at a Chinese restaurant in San Rafael, so you can’t just think hyper-locally; you’ve got to see the bigger local picture. And you’ve got to do the analysis to find ways of winning as often as you can with both consumer groups.
You take it from here, auditor!
My local competitive audit chart is a basic one, looking at 30+ factors. What would you add? How would you improve it? Did I miss a GMB duplicate listing, or review spam? What’s working best for your agency in doing local audits these days? Do you use a chart, or just provide a high-level text summary of your internal findings? And, if you have any further theories as to how Ping’s is winning the local pack, I’d love for you to share them in the comments.
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